With the Alec Baldwin “Rust” trial looming, you may remember the sad story of Sarah Jones. The young production assistant was killed in 2014 on the Georgia set of the Gregg Allman biopic “Midnight Rider.” Seven others were injured badly. The movie was never finished, and director Randall Miller pleaded guilty in 2015 to manslaughter for maintaining a careless set. He went to prison for a year and got 10 years’ probation. The terms of his probation: that he was not to serve as a “director, first assistant director or supervisor with responsibility for safety in any film production.”
But Miller was evidently “confused” about those terms. In 2019 he made a film in London and Serbia called “Higher Grounds.” When this was discovered, he was dragged back to court for probation violation. (He appeared by Zoom.) He said he thought the terms were unclear, and that he could indeed make films. It was a sorry excuse, like “the dog ate my homework.”
The judge, Anthony Harrison — who sounds like Fred Gwynne from “My Cousin Vinny” –had been very specific: a decade of probation, no films, directing films. Harrison told Miller, “You’re not to act as a director, period.” But at the 2021 hearing, Harrison relented. He said Miller didn’t violate his probation, that he might have indeed been confused about the wording after all. Still, Miller wasn’t allowed to make any more movies.
Apparently, no one asked what happened to “Higher Grounds.”
So now here it comes, on March 21st, to streaming platforms. Only, it’s been re-titled “Coffee Wars,” so that anyone who remembers “Higher Grounds” won’t realize it’s the same movie. According to a press release, “It’s extremely rare from a narrative film perspective but proceeds from the movie are 100% being donated to environmental and animal welfare charities.”
Um, that doesn’t mean 100% of the proceeds are going to charity, just so we’re clear. An unknown amount of the proceeds are being donated, and we don’t to what charity. The people involved are “100%” sure of that.
Imagine being Sarah Jones’s parents. Their daughter is dead. The director whose set she worked on has resumed his career. And while “Coffee Wars” has no stars, no theaters, and is probably not very good, Miller has gotten away with it.
PS The executive producers, the men who didn’t mind that Miller might not be able to make a movie, are a Georgia lawyer named Michael Melroy Smith and a money manager named Jay Karandikar. They put up the dough so a convicted felon could defy a judge’s order and make a D movie.
Here’s the trailer: