The Oscars honored one of South Carolina’s own on Sunday night after a moving social media storm sought to formally recognize College of Charleston graduate and 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Elizabeth Jones, who was killed on February 20 when a train swept through the set of the film Midnight Rider
in Savannah. Jones, who also worked on The Vampire Diaries
and interned in Charleston on the set of Army Wives
, has come to represent the unsung heroes of those working behind the scenes on films and television shows.
A petition on the Care2 site gathered over 60,000 signatures leading up to the March 3 Oscars broadcast in hopes of including the Columbia, S.C. native on the “In Memoriam” segment of the show. Although the formal name submission process ended long before, that didn’t stop her far-reaching network of friends and colleagues from urging the Academy via phone, email, and Twitter to to pay respect — not to overshadow the many others in the industry who have died, but to highlight and mourn the loss of someone who died in the name of entertainment.
The Academy listened, and at the end of the memorial segment, Jones’ name and photograph briefly flashed on the screen, a move that was largely unexpected but widely appreciated by the many people touched by her loss. Black ribbons were also seen on the lapels of supporters who caught wind of the #ribbonforSarah Twitter campaign launched on the Thursday preceding the show.
“Slates for Sarah
,” a Facebook memorial page designed to honor Jones with photographs of slates bearing her name or picture, was set up by an Atlanta friend and colleague shortly after the tragedy. Since its creation, it has received over 65,000 likes and countless posts from productions including Saturday Night Live
, How I Met Your Mother
, Doctor Who
, and Downton Abbey
as an entire industry of film and television writers, art departments, actors, and directors alike not only grieve for the loss of one of their own but also support increased safety for crew members everywhere. It too gained momentum on Twitter with hashtags like #slatesforsarah, #weareallsarahjones, and #safetyforsarah.
“#slatesforsarah is important because it's a reminder of how tragic the neglect of on-set safety can become,” says Paul Markovich, a friend and colleague of Jones from Army Wives
. “It shows how far the shock-waves can travel when the wrong decisions are made. It's the worse-case scenario and it's almost unbelievable that it actually happened. On a personal level, it's gratifying knowing that her memory will be preserved so strongly. It's good to know that her life was so rich to have affected so many people, and to have so many people care about her.”
Jones and the crew filming the Gregg Allman biopic on that tragic day arrived to work feeling safe. Because obvious safety measures must be considered when filming on train tracks, the staff assumed all was well when clearly their lives were at risk. How did this clearance fall through the cracks, and how could it have been avoided?
“There are many safety notices that get sent out on call-sheets when there are potentially unsafe conditions, warning the crew about any hazards they should watch out for,” Markovich says. “When we were shooting in an old building this one time, they brought in structural engineers to evaluate what the building could support, which resulted in some floors being blocked off, and they recommended face masks because of mold content and dust. Had the crew on Midnight Rider
been doing things properly, they would've blocked all access to the rails and all crew members would've been informed in advance that they were hazardous.”
In addition to Jones’ death, seven others were injured when a freight train collided with the workers and sent set debris airborne. Midnight Rider
production has been completely shut down, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is currently looking for more answers.