Monday, April 25, 2011

A Rough Week for Film

Last week the film world saw two filmmaking related deaths, as mentioned on last Wednesday's Double Down Film Show. Both are tragedies that shake us up and make us remember how important safety on set is.

Tim Hetherington, an American Documentarian/Journalist/Photographer was killed in Libya this week, along with a British photographer, Chris Hondros, while working on a human rights multi-media documentary. According to reports, the two men, accompanied by two others who were wounded, but survived the attacks, were bombarded with grenades soon after they got behind enemy lines in the war-torn city of Misrata. Mr. Hetherington directed last year's Oscar-Nominated and Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning documentary, Restrepo. You can read the entire article in the New York Times HERE.

And make sure you check out Double 7 Image's Tribute Page here for more info on Tim's work.

The second was a bit closer to home. Justin Amorratanasuchad was a junior film student at Emerson College. During a film shoot he accidentally fell of a roof in Seatle. He was 21 years old. An article about the accident can be found in the Boston Herald HERE.

Both of these deaths, though radically different in nature, can at least serve to remind us all that there is danger inherent in our business. Be it in the pursuit of human rights stories for you documentarians out there or any stories that require you to go into precarious situations, or for all you fiction narrative folks, whenever you go to a film set and are surrounded by many things fragile, sharp, electrical, heavy, etc.

A lot of us, be it those who are starting out and often forgo safety protocols because they require time, money, effort or whatever, or for the seasoned filmmaker who maybe has done these things so many times that a checklist seems unnecessary, we often find ourselves letting protocol slip by the wayside. In the hurried rush of a set, something as simple as "got it" when you hand off equipment, or "striking" when you turn on a light, can seem like unnecessary formalities. However, they are there for a reason!

I could not help but think of my own friend, John, who died in a school film set just two years ago, shaking up the NYU film community. Our archived article about that can be found HERE.

Even in the most professional film sets, there are casualties. Some of the best known of these include Brandon Lee who was shot with what was supposed to be a blank bullet but ended up somehow being a real bullet, as well as actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le, 7, and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, 6, who were killed in an accident involving a prop helicopter which got damaged by pyrotechnics, killing all three.

We all get passionate in our filmmaking and take great risks. In the case of conflict photojournalism high risk is inherent in the job, but I know that many of us ordinary filmmakers can look back and think of times when we unnecessarily endangered ourselves or someone else. Please remember all of you out there, it cannot be emphasized enough, SAFETY FIRST.