Production Notes
by James Ronald Whitney, filmmaker
September 2001
10 Days Of Filming
2 3 4 5 6 7 1/8
9 10 11 12
    Day 2
    Day 3
    Day 4
    Day 5
Days 6-9
  Day 10
21 22
23/30 24 25 26 27 28 29

DAY 1:
I live on the top floor of a building that is 7 blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood. On September 11, 2001, I was planning on heading to the office at about 9 AM --a half hour before the stock market opens. Aside from being a filmmaker, I'm also Vice President at a Wall Street firm, and my company was headquartered right next door to the World Trade Center.
Neil Stephens, the cameraman from a movie I was just completing ( had been working through the night, and was capturing some footage in my editing room downstairs.

Suddenly, a plane flew over one of my skylights and crashed into Tower One. An undefinable, deafening sound was heard and my building shook violently. I ran upstairs and saw a huge, gaping hole in the north side of the tower with smoke billowing from the hole into an otherwise perfectly blue sky. I had bought the loft a couple of years ago because it had the most incredible view of the World Trade Center that I had ever seen--the towers were only a stone's throw away.
I started taking pictures with a 35mm camera that was hanging from my telescope, and I remember thinking that it would take months to repair the damage. After the film was used up, I looked into the hole through the telescope. Smoke, fire and debris were still escaping from the tower, but now there were several people, unnervingly calm, waving their arms at the helicopters that were approaching the burning building.

The most surreal image was that of one man just sitting down reading the newspaper. His legs were dangling out of the hole, and as he calmly read his newspaper without any concern for the devastation behind him, he very matter-of-factly turned the pages. Seconds later, I saw a bright flash of metal. It was another plane. This time I watched, as it flew directly into Tower Two. An enormous circle of fire surrounded the tower before a black cloud of smoke mushroomed into the sky. I asked the cameraman to set up my camera as I stood dumbfounded staring at an image that was not believable. He positioned the camera, and moments later, while filming in horror I watched as the first of more than two dozen people jumped from the Twin Towers to their deaths. One body after another leaped from the black holes and from the orange flames that were devouring the buildings. I guess I was in denial, because it never occurred to me that this was an act of terrorism. I remember thinking, "What are the chances that within a matter of minutes two planes could hit these towers?" I figured that there must be an enormous air traffic control malfunction, and that the autopilot feature would not allow the pilots to manually turn the planes. I was nowhere near a television, so I was not listening to any news commentary. Instead, I was still watching people dive out of the burning towers.

My cameraman put the camera on the tripod, and went to get more stock. From downstairs, he screamed that the Pentagon was just hit by another plane. For the first time, I realized that we were being attacked, and for several moments, it seemed that the world as I had always known it was coming to an end.
Suddenly, I felt a rumble under my feet, and watched, almost in slow-motion, as Tower Two began falling to the ground. My power momentarily went off, and I literally stood there in shock thinking how many people must have just died. And I wondered just how many of them were people I knew.

The power returned, and the tower was gone. Tower One stood alone surrounded by a massive debris cloud--the ash from its twin. The skyline was changed, the fire and smoke from the remaining tower was intensifying, and I could now see what appeared to be a structural crack forming on the east side of the building. I knew that it, too, was going to collapse. All I could hear were sirens from police cars and firetrucks, megaphones from officials evacuating the residents, and the constant ringing sound of the telephone. Friends and family members were watching the devastation on television, and knowing how close I was to the towers, they were calling, fearing the worst.

I ran downstairs, threw some film equipment and underwear in a duffle bag, put out plenty of food and water for the cats, and ran back upstairs. That beautiful blue sky was now filled with smoke. And then it happened again. The ground shook below my feet, and Tower One began to fall slowly to the ground. My power was gone, and the sky began to darken. This time the gigantic cloud of ash was quickly heading my way.

I ran down the emergency stairs as fast as I could, and when I got to the street, there were mobs of panicked people attempting to outrun the debris cloud that was only a couple hundred feet behind us.
In flip flops and shorts, I joined the crowd, and as I ran, I saw policemen running with babies in strollers over their heads, people with injuries still in shock, and firemen with burnt uniforms covered in ash. We were all running for our lives.
Several minutes later, the cloud had passed, and I was huddled next to a car with a group of strangers. We were listening to the radio, trying to get some information. All I could think about was getting to the people who must be trapped in the piles of metal. I wanted to try to pull out as many people as possible, so I headed south--back to Ground Zero. Still wearing my flip flops, I got my tee-shirt wet and held it to my face so I could breathe through the thick smoke.
As I got closer and closer to the piles of metal, the water going over my feet got increasingly hotter, as the cold hydrant water flowing from the firemen's' hoses mixed with the burning metal. There were no people to pull out.

   © 2001-03 James Ronald Whitney
See the Web sites for the director's other films: Just, Melvin, and Games People Play
Comments or questions about the Web site contact the WebMaster at M2 Media Designs 2011