UPDATE: ‘Midnight Rider’ First AD Hillary Schwartz has been found guilty, and has been sentenced to 10 years probation, $5,000 in fines, and she cannot serve as a director or assistant director. She can however still be a producer, though not in a capacity where she oversees the safety of others. Original story follows.
In a surprising turn, ‘Midnight Rider’ director Randall Miller changed his plea to guilty, making a deal with prosecutors for a two year prison sentence with eight years of probation. Miller’s lawyer Ed Garland explained the change to a plea of guilty in court: “We agree at this time the state could establish the essential elements of the crime”.
So who is Randall Miller? Before becoming familiar with the case, the idea that came to mind was that of a brash, unseasoned, impetuous indie director who was willing to risk life and limb for the sake of making a movie. However, the truth about Miller is very different.
Randall Miller’s background actually represents the best there is. He attended USC Film School, later going to AFI and launching his career as a director based on his thesis. He holds over twenty-one directing credits, five writing credits and is a member of the IA, the DGA, SAG and the WGA. I mention this because it demonstrates Miller’s level of accountability. Although he recently moved to admit his guilt in the death of Sarah Jones, prior to this he hid behind the fact that it wasn’t his job or that he was unaware of the danger of the circumstances.
However, because of his background and experience, it’s clear that blame has been placed at the feet of someone who definitely deserves it. The point is, he knew better, but he didn’t care. His recklessness and carelessness claimed the life of Sarah Jones, the health and well being of his crew, as well as his own life too. The terms of his punishment not only include jail, but he will essentially forfeit his career as well. For his crimes, he will serve 10 years total with two years in prison and 8 years of probation. He also must pay a $20,000 fine and work 360 hours of community service, a part of the sentence that will be served in California. Under terms of the probation, he also agreed not to serve as director, assistant director or supervisor in charge of safety on any film production for the next 10 years.
As part of the overall deal, charges were dismissed against Miller’s wife, producer Jody Savin. Executive producer/unit production manager Jay Sedrish got no jail time, but will serve 10 years probation, during which time he can not work as a director or assistant director, or serve in any capacity overseeing the safety of others, although he can work as a unit production manager. He also must pay a $10,000 fine. First assistant director Hillary Schwartz is expected to appear in court Tuesday to make a plea. Although it’s not clear as of now, Schwartz’s plea is a strong indication that she turned state’s evidence, galvanizing the DA’s case forcing Miller to change his plea to not guilty.
Although Director Randall Miller’s career as a director is essentially over, he will enjoy the footnote of being the very first motion picture director to be convicted of manslaughter while on set.
In a press released shortly after the verdicts were announced, ICG President Steven Poster, ASC had this to say:
“There were no winners today. Randall Miller’s sentencing in the case involving the tragic death of IATSE Local 600 camera assistant Sarah Jones is nothing to be happy about. But the quick conclusion to the case does provide some small sense of closure following last years tragedy, and helps continue the healing process for Jones family, friends, and fellow crew members.
We cannot comment on the specifics of the legal proceedings, but we hope this sentencing sends a message to everyone in the industry that the safety measures already in place must be followed at all times. No movie or TV show is worth a life, which is why Safety on Set is our highest priority as a union.
We hope this message gets out to everybody in production — from student or low-budget films to major productions — and that workers recognize their rights to a safe set and safe working conditions at all times. We also hope all crew members will now feel empowered to speak out against unsafe working conditions. Thats why we developed our new safety app that includes the industry-wide safety bulletins and safety hotline numbers. We encourage workers to remember the spirit of Sarah and exercise those rights.”
For more information about the Safety for Sarah fund, go to their website at: www.safetyforsarah.com