Grady College students receive first Sarah Jones Safety Grant

It was an anniversary that no one wanted to celebrate, but one that has already affected change.

On the third anniversary of Sarah Jones’ death in an accident on the set of the film “Midnight Rider,” Jones’ parents, Richard and Elizabeth, were at Grady College to award the first Sarah Jones Safety Grant from the Sarah Jones Film Foundation.

The grant was presented to Kyle Rehl, a senior EMST student who is writing and directing an independent film this semester called “Heckler,” and Gareth Kanter, the producer of the film.

Elizabeth Jones accepts a hug from an EMST student after the presentation ceremony.
Elizabeth Jones accepts a hug from an EMST student after the presentation ceremony.

“This today is very key where we want to take it,” said Richard Jones of his vision of his foundation’s goal of promoting safety to young film makers. “This is the future of the industry right here and they have the power to make positive change.”

Sarah Jones Safety Grants are provided in the amount of $2,500 and must be used for on-set safety expenses incurred by the production of a narrative thesis film. Typical expenses include properly permitted locations, on-set medics, street closure fees, professional stunt coordinators, police officers and fire department representatives. This is the first award in what the foundation intends will be a national, and maybe international, program.

Rehl, who applied for the grant by writing an essay, is grateful for the grant and understands the importance of safety first hand.

“I’ve had experience on the set before where I’ve had to be checked for a concussion,” Rehl said. “That experience right there made me realize that we have to take more precautions. Especially as students, we have to learn what to do correctly now so that when we go out into the field we have to take the right precautions.”

Sarah’s death at the age of 27 years old prompted an outpouring of grief in the movie and television industry and galvanized film crew members throughout the entertainment industry, highlighting longstanding concerns about safe working conditions on set. This prompted her parents to create the foundation to build awareness of safety issues on production sets.

“Following her death, we were approached by so many people in the industry who told us ‘you have an audience…the industry is listening to you, they are not listening to us…be our voice,’” Richard said.

Sarah Jones loved her profession, according to her father, Richard.
Sarah Jones loved her profession, according to her father, Richard.

Elizabeth said the foundation is also working to educate production crews about the importance of not only planning for safety, but also having the strength to say no to jobs that use unsafe practices, as well.

“If you see something unsafe, feel free to walk away. People are more apt to do that than they were four years ago. That mentality is changing,” said Elizabeth.

The Jones’ visit to Athens, Georgia, included a visit to the set of Rehl’s film and a meeting with several EMST students to talk about Sarah and the foundation.

James Biddle, a senior lecturer in production and editing at Grady College, was very familiar with the story of Sarah, who was a graduate of the College of Charleston, and encouraged Rehl to apply for the grant.

Last fall, the foundation has also recognized Grady College alumna, Becca Bennett (ABJ ’15), with the second Sarah Jones Opportunity internship.

On the anniversary of her death, Richard and Elizabeth reflected on what a positive life force their daughter was and how she believed that everything happens for a reason.

“When she died, we found that Sarah had several quotes taped to her bathroom mirror and one of the mirror mantras was from T.S. Elliott, ‘disturb the universe,’” recalled Richard. “It sounds disruptive, but it’s a very positive thing, that I can make a difference. I have all that I need to disturb the universe and make a difference.”

The legacy of Sarah Jones is well on its way to doing just that.