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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - The Meek

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Hovertext: Also Mars. And any good stuff on Titan, Europa, or Enceladus.


New comic!
Today's News:

Finally, presenting the winner of BAHFest East 2015, and one of my favorite talks we've had, Michael Anderson:

 

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steingart
2 hours ago
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a milksnarfer
Princeton, NJ
rtreborb
1 day ago
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I have to admit that this is pretty good

Opportunity

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We all remember those famous first words spoken by an astronaut on the surface of Mars: "That's one small step fo- HOLY SHIT LOOK OUT IT'S GOT SOME KIND OF DRILL! Get back to the ... [unintelligible] ... [signal lost]"
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MaryEllenCG
5 days ago
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I really really really hope this happens.
Greater Bostonia
NielsRak
5 days ago
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Lets just say the first manned Mars mission better bring a boombox with some taped whale song...
JayM
5 days ago
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Hahahahaha
Boston Metro Area
slmaen
4 hours ago
aumraluoh@gmail.com..

I Played 'The Boys Are Back in Town' on a Bar Jukebox Until I Got Kicked Out | VICE | United States

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This bar I will never enter again had removed Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak from its jukebox.

Where are the boys? I am in the town, looking outward. Time is space; the distance between me and the boys unravels the years before me. Come back to us, boys; come back to me. The multitudes within me are expanding and I am breaking at my seams. I am becoming my own universe, and the boys are nowhere to be seen.

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brico
5 days ago
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No such thing as too much Thin Lizzy
Brooklyn, NY
glenn
6 days ago
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My motions were poised, automatic—insert dollar, punch the magic numbers 6-9-0-6, gaze thoughtfully into the abyss of the record collection. In that moment I was my best self.
Waterloo, Canada
Mother Hydra
6 days ago
This is the sort of writing that inspires me, and I want more damnit. Edit: this is the alternate ending to 2001: A Space Odyssey
glenn
6 days ago
Me too. The last two paragraphs are just epic. He needs to write more (and get more Twitter followers)
mgeraci
7 days ago
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this is beautifully written and utterly hilarious.
New York, NY
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notadoctor
7 days ago
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I love this in its entirety
StunGod
7 days ago
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This is just fantastic. Made my day.
Eugene, Oregon, USA
alliepape
8 days ago
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It starts well with the epigraph and just goes upwards from there.
San Francisco, CA

A public service announcement about contracts

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Every so often, when I am called upon to sign some contract or other, I have a conversation that goes like this:

Me: I can't sign this contract; clause 14(a) gives you the right to chop off my hand.

Them: Oh, the lawyers made us put that in. Don't worry about it; of course we would never exercise that clause.

There is only one response you should make to this line of argument:

Well, my lawyer says I can't agree to that, and since you say that you would never exercise that clause, I'm sure you will have no problem removing it from the contract.

Because if the lawyers made them put in there, that is for a reason. And there is only one possible reason, which is that the lawyers do, in fact, envision that they might one day exercise that clause and chop off your hand.

The other party may proceed further with the same argument: “Look, I have been in this business twenty years, and I swear to you that we have never chopped off anyone's hand.” You must remember the one response, and repeat it:

Great! Since you say that you have never chopped off anyone's hand, then you will have no problem removing that clause from the contract.

You must repeat this over and over until it works. The other party is lazy. They just want the contract signed. They don't want to deal with their lawyers. They may sincerely believe that they would never chop off anyone's hand. They are just looking for the easiest way forward. You must make them understand that there is no easier way forward than to remove the hand-chopping clause.

They will say “The deadline is looming! If we don't get this contract executed soon it will be TOO LATE!” They are trying to blame you for the blown deadline. You should put the blame back where it belongs:

As I've made quite clear, I can't sign this contract with the hand-chopping clause. If you want to get this executed soon, you must strike out that clause before it is TOO LATE.

And if the other party would prefer to walk away from the deal rather than abandon their hand-chopping rights, what does that tell you about the value they put on the hand-chopping clause? They claim that they don't care about it and they have never exercised it, but they would prefer to give up on the whole project, rather than abandon hand-chopping? That is a situation that is well worth walking away from, and you can congratulate yourself on your clean escape.

[ Addendum: Steve Bogart asked asks on Twitter for examples of unacceptable contract demands; dealbreaker clauses. Some I thought of so many that I put them in a separate article. ] immediately include: Any nonspecific non-disclosure agreement with a horizon more than three years off, because after three years you are not going to remember what it was that you were not supposed to disclose. Any contract in which you give up your right to sue the other party if they were to cheat you. Most contracts in which you permanently relinquish your right to disparage or publicly criticize the other party. Any contract that leaves you on the hook for the other party's losses if the project is unsuccessful. ]

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toddgrotenhuis
7 days ago
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Hand-chopping clauses
Indianapolis
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reconbot
1 day ago
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It's better to just not sign anything
New York City
Courtney
2 days ago
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Attention everyone about to sign an employment contract: this goes for non-compete clauses and durations. Some of the "default language" I've been handed is utter garb.
Boston, MA
Mother Hydra
6 days ago
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Good info to remember during those pesky NDA discussions.
Syrup City
tante
6 days ago
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A public service announcement about contracts.
Oldenburg/Germany

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Bases Loaded

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New comic!
Today's News:

 Adding hovertext to newer comics. Maybe I'll go back and add more to earlier stuff at some point.

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Why Director Randall Miller’s Statement on Sarah Jones’ Death Is Absolutely Grotesque

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sarah3

sarah

Last February, camera assistant Sarah Jones was tragically hit by a train and killed while working on the set of director Randall Miller’s film Midnight Rider in Georgia. Despite the fact that Miller had expressly been denied permission to use the train trestle by the tracks’ owners, he went ahead with the shoot regardless.

Earlier this month, Miller accepted a plea deal on an involuntary manslaughter charge and was sentenced to 2 years in prison and 8 years probation. As part of the plea deal, charges against his wife, Jody Savin, a producer on the film, would be dropped.

On Friday, he released the following statement:

On Feb 20th, 2014, a great number of mistakes were made and the terrible accident occurred which took Sarah Jones’ life. It was a horrible tragedy that will haunt me forever. Although I relied on my team, it is ultimately my responsibility and was my decision to shoot the scripted scene that caused this tragedy.

I pleaded guilty for three reasons: first, to protect my wife and family; second, out of respect for the Jones family and to not put them through a difficult trial; and, third, to take responsibility for my failure in not knowing that every safety measure was in place.

The location manager, the production designer, the unit production manager, the cinematographer, assistant director and others all made mistakes that led to this, but I have taken responsibility because I could have asked more questions, and I was the one in charge. I have worked in the film industry as a director for 25 years and never had a significant accident of any kind on any one of my sets.

I am heartbroken over this. I hope my actions have spared the Jones family more anguish and that the on-set safety measures that were lacking before this terrible tragedy will now take precedence for all in the industry.

Reading the statement this past weekend, I found myself absolutely incensed over how grotesquely defensive and weirdly self-righteous it is. Throughout the piece, Miller points fingers at his entire crew, all while portraying himself as having simply been the victim of a lack of information.

Let me explain a bit why this hits so close to home.

sarah

sarah3

When you work on a movie, there is intense pressure to provide everything the director asks for. You’re there for one purpose, to help realize the director’s vision, and if you can’t do it, you should get out of the way for the folks who can.

In other words, the worst thing you can say to a director is “no.”

For the most part, the shoots I’ve worked on in my career have been conducted safely and professionally. But I’ve certainly run into my share of directors like Randall Miller – guys who are willing to put their crew at unnecessary risk, say, by demanding a street be closed without police permission, or attempting to forgo a safety test for an abandoned location knowing there’s a good chance it’ll come back positive for asbestos and other hazards. I once nearly got in a fist fight trying to stop a crew member from literally cutting down a stop sign that the director felt was out of place in his shot.

The blowback you get from denying requests like these can be unbelievable. “Come on, can’t we get away with it?” “No one’s going to get hurt.” “It’ll just take five seconds.” “Well, why didn’t you anticipate the director would ask for this in prep?”

Thankfully, I’ve only had the privilege of working for the utmost professional of location managers, who have always had my back, and were always willing to commit the most egregious filmmaking faux pas imaginable: pas: saying “no” – and sticking by it.

Midnight Rider’s location manager, Charley Baxter, worked hard to get Miller the train trestle he wanted to film on, and was apparently able to secure permission to enter the property surrounding the tracks, which belonged to a paper mill. However, a request to film on the actual tracks was denied by the owner, CSX. In true filmmaking “never say no” spirit, Baxter reached out to a different CSX representative – and was again turned down.

Baxter is on record as having forwarded the CSX email denials to Miller, Savin, 1st AD Hillary Schwartz, and executive producer Jay Sedrish. He later had private conversations with each about the situation.

Charley Baxter dared to say no to Miller – but it didn’t matter. Miller, who along with Savin had regularly bragged about skirting safety regulations in favor of guerilla filmmaking tactics in the past, went ahead and filmed on the bridge anyway. And on February 20, 2014, camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed as an unexpected train barreled through set.

Tellingly, Baxter was not on set that day. Nor was a set medic, which is simply unheard of.

I don’t know any of the crew members who worked on Midnight Rider, but I can imagine a likely chain of events. The paper mill says yes, the track owners say no. Permission is secured to be “near the tracks” i.e. seems like enough legal wiggle room to steal a few shots on the bridge, because we all know nothing is actually going to happen, right? Some attempt is made to figure out the train schedule – I wouldn’t be surprised if some poor PA was sent to literally sit by the tracks for a few days to try and figure out how frequently they came.

And then the day of the shoot arrives, when cast and crew are told that if a train happens to be spotted, they’ll have 60 seconds to get off the tracks.

At this point, I imagine a look was exchanged between crew members, a conversation that went unspoken: “Should we be doing this?” “It must be safe if the producers and director are saying it’s OK.” “I’m sure we’ll be fine. Who dies on a film set?”

To make matters worse, Midnight Rider was a low-budget endeavor and had a number of crew members who were up-and-comers. In other words, folks looking for the chance to prove themselves when the going got tough. Here was just such an opportunity.

sarah2

On first glance, it almost sounds like Miller is owning up to the crime in his the statement. But let’s parse this thing a little more closely to see what he’s really trying to say:

Although I relied on my team [my crew was unreliable, and let me down], it is ultimately my responsibility and was my decision to shoot the scripted scene that caused this tragedy.”

I pleaded guilty for three reasons: first, to protect my wife and family…” [above all else, the reason I pleaded guilty was to get the charges dropped against my wife]

Second, out of respect for the Jones family and to not put them through a difficult trial…” [I’m only pleading guilty because proclaiming my rightful innocence would cause too much grief for the Jones family]

And, third, to take responsibility for my failure in not knowing that every safety measure was in place.” [Why is this third? Why isn’t this first? Why are there even any other bullet points to this?]

The location manager, the production designer, the unit production manager, the cinematographer, assistant director and others all made mistakes that led to this…” [Literally, everyone on my crew is in some way responsible for the tragedy. Everyone except the producer, who happens to be my wife.] tragedy]

But I have taken responsibility because I could have asked more questions, and I was the one in charge.” [I am only guilty of being misinformed. Had I been better informed by my crew that filming on a train trestle that we had been expressly denied permission to enter is fucking dangerous, this tragedy could have been avoided.]

I have worked in the film industry as a director for 25 years and never had a significant accident of any kind on any one of my sets.” [My unblemished record is further proof of my innocence.]

I am heartbroken over this. I hope my actions have spared the Jones family more anguish…” [Please acknowledge my sacrifice in pleading guilty when I do not believe it to be the case]

…and that the on-set safety measures that were lacking before this terrible tragedy will now take precedence for all in the industry. [Had proper film safety measures been more securely in place, I would have never been allowed to do never, ever done what I did.]

For Mr. Miller’s sake, I’ve provided an edited version of his statement below, which he is more than welcome to use should he have any interest in proving to the world he has a soul:

On Feb 20th, 2014, a great number of mistakes were made and the terrible accident occurred which took Sarah Jones’ life. It was a horrible tragedy that will haunt me forever. It is ultimately my responsibility and was my decision to shoot the scripted scene that caused this tragedy.

I pleaded guilty for one reason: to take responsibility for my failure in not knowing that every safety measure was in place. I could have asked more questions, and I was the one in charge. I have worked in the film industry as a director for 25 years and never had a significant accident of any kind on any one of my sets.

I am heartbroken over this. I hope that the on-set safety measures that were lacking before this terrible tragedy will now take precedence for all in the industry.

sarah5

When I first heard of the incident last year, I found myself having a very emotional reaction. In particular, it brought me back to an incident that happened very early on in my career.

I was working as a locations production assistant (lowest job there is) on a large movie being helmed by a very famous director.

We were filming on a rooftop I’d scouted and helped to secure. Contracts were signed, insurance was in place, building reps were on site, riggers had prepped the location, and we were all ready for the shoot.

Then something unexpected happened. The director arrived on the rooftop, looked around, got a funny expression on his face, and announced we were on the wrong roof.

This was an extraordinarily odd thing to say, as not only had we scouted this very rooftop with him personally, we had later tech scouted it with the entire crew. Nevertheless, the director looked around, pointed at a neighboring rooftop, announced that that was where he wanted to film, and started off.

This sent the crew into pandemonium, and soon, everyone was frantically trying to haul equipment off our rooftop and get into the neighboring building where we had absolutely no permission to be. Mind you, this wasn’t a small independent film – it was a $100 million dollar studio film with a crew numbering well over 100.

The director managed to get into the building and took the elevator to the roof. The camera crew arrived next, and loaded up the intensely small, incredibly ancient elevator with gear. A few guys managed to squeeze in with it, and they started up.

The elevator got stuck somewhere between the 17th and 18th floor.

There was nothing we could do. We obviously didn’t have a super on call as we did at the original, planned location. Hell, we didn’t even know who the management company was. I recall an off-hand suggestion being made by a producer that if we were able to get in touch with management, to make the filming deal before letting them know about the elevator situation, as they might otherwise charge us more.

The crew members remained trapped in that elevator for about half an hour before we finally managed to locate someone who could get them down. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew used the stairs, and the director was able to get his shot, which lasted all of 4 seconds in the final film.

What I’ll never forget is a crew member turning to me right at the start of the whole fiasco and asking “Should we be doing this?”

All I could do was shrug. Who was I, a lowly locations production assistant, to stand in the way of a famous, well-respected director and hold up his $100 million film?

It chills me to think that had that same young locations PA been on set that day in Georgia and been asked the same question, he would have ultimately trusted his director, Randall Miller, and gone right up on that train trestle with Sarah Jones.

When I look at pictures of Sarah Jones, I see myself.

sarah4

“Should we be doing this?”

The single saving grace about this horrific incident is the fact that we now have something to say when a simple “no” won’t suffice for people like Randall Miller, who disrespect their crew by treating filmmaking as an exercise in swashbuckling derring-do.

We’ll simply say “Sarah Jones.”

* * * * *

I know that quite a few folks in film production read this blog. If you’d like to share any personal stories of directors/producers forcing their crews to take unnecessary risks, I’d be more than happy to highlight them here. Feel free to remain anonymous.

Finally, be sure to check out Slates for Sarah , Pledge to Sarah, and Safety for Sarah, industry-wide efforts to keep Sarah’s memory alive and create a safer working environment. I also recommend this 20/20 piece on the tragedy, which goes into much further detail.

-SCOUT

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samuel
9 days ago
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Wisdom comes from experience, and in this case all those who work with filmmakers have a name to give when asked to do something that shouldn't be done.

Sarah Jones.
The Haight in San Francisco
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