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World Trade Center   Full Production Notes     View All 2006 Movies
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jay Hernandez
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Screenplay by: Andrea Berloff
Release Date: August 9th, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language.
Box Office: $70,278,893 (US total)
Studio: Paramount Pictures
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Tagline: A true story of courage and survival.

September 11, 2001 was an unusually warm day in New York. Will Jimeno, an officer with the Port Authority Police Department, was tempted to take a personal day to enjoy his hobby of bow hunting, but ultimately decided that he would go to work. Sergeant John McLoughlin, a respected veteran of the PAPD, had been up for hours - a requirement of his daily, 1½-hour trek to the city. They and their colleagues made their way to midtown Manhattan, just like they did any other day. Only this wasn't any other day.

A team of PAPD first responders drove from mid-town Manhattan to the World Trade Center. Five men, including McLoughlin and Jimeno, went into the buildings themselves and were trapped when the towers collapsed.  Miraculously, McLoughlin and Jimeno survived, but were buried and pinned beneath slabs of concrete and twisted metal, 20 feet below the rubble field.

Though they couldn't see each other, each could hear that the other had survived, and for the next 12 hours, McLoughlin and Jimeno kept each other alive - talking about their families, their lives on the force, their hopes, their disappointments. Their story is told in the new motion picture from Oliver Stone, “World Trade Center.”

 World Trade Center
Nicolas Cage as John McLoughlin in World Trade Center.
The film also follows their wives (Donna McLoughlin in Goshen, New York, and Allison Jimeno in Clifton, New Jersey), children, and parents who suffered in their own confined circle of hell, with no messages from or information about their loved ones. The film also chronicles the improbable search by a determined accountant and ex-Marine from Connecticut, Dave Karnes, who found the two officers that night, and then the dozens of firemen, policemen, and paramedics who rescued them over the next grueling 12 hours.

About the Production

“Will and I feel an obligation to all those men that we lost that day,” says Port Authority Police Dept. Sgt. John McLoughlin.  “Through us, we're able to get the story out of all those men that sacrificed themselves that day. There is no doubt in my mind that the filmmakers wanted to show honor and respect to those who perished too.”

“John and me, we're down-to-earth people, we're just regular American families,” says Jimeno, “but a lot of regular Americans were doing the best they could that day. I am very honored to represent that.”

The motion picture based on their experiences, “World Trade Center,” is directed by three-time Academy Award-winner Oliver Stone, who says that from the moment he read Andrea Berloff's screenplay, he knew this was a story that he wanted to tell.

“Andrea Berloff's screenplay is one of the best that's ever come to me out of the blue - I guess like that day.  It walloped me - and many others - with its emotion and simplicity.  It hit this horrific event in a way I had not seen before, in a way that deeply personalized it for me,” says Stone.

Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher have produced other true stories, including “Erin Brockovich,” which was an Academy Award-nominee for Best Picture. They were struck by the way in which the experiences of the two men spoke to larger themes. “The story of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno and all the people who helped rescue them is just one story from 9/11, but it shows the larger story of how on a terrible, tragic day, people risked everything to help each other. We must remember that,” Shamberg notes.

“It appealed to us because it is about heroism in the sense that it reveals the best in humanity as people came together to help each other,” Sher adds.

From the beginning, the filmmakers' mandate was to make a film that not only honored the men and women involved in the story of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, but told it accurately.  This meant including not just McLoughlin and Jimeno, but their wives, their families and, ultimately, as many people connected to their rescue as possible.

“I've always felt that we were entrusted with this story by the real people - John and Will and Donna and Allison,” says Shamberg. “So it was our responsibility to be as authentic and accurate as possible at all times. We had to get it right.”

An important part of that commitment to authenticity was shooting as much of the film as possible on location in New York City. “The story of what happened on that day is also a story of the city of New York,” says producer Moritz Borman.  To be honest to that and the people of the city, there was never any question - we would chronicle what happened as truthfully as we could, and part of that meant we would film in New York.”

Stone, a native New Yorker, had not shot extensively in the city since 1987's “Wall Street” or 1991's “The Doors.” “It was reinvigorating to go back to New York and work with policemen and firemen, and working men and women.  Everyone seemed to go out of their way - particularly the Port Authority, which became our base in New York.”

“World Trade Center” was also a chance for Stone to explore the themes that have defined his career.  “To treat 9/11 in this way - deeply personal, exact, austere - challenged me,” says Stone.  “We tried to make as realistic a film as possible: two men, buried in the middle of those towers, for 24 hours. What makes a person live?  What makes him survive these horrible circumstances?  They probably would've died if they hadn't been able to communicate with each other, or experience the memories of their families.  I believe, in the end, they survived because of these deeply personal and spiritual reasons.”

Stone never saw “World Trade Center” as a political film, but as an intensely human story.  “Although my politics and John and Will's may be different, it didn't matter; we all got along. I can make a movie about them and their experiences because they went through something that I can understand.  Politics does not enter into it - it's about courage and survival.”

 “If you watch `Platoon' or `Born on the Fourth of July,' you know that Oliver understands men in groups trying to give their best and serve their country,” says Shamberg. “Initially, I saw this film as the biggest canvas we could work on because everyone has an emotional connection to this material - everyone remembers that day.  But Oliver sees it as a small, intimate story, which is a fascinating take on the material and completely correct.  In looking at the story of John and Will that way, it isn't a flat retelling of 9/11; the film, for me, weaves reality with spirituality.”

Academy Award-winner Nicolas Cage and rising young actor Michael Peña play McLoughlin and Jimeno. “I was at the point in my life where I really wanted to try to apply my abilities as an actor to something with meaning, something that could help people in some way,” Cage explains. “I was taken by how the human spirit emerged so positively in the screenplay. As devastating as 9/11 was, this story depicts something positive coming out of that incredible well of sadness.”

“I remember reading the script and thinking, `There is no way someone like Will Jimeno exists,'” says Peña.  “Will has a line where he says that his whole life, he always wanted to be a cop, and I thought it was just a cliché.  Then I met the guy and the first thing he said to me was, `I gotta tell you, I wanted to be a cop my whole life - that was the only thing I wanted.'  He is the real deal. I talked to his family, his friends, and the people who saved him, and they all talk about his ability to go through so much pain and still find the humor in it. Even at his darkest depths, he managed to keep his spirits up. It was a real honor to meet him, let alone to play him.”

“World Trade Center” also focuses on the women who waited to hear word about their loved ones, trapped beneath the collapsed towers.  Maria Bello plays Donna McLoughlin and Maggie Gyllenhaal is Allison Jimeno.

Bello says that conversations with Donna McLoughlin gave her great insight into her character. “She told me that being the wife of a cop, she learned not to go to that negative place - that until she heard differently, everything was fine,” says Bello. “She's the wife of a policeman and the mother of four children, so she's not sappy and definitely in control. Alongside that strength, she also has a real lightness and joy, almost a softness about her.  The film gives a sense of her moments alone during that terrible period when she was waiting for news of John, where she's keeping it together but having all these flashes of memories of the man she loves. We see both sides of Donna, her perseverance and her gentleness.”

Gyllenhaal remembers reading Andrea Berloff's screenplay for the first time and experiencing a strong emotional connection to the material.  “I read the script on an airplane and I cried probably three or four times,” she says. “Sitting on that airplane, reading the script - a very public place to read something like this - I felt very emotional and vulnerable. I was so moved by it, which is unusual for me.  My mom is a screenwriter and I really value scripts, so I don't often find a script that moves me as completely as this one did.”

“World Trade Center” began life with producer Debra Hill, who read about McLoughlin and Jimeno in a newspaper article.  She met with the men, who related their stories to her.  As Will Jimeno recalls, “She was very emotional before long; she was very kind and we felt she was sincere. She explained that she wanted us to meet Michael and Stacey, who were close friends of hers and producers who, like her, wanted to make this story into a meaningful film.”

“World Trade Center” would become Hill's last film credit.  After a long fight, the prolific producer succumbed to cancer in 2005.

“John and I know that this project came to be because of Debra's love and commitment to making it,” says Jimeno. “Debra makes me look like a wimp. She was suffering a great deal, but she kept her head and spirits as high as she could for as long as she could.  If you want to look for a hero, refer to Debra Hill, who was our angel looking over this film.”

Hill's sensibility and sensitivity for the material was shared by a first-time screenwriter named Andrea Berloff.  No one was more surprised or grateful to receive the chance to work on this project than she was.

“I had a very brief meeting with Michael and he said, `Maybe you want to take a look at this material and see what you think?'” says Berloff.  At this early stage in her career, Berloff was not expecting to get the job.  Still, she says, “I knew I had to give it the best I could.  I researched John and Will's story and, frankly, fell in love with it, even before I met them.  The story that I saw from the very beginning was, essentially, a character piece about these two men - and that's the story we shot.”

“Two men in that hole, in the darkest hours of their lives, hardly knowing each other, bonded together through the fire of their experience,” says Stone. “On a day when we came so close to losing faith in humanity, they helped give that faith back to us.”

About John and Donna McLoughlin

Port Authority Sergeant John McLoughlin, a 21-year veteran of the Port Authority Police Department, was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Long Island, New York. He attended Oswego State College, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. During college, he interned at a bank and upon graduation, he worked in the firm's management trainee program.  McLoughlin moved up through the ranks, but at the same time, he joined the Massapequa volunteer fire department, where his brother, Pat, already served. “We were fairly active for a volunteer fire department and I found it more interesting than banking,” says McLoughlin. “After five years at the bank, I felt like I was in a rut. My brother was also a Port Authority cop, so I ended up taking a test for that; it was now or never to make a career move.  I was 27, which actually was fairly old for the academy; most of the guys are 21, 22, 23.  I never looked back, never regretted having done it.”

McLoughlin spent three years at the Port Authority Bus Terminal before being transferred to the World Trade Center, where he spent 12 years and made sergeant.  As a regular cop on duty, he was as familiar with the building as anyone was when terrorists bombed the building in 1993. Alongside his fellow officers, he helped evacuate and attend to the wounded; he would receive a commendation for his work there.

After the 1993 bombing, McLoughlin applied for and received a Trade Center position that would lead to his unique knowledge of and relationship with the Towers: Post Nine - subgrade control - a position that included responsibility for the towers' emergency equipment.  McLoughlin was in charge of keeping the gear maintained, tested, and in good working order.

McLoughlin took that responsibility seriously and went several steps further than required; his background in fire fighting combined with a fix-it mentality led him to completely redesign the safety and emergency protocols within the Trade Center.  In addition, he began to take classes with the Emergency Service Unit, a specialized division of the Port Authority trained to handle a variety of catastrophic events, from hazardous materials to bridge-and-water rescue to tactical operations.  Eventually, McLoughlin worked with the FBI, the Secret Service, and the Trade Center to design procedures to deal with chemical and biological agents. Because terrorists had attacked the Trade Center once, McLoughlin was convinced that it was a viable target and could be hit again.  

Transferring back to the Bus Terminal, McLoughlin hoped that he would end his career as an Emergency Services Supervisor. “But then, 9/11 happened,” he says.

Nicolas Cage as John McLoughlin

When it came time to cast the film, according to Shamberg, Stone looked for actors who were not only physically right for their parts but could deliver the emotional truths behind their lines. “Oliver made instinctive decisions as to who captured the essence of the people and his instincts were right every time,” Shamberg says. “For each part, we got our first choice - all the actors had a deep respect for the project and wanted to be involved.”

To play the tall, laconic, straightforward McLoughlin, a man who conveys the grit and integrity that made him a good cop, Stone called upon Academy Award-winner Nicolas Cage. Though the actor is well known for his scene-stealing volatility, Stone felt that Cage could project McLoughlin's steely grace and calm - and the opportunity to see Cage play “against type” interested the director.

“Nic is an actor known for taking chances,” says Stone. “He has proven to be a master of characters with fractured consciousnesses and his performances, in that realm and others, really impressed me through the years.  He is a highly cultivated actor with a lot of sophistication and polish.  I think he delivers a magnificent, maturely restrained performance.”

But the role was unique for Cage, the director continues. “I'd never seen him as a straight-talking working man,” Stone says.  “As John McLoughlin, he had to dispense with romantic aspirations, to come down to earth in a way unlike anything he'd done.  Simplicity was paramount.”

 “I like to move - I'm a very kinetic actor,” says Cage.  “And here I am, boxed into this hole.  In an odd way, I found it comforting - it was a challenge to convey emotion through stillness.  The biggest thing I was concerned about was the levels of pain that these characters were going through and how to emote that.  It builds, and builds, and builds, until the character can't hold it in any more.”

To prepare to play the role, Cage spent time with his real-life counterpart, learning what the man thought and felt during his time in the debris field.  “I asked John what he had to do to survive this,” says the actor.  “He said it was a lot of prayer and images of his wife and children - but the saddest thing was the incredible guilt he felt, that he had let them down in some way, that he had blown it because of the oath he took to protect and serve.  All those things running through his mind make it very emotional, very human.”

Maria Bello as Donna McLoughlin

Of the four principal cast members, only Maria Bello, who plays Donna McLoughlin, experienced the rescue efforts in New York on 9/11 firsthand. “The screenplay affected me personally, because I was in New York that day, down at St. Vincent's hospital,” Bello says. “My parents and I had been at a hotel on the Upper West Side when it all happened; they asked for any nurses and doctors in the city to come to the hospital. So, my mother - who's a nurse - and I went to St. Vincent's; we waited the whole day for people who never came - we later realized that was because there were so few survivors. I walked back uptown - there were no taxis, no subways.  I went up 6th Avenue in this sea of people covered in gray dust.  It was completely silent, but sometimes someone would reach out a hand, pat someone's back, or ask if you were OK. I never felt so peaceful in a crowd of people, so much unity.”

As the project progressed, Bello was gratified and stimulated by the atmosphere that Oliver Stone fostered. “He's such a brilliant story teller,” says the actress. “Every movie he's ever made has such a strong point-of-view. I didn't know what to expect because you hear so many different things about him, but I was overjoyed to find a very open, generous, and collaborative man. He is so much more connected to something bigger than most of the rest of us.”

Stone admired Bello's ability to transform herself so completely but also so subtly. “Maria spent good time with Donna. Over time and study, she found what she wanted, and with rehearsals, discovered for herself the core strength in Donna.  After that, Maria became like Donna, very calm at the center-- and a rock for me.  She grew into it and then gave layers to Donna that made her so real to me.”

Of her experiences, Donna McLoughlin remembers, “I tried to be positive and I figured no news is good news - it meant that nothing had happened to him. By dinnertime, I was getting nervous. I was in the living room on the phone and I saw a big truck that I knew was my brother-in-law's.  I got really upset, because I knew he hadn't driven from Long Island just to be with me, I knew he had something to tell me.  I yelled at him and told him not to come in the house.  He did anyway and I threw a phone at him, but it was just my frustration. I had been holding it together all day and the floodgates just opened up.  I was terribly upset; everything I dreaded was right there on my doorstep.”

About Will and Allison Jimeno

Will Jimeno was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, but immigrated to the United States at age two when his parents moved to Hackensack, NJ.  He attended St. Francis of Assisi for grammar school and went on to Hackensack High School, where he played soccer and studied martial arts.  Growing up, his dream was to become a policeman, but he chose an indirect route to become one: he joined the Navy and ended up on the U.S.S. Tripoli, based out of San Diego.

“I was a gunner's mate on `The Tripoli,' which was a great experience.  I wanted to serve the red, white, and blue, but I also wanted to see the world and I got to do both. I got to go to 11 different countries, got to meet a lot of different cultures, but it was always great to get back to the United States,” Jimeno says.

Jimeno completed his four-year tour of duty in 1990 and returned to go to school at Bergen Community College, where he studied criminal justice.  He paid his way via the G.I. Bill and working security at department stores.  In this latter capacity, he met Allison, who worked at the fine jewelry counter.  They married in 1993.

It took Jimeno six years to fulfill his dream of becoming a Port Authority police officer, a job very difficult to attain.

“It was literally winning the lottery for me,” he says.  “To join the Port Authority, you take a test and since we are a bi-state agency, that means you are competing against people from both New York and New Jersey. Then, if you pass the test, there is a lottery and they pick out your name. They picked mine. I remember the day I got the package - I was just ecstatic.”

Several of his fellow police academy classmates, notably Dominick Pezzulo and Antonio Rodrigues, would join Jimeno on 9/11 when they answered Sgt. John McLoughlin's call and followed him into the World Trade Center to save people.

“The greatest part of being a police officer is to protect and serve. When we got near the Trade Center and saw the jumpers and felt so helpless, that's the worst thing for a cop.  We really wanted to go in and help as many people as we could,” Jimeno says.

Jimeno's class of officers symbolically began their careers at the Trade Center. “We graduated the academy on January 19th, 2001 - the Academy's centennial class - and our ceremony was held at the World Trade Center. So, the Trade Center has a lot of meaning to me, my classmates, and those we lost.  That's where we were sworn in, that's where we promised to serve and protect people. Many of the Port Authority officers who passed on 9/11 were in my class,” Jimeno says.

The man who always wanted to become a policeman served for nine months before the tragedy at the World Trade Center ended his life's work and nearly killed him.  “It was a short career as police officer, but it was a good one,” Jimeno says.

Michael Pena as Will Jimeno

Playing Will Jimeno is Michael Peña, a rising young actor who has turned heads with his role in “Crash” and recurring parts on “The Shield” and “CSI.”  After winning the role, Peña made a commitment to authenticity that impressed the producers and director.  

“I kept pushing Michael to hang out with Will, to build up his muscles to take on that boisterous macho attitude and strut that Will has,” Stone says.  “Amazingly, Michael did it.  He's a less physically dominating persona than Will, who had to walk the beat at the bus terminal and had to establish his physical dominance quickly.  That was a big difference and I think Michael came through and reflected Will's big sense of humor and heart.  Will is a man who wears his heart `on his sleeve,' whereas Michael tends to the oblique, but he found Will.”

In fact, prior to production, Peña practically lived with Jimeno, spending so much time with the family that the Jimenos' little girls, Bianca and Olivia, began to think of Peña as family. In turn, Jimeno became a de facto technical advisor, coming to set often, at Stone's request, to answer questions and fill in gaps.

Memorably, Peña visited Ground Zero with Jimeno. “As soon as I walked in, the place got to me - I felt a great sense of loss. Will speaks eloquently about honoring what happened there that day, and when he took me there, I understood why this movie is so important to him.  I'm glad that we're making this movie that shows something good that came out of it; maybe that sounds cheesy, but it's true.”

Peña says he was attracted by the prospect of working with Nicolas Cage. “This is my first leading role, so I was a little nervous, but Nic was extremely supportive.  He had some great ideas; it was a very good collaboration.”

Working with Oliver Stone was also a beneficial experience for Peña. “Oliver doesn't give a lot of direction - instead, he gives you key things that will inform the entire scene.  He's got a great honesty meter.  He wasn't afraid to get himself dirty, crawling into the hole with me and Nic just to be in there with us.  It got to the point that I couldn't wait for the cameras to roll so I could give him what he wanted - I was eager to please him.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Allison Jimeno

Stone says that Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays Peña's on-screen wife, Allison Jimeno, also surprised and captivated him, albeit in a different way.

“Maggie was like a headstrong colt,” says Stone. “Everything was in suspension for Allison, a wife coming to terms with the fact that she will have no husband and that she would be raising her two young children alone. Maggie had an instinct I trusted immediately and as we went along, we trusted each other more and more.”

As it turns out, Gyllenhaal too felt an intuitive connection to Stone.  “I didn't know what to expect when I met Oliver, he's such a personality, his reputation precedes him. As we talked, I felt a real instinctive connection to Oliver, which remained throughout filming,” she says.

“It was such an intense, unbelievable experience,” Gyllenhaal says. “He's pushed me more than any other director ever has. A lot of Oliver's movies are like operas. They're painting a really emotional, really committed portrait of a time. That's what he pushes you to - a really committed, honest opera.”

Gyllenhaal adds that the reason she was so keen to do the project was because the screenplay touched her profoundly.  It's something, she says, that doesn't often happen.

Allison and Will Jimeno note that sometimes Gyllenhaal affected a movement or a glance that was, as Will puts it, “so Allison it was spooky.”  

For her part, Allison conveyed to Gyllenhaal “not so much what happened that day or what I said or did but how I felt,” she says.  “Being married to a cop is difficult.  There is always that concern but I'm just the type of person who doesn't worry until there is something to worry about.  I tried to remain calm about things. Will worked in midtown Manhattan, and we all knew anything could happen at any moment.  But, I grew more and more nervous as the day went on, even though I tried to remain calm.  It wasn't until I knew officially that he went into the building that I got really upset and I truly thought he wasn't coming back.”

Jay Hernandez as Dominick Pezzulo

When the Trade Center collapsed, two members of McLoughlin's team, Christopher Amoroso and Antonio Rodrigues, disappeared.  The two remaining officers, Jimeno and Dominick Pezzulo, survived the first crash. The pair ended up near each other and Pezzulo managed to wriggle out from under the concrete and worked to free Jimeno. When the second tower fell, it killed Pezzulo, who died in front of Jimeno. Jay Hernandez plays Dominick Pezzulo and learned about the officer he would be playing from the man he was trying to save when he died.

“I talked to Will about Dominick and learned that he was a really sweet guy, soft-spoken; before he joined the Port Authority, he was a teacher,” says Hernandez. “I really wanted to do him justice on film, to pay him respect. He gave his life trying to help people, he was incredibly selfless. There were two times where he could have just walked away - he first chooses to follow John McLoughlin into the Trade Center, and second, after the first collapse, he chooses to stay to help Will. He did a powerful thing for his friend. Will told me everything he could; he gave me so much insight.  He really committed himself and set aside his own perceived failings and emotions.”

Jimeno says, “All three of my teammates - Christopher, Dominick and Antonio - I don't have words good enough to describe them.  They are beyond heroes, they are angels. They made the ultimate sacrifice to bring people home. At any time, Dominick could have turned and left, but he didn't he stayed by my side, as a partner, as a friend, as a classmate; for 20 minutes he tried to get the concrete off me. Witnessing his death was the hardest thing I've ever had to experience and even in his last moments, he wasn't thinking about himself, he was thinking about his partners. That's the kind of person he was. He was a cop, a schoolteacher, a father, a son, but in the end, he was a great American.”

About the Rescue

An assorted group made up of Marines, Policemen, Firemen and Emergency Services workers joined forces to rescue McLoughlin and Jimeno, at great peril, climbing into a fiery abyss of toxic smoke, twisted metal, and concrete that continually shifted under their weight, threatening to bury them alongside the trapped PAPD officers. McLoughlin and Jimeno consider these men the real heroes of their story.

“The rescue workers who came in after us and risked their lives to get Will and me out, these are all people who have families of their own,” says McLoughlin. “Will and I had to face death, but we didn't have a choice; it was thrust upon us. These men knowingly faced death, crawling over that rubble pile, crawling into that hole that held us, when a shift of that debris field would have crushed them. They displayed incredible courage, risking their lives just to get two guys out.”

The first men to find McLoughlin and Jimeno were two errant Marines.  Staff Sergeant Dave Karnes, in particular, was on a true mission.  At the time, Karnes was an accountant; on 9/11, like so many others, he watched the World Trade Center tragedy unfold on television.  Karnes, a deeply religious man, felt a personal calling to help and saw this as a mission given him by his God.  He returned to full Marine mode, stopping at a barbershop to have his hair buzzcut, donning his fatigues, and racing to Ground Zero.  Though police and National Guard had erected barricades barring people from getting close to the disaster, the steely Marine, without official permission, made his way through regardless.  As the night closed out official rescue efforts, Karnes, in an extraordinary effort, got himself, with help from another mysterious Marine (named Thomas), into the treacherous rubble pile and began searching for survivors.  Against all odds, they located McLoughlin and Jimeno.

Michael Shannon played Karnes. “Dave is a far braver man than I could ever imagine,” says the actor.  “He seemed to follow a simple plan. He got a message from the Lord to go to Ground Zero, so he went.  He looked around with the help of another Marine, Thomas, until he found somebody.  He had a very deeply rooted belief and he wouldn't stop until he found what he was looking for.”

Though remarkable, it was one thing for Karnes to find McLoughlin and Jimeno and quite another to get them out. Because of the way the guts of the Trade Center had snared and encased the men, the rescuers could had to free Jimeno first, then dig deeper to get McLoughlin.  Emergency Service Unit officers Scott Strauss and Paddy McGee, alongside paramedic Chuck Sereika - played by Stephen Dorff, Stoney Westmoreland, and Frank Whaley, respectively - worked together for three hours to release Jimeno.  

“Because they tried to film the movie in scene order, I came on board near the end of the production, but I knew it would be a special movie,” says Dorff. “Meeting Scott and the guys was an incredible experience. He's got two great kids and a beautiful wife, but on that day, he was giving it all up to go do his job.  Still, he won't call himself a hero.   He's a hero to me. I have never met anybody as humble as he is. He's really affected me.”

“As an ESU officer, this is the kind of disaster we are trained for, this is what we do,” Strauss says. “So, I went to the Trade Center and we kept looking for people that we didn't find. I couldn't believe there were no survivors; it was a nightmare.  So, when we found Will and John alive, they were like the Holy Grail. We had to get them out - it was game on!”

Strauss went into the hole with no gear on - the only way he could get in to free Jimeno.  Crawling through the black, thick smoke, he did everything he could to free Jimeno, but the officer's arms and legs were so swollen that they remained pinned.  Finally, Strauss got a battery-operated “jaws of life” - but the only way it could be positioned properly was with Strauss lying on top of Jimeno.  To take some of the psychological pressure off, Strauss says, the rescuers tried to keep things light.

“We figured that humor would keep Will around and take his mind off the pain and how long it was taking to get him out,” Strauss says.  “I was crawling around, sometimes on top of him, crushing him. I kept apologizing for causing him more pain - we definitely threw some jokes around.”  Both men still banter when they are around each other and have become close friends.  

As Strauss, McGee, and Sereika struggled to free Jimeno, firemen attempted to contain the flames beneath them.  One of them, Tommy Asher, played himself in the film and recreated a particularly vexing problem:  the serrated debris kept perforating the hoses, cutting off the water supply.

After close to 12 hours and the tireless efforts of a crew of firemen, cops, and ESU workers, both Jimeno and McLoughlin were pulled out of the pile.  One of the real firemen integrally involved in McLoughlin's rescue, Scott Fox, plays himself.

“Scotty Fox from Rescue 5 spent a long time working on getting to me,” says McLoughlin.  “He just wouldn't leave. There was a point where they ran out of options and I think they were trying to make plans to get my wife down there to say good-bye. That's when Scotty was finally able to break off the main piece of concrete - he actually got the part holding my helmet in place so I could get my head moving. He was the one who got the ball rolling for the rest of the men to finish the job.”

Filming in New York

Overseeing the production was Don Lee, a veteran producer and native New Yorker who witnessed 9/11 firsthand. “I live downtown and was on my way to jury duty when I saw the second plane hit,” Lee remembers. “The story of these two men appealed to me because it was about New Yorkers helping New Yorkers - two regular guys who went in and almost lost their lives trying to save people.”

According to Lee, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey gave unprecedented support to the production. With the filmmakers' commitment to authenticity a top priority, the Port Authority's cooperation proved invaluable.  Not only did they allow the company to film at the Port Authority bus terminal for three weekends - a first for the Authority - but the agency served as advisers to the prop and wardrobe departments on the appropriate gear. “The PAPD made it possible for us to go directly to their vendors so that everything was authentic,” says propmaster Daniel Boxer.  In addition to authentic emergency uniforms, the production was able to purchase 75 FDNY radios, six dozen Scott Air Paks, three dozen PAPD gunbelts, a stock room full of police department batons, plastic replicas of period-correct Smith & Wessons pistols, handcuffs modified for movie use, and ca. 2001 signage and graphics.

One of the first “sets” within the Port Authority was in the cops' real locker rooms in the basement. In fact, it was in this room where Jimeno, Rodrigues, Pezzulo, and their colleagues gathered every day, before and after work, and talked and razzed each other, a scene Stone recreated in the movie. A portion of the locker room was dressed for the “period” - no iPods, different cell phones, newspapers with appropriate headlines - and otherwise rearranged to accommodate cameras, lights, gear and personnel.  However, the perimeter remained untouched, and on the beaten lockers hung memorialized “legacy” photos of the officers who lost their lives on 9/11.

“It was a very moving experience to shoot down in those lockers,” says Jay Hernandez. “I saw Dominick's locker; his picture was up on it like a shrine and it brought back a lot of the emotions that I experienced on that day.”

“You have to be on top of everything going on around you to be a police officer,” says Peña, who spent time with PAPD officers as he prepared for the role. “Those guys are intense.  I remember, we were walking through the bus terminal, and they picked one guy out of the crowd - looked like just another guy to me. They asked him what he was doing and he said, `I'm sorry, man - I've been hustling.'  Just tells the cop everything!  It doesn't show up in any arrest statistics, but that cop stopped a lot of crime right there.  It was really helpful to see firsthand what those guys do.”

About the Production

To bring McLoughlin's and Jimeno's story to the screen, Oliver Stone brought together an outstanding team of professionals. The director of photography is Seamus McGarvey, who filmed the Academy Award nominee for best picture, “The Hours.”  Jan Roelfs, the production designer, is a two-time Academy Award nominee and previously worked with Stone on the epic “Alexander.” Editor David Brenner, who won the Oscar for his work on Stone's “Born on the Fourth of July,” marks his eighth collaboration with the director, joining with his longtime assistant and now fine lead editor in her own right, Julie Monroe. The costumes are designed by Michael Dennison. Composer Craig Armstrong, who has provided the music for such diverse films as “Moulin Rouge” and “Ray,” writes the score.

Although several of Stone's movies feature operatic camerawork, “World Trade Center,” by comparison, is visually spare.

“Seamus and I agreed early on to go more conservatively on this movie, to keep the moves simple, especially in the holes where the men are buried,” says Stone. “And to concentrate on the lighting. We wanted to keep the balance of realistic shadows, yet see into their eyes.  Outside the holes, we sought the light as much as possible in the story of the wives and the Marine, to alleviate the dark.  In the end, we played off the light and the dark, with variations, seeking to reverse the normal functions of both.”

With that in mind, McGarvey and Stone designed the camera work to convey the characters' internal emotional journeys. “Oliver's way of considering the lens is amazing. He is very, very precise with what the camera says and what the camera movement means,” says McGarvey.  “He is never flagrant with the moves and he always captures great performances. Although we used a more naturalistic mode, there was a vibration throughout that is the director's voice, the voice of an auteur and it created a unique quality.  As in all his films, Oliver has identified with the protagonists and their dilemmas, their pain and their hope.”

To achieve that vision, McGarvey embarked on a testing process on the best ways to pick up emotion through shifts in light and focus.  “On every film, you find something that offers a way of expressing emotion photographically.  I asked Panavision, `I'm trying to focus in on a single plane, on an eye or a mouth, trying to explore the landscape of the face without a camera move. Have you anything like that?  They told me, `We've got the perfect thing.'”  

The perfect thing turned out to be a prototype of a lens invented by Steve Hylen, the designer at Panavision, which allowed McGarvey to control and train the lens on certain points of the face as the emotion of the scene dictated. “We used it sparingly, at fairly critical junctures, where we were on the protagonists' faces and as we close in on an eye or a mouth, we can redirect the audience's attention.  It was incredibly subtle when we're signaling a memory,” McGarvey says.

 “I find that most scripts have a photographic heart and this one certainly had a very strong visual identity,” McGarvey concludes.  “It's spare, not highly stylized.  Also, there are parts of the story that have a very subjective quality, in that you see it from the characters' perspectives. Increasingly, as the story progresses, it becomes more transcendent. We devised ways of expressing that visually.”

The construction department began resurrecting the World Trade Center while the shooting crew filmed in New York, in order to have it ready by the time Stone returned to California.  Devising the set was a challenge for production designer Jan Roelfs because the collapsed towers were very well documented in photographs and on television.  While this offered a plethora of research material, it meant that everyone in the world had seen and remembered the original and no mistakes could be made.  Moreover, Roelfs had to configure a construction that could accommodate the needs of the camera and lighting crews, as well as the creative requirements of Oliver Stone.

“I knew what Ground Zero looked like, but how to make it into a set that was shootable and affordable?  That was one of the biggest challenges,” Roelfs says. “There was so much documentation of the Ground Zero site so that was very helpful, but, it spanned over 16 acres and that was too massive to build to scale.   We started with models.  As the set began to take shape, it was clear that there were certain iconic pieces that we would use as landmarks, stark pieces of the buildings that remained standing that were in many of the photographs. Then we had to build it and make it camera ready but also safe.”

Roelfs and his team constructed the set at the former home of Hughes Aircraft in Playa Vista.  They began with Styrofoam reinforced with a urethane coating to make it strong but supple.  Then, the art department was able to augment the Styrofoam beams with pieces of twisted metal procured from area scrap metal dealers.  By the end of construction, the set contained 200 tons of scrap metal and 900 individual sculpted pieces and spanned about an acre, 1/16th of the original rubble field.  

One of Roelfs's ingenious moves was driven by necessity: because Stone's artistic vision demanded that the set be lit and shot from below and above, the massive set could not be built on the ground; it had to be perched on some structure.  Instead of building an elaborate base, he decided to rent a large quantity of shipping containers and built the set on top of them.  “Because we were in Playa Vista, we had easy access to the port of Long Beach, which is the biggest container harbor in America,” Roelfs recalls.

The combination of containers, wood and steel struts, and platforms not only provided a level, sturdy plane for a giant crane, dolly tracks and other assorted camera necessities, it also created a labyrinth of tunnels and walkways beneath the shooting area.  This offered shortcuts across the set and places to stow gear and, importantly, it enabled Chief Lighting Technician Randy J. Woodside to light it.

“We shot much of Ground Zero at night, because that's when Will was rescued.  That first night, after the Towers collapsed, there wasn't much light; the site was mostly lit from the ground and some emergency equipment.  We had to light a movie set, but essentially, it was the same concept: the set was lit from low angles and we had one large backlight from behind to provide shards of light,” Woodside says.

Woodside, like all the cast and crew, says that when he first saw the sets, “I was at a loss - they really impacted me emotionally, more than I expected, more than any other movie I've ever done.  It was hard to direct my crew where to go on the set - we just had north, south, east, and west as reference points. I can only imagine what the rescuers when through when they were combing the real place, looking for survivors.”

When designing this set, Roelfs queried McLoughlin, Jimeno, Strauss and McGee, but because they saw this hole from different vantagepoints, they all had slightly different recollections of how it looked and felt.

“Listening to all the rescue workers stories, we got a pretty good idea of it spatially.  The problem was that they took shifts and changed positions every twenty minutes, so nobody had a clear picture,” says Roelfs.  “Between them all, and talking to Will and John, we pieced together the way they were positioned.”

Roelfs notes that he took his cues in the structure and design of the set from the way McLoughlin and Jimeno were positioned in the collapse.  “When John realized the tower was collapsing, he ordered his guys to make a run for the service elevator - he thought that was the strongest spot,” says Roelfs.  “He was miraculously correct; it stayed intact.  After the tower came down, somehow John ended up lower and Dominick and Will ended up higher.  So, we built that: a three-story elevator shaft set on wheels and a track, so that Oliver could position it and the camera as it suited him.  The set had two floors, to show Dominick and Will above John.  Pieces of debris hung in on a semi-circle track from the ceiling and we could lower or raise them.”

Roelfs's Ground Zero and hole sets passed the ultimate litmus test: In January, Stone brought John McLoughlin, Will Jimeno, Scott Strauss, Paddy McGee, John Busching, Scott Fox, Tommy Asher, many of the cops and firemen who helped rescue McLoughlin and Jimeno and all of their families to Los Angeles for four to six weeks.  They served as technical advisors and, in some cases, recreated what they did on the pile and in the hole, playing themselves.

Roelfs's sets were so realistic that it gave them pause.  Upon arrival to Los Angeles, McLoughlin, Jimeno, Strauss, McGee and Asher came directly to the Ground Zero set, on the first night the crew filmed there.  In all, over 50 real-life PAPD, NYPD, and FDNY members who were at Ground Zero came to Los Angeles to appear in the film.  In the end, all the prominent police and fireman extras in the film would be played by these real-life heroes.  

In addition, they played a valuable role in helping the filmmakers ensure accuracy in the film's dialogue.  If the dialogue sounded sketchy to the men - as in, “New York firemen/policemen/ESU officers would never say that!” - they'd pipe up and script changes quickly resulted.

The sight of the set was particularly disquieting for Strauss, McGee and Asher, who intimately knew and vividly remembered the awful site, in a way that was different from McLoughlin and Jimeno, who mainly recalled coming out of the rubble.  Like most of the world, McLoughlin and Jimeno saw Ground Zero on television, albeit months later, in a hospital.  The hole set unsettled everyone.

Roelfs's attention to detail in constructing the set impressed and unsettled McLoughlin and Jimeno, who arrived in Los Angeles on the first night that the crew filmed on the Ground Zero set. “I had no preconceptions about what I would see, but my first impressions of the rubble pile and especially of the hole were a little unnerving,” McLoughlin says.  “I didn't feel comfortable and kind of stayed back.  It had the same effect on the firemen and police officers that were there that night.  It was good for all of us to be together, with that kind of emotion - a kind of reunion that we never had.”

Revisiting these events became a form of therapy for the real men. McLoughlin had many conversations over the course of production with the firemen and ESU officers who rescued him.  They had not seen each other as a group since 9/11 and after filming, they convened at the hotel and talked about the tragic events of that day, something they had never done previously.  McLoughlin thinks the re-enactment became cathartic for all of them.

Peña says that acting in the hole presented a unique set of challenges and opportunities as an actor. “With all that twisted metal around us, the dust and debris, there were only so many choices you could make as an actor,” he says.  “I tried to paint a picture with the dialogue, to form and have a real sense of Will's family, and his obvious connection to John.  Being in the hole felt real - my body was definitely telling me to get out of there.  Obviously, it was not as painful as what Will went through, but it gave me a sense of it.”

Like every department on the film, Michael Dennison's costumes had to be 100% accurate. Dennison and his crew did extensive interviews with the actual people involved to ascertain what kind of clothes they would wear. He also worked closely with the Port Authority and a multitude of police and fire departments to get the correct cut and line of the uniforms, which were purchased from the vendors that supply the real uniforms to the Port Authority.

“Doing all the research and finding all the divisions, units, cities, and townships that responded, as well as all the minutia of the uniforms and what exactly was worn on that day, it was an enormously detailed job,” says Dennison. “But, everybody from everywhere responded and helped us. I'm thrilled that there were so many representations in the movie, that we got the chance to honor as many people as possible.”

In creating a color scheme for the film, Dennison, with Roelfs, McGarvey and Stone, worked out a color scheme that would begin very vibrant, but become more muted at the Trade Center itself. “The color scheme was based on concentric circles, with Ground Zero as the center point,” explains Dennison. “Most of the color in the movie happens at the outside perimeter; as we start moving into the city, the color starts to desaturate. We pulled more and more color out of the clothing so that you begin to see the core accent colors start to come forward. By the time we get to Ground Zero, there is almost no hue at all, with blaring pops of the emergency colors. You can see it in the set dressing as well as the costumes.”

For the colors themselves, Dennison looked to the people and departments that the film would honor. “We decided to base the colors of the film on the colors of the Emergency Response Units in New York City, which are blue, yellow, bright orange, white, and green. We also used the silver tape that firemen wear. Sometimes these colors were very prominent, other times subliminal, but they are always somewhere in the movie,” Dennison says.

Dennison adds that the women also have their signature colors - Maria Bello mostly wore blue and Maggie Gyllenhaal donned reddish hues. “We came up with those colors to reflect the women's personalities,” he says. “Allison is very dynamic and straightforward, so we had her in bolder tones. Donna, on the other hand, is soft-spoken, but John's rock; she is the glue of her family. In real life, she favors blues and soft pinks and turquoises, so we went with those for her character.”

As in every production, collaboration between departments was critical. This cooperation is exemplified by one scene in particular.  In one sequence, Will Jimeno, a devout Catholic on the border of consciousness, is awed by an apparition of Jesus Christ, which he says was crucial in giving him inspiration to survive. To film the event exactly as Jimeno experienced it - and not as an interpretation - required a collaboration between costumes and camera.

“I'd done a shot in a short film that involved this 3M Scotchlite tape, the kind that firemen wear on their uniforms,” says McGarvey. “I had a mad idea to shoot this scene with Jesus through a half-silvered mirror, and this tape would figure into Jesus' costume. Michael Dennison immediately grasped this notion and designed this extraordinary costume using this material,” McGarvey recalls.

“All emergency uniforms have, in some way, a sort of reflective property to them. I had 3M Scotchlite create that reflective tape in fabric so that I could drape it and I made a robe for Jesus out of that,” says Dennison. “That tape is famous for reflecting 500 times the amount of the light source that hits it. Seamus then took his light and bounced it off this refractive mirror and hit the costume dead on. When the beam of light hit the costume, it completely exploded in light. We got a special effect without it really being a special effect.”

 These production notes provided by Paramount Pictures.


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