That said, this weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, and with that, the usual slew of independent productions taking advantage of bored crew members in the months to come. Shoots like those often have an "anything to get the film done... cheaply" mentality and unfortunately, safety and common sense end up as nothing more than an afterthought.
One such example came about last summer on a student film shooting out in Georgia. I had heard bits and pieces about it almost right after it happened, but never got the full story... Until a few days ago. An e-mail that had been forwarded around recently found its way into my inbox and I found it too important that I can't not share it, especially since today happens to be the one year anniversary of the tragedy. It was written by the Safety and Training Director of Local 728 and serves an all too important reminder of how dangerous our jobs can be, how one person can affect the lives and safety of others, how we should always be aware of our surroundings, never assume that something is "safe" and definitely not last nor least, how much electricity scares the bejeezus out of me.
So as you read this letter, I hope you take to heart the message it sends. The lessons learned from it can and will save your life, the lives of others and get everyone safely home at the end of the day.
"For those who have not heard of this accident, a person was killed on an NYU student film set last summer. We were aware of it almost as soon as it happened but due to the inevitable lawsuits, many of the details are now coming to light.The accident happened on a student film set in a rural area of Georgia when a condor rigged with a 12k made contact with a high voltage power line. As with many "no budget" productions, the electrical aspect of the production was almost an afterthought so the production had hired a local person to be responsible for the generator and distribution system. This person, while eager to work, had limited experience and absolutely no training. The rest of the lighting crew was made up of students.The mistakes were many: the power lines were assumed to be dead or telephone lines; the set was in a cellular dead zone; they had made no provision for first aid or emergency action plan; and the students apparently were never given any safety classes what-so-ever. [ed note: I've never even heard of a film school giving safety classes.]The accident scenario is one that we have all envisioned at one point in time. It was a dark night exterior and the DP was giving directions to the person who was operating the condor. No one noticed just how close the basket was to the power line until the diffusion frame made contact. There was an explosion, the lights went out, and one person lay on the ground dying.Surprisingly enough, the student killed was not the person operating the condor. He survived, not because he was wearing rubber soled shoes as was stated in the news, but because he remained at the same potential of the lift and provided no path to ground. Since the contact was made with the diffusion frame on the 12k, the power sought earth through the equipment ground of the light. In so doing, it energized the ground of the entire distribution system. Every metal piece of the distribution system and every device plugged into it became energized at 14,000 volts. It was unfortunate that a film student on the other side of the set was holding a light at the time and he became the path to earth.Act II of this great tragedy was the complete unpreparedness of the production to respond to an accident. They were many miles away from the nearest city at an abandoned house in a cellular dead zone. They had not informed any local authority that they were shooting and when they finally did contact emergency services, they could not give the address of where they were. The ambulance took 45 minutes to get to the scene while getting lost on the way.So what are the lessons learned? First that you can survive if your condor makes contact with a power line, though I must caution that this person was extremely lucky that he wasn't hit by the arc blast. Had he been hit by the arc blast, he would have instantly caught fire with no way to extinguish himself. In other words, don't count on surviving if it happens to you.The second lesson is that someone not involved with the electrical accident can still be injured (or in this case killed) by it. This person had no idea anything was even close to being wrong when he got shocked. It was almost literally a "bolt out of the blue."The third lesson is that you should NEVER take an emergency action plan for granted and never assume that anyone else has done the work. When you are in a hazardous area or situation, ASK about the emergency action plan if you are not briefed on it. Production is responsible for your safety and they are ALWAYS supposed to have an emergency action plan (that is why the nearest hospital is listed on the call sheet.) However, you need to take responsibility for yourself and anytime you are in a hazardous situation make sure that an emergency action plan is in place just in case the unthinkable happens. Make sure that YOU know what to do when the worst case scenario unfolds to protect yourself and the other people on your crew.Alan "