Film Set Dangers are Not Make Believe

A film set is a workplace.  All workplaces present possible dangers, but when action sequences such as car chases are involved, the on-screen mayhem has a potential to cause injuries to those on the set.  When directors and producers are too focused on getting the action sequence right, and not focused enough on minimizing dangers, people can get hurt.  Given Georgia’s generous tax benefits for the film industry and the increased use of the state for film production, this isn’t a Hollywood issue . . . it’s one right here at home.

Film industry tax credits begun nine years ago have attracted a growing number of film and TV projects, making Georgia the world’s top destination for major motion picture filming in 2016, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

  • Last year there were 245 feature films, television movies and series, commercials and music videos shot in Georgia, and that’s expected to increase this year.
  • A record $2.7 billion was spent in the state by production companies in fiscal year 2017, a sharp increase from last year’s $2 billion. This year’s spending is about 38 times what was spent here ten years ago, according to state figures.

Recently a number of accidents have brought attention to the dangers of film making.

  • A stuntman on a set of “The Walking Dead” was seriously injured and declared brain-dead in July.
  • A stuntman’s injury put a temporary stop to production of “Rampage,” an action movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
  • “Avengers” star Jeremy Renner posted photos on social media showing he injured his wrist and elbow on the Georgia set of the movie “Tag.”

In July, a jury awarded $11.2 million in a wrongful death lawsuit due to a 2014 fatal accident on a Georgia train bridge during the filming of the movie “Midnight Rider.”  Camera assistant Sarah Jones, age 27, was killed and seven others were injured when a freight train hit the crew filming a movie about the life of deceased rocker Gregg Allman.

The film’s director, Randall Miller, plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and received a two-year prison sentence. The assistant director, Hillary Schwartz, was sentenced to ten years of probation after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. Prosecutors stated that disregarding basic safety rules caused the real-life tragedy on the film set.

Unscripted “reality” programming has led to more on-set injuries, according to the Los Angeles Times. Nearly a third of all deaths on sets from 2010 to 2015 involved reality shows, according to a review of U.S. government data. There were twenty fatalities related to motion picture and television production, twice the number of deaths from the prior five-year period. During this same time frame, nationwide, private sector workplace deaths went down 4%.

Reality TV shows, especially those where participants are exposed to danger, are increasing the risks for those on set because producers feel a need for dramatic footage to compete for viewers who are being offered more and more of such programming.

David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2015, talked to the Times about film-set accidents. “Often when we investigate fatalities, we find that they were predictable and preventable,” he said. “They often involved cutting corners, hurrying things up to save money or both and the result is tragedy.”

While OSHA sometimes investigates these tragedies, OSHA’s power is severely limited by statute such that OSHA can only assess small fines.  Said differently, OSHA is not there to compensate the victim or the victim’s family.  Instead, OSHA’s role is to try and prevent the next tragedy from occurring.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed on a Georgia TV or film production set, contact our office so we can talk about your rights to be compensated for injuries caused by the negligence of others, your best options to protect those rights, and how we can help. Call the Stoddard Firm at 470-467-2200 or 678-737-8587 (678-RESULTS) to learn more.

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