Production Notes
by James Ronald Whitney, filmmaker
September 2001
10 Days Of Filming
2 3 4 5 6 7 1/8
9 10 11
    Day 1
    Day 2
    Day 3
14 15
    Day 5
Days 6-9
  Day 10
21 22
23/30 24 25 26 27 28 29

DAY 4:
Ethel, Michele's mom, asked me to drop off her daughter's brush at the Armory so that the strands of hair could be used for DNA sampling. Ethel thought that if Michele were in shock, or suffering from temporary amnesia, or listed as an unidentifiable Jane Doe at one of the hospitals, the sample might help to identify her. The authorities simply wanted DNA samples from the survivors so that they could identify the unrecognizable dead bodies and the numerous body parts they were continuing to find in their recovery attempt.

Richard (my executive producer) met me at the Armory to deliver the hairbrush and to pick up two DNA saliva kit samples--one for Nicholas and one for Michele's mom. Suddenly, from the sea of people, I heard, "Ron, over here." It was a guy named Aaron who had assisted my sound engineer on some foley work for my first movie. I didn't really know him, and I barely recognized him, but he had left me a couple of messages over the past few weeks asking if I needed an intern or a production assistant to work on one of my projects. "I'm happy just making coffee and running errands," he said, seemingly desperate on his messages. "Give me a call if you can use some help. Anything!" I never returned his calls. Even now, I didn't need an intern or a coffee boy. I did, however, need a cameraman--today was Neil's last day of shooting. Aaron had made his way through the crowd to Richard and me. "Did you get my messages? I never heard back from you," he said. I had no time for small talk. "Can you shoot?" I asked. "Well, I've done a little bit of camera work, like..." I quickly interrupted his example with, "You're hired." I didn't care if he had only shot stills at his second cousin's bar mitzvah. I was on a street filled with sad people, I was living in a dive hotel room, still evacuated from my home with no electricity, no water, and no phone service, and in just a couple of hours Neil was heading off to see his family, and I'd have no cameraman. Aaron was thrilled with the opportunity to shoot, and got me a coffee--extra light with sugar.

I asked Neil to give him a quick tutorial on how to use the camera, as I began looking at the thousands of fliers in a very different way for the very first time. I was no longer simply taking down the names and numbers of missing parents with their children.

This time, Richard and I were looking at each of the faces hoping that we wouldn't recognize anybody. We weren't so lucky. The first person we recognized was Scott--Richard's office mate. A tear immediately streamed down Richard's face, and, like Michele's family, he said, "Maybe he was injured and got out." He continued, "He might be home now, and the family just hasn't taken down the flier. Let's give them a call."
We stood in a long line waiting to use a pay phone until it was finally our turn to call. Scott's family, devastated but happy to hear a concerned voice, said they had heard nothing since the attack. They said Scott is still among the missing. We continued down the wall of missing faces, and once again, a tear rushed down Richard's cheek.
It was Clara--Richard's receptionist. Clara is an identical twin with a heart of gold, and Richard adored her. This time, he decided not to make a phone call. Clara and Scott were both attending the Water's Conference at Windows of the World, the restaurant at the top of Tower One. Richard was invited to the conference, as well, but decided at the last minute not to go.
Clara's best friend is Gabriella Waisman, Richard's secretary. Gabby and Clara worked in the corporate office, so they always jumped at the opportunity to get out at events like the Water's Conference. They were also best friends who were inseparable, so Richard wanted to call and make certain Gabby was okay. She used to make all my press kits, and I hadn't seen her since the premiere of our last movie. If she were overburdened with office work and unable to leave the office, she would be okay.

On the way to the pay phone line...we saw her. Her laugh was always contagious, and her smile was as big as her sense of humor. Her face was posted on one of the missing fliers. Richard lost it. He couldn't stop crying for several minutes. He sat down and wept. I looked around, and he was just one of several hundred people in tears. The city was in pain.
Gabby is from Argentina and she's Jewish. I started thinking about all the different faces from places all around the world. Every nationality and every religion seemed to be represented among the missing people pictured on the fliers. It was then that I started thinking about the conversation I'd had with Michele's family. Her mother, Ethel, said she would not go into the local deli because it was owned by Muslims. In fact, for years when the deli owners walked past Ethel's house, she'd wave to them from her porch. Since the attack, however, she deliberately turned her back on the Muslim family she'd come to know. Al, Michele's dad, said that Osama bin Laden's funding came from the "quick-cash items" at the checkout counters of Muslim-run convenience stores from all over the country. I had spent several months traveling through the Middle East, including extensive trips to both Iraq and Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, and I knew the differences between the Muslim people and the extremists, like Osama bin Laden. But a lot of people--like Nicholas' family--didn't. I wanted to talk to a Muslim family, and find out if they had experienced increased prejudice since September 11th, so I began looking around for a Muslim-sounding name on one of the fliers. There it was.
Shabbir Ahmed. He was a waiter at Windows of the World--the restaurant where the conference was held to which Richard had been invited--the restaurant from where Scott, Clara and Gabby watched as Tower Two collapsed and crumbled to the ground. We later learned that Gabby was on her cell phone with Muhammad, Muslim colleague, describing the events as they unfolded from Tower One, until finally, several minutes later, her 110-story tomb slowly dissolved and disappeared from the skyline. Clara, Scott, Gabby and Shabbir Ahmed were gone.

   © 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