January 31, 2023

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How Rusty Case is different from Twilight Zone, Midnight Rider, The Crow

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On the evening of July 23, 1982, “Animal House” director John Landis was filming a tricky night helicopter scene for “Twilight Zone: The Movie.” The wide open spaces of Indian Dunes, now part of Santa Clarita, California, stood for Vietnam, and the scene called for troops in a helicopter to follow actor Vic Morrow, who was carrying two children. When the copter turned just above a large mortar round, the special effects explosive detonated, bringing down the helicopter and killing Morrow along with 7-year-old Micah Din Le and 6-year-old Renee Shin-Ye Chen.

The devastating accident rocked Hollywood, and months later, diversity announced that “Landis, pilot and others face charges over ‘Twilight’ crash.” Landis and other “Twilight Zone” movie crew members were charged with involuntary manslaughter — the same charges “Rust” actor and producer Alec Baldwin and “Midnight Rider” director Randall Miller faced for their roles in the on-set deaths.

Five years later, Landis and the other crew members were found innocent after a controversial nine-month trial, and Warner Bros. later settled with the families of the crash victims, including Morrow’s daughter, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The accident led to several new safety standards for the use of helicopters on sets from the FAA, DGA, Warners and the State Fire Marshal’s office.

Crash’s notoriety, however, did not hurt the film’s performance with audiences. “Twilight Zone: The Movie” opened in June 1983 and although it received mixed reviews, it performed strongly at the box office and helped renew interest in the franchise. Landis directed “Clue”, “Three Amigos” and “Coming to America”.

Fast forward four decades, and the response to on-set negligence changed when the 2014 death of camera assistant Sarah Jones in a train accident on the Georgia set of the Gregg Allman biopic “Midnight Rider” rocked the film business. Director Miller pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, the first time a director was jailed for an on-set accident. Jones’ death caused widespread outrage and nationwide scrutiny through social media and online journalism, and led to efforts by Safety for Sarah to improve working conditions on set.

Miller served just over a year in jail and was barred from giving instructions during his probation, which runs until 2025. But that didn’t stop him from leading the feature “Higher Ground” overseas. At a hearing about the apparent probation violation, he was found not to have “knowingly” violated the probation requirements. “Midnight Rider” was never completed.

diversity

Ten years after “Twilight Zone,” Brandon Lee was killed by a “point blank” bullet fired by actor Michael Massey on the set of “The Crow” in North Carolina. In the shooting of “The Crow,” perhaps the closest result to the “Rust” accident, none of the crew was held responsible for a bullet fragment in the gun, and no criminal charges were filed.

“Crew members will not be charged in the shooting death of actor Brandon Lee on a movie set, a prosecutor said,” the Associated Press reported at the time. The district attorney said the crew members were “apparently careless, but not enough to warrant sufficient charges. Nobody intended to harm Lee, he said.

Attorney James Brosnahan, who represented “The Crow’s” producer, said diversity, “The reasoning was that if you’re going to charge a corporation, you must have at least one person in the corporation who has all the elements that make up the charge. So for example, if they want to go after the corporation because the corporation was negligent, they have to have at least one person who knew it was negligent.” As a result of that argument, the district attorney did not file charges and Brosnahan then settled the civil suit brought by Lee’s mother.

“I think he’s got a good argument,” Brosnahan said of Baldwin. “We’ll see how it goes.”

After the accident, “The Crow” production went on hiatus before Lee returned for reshoots and CGI scenes. It grossed $94 million worldwide for distributor Miramax, and a remake recently wrapped production.

As for “Rust,” the Western was originally set to resume production sometime in January. That schedule has been pushed back about four weeks, according to a source, but pre-production is underway. It is not yet clear where the shooting will take place, although it will not be in New Mexico.

Each of these on-set accidents had very different consequences, due to the era, the temper of the authorities and the area in which they occurred. Each has led to safety reforms, which will likely be the case with “Rust.” But as budgets and timelines become more constrained, it’s worth making sure Hollywood memories aren’t too short.

(Photo: John Landis at the “Twilight Zone” trial.)

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