Days Of Filming
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.