Sol Negrin: Safety First

In his role as co-chair of the ICG Educational and Training Committees, Sol Negrin, ASC is busy arranging screenings and events for union and ASC members in New York. Upcoming screenings include All is Lost, shot by Frankie DeMarco; Kill Your Darlings, shot by Reed Morano, ASC; Royal Pains, an episode of the TV series Royal Pains shot by Joe Collins; and an episode of Boardwalk Empire with DP Bill Coleman.

Sol Negrin, photographed by Owen Roizman, ASC.
Sol Negrin, photographed by Owen Roizman, ASC.

With the ASC, Sol is working on arranging a New York screening of the Gabriel Figueroa, AMC documentary Multiple Visions: The Crazy Machine, directed by Emilio Maillé.

In light of the recent tragedy that claimed the life of a young camera assistant named Sarah Jones, I asked Sol for his perspective as a union member for more than 65 years. In 1948, Sol joined ADTFC/NABET, a union whose membership worked in documentary and television at that time. In 1952, he joined Local 644, the New York local of IATSE at that time. As a camera assistant, he worked on the crews of worked as an assistant cameraman from 1948 to 1960, often with renowned cinematographers including Torben Johnke, ASC; Jack Priestley, ASC; Lee Garmes, ASC; Joe Biroc, ASC; Leo Tover, ASC; Harry Stradling, ASC; Hans Koenekamp, ASC; Charles Lang, ASC; Charles “Buddy” Lawton, ASC; Mario Tosi, ASC and Boris Kaufman, ASC.

Sol’s son Michael Negrin, ASC had worked with Sarah Jones last year. Michael was among the estimated 1000 people who gathered in Los Angeles for a candlelight vigil in memory of Jones.

ASC members Michael Negrin, Bill Bennett and Jim Chressanthis at the Sarah Jones candlelight vigil. Photo by Christel Cornilsen.
ASC members Michael Negrin, Bill Bennett and Jim Chressanthis at the Sarah Jones candlelight vigil. Photo by Christel Cornilsen.

Sol says that safety has always been a factor, and one of the fundamental reasons for the union. The accident reminded him of a tragic episode in the 1960s.

“I was working for MPO at the time, and I got a call from California to go out and complete a series of commercials,” he recalls. “The previous cameraman had been killed, along with an actress. The crew had broken for lunch and locked off the crane. After lunch, they decided to go ahead a do a take without rehearsal, and the grip neglected to unlock the crane. The picture car was to drive towards the camera, and the crane was to boom up, and the car would pass under. Unfortunately the crane was still locked, and there was a violent collision.

“The director, as I recall, had mental health issues after that and ended up in an institution,” Sol recalls. “The grip was penalized. But it’s a good example of what goes on when you’re in a rush to get stuff done.

“You can’t emphasize enough how important safety and communication is, especially in a job where each situation is unique,” he says. “You have to be vigilant, no matter the era or the type of shoot.”

Sol says that while the director of photography has a responsibility to protect the crew, each crewmember must also raise a red flag when conditions seem unsafe.

“I remember turning down a shot," he recalls. “It must have been about 1958. They ask you to do things, and you have the opportunity to say yes or no. I was working on a documentary for, ironically, the American Heart Association. I was married and I had two young kids. There was construction work being done on the East Side Highway to the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Guys were tossing rivets, and they wanted me to walk with the camera on a 12-inch-wide beam. I refused to go on the spot. I was just aware of my own limits, and the possibility of injuring myself.

“You usually know when you’re comfortable or fearful under certain conditions. But if you are confident, you’ll go ahead and do it. But you’ve got to not be intimidated — that’s the whole thing.”

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