An Open Letter to Young Filmmakers & Photographers

Silouette crewDear Young Filmmakers and Photographers

A terrible thing happened on a movie set. Somebody died. Her name was Sarah. She was an experienced Camera Assistant in a Union. She was young.

I am writing to you with hope, as your elder brother and a student of the old school, to ask you, to plead to you – if you EVER feel unsafe on a set – SPEAK UP.

In your career, you will be asked to work in dangerous places. Some will be glaringly unsafe, others maybe not so obvious. An order might even be as crazy as setting up on an active railroad line! But more likely it will be near busy traffic, on the top of a building, over deep water, in bad weather, close to explosives, or worst of all – shooting anything anywhere with a crew that has zero experience doing what they are about to do. From the next giant action adventure movie and a crew of a thousand to shooting french-fry grease in a studio with a crew of three – you will find yourself in the shadow of risk one day.

All of my old school colleagues can tell you at least one story of being asked to do something UNSAFE. Some have even said yes. I have, and I hate that I didn’t say NO.

We were young too. Youth breeds passionate ambition and naiveté. It is too easy to be blinded by the flame. There are inherent pressures of being the new person on the crew and you want to prove worth. You don’t want to rock the boat or you think you need the job. You certainly want more work another day. Or maybe – you just don’t know any better.

Sets should be controlled environments where artists in filmmaking and photography can work comfortably and safely. Terms such as owned, permitted, and locked-up should mean, that you as a professional crew member, are now safe to proceed to do what we all love. NEVER EVER should you be on any set – in fear of injury or by no means, working and waiting to escape from danger at a second’s notice.

If you ever need to shoot anything in a dangerous environment, SAFETY is always first. Many discussions should be had, permissions need to be granted, safety meetings should be held and those measures need to be applied, experienced professionals MUST be part of the crew, and ALL of your sets need to be CONTROLLED.

Sarah was killed on an uncontrolled set.

To all the writers and producers or that person with that vision for that shot – STOP!  Ask yourself: does it really have to be in a location that will put the crew in danger?  Surely, if you have the resources and experienced pros that can create the shot within the parameters mentioned above – consider it.  But if something is so obvious to your human nature that the shot has probable RISK of injury – THINK HARDER.

And frankly, if you are calling yourself a film or photography professional and not getting any of this or if you are an admitted unsafe set instigator, LEAVE this business immediately and stop saying you are one of us!

My plea is not exclusively to moviemakers. I have seen too many photographers shooting local fashion or the next music video – draping their models on train tracks or having them swim in a polluted, high-current river. Graduation and engagement pictures are being taken on rickety fire escapes or in abandoned private properties that have weak floors, broken glass, and numerous environmental hazards.

STOP putting people in harms way.

I disagree emphatically with those who say, “It’s easier to apologize then to ask permission.” Today’s trespasser is tomorrow’s unsafe set decision-maker. There is no amount of sorry that can repair the loss of life.

Doing what you’re doing is a privilege and an honor. We work in one of the most fantastic industries on the planet. The work can be dangerous. Please, be equally respectful of the gift and the danger within it.

Work with like-minds and speak up – together.  Ask questions.  Be smart.

Stay safe.

And don’t ever be afraid to say no.

Jamie Vesay
Location Scout, Manager, Producer for Motion Pictures
Been doing it for 20+ years.

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