Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Pound of Flesh

"Tarrya little, there is something else.
This bond doth give thee no jot of blood.
The words expressly are 'a pound of flesh'"
-Portia, Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare=
The quote from The Merchant of Venice above may be among the most sanguine on the nature of justice.

At first glance, Portia is using a technicality, but, in fact, it is far more. It hopes to define the line between justice and vengeance, between addressing a wrong and trying to deal with the frustration that senseless death brings.

I have written before on Sarah, and on the safety responsibilities of the First Assistant Director. As I read the recent deal offered to First Assistant Director Hillary Swartz on Midnight Rider, I found myself tripping over that fine line between responsibility and compassion like a DUI suspect attempting to walk a straight line.

I've written often on the First AD's responsibility for safety on set, and my anger at what happened to Sarah.

When I first read the report of  Sarah's death, my first reaction was "where the hell was the First AD."

Yet, as I read the verdict against the First AD, Hillary Schwartz, I could not help but feel like a ping-pong ball bouncing around with different feelings. A more detailed recap here.

The sentence was a 10 year probation, and a lifetime ban of working as director or assistant director or any capacity where she is involved in the safety of others, as well as a $5000 fine.

My first reaction to the latter was - who would hire her?

Sadly, I know the answer. Without naming names, I worked with a guy who was directly responsible for the death of an NYU student on a film shoot. In fact, this guy now has his own company that does pretty well. In my experience with him - after he had gotten a student killed - he was still willing to risk lives to get the shot.

I am sure there is a director somewhere who would hire Hillary exactly because she would bend the rules. That is why this verdict is so important. I've talked about ADs who have been willing to sacrifice jobs in the interest of safety, as well as my own experience there.

Further down in the article, it did mention two years of prison time for low-life director  Randall Miller. Let's be clear - this is a guy who, in the making-of doc on a previous film CBGB, made light of risking the life of an infant.

"I'd like to take a moment just to emphasize in the film industry the importance of the A.D. They are in charge of safety. That emphasizes that Hillary Schwartz apparently failed in her duty," Jones' father Richard told judge Anthony Harrison before the sentencing. "That being said, this is a very difficult decision for [Sarah's mother] Elizabeth and myself, but considering the situation we are in agreement with the D.A. for this resolution."

There are some who would have preferred the AD received jail time, that it would have sent a stronger message. I can't say they are wrong. However, outside of Sarah, no parties were more aggrieved than her parents, in this case the word aggrieved being painfully fitting. They likely know horrible details that we do not.

If they are good with this resolution, then so am I. Assistant Directors are under enormous pressures from all sides, and Hillary failed the test. Sarah's parents deserve credit for not asking for the pound of flesh to which they were entitled.

As far as I'm concerned, director Miller can't do enough time. However, when I think of him, and of Hillary, the First AD, I can't help but remember this scene from the great writer, Aaron Sorkin.

In A Few Good Men, Sorkin borrows from the classic film Mutiny on the Bounty. In that film, as with A Few Good Men, the failures of the commanding officer are brought to light by bright lawyers.

After they embarrass the commanding officer, though, there are still consequences for those on trial.

At the end of Mutiny on the Bounty, lawyer Barney Greenwald  offers the fact that just because  something Queeg was off, it doesn't mean that Lt. Maryk (played by Van Johnson) was free of blame. Ultimately, though, he felt others were more to blame, which is why he took the case. As Maryk let fellow officers down Hillary let down the entire crew, especially Sarah.

In A Few Good Men, after attorney Kaffee shows the illegal actions of Colonel Jessop, one defendant does not understand why he is still being punished. This scene should ring true to Hillary.

Hillary, it was your job to protect Sarah Jones. Regardless of the recklessness of director Miller , who sadly only got two years in prison, it does not change your responsibility. You were supposed to fight for people who couldn't fight for themselves - like Sarah.

* A very harrowing description from a Deadline article on the details of what happened, as recited by the DA during the sentencing portion of Randall Miller's agreement. Deadline has, IMO, done the best reporting on this story and followed it closely from the beginning.

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