Monday, March 3, 2014

Why We Will Remember Sarah




"A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies. It brings us together, again and again." - Maya Angelou

When I wrote my post on the tragic death of Sarah Jones, I was determined that this would be the only one I would write. Say what you need, and move on.

Since then, however, I have seen something else happen that has really made me think, and so, I felt the need to put that here.

We know what social networking is at it's worst: tweets from the Kardashians, Facebook "friends" who we cannot truly remember how we know, and, worst of all, rather than making us more "social", it keeps our faces buried in an electronic device rather than allowing us to come face-to-face with each other, and, heavens forbid, actually talk.

While it is easy for old guys like me to see the danger in technological advances, we also have to see how there are times when a unique set of circumstances hopefully make a difference in all of our lives.

There is a Zen koan that goes something like this: if a man was standing in a window, wishing he could buy something, and did not know that he had in his pocket the money to buy it, would he be any better off than the man who truly did not have the money?

The truth all around us - the trick is, do we see it?

The tragic circumstances of Sarah Jones death have come together in such a way as to hit us with a stick; to wake us up.

Inherently, we all know that there are dangers in this business, and worse, that productions and individuals often look past safety concerns to get the shot. This isn't news to most of us.

Anyone who has worked in the business at least knows the incidents of The Twilight Zone movie, Brandon Lee, and some of the others I mentioned in my first post.

Is there any reason that Sarah's tragic death will be any different. Sadly, when this first happened, the pessimist in me thought, 'yeah, maybe for a month or a few months, and then it will be just another incident.'

The Universe - pick your religion or belief - works in mysterious ways, and this time, I think the circumstances have come together in a way that makes me think we won't be forgetting Sarah's name for a long time.

First, there were the opportunities lost. This was not one mistake, one last second incident of poor judgement on one person's part. Numerous people - line producer, producer, production manager, AD, location manager, to name a few - had to miss the opportunity to nip this in the bud. I'm not placing blame, as I don't know what each of these folks knew or understood - but it had to be someone's responsibility.

Second, the wonderful article by D on dollygrippery.com that asked why no one on the crew had said "no", why none of the experienced crew people - and this was an experienced crew - had questioned shooting on a live railroad track. Again, this is not to blame any of those folks - we all know how in the rush to please, the rush to get the shot, we hope that someone else has done due diligence.

If this incident proves anything, it is that there is no "someone else."

That is where the third element comes in: the photos of Sarah. You've seen many, and there are many more on the Facebook page "Slates for Sarah" (more on that shortly). If there is anything we in the business of putting art on film should understand, it is that photography at it's best - still or moving - captures something deeper than merely an image - it captures a soul.

We know it about film "stars" - in the very successful ones, you can't take your eyes off of them. It has more to do than being physically attractive - its something that you can't make up - it is either there, or it is not. It is a life-force, and Sarah exhibited it when she was working.

Sarah's photo sparked one thought: We are Sarah Jones.

As a production person, from that first photo on IA's site, it reminded me of some of my best and favorite crew people, a few who I've seen "grow up" over the years. My best friend and ex-wife jokes that they are "like my kids" - and they are to me. That first photo made me think of any one of them working one moment and beneath the wheels of a train the next, and it broke my heart.

Even those of us who never met Sarah had met that energy before, had seen it's beauty, and were horrified that it was snuffed out in a meaningless moment. Sarah, thank you for that smile.

Fourth, there was the previously mention Slates for Sarah Facebook page. People put up tributes all the time, but this one struck a cord, and inside of a week, tens of thousands were sending in their slates.

It was the technology - Facebook - combined with something genuine and heart-felt  that made "Slates for Sarah" such an important moment.

Fifth, it was the Oscars. Timing, as comedians tell you, is everything. There was nothing funny about this, but the absolutely random nature that this should happen less than two weeks before the Oscar telecast - the star-studded, overly-hyped, glitz-fest that is meant to represent our business (though it rarely does to most of us).

With this timing came the outpouring from the industry to get Sarah's name in the telecast in the "In Memorium" section. In mere days, more than 57,000 people had signed, and, because Sarah had worked on some high profile television shows, some high profile TV "Celebrities" added their voices. We also got photos of screen icons like Dustin Hoffman with slates remembering Sarah.

I do not think the industry, in any way, shape or form, wanted to remind movie-going audiences during the three-plus hour commercial for the industry that a lot of "grunts" - and I use that term affectionately - do the work that gets the stars to that night. With the overwhelming outpouring, however, it was impossible for them to ignore, and the risk/reward guys probably told them that if they didn't do SOMETHING, the questions and outrage would bring even more bad publicity.

That, and hoping for the best in human nature, I'm sure some of them were sincerely touched.

For all of those reasons, I truly believe that Sarah's name, and the circumstances of her death, will not be forgotten.

Let me caution, as I did in my last post, that I am uncomfortable with the idea of unintentional martyrs. I do not think of Sarah as a martyr - she died doing what she loved, and not to be a symbol for anything. In truth, it probably never occurred to her that she she was putting her life at risk, and, if it occurred for a moment, that thought was quickly replaced with the checklist of things she needed to do for her job.

I saw something about naming the first shot "the Jonesy" for her, the way we call the next to last shot "the Abby"  after an AD who often called the "martini" too soon. * I'm not crazy about that, to be honest. When we start to brand things like that, it often takes away the human component, and it becomes about rote.

It would be easier to keep Sarah where she belongs, in our hearts. As line producer and sometimes Assistant Director, I have spent part of the last week or so going over every decision like this I have ever made, and wondered if I had ever, unintentionally, put someone at risk when I should not have. I hope all of my production brethren partake of the same soul searching.

I won't need to etch Sarah's name into the call of the roll to remember her, or to remember that safety is not only first thing  - it is the most important thing. I do not think any of us will.

When the hurt is gone, when the tears are dry, let doing the right thing in term of safety be something so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we don't need to hear a name, though we most likely will.

Let Sarah continue to live on in a positive way, to bring a smile to our face, to represent the joy that doing what we love brings to all of us, with the caveat that the joy needs to be respected and protected, and that in the end, that responsibility lies with all of us.

Like that man standing outside the window, Sarah, you have reminded us of what was right in front of us, but we were too busy to put into words. We are a family, a family filled with all the turmoil that humans bring, but bound by love. Now, for us, that bind has a special name, and it is Sarah.












*I've always thought Abby Singer got a bum rap.  He had a great career and is still with us, and  seemed to have a good reason for that "one more."

2 comments:

Thom Shepard said...

JB Bruno,
Really fantastic article.

Sadly it was announced today that Abby Singer passed away, only 10 days after your article.

Interestingly, reading about Abby I discoverd this:

"Partly thanks to his training under notorious tightwad Fier, Singer spent his long career honing his skills at saving productions dough, and his idea was to begin moving crew and gear to the next location one shot before the last shot of the day, with the idea that the next location would be set up ahead of time — thereby saving money and precious shooting time."

So maybe what we always heard about Abby Singer was not so much about him, but a stretch of the story to others. Sounds like a wonderful man and it turns out a good friend of Sarah's was his friend and said so as well. I grew up loving a lot of the work he helped produce and many were kind great stories.

As far as the first shot being called the Jonesy, I can agree with what you are saying in a lot of ways. But the idea was for it not just to be about safety, but about what Sarah was all about, making a day of shooting spending time with friends, finding time for fun and for bacon and making everyone feel better about who they are and that every last person on a film set is part of the family.

If you do that, truly do that, how can you not look around you and care about the safety of every one of our friends you work with. Whether you are friends on set for the first day, or go way back.

That was the idea behind "The Jonesy" and why I think it will live on in the same spirit of the slates.

Always see the beauty that is right in front of you, don't ignore, don't miss it and make people laugh and smile all the time.

That is the Sarah we all came to know and love, and it seems has resonated around the world.

Thanks again,

Thom

Thom Shepard said...

JB Bruno,
Really fantastic article.

Sadly it was announced today that Abby Singer passed away, only 10 days after your article.

Interestingly, reading about Abby I discoverd this:

"Partly thanks to his training under notorious tightwad Fier, Singer spent his long career honing his skills at saving productions dough, and his idea was to begin moving crew and gear to the next location one shot before the last shot of the day, with the idea that the next location would be set up ahead of time — thereby saving money and precious shooting time."

So maybe what we always heard about Abby Singer was not so much about him, but a stretch of the story to others. Sounds like a wonderful man and it turns out a good friend of Sarah's was his friend and said so as well. I grew up loving a lot of the work he helped produce and many were kind great stories.

As far as the first shot being called the Jonesy, I can agree with what you are saying in a lot of ways. But the idea was for it not just to be about safety, but about what Sarah was all about, making a day of shooting spending time with friends, finding time for fun and for bacon and making everyone feel better about who they are and that every last person on a film set is part of the family.

If you do that, truly do that, how can you not look around you and care about the safety of every one of our friends you work with. Whether you are friends on set for the first day, or go way back.

That was the idea behind "The Jonesy" and why I think it will live on in the same spirit of the slates.

Always see the beauty that is right in front of you, don't ignore, don't miss it and make people laugh and smile all the time.

That is the Sarah we all came to know and love, and it seems has resonated around the world.

Thanks again,

Thom