Point Park University taking safety seriously with Sarah Jones Film Student Program
The Point Park’s Cinema Arts program has been accepted into the Sarah Jones Film Student Safety Program, an initiative started by the nonprofit Sarah Jones Film Foundation.
Point Park’s Cinema Arts program teaches students in all facets of the television and film process. About five years ago, Point Park hired a full-time safety coordinator to ensure that students were being taught how to operate in a manner that is safe for those working on their productions.
Point Park University is just the fourth institution of higher education in the U.S. to qualify for the Sarah Jones Film Student Safety Program. The program is an initiative from the nonprofit Sarah Jones Film Foundation, which advocates for safe conditions on film sets.
The Foundation, also known as Safety For Sarah, was created by Richard and Elizabeth Jones to honor the legacy of their daughter, Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant who needlessly lost her life February 20, 2014, in an accident on the set of Midnight Rider, a film chronicling the life of musician Greg Allman. It was never completed.
Cinema Arts students at Point Park can now apply for $2,500 grants from the Sarah Jones Program that will go directly toward implementing appropriate safety needs for their film projects.
“Our students are exposed to every component of filmmaking, and with the kind of hands-on training we do, it is critical that safety is always top of mind,” said Cara Friez (As the World Turns, Night Talk), chair of the Cinema Arts Program at Point Park University.
“We want schools that are eager to participate and really buy into the need to promote safety. We’re also looking for programs that have film projects where safety needs to be applied,” said Richard Jones. “It’s not really about Sarah, because she’s gone and we can’t get her back. It’s more about keeping it from happening to anyone else and then, that way, it’s part of her legacy. The loss of her life will have meaning.”
Tell us everything we need to know (in 5 sentences or less) about your program.
Point Park University Cinema Arts students begin producing creative work within their first semester in a dynamic, safe, and collaborative educational environment. Our graduates are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in their chosen field. Located in Downtown Pittsburgh, Pa., we offer degrees in Cinema Production, Animation and Screenwriting.
How has working with Terry Shirk changed the way that the school approaches shooting safely?
Ever since establishing the Safety Coordinator position in the Cinema Arts department and hiring Terry Shirk for the role, the level and importance of safety throughout our entire curriculum and culture has drastically improved. There are clear safety guidelines that students learn within their first few weeks in the program, and it continues for every production class that students have during their four years in the program. Terry teaches lessons and workshops in every production class to discuss safety and prepare them for whatever new challenges they might encounter, making sure their knowledge of safety on-set expands as they encounter bigger and professional level productions.
Can you tell us about the grants? How will your students go about applying for them? How many are available and what are you looking for in each grant application?
The SJFF awards one-time grants of up to $2,500 to fund on-set safety for narrative projects in the Cinema Arts Department. Applicants must be students in active good standing, enrolled in the final year of their undergraduate film programs. Grant money can only be used for qualifying safety costs incurred by the applicant’s thesis film. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Senior Thesis students can apply by submitting an application to Terry Shirk, the Safety Coordinator of the Cinema Arts Department. The application consists of 10 required items to be considered for the Safety Grant. A committee of faculty will consider all applications and forward three finalists to the SJFF for final determination of the Safety Grant winner. Applications are due September 30 of each year.
Tell us about your experience working on set, how have safety standards changed over the years?
I believe there is definitely more awareness and concern for the safety of crew on production now versus when I started working as a Lighting Technician. When I started, I did not believe I had the right to question the safety of a situation while on set. If my supervisor told me to do something, it was expected to be completed without question. One of the things that changed significantly was lightning safety protocol. For a long time, it was very ambiguous as to when it was considered too dangerous to be working outside as a thunderstorm approached. Eventually, we were able to adopt OSHA standards on how to deal with hostile weather conditions and the production companies were required to purchase lightning detectors to accurately determine the proximity of lightning strikes to current locations. One of the more dangerous activities Rigging and Set Lighting Technicians and Grips are required to setup and perform are Aerial Lighting Platforms. Early in my career, these elevated platforms (condors) were set up quickly and on the fly and sometimes without operators even wearing harnesses. Fortunately, over time, the requirements have stiffened and a lot more planning goes into the placement and operations of an aerial lighting platform, and all operators are required to pass an aerial platform safety program prior to being permitted to drive or operator a condor.
What are the 5 things you hope your students learn about on-set safety?
- Safety is everyone’s responsibility.
- If you are uncertain about the safety of something on set, do not be afraid to stop and ask for help and/or clarification on the concern.
- Considering safety is not a hindrance to achieving your artistic vision. Preproduction planning allows you to work out details for both your creative vision and the safety of the project.
- Cutting corners will catch up with you.
- Do not let the myth of Cinematic Immunity — the liberties filmmakers choose to take at the expense of safety — pressure you into bad decisions. The safety of your cast and crew always need to take top priority.