Safety on the set – a lesson learned

Yesterday I wrote a blog about chasing zombies in an action film and it was all a bit tongue in cheek. However, let me get serious for a moment because there’s something I’ve been wanting to share with you and I hope you can learn from my mistake.

A few years ago, I played a detective in a non-union short film – unpaid, just like the rest of the actors and crew of that project. I was eager to do it because I liked the script and my role. Plus, I figured at the least, I would get some great footage for my reel. Since I had a little stunt training, I also agreed to do my own stunts, which were very minor. Little did I know how dearly this decision would cost me.

My stunt consisted of me ‘falling’ back against a wall and sliding down to the ground. Easy enough, right? We rehearsed it a few times with no problems. Then we filmed it. Being ‘in the moment’, I missed my mark and hit a corner, right next to my lower spine. I slid down the wall and was in so much pain that I just laid there and couldn’t move. It was one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had. What happened next in a nutshell: Ambulance ride to the ER, pumped full of morphine, X-rays, blood and urine tests, more drugs. Good news: no broken or cracked spine, no damaged kidneys, but severely contused muscles and crushed nerve tissue. My husband, who got the upsetting news over the phone while we waited for the medics, rushed to the ER and later drove me home. I was ordered on bed/couch rest and given some powerful pain medications. After a difficult week, I ‘healed’ enough to finish filming my remaining scenes. The cast and crew welcomed me back with a lovely chocolate cake; and the short film was eventually finished. Three or four months later, the numb spots on my lower back were finally gone and I was fully recovered. I was very lucky there was no permanent damage.

The bad news: No insurance on the set or any other monetary compensation. Well, it was my own fault, really. And theirs, too. None of us knew better back then.We were just a bunch of eager people trying to make a film. Accidents happen. In the end, I got stuck with roughly $2000 in medical bills. Yeah…

Oh, and the footage for my reel? Unusable, because of terrible sound problems. The film never went anywhere. I didn’t even get an imdb credit out of it.

Consider it lesson learned!

Needless to say I was a bit nervous about another non-union short film that I played in last weekend. It was heavy on action, physically demanding and there was injury ‘potential’. I knew this going into it and certainly inquired about insurance and safety measures before the shoot. This time, the set was indeed insured and the crew took all possible safety precautions. Since weaponry was involved, there was also a real cop and prop master. Mattes were used to cushion any impacts and falls. Thankfully, everything went really well and nobody got hurt. After we wrapped, I was inspired to write this blog, because this time it was done RIGHT. They even made a video talking a bit about weaponry on the set. Check it out – it’s informative and fun:

If you take away anything from my hard-learned lesson, think twice about accepting a role in a non-union project that has NO insurance! Especially if there is potential for bodily injury or if you’re expected to do your own stunts, no matter how minor they are. I wouldn’t do it. No acting gig is worth that risk. If it’s a SAG project, well, then you don’t have to worry so much because of the union’s strict rules. You can find some great info about safety on their website here.

NEVER be afraid to ask about safety and any concerns you might have – if they’re professionals, they will understand and answer your questions. It’s their job and responsibility. Watch out for yourselves! Be smart.

See you on the set and, no, don’t break a leg! ;)

2 thoughts on “Safety on the set – a lesson learned

  1. Great post Pia! And very helpful weaponry video. Low/no budget film-making have a way of making you pick and choose what expenses are most important. If you have living actors, Insurance is a must. Even if the film doesn’t involve weapons or stunts, accidents happen and everyone on your set should be taken care of.

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