June 13 – A recent article in DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD reported on a panel discussion on movie set safety at the recent Produced By Conference in Los Angeles. The gist of the article was that somehow crews in states that offer film tax incentives are less qualified, and as a result, the movie sets in those states are more dangerous. Some members of the panel were using the tragic death of crew member Sarah Jones on the MIDNIGHT RIDER set in Georgia, to bolster their view that filming in a tax incentive state encourages a production to cut corners. Speakers quoted in the article seemed to place a good deal of the blame on ‘inexperienced crews.’ The article quoted panel member and production manager, Ellen Schwartz as saying, “The biggest problem for indie producers filming in tax incentive states, is that they often end up working with D-minus crews… I find it really hard to get a good crew in a tax incentive state.” If you take her logic to it’s extreme, she can more easily find good crew in Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota – the only states without film tax incentives. Aside from the illogic of trying to connect state tax incentives to set safety, my problem with the article is its inference of the following: 1. The only real industry pros work in LA. 2. The MIDNIGHT RIDER tragedy in Georgia was the result of shooting with an inexperienced crew in a tax incentive state. 3. The MIDNIGHT RIDER crewmembers somehow share blame for not ‘speaking up.’ I have experience shooting projects in all 50 states and a couple of dozen countries, and I have found that filmmaking expertise is not location dependent. Some of the most experienced and talented crew people I know live in Georgia. I regret that members of the panel have apparently not had the pleasure to work with them. In every part of the country there are experienced crews and inexperienced ones. It is up to the producer and their production team to find and hire the best people, and it is up to the producer to secure an adequate budget to do the job properly and safely. Shooting location – incentives or no – has zero impact on production expertise. A producer either knows what they are doing or they don’t. It is repugnant to infer blame – directly or indirectly – on below-the-line crewmembers for a human tragedy. Ultimately the buck stops with the producer. I have a special distaste for people with power who unload their problems onto those who lack clout – like an arrogant customer berating waiter or a harried traveler yelling at a ticket agent. Or for that matter, producers and production managers on prestigious panels who infer blame on technical crews in Georgia for dangerous conditions, that were the result of decisions made by LA-based producers. A panel on set safety is vitally important for our industry. But using the death of a Georgia crewmember to make a blatant appeal to stop ‘runaway production,’ or to clamor for increased California tax incentives, is both dishonest and unfair.