The film industry is remembering a camera assistant who died on set
Hundreds of stars and crew members have shared slates for her
Sarah Elizabeth Jones, 27, was hit and killed by a train on set Thursday
Update: Sarah Jones was included at the end of the In Memoriam segment during the Oscars Sunday. Her name was briefly seen in a graphic promoting the online “In Memoriam” gallery.
The film community is coming together in a touching way to honor one of their own who died on a movie set.
Sarah Elizabeth Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant, was on the set of musician Gregg Allman’s biopic “Midnight Rider” when she was struck and killed by a freight train near Savannah, Georgia, on Thursday.
Her death rocked the local film community, leaving many questioning who was to blame for the accident. A group of friends set up a Facebook page on Monday in tribute to Jones with a simple call to action: “Sarah Elizabeth Jones, friend and family to so many, made every day awesome. Show your slate love here along with all the good stories of her life.”
Film crew members from various countries immediately began sharing photo tributes, holding clapboards with messages of remembrance for her. It’s become a movement with hundreds of images shared on the Facebook group Slates for Sarah, which was created on Monday. As of Sunday night, more than 63,000 people had liked the page.
It’s a fitting tribute, as Jones’ primary job on set was to operate the slate at the beginning of each take. Jones, an Atlanta resident and member of the International Cinematographers Guild, used her “spunk and determination” to climb up in the industry, according to her obituary. The word about the tribute is spreading through her comrades, the behind-the-scenes workers in the industry.
Her friends and co-workers also did the near-impossible: They got the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to add Jones’ name to the In Memoriam list displayed during the Oscars this weekend; Jones was included in a graphic at the end of the segment.
Eric Henson, one of the people who helped start Slates for Sarah, worked in the camera department with Jones on two seasons of “The Vampire Diaries,” as well as a few movies. The two became friends after meeting on set five years ago, when Jones moved to Atlanta, he said.
Henson was on the set of “The Vampire Diaries” when the crew learned about her death, just hours after it had happened. He said the producer wrapped after they heard the news.
Buses of crew members from “Vampire Diaries” and other productions filming in Georgia were on their way to Jones’ memorial in Columbia, South Carolina, on Wednesday afternoon. Jones was a native of West Columbia.
“We were all devastated,” Henson said. “The beautiful thing about this kind of work is that you spend 12 to 13 hours a day with someone, and it becomes a family situation. Something like this happens and you see how close knit we all are.”
When Henson and a group of Jones’ friends saw a few people posting clapboards in honor of her, they decided to create a page to house all of the memories and messages for Jones. He and others have been trading off shifts to post photos and respond to the outpouring of supporters.
“I’ve had a lot of people saying, ‘I haven’t seen something like this in 30 to 40 years in the film industry,’” Henson said. “The solidarity of people coming together has really been incredible.”
Jones’ death has also been a wake-up call to the community, launching discussions about changing the industry.
“That’s part of what Slates for Sarah has become,” he said. “It’s a really tragic situation, but it’s given us an opportunity to look at how we make films and how to make it a safer environment.”
Jones and others were filming on train tracks at the time of the accident, according to a police report from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. Jones died and seven others were injured during the accident.
Gregg Allman, the focus of the movie Jones was working on, shared his condolences. “I am so terribly saddened by the news of the tragedy that took the young life of Sarah Elizabeth Jones on the film set,” he wrote on his website Saturday. “My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, friends and colleagues during this time of mourning.”
Actors who worked on set with her, notably stars from “The Vampire Diaries,” as well as crew members from TV shows “Glee,” “Scandal” and “Downton Abbey,” are among the hundreds who have shared messages of “RIP Sarah Jones.”
Even people who had never met Jones were moved to share their own tributes from places as far away as South Africa, Israel and Germany. Members of cinematography crews also shared messages of peace and love, saying “your death will not be in vain.”
“From the heights of the mountains she hiked, to the depths of the oceans she dove (and never without a camera to record her experiences), the gift of her presence was felt far and wide,” read Jones’ obituary.
Jones’ life has touched hundreds in the industry, as seen through the outpouring of the Slates for Sarah movement. It’s a legacy her friends are proud of.
“We’re all extremely sad but all really proud that Sarah can have this kind of effect on everyone,” said Henson.