Academy Awards Memoriam Tribute: Add Sarah Jones

Academy Awards Memoriam Tribute: Add Sarah Jones

Sunday night is the Oscars, when Telluride will be in the limelight with the films and actors that got kickstarted at the 2013 Telluride Film Festival: “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “12 Years A Slave,” “Gravity,” Blue is the Warmest Color,” “All is Lost,” “Nebraska,” “Frances Ha,” “The Past,” among the nominees. So what do golden statuettes and all that jazz have to do with a young woman named Sarah Elizabeth Jones? On Thursday, 2/20/2014, on the set of Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider,” Sarah was struck and killed by a freight train. The simple truth that emerged from the tragic accident: the Industry (Hollyspeak for the movies) is not all fun and games, especially for the crews, like Sarah and her friends, one of whom recently returned home to Telluride between jobs. That young woman and many others would like to see Sarah Elizabeth Jones added to the Academy Awards Memoriam Tribute. Please sign here if you want to show your support and acknowledge Sarah’s love and passion for the art of filmmaking. Put behind-the-scenes out front. So far, almost 42,000 people have.

663380-1393336746-wideThe following is a story about Sarah by Telluride local Jennie Franks, a writer and founder of SPARKy Productions and the Telluride Playwrights Festival

This is the story of a young girl from Atlanta and how she has touched people from all over the world including our small town. It’s a story about what you’ll all be thinking about this Sunday, after you read this, when you watch the Oscars. Because as you watch the Oscars, at some point, I guarantee you’ll be thinking of Sarah.

Sarah Jones was a bright, ambitious, young girl of 27 who was diligently working her way up in the film business. These days young people starting out on film sets work all hours of the day and night with few breaks and minimum wages. There is no overtime pay for them. They pay their own way to get to locations. If they’re lucky they get to sleep in a bed, more often than not, it’s a couch or a floor. A twelve-hour day would be a luxury; more often the days stretch long into the night and nights would be spend working on the set at the mercy of whoever is in charge of them, with few or no breaks and no room to chill, unlike the stars with their own trailers.

Sarah was working on a biopic about Gregg Allman called “Midnight Rider.” The crew, in the hands of the director and producer, were trying to capture a shot on a bridge, working on live railway tracks. Whether they had the railway line’s permission in not known. They were told that two trains would pass, so after two trains passed, they started work to get the shot. It was a small crew and Sarah was assisting the cameraman.

They were suddenly taken by surprise by a train barreling down the tracks. Being on the bridge, the only escape was to run off. They had a minute to do so. Seven people were injured and Sarah by some accounts, ever the pro, was worried about the camera equipment. She ran, but fell into the path of the oncoming train and died. She died for a stupid film shot in circumstances that should never have been.

The amazing thing about Sarah’s death is how quickly film crews from all over the world have been posting “Slates for Sarah.” Go on my Facebook page to see what I mean. The outpouring of grief has grown to the extent that there is now a petition for the “In Memorium” section of the Oscars to include Sarah. Because my daughter knew Sarah briefly, she and her friends from Telluride have helped generate signatures for this petition. It’s heartening to see how much young people care for each other. But it’s also disillusioning to see how, in the last 10 years, they have been taken advantage of and abused by industries that could and should take care of them and pay wages commensurate with the long hours they work. From unpaid interns in major corporations to working arduous lowly jobs to do something they love for a wage that doesn’t even cover the rent. To do a job for less than a working wage, plus unsafe work conditions is unconscionable.

It would be great if Sarah Jones’ death could at the least generate changes in the way young people are treated in the work place.  Sunday will be a telling day watching the Oscars. I do hope the Academy is compassionate enough to include a young unknown member of a film crew along with all the famous people who have died in the last year. I do hope they do, but I do know one thing for sure, if they do or they don’t, I, along with many, many, unsung heroes of film crews all over the world, will be watching the ‘In Memorium’ segment and we will all be thinking of Sarah Jones and her unnecessary death.


Sarah in action. (Image from Slate article).

Sarah in action. (Image from Slate article).

Here is an excerpt from the story about Elisabeth that appeared in Slate:

The film community is coming together in a touching way to honor one of their own who died on a movie set.

Sarah Elizabeth Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant, was on the set of musician Gregg Allman’s biopic “Midnight Rider” when she was struck and killed by a freight train near Savannah, Georgia, on Thursday.

Her death rocked the local film community, leaving many questioning who was to blame for the accident. A group of friends set up a Facebook page on Monday in tribute to Jones with a simple call to action: “Sarah Elizabeth Jones, friend and family to so many, made every day awesome. Show your slate love here along with all the good stories of her life.”

Film crew members from various countries immediately began sharing photo tributes, holding clapboards with messages of remembrance for her. It’s become a movement with more than 800 images shared on the Facebook group Slates for Sarah, which was created on Monday. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 30,000 people had liked the page.It’s a fitting tribute, as Jones’ primary job on set was to operate the slate at the beginning of each take. Jones, an Atlanta resident and member of the International Cinematographers Guild, used her “spunk and determination” to climb up in the industry, according to her obituary. The word about the tribute is spreading through her comrades, the behind-the-scenes workers in the industry.

Her friends and co-workers are also trying to do the near-impossible: They’re asking the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to add Jones’ name to the In Memoriam list displayed during the Oscars this weekend. CNN has contacted the Academy for comment.

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