Tragedy has struck on the set of a movie starring Tom Hanks as children’s television host Mister Rogers, as a crew member dies after falling two stories from a balcony. Directed by Marielle Heller, the movie was at one point called You Are My Friend, but is currently untitled. Filming is taking place in Mount Lebanon, PA.
The crew member was 61 year-old James M. Emswiller, a sound mixer who previously worked on The Avengers and Jack Reacher. In 2015 he won a Primetime Emmy Award for his work on Dee Rees’ film Bessie, a biopic about the life of blue singer Bessie Smith.
Deadline reports that Emswiller fell from a balcony of an apartment where where the film was shooting, and fell over the brick wall after suffering a medical emergency. CBS Pittsburgh reports that he may have suffered a heart attack. The on-set nurse administered life-saving measures until medics arrived and took over, but Emswiller was in already in cardiac arrest. He was taken to UPMC Mercy Hospital, where he passed away at 10:36pm, around three hours after the fall. Filming has been put on hold and it’s currently unclear when it will resume.
In a statement, Sony Pictures said, “This is a devastating tragedy and the studio is investigating the matter. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim’s loved ones, friends, and colleagues.” OSHA is also investigating, as are local police. The death is believed to have been an accident resulting from the heart attack, but CBS Pittsburgh says that until this is confirmed the police are treating it like any other criminal investigation, and that detectives were on scene to take photos.
Film sets generally have very strict rules regarding health and safety, so on-set deaths are uncommon – though not unheard of. Last year, stuntwoman Joi “S.J.” Harris was killed on the set of Deadpool 2 after she was thrown off a motorcycle through a plate glass window. Also in 2017, stuntman John Bernecker died after falling from a balcony on the set of The Walking Dead. In both cases questions were raised about how the deaths could have been prevented, and The Walking Dead production company Stalwart Films LLC was fined by OSHA for “failure to provide adequate protection from fall hazards.”
Right now it doesn’t appear that Emswiller’s death was the result of any negligence on the part of the studio or filmmakers, but rather a freak accident resulting from a heart attack. However, we’ll have to wait for the studio, police, and OSHA to conclude their investigations before we have a definitive answer.