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World Trade Center: A true story of courage and survival

World Trade Center: A true story of courage and survival

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.”

World Trade Center

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.

Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for World Trade Center Movie

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World Trade Center: Filming in New York

World Trade Center: Filming in New York

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.”

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.

World Trade Center: Filming in New York

Filming Locations in New York City

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.”

Related Link: Read the Full Production Notes for World Trade Center Movie

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In Theaters: Leonardo DiCaprio vs. Nicolas Cage


Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a skilled thief, the best in the dangerous art of extraction: stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb’s rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved.

Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible—inception. Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse; their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.

Related Link: Inception Full Production Notes

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) is a master sorcerer in modern-day Manhattan trying to defend the city from his arch-nemesis, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina). Balthazar can’t do it alone, so he recruits Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), a seemingly average guy who demonstrates hidden potential, as his reluctant protégé. The sorcerer gives his unwilling accomplice a crash course in the art and science of magic, and together, these unlikely partners work to stop the forces of darkness. It’ll take all the courage Dave can muster to survive his training, save the city and get the girl as he becomes The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Related Link: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Full Production Notes

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