Sunday, September 11, 2011

Film Friday: World Trade Center (2006)

This article is also posted at Big Hollywood (LINK).

Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center was wildly disappointing. This film could have been the defining film of our times, but it ended up being nothing more than a generic disaster film. It's a missed opportunity, which I think was brought about because Oliver Stone lost his nerve. But can there even be a defining 9/11 film in this day and age?

I’ve experienced several historical events, but nothing quite like 9/11. I lived in D.C. when 9/11 happened and I used to drive right past the spot where the American Airlines jet crashed into the Pentagon. That particular day I passed by twenty minutes before it happened. I still remember the morning DJ joking about "some idiot who slammed a Cessna into the World Trade Center" ("how can you not see the World Trade Center?"), and I remember the horror in his voice when he learned it wasn't a Cessna. Then there was actual panic and confusion and people talked about the Capitol being destroyed and the White House. It took me six hours to get home, fifteen minutes away, as they closed the bridges and soldiers set up road blocks.

I also remember the shock and disbelief that this was happening in our country. And I remember feeling sick upon seeing people jump to their deaths in New York. All of this is vividly etched in my brain as it is for so many of us.

When I heard that Oliver Stone would do a film about 9/11, I had high expectations. Stone is a leftist nut, but he had undeniable talent at one point. Platoon was brilliant, as was Wall Street. Platoon was so good it literally broke the Vietnam spell in our country and ended the tension between the public and the soldiers who fought in Vietnam. Wall Street (ironically) inspired an entire generation of kids to become Gordon Gekkos. Heck, even The Doors was great and turned me into a fan of the group. So I expected something pretty incredible from World Trade Center, even if it was likely to be liberal.

In fact, I expected something that would mirror the shock, the disbelief, the panic, and the horror that people felt. I expected something that highlighted the selfless bravery we saw on our televisions that day. I expected something that caught both the grand scale of what this meant to the country and also something that captured the personal effect this had on so many people and so many families.

Instead, I got a remake of The Towering Inferno.

It’s not that World Trade Center is a bad film as far as disaster films go, but it completely lacks context and it has nothing like the impact it should have had. It is a small film. It follows a small group of first responders, a brave group of Port Authority police officers, who arrive at the WTC after everything has already begun and it never moves beyond them. There is no doubt their story is heroic and deserving of being told, but this came nowhere near capturing the emotion of the moment. There’s never any sense of how shocking these events were, or how far ranging. There’s little attention given to the three thousand other people who were killed that day or the tens of thousands more who came close. Nor are the characters given much chance to become personal to us before they are thrown into the action. This is like doing a film about Pearl Harbor by focusing on a small group of firefighters aboard one of the battleships and starting the film after the battleship has already been hit without even explaining that the attack was a sneak attack and the country was at peace moments before.

For a guy with the talent of Oliver Stone, this was a total failure. For a film about an event that remains so raw in so many people’s minds, this was a total failure. For a film about a great national tragedy and outrage, this was a failure.

Obviously, I can’t read Stone’s mind, but I think he was afraid of this topic. Stone has tremendous talent, but he’s also got a horrible reputation. I think he feared that anything he did beyond the very narrow confines of this small story would result in a backlash by one side or the other, and he apparently wasn’t prepared to experience that backlash. But in succumbing to this fear, Stone blew his chance to do something truly inspired and that is the real shame here.

To this day, I think 9/11 still waits for THE film that will give Americans closure because something this horrible calls out for our culture to digest it and explain it to us in a form we can contemplate. But that film will take a lot more courage than Hollywood has shown in quite some time, because such a film will require showing real people and real suffering, and that will anger people and hurt feelings.

And admittedly, it might not even be possible for a film to compete with reality, now that reality comes with its own video images. Could a film really show the raw horror of people jumping to their deaths? I don't honestly know. Seeing actors pretending to die certainly doesn't have the same impact as seeing the real thing caught on tape. But Hollywood has some advantages. It knows what images have endured in the public consciousness and it can manipulate the story to be more coherent. And it can bring us closer to people we never actually met, but whose fates we know. I guess we won't really know if this can be done until someone gives it a genuine try. But Vietnam was the first televised war and there are miles of footage about every aspect of it, yet we remain so fascinated with it that we still watch the movies about it.

I think 9/11 needs a definitive film. And if liberal icons like Stone can't or won't do it, maybe some young conservative screenwriters or directors should give it a try?



Anonymous said...

I hope you can multi-task since BH has posted your article.

You'll find my comment there but I'll probably chime in here later.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have hobbies to tend to. :-)

Tennessee Jed said...

I agree about this film, and think United Flight #93 was the superior film. This attack was seminal for us all. Years before, I had been in the pentagon at what was always referred to as "ground zero, e.g. right in the middle of the Pentagon." Also, I can now recall walking past where the plane hit.

As far as the WTC, my older son had called and told me to turn on the news. I had recently retired, but my wife was still working and had traveled up to New York that day. She had, on several occasions, visited Marsh& Mac on the WTC and since I didn't know her specific itinerary, was quite worried since cell phone traffic was non-existant. Fortunately, her morning appointment was in White Plains, and they couldn't even get into Manhatten.

Hopefully, we will not forget what happened that day, particularly at the pentagon and in Pennsylvania since those two tend to get forgotten against the drama at the WTS.'s.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Scott, I'm going over there now. Good luck with your hobbies! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I doubt we will ever forget it, especially since the people who did it are still out there hating us.

What amazes me the most about this tragedy/outrage is how it reached all Americans. Everyone in the country felt this. Some lost friends and relatives. Some had to deal with maybe losing friends or relatives. And others just realized, these were Americans too and we had all been attacked.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I don't trust Oliver Stone to tell the truth about anything. So his lack of left-wing philosophical intrusion in WTC was the only plus I can think of. He can do lush, fabulous stories. But then, so could Leni Riefenstahl. If I'm going to watch a Stone movie at all, I wait for it to come onto network TV so I can get some relief during the commercials. I'll wait to praise him until he has an epiphany, a la David Mamet.

When my son was only 14, he insisted I take him to see Platoon. Even at that tender age, he could see the film for what it was--propaganda. When they did the voice-over at the end, he booed loudly.

Along with Andrew's review of WTC, there will be an open thread on our site this afternoon for those who want to express their feelings about the 10th anniversary of the terror attack.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Stone has undeniable talent, he just didn't use it for WTC.

Ed said...

I couldn't agree more about both WTC and the lack of a great 9/11 film. Nice article.

I was in Vegas when it happened and had no connection to the events, but even 2000 miles away, you could feel it. I still remember everything about that day.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I'm glad you agree. Over at BH, someone made the point that this would be entirely different if Obama had been President and I have been thinking about that... I think that's right. I would bet you that if Obama had been President, Hollywood would have kicked into high gear just like they did after Pearl Harbor.

On being effected, I don't know any Americans who weren't. People used to say "I still remember where I was when Kennedy was shot." And I knew a lot of people who said the same thing about Reagan. Bu 9/11 has completely replaced all of that. This is now the nation's common reference point.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew, instead of Obama, it might be better to imagine if Al Gore has won Florida in 2000 what Hollywood would have done or would do...

Anonymous said...

Bev -

I was just reading something about that today (what if Gore had won) and in this writer's opinion, it's possible the same sequence of events would've taken place.

As for me, I was a college freshman when 9/11 took place and I wish I had done a better job (or any job) of following this at the time.

AndrewPrice said...

That's a good point Bev. And honestly, I'm not sure. On the one hand, I'm sure Hollywood would be ready to attack, attack, attack anyone responsible for the outrage. BUT I don't know that Al Gore would have wanted that. I could honestly see him go to the podium and talk about "bringing those responsible to justice." That would probably stop Hollywood cold.

Maybe we would end up with spy thriller type films and FBI-like raids?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'm not sure that's right. Two things to consider.

First, as strange as it may sound, Obama is a "muscular Democrat" compared to those who came before him. He's quite willing to use military force when he gets pissed off. And 9/11 would have pissed him off. I see him attacking Afghanistan just like Bush did... and like Bush, he would have let the military dictate the strategy. (I don't see him invading Iraq though.)

Al Gore, by comparison, was a standard Democratic coward. He is a believer in "international law" as a replacement for war. So I doubt he would have authorized a war in Afghanistan. Instead, I think he would have tossed a couple missiles at al Qaeda bases and then promised "full international justice efforts" -- more like the Embassy attacks in Africa under Clinton.

Ed said...

Andrew, I know you're right about Obama, but thinking of him as "musclar" just seems so wrong.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, What can I say? Obama is a different Democrat than before. Same lousy results, but a different approach.

Doc Whoa said...

Excellent article Andrew. I think 9/11 will be with us all until we die, just as my parents remember Pearl Harbor. I don't know why Stone failed so badly with this film, but he did. I think you're probably right about his losing his nerve.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Doc. I think he was afraid of the politics of it all. I really can't see a reason why he would otherwise have punted?

DUQ said...

I agree with you, but I also don't. I think it would be nice if Hollywood could do what you're saying, but I don't trust Hollywood to do it anymore. I don't think they believe in America anymore.

rlaWTX said...

I think that the graphic images of 9/11 are too iconic for a movie to move us in the same way other movies about other events have. A flight 93 movie has more scope for imagination because we only have those voicemail messages - no visuals beyond a crater in PA. But how many of us, having seen the real video, would be as impacted by actors pretending to jump out of windows, or running from the cloud that was created by the collapse... I think that any movies will have to concentrate on those small, behind the scene moments (in the stairwells, etc) or on the aftermath.
I was reading today that there is still a section of the NY Coroners Office that is sorting through bone debris trying to identify remains. I honestly didn't know that.
And, Andrew, I had forgotten that you were in DC on 9/11. My ex and I had just moved there. He was in Pentagon City that morning and I was in Arlington at the dr & then Fairfax to work - because I couldn't think of what else to do. I wanted so much to just move back to TX right then. But even being there, it was still so surreal.

My brother is a little fascinated by the conspiracy views of the world (the big families that decide who will be president, etc). He was hanging at my office Friday and mentioned something he had read that said that there were not ANY pieces of an airplane found at the Pentagon so it must have not been a plane crash. I think my vehement response that the conspiracy stuff was crap surprised him, but it seems so -- well -- wrong to go in that direction. besides, there was a customer of the store in Fairfax that watched the plane go in. The horror he had on his face a year later when he told the story... yeah, I'm pretty sure he wasn't a govt plant to "sell" the story... I love my brother, but sometimes...

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I don't think very many people trust Hollywood to do anything with political implications anymore. But that also offers an opening for conservative filmmakers.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, All of the conspiracy theories are crap, told by idiots and liars who don't have a clue what they are talking about. They make me very angry.

One of the ones that really bothers me is this idea that you can't melt steel with jet fuel. Huh? There was a fire at a sugar processor which melted a whole steel building! Burning sugar!! Grrr.

There's one of these jerks in my thread at BH today too, he's trying to claim the whole thing was done by the Israelis. What an @##%#$!

Wow, so you had just arrived in DC at that point? Yeah, I could see where you would want to get back to Texas asap. DC really changed after that, i.e. it felt much more tense (and it was a tense city to begin with). It was strange to see how much more security suddenly sprung up everywhere.

Plus, a lot of people knew people who had died, so it was a hard topic for people to discuss.

On the images, I've actually thought that if they were going to make a film, they should incorporate some of the real images -- as they've done with some of the older war movies.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, in my opinion the people who claim it was the Israelis are no different and the Rosie O'Donnell "Fire can't melt steel!" crowd. They should be ridiculed/ignored, preferably in that order.

(I would have commented more today, but my Internet connection malfunctioned again, and the apartment people don't seem interested in doing anything about it, so I had to come to campus to use the computer. Figures.)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That's ok, I figured you just hated us. :-(

I think you're right about all the conspiracy nuts. They are exploiting this horrific event to spread lies in the hopes of becoming relevant to the world. It's despicable.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I kind of figured today would be slow with the NFL starting and everything.

Anonymous said...

Re: the conspiracies, I trust your familiar with Popular Mechanics' in-depth debunking of the various theories put forth.

Sometimes when I commute via the World Trade Center PATH station, I see the Truthers assembled nearby. I just shrug it off but I feel bad for the tourists, especially the ones from abroad. Hopefully they're too smart not to get suckered in.

Re: a 9/11 film, I've been thinking about it and I simply can't imagine a director sitting down with his tech crew plotting out all the details, while being able to maintain any objectivity. No doubt such a film would be well-researched and possibly with help from various government agencies... but Andrew, let's say you're a director. Can you picture yourself telling your FX supervisor, "No, this shot needs more fire! This shot needs more debris!" Etc.?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I am indeed familiar with those. Thanks for the link! I have also seen various documentaries that have debunked the conspiracy crap point by point -- none of it is even close to real.

On the 9/11 film, in truth... yes I can see a director doing that easily. On the one hand, being a lawyer, I can tell you that there is no limit to the amount of cynicism in the world and people will do anything for money/fame. So they would have no problems finding someone to make it real.

Think about all the shallow crap in cinemas during the summer.... any of those guys would do it. And they would know that the more shocking it is, the bigger hit it will be and the bigger boost to their careers. Heck, look at the tabloids which exploit ANYTHING for money. The same impulse is alive and well in Hollywood.

Moreover, there's a flip side to this. Imagine you are a director who wants to make a truly meaningful film about something you care about deeply (9/11). It would become a question of artistic integrity to get it right and they would never think it was wrong at all to make those kinds of decisions.

And if you want an example, think about Mel Gibson's Passion. I'll bet you those are exactly the kinds of things Gibson said -- "more blood" and "more suffering". And nobody making the film thought "wow, this guys is a ghoul"... they thought "this is going to be incredible because it's so real. . . people will really feel it!" I think you would get the same thing here.

Anonymous said...

I recall the Cinefex issue which featured the make-up and prosthetic work on The Passion. I still haven't seen the film but the article was simply a straight-forward piece accompanied by some particularly gruesome behind the scenes photos. I imagine any such article on a 9/11 movie would be the same.

I know these are just technical details for a movie that doesn't even exist but now you've got me thinking! :-)

Not to mention, that book I discussed in the last debate article (Thieves of Baghdad) begins on, you guessed it, 9/11. Col. Bogdanos worked only blocks away from the World Trade Center and in the book, he writes about the rush home to grab his (pregnant) wife and kids and their trip to safety. As I read it, I subconsciously put on my producer's cap: How would this be shot? Where would this be shot? Etc.

Frankly, I'm sure there are several folks in NYC who'd rather not look out their window to see these events being staged, even for a movie. Better to do it in Toronto instead! ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thinking is always good! :-) That's the very point to blogging, to get people to think about things and to do your own thinking.

I've actually been thinking about this "film that doesn't exist."

I wouldn't want to write it because of the incredible amount of research it would take. But I've had some ideas.

1. You need to start with a historical montage of middle eastern events, including all the attempts by Arab leaders to tell their own people that Jews are responsible for their suffering. this would probably be while the credits roll.

2. You switch to America and you follow a certain number of people starting in the 1990s. I would show just a couple vignettes of them going about their lives with their kids, etc. In the background, I would include news clips (like on a television or in a newspaper) of all the al Qaeda linked attacks and I would then focus each scene on something unrelated -- like Monika Lewinsky. That way the audience can see the evolution of this and see America ignoring the fact we were at war.

These are the people you will follow through the film.

3. In one of these scenes, you should have the WTC bombing and show some people joking around about these idiots and their stupid attempt. You might want to highlight someone who died at that point.

4. Then you focus on a few days before the event. You show people going about their business (including people who would get on the planes), interspersed with the hijackers. Again, no one suspects anything.

5. The morning of, I would go to the WTC and show hundreds of people getting into the elevators. I might list their names in subtitles and maybe something like time of death... I'd have to see how that worked and make sure it wasn't too ghoulish.

6. Then one of the people inside goes outside or calls home or something. You get outside. As you do, the outside person looks up, just in time to see the first plane hit the building (substitute real footage as much as possible). I would start across town for this shot.

7. Shift to people still going about the lives, shift to the press people starting to talk about it.

8. Shift to the second plane as people realize they are being hijacked, but don't know what to do. Go back and forth between the first responders arriving at the WTC and the plane. Then you ride that plane into the second building.

9. Do the events of that day, including the hunt for United 93, the crash into the Pentagon, the fact that all other planes are grounded, the President leaving the school, people can't reach anyone by phone, etc.

This is where there are dozens of stories of bravery and horrible images of people jumping to their death, etc. You need to mix those.

10. Then you shift over to following up with families who lost people.

11. Finish with some of the political moments that followed.

Thoughts? Love it? Hate it? Would add/delete from it?

Anonymous said...

1. You need to start with a historical montage of middle eastern events, including all the attempts by Arab leaders to tell their own people that Jews are responsible for their suffering. this would probably be while the credits roll.

It's focused more on oil but The Kingdom did something like what you describe.

I suppose the big question is: what kind of movie is it? Police procedural? Irwin Allen-style disaster movie? Is it an ensemble piece or does it primarily focus on the plight of one person/family/agency, etc.? Does it all take place in one day or is it spread out across decades? And, perhaps most importantly, how does it end? The war continues but the point would be to give audiences some degree of closure.

2. In the background, I would include news clips (like on a television or in a newspaper) of all the al Qaeda linked attacks and I would then focus each scene on something unrelated -- like Monika Lewinsky.

I like this - doing it subtly in the background, not to mention implying the passage of time. What I would NOT do is ratchet up the tension too soon. A movie like United 93 has a feeling of foreboding and danger literally from frame 1 but I don't think that would work here. You don't want to make the audience too uncomfortable!

6. Then one of the people inside goes outside or calls home or something. You get outside. As you do, the outside person looks up, just in time to see the first plane hit the building (substitute real footage as much as possible). I would start across town for this shot.

I assume the actor would be playing a real person, in which case you'd need permission from the family. And who's to say who was inside or outside at the time, or who was on the phone or not? I guess that's where the research comes in.

Robert Wise's 1975 film The Hindenburg did a good job with integrating the original newsreel footage. At one point, we cut from color to black and white and that's the only transition you need. For 9/11, I don't know if any hi-def or 35mm footage of the planes hitting the towers exists. So it might be a little jarring cutting between film and video but it wouldn't matter. Oliver Stone used a ton of different formats and styles for JFK and it worked.

Another question: music score or no music score for these scenes?

I like everything else you mention. Again, as I mention above, how does it end? For example, I think it would've been unsatisfying to do a bin Laden movie with a title card: "He is still at large." It could only be done after he was killed.

I kinda like the idea of ending the film with a shot of the NY skyline, complete. But I'm sure something else will come to me. :-)

AndrewPrice said...


I'm glad you like it! In response to your comments...

1. It would be close to what The Kingdom did, only without the guided narration. I would flash the credits and as that is going on, just flash a series of actual historical clips of one Arab dictator/religious leader after another blaming Jews for things like poverty, arrests, hunger, the price of oil, etc.

I think the montage would work incredibly well at getting the audience up to speed. When you see a 2-3 minute montage of Arab leader after Arab leader saying "the Jews/America have done this to you," the motivation of the hijackers becomes instantly clear: these guys have been brainwashed by conspiracy theory type propaganda.

This not only gives you an immediate understanding of how their hate can be so powerful, but it also explains why they are so wrong to believe it. And it does all of this without ever saying a word from any of the characters. It's more of a visceral understanding, like watching cult members in documentaries, and should convey exactly what the audience needs to know.

1.A. Style... I would go with Shakespearian tragedy, to tell you the truth. This is about a handful of people (maybe 5-8) who will be treated like tragic heroes. They are blind to what is about to happen to them. They will struggle for greatness when the moment hits, and they will ultimately be undone by their very heroism. That's the best structure in my opinion. So you treat this like a five act play with the climax being their heroic moment and the last act being the tragedy of those who they left behind.

1.B. The time span is this.

i) 3 minute montage spans 60 years of Arab rule.

ii) 20 minute vignettes span the Russian retreat from Afghanistan through the Cole and the Embassy bombings, as you get to know the main characters.

iii) 40 minutes spans a couple days before 9/11 as you see the main characters set themselves up for 9/11.

iv) 1+ hours span the events of 9/11, with a closing point of Bush talking on the rubble with the fire chief.

v) 10-20 minutes wrap up the families of the main characters.

vi) 2 minutes give you an ending ceremony, possibly fictitious, to put a cap on 9/11 itself.

vii) The ending credits give you a montage like the intro with US invades Afghanistan, Iraq, political squabbles, shoe bomber, Detroit bomber, man made disasters, Arab spring...

viii) finish with a clip from a speech by someone like Reagan about the greatness of America and how it will overcome all things.

The End.

AndrewPrice said...


2. Absolutely. If you jump right in, it loses all of its punch. It needs to build slowly as people get to know and like the characters you've built.

Moreover, I would aim for an emotional arc like this: (1) start by giving people a world where they are 100% sure about what is important and what isn't. This is the everyday grind. People will sit through this because of the ironic tension you can create using the audience's foreknowledge of actual events and hopefully the solid character stories. (2) Suddenly 9/11 happens. Now you need to show the shock, the horror and the confusion. This is also where you get the heroism, the sacrifice, and uber-professionalism. (3) Aim for numbness toward the end of the 9/11 section. (4) Then sadness in the final section. (5) followed by a little anger in the closing montage. (6) finish with determination as Reagan speaks.

As another point, I wouldn't give the audience the date in printed form throughout the film. I'd sneak it into the scenes, but I wouldn't let them know exactly which day is 9/11, so they can't say "ok, now it's 9/11." Just visit the WTC periodically in the early parts of the film, and then suddenly it happens without a date warning. That should help shock the audience.

6. I would probably use fictitious people for the main characters. I think that's less problematic than trying to figure out what real people actually did that day. And it gets you around all the legal issues that may arise.

6.A. Integration of historical clips is a technical issue that I have to leave up to the tech guys. It will probably require tinkering -- or cheating, like showing someone with a camera and then looking through their camera to explain the footage.

6.B. Music score. Good question. I would have to hire some score people and see what they offered. I would default to a mix of classical and something like what John Carpenter does, with a simple beat to slow or speed films.

6.C. The ending... see above.

AndrewPrice said...

What do you think?

Ed said...

Andrew, That would be an interesting film. It's both political, but not really, and it sounds like it would be pretty even handed.

Anonymous said...

Let's get to work! (Just kidding.) :-)

An ending montage showcasing the war(s) and subsequent events would have to be handled delicately. I'm not talking about political correctness (or otherwise) but, let's face it, this country will never be united on that front. Maybe we were for a brief time but one would have to be careful, in order to avoid the usual partisan bickering. Again, I would imagine this would be vetted by experts. This film would have the longest list of "Special Thanks" credits!

I like the Reagan idea - I also like the idea of using multiple presidents, or even a regular person. I'm sure there exists a video clip of some young kid somewhere in the country doing a school presentation on what makes America great. A home movie, perhaps.

I also like the idea of playing only the audio, accompanying footage of, say, construction of the new WTC (time-lapse?) or even just a person walking along the street, pausing to reflect. Something simple but symbolic: Life Goes On.

I love the idea about NOT putting the date in. One interesting thing I read about David Fincher's underrated Zodiac was that you could tell the passage of time from the Coke machines! This also does away with the sense of foreboding. There's no "countdown," so to speak.

Yeah, I guess you'd have to create composite characters - it's usually unavoidable in movies like this. I'm sure the audience will understand.

And I'm sure there's some real ceremony to include at the end without resorting to a fictitious one. Whether this involves staging one or including news footage (or both - Robert Zemeckis is good at this!).

I have no further thoughts about the music. I think there's something to be said about featuring no music at all, or only including it at the end (which makes it that much more meaningful). Besides, we've already seen countless hours of footage. In a way, a soundtrack exists already for that day. Only it's not music.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed. I think it does a good job of soft selling the blame early on, but then comes on strong later when everyone starts infighting over what to do next.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The more I think about it, this might be an interesting project to write. I just don't have the time at this point... or the inclination to do the research.

The ending montage would be the most political aspect and would probably have to be done by trial and error to get the right feel. I would suggest minimizing the overt politics of it by again using only quotes (e.g. Anderson Cooper reading the intro to the shoe bomber story or a Pentagon spokesman announcing the invasion of Iraq) and I would avoid any quotes from those sources that include criticism -- just use facts. BUT, I would also go further and use the words of both sides against each other with the idea being to criticize the infighting and exploitation that has happened in Washington. I might also set this off with heroic deeds of ordinary Americans and quick descriptions of Metal of Honor awards, as a statement about the greatness of Americans compared to the crap that is our political class.

On Reagan, I think Reagan is the best choice because he’s become mythical like FDR. To add in a Clinton or a Bush or a Nixon or Carter would add politics to what I would intend as a pure statement of faith in America itself. If not Reagan, then I would go with FDR. But I would prefer Reagan because I think his quotes are better and I’m conservative. :-) I wouldn’t use a kid because this moment is too large. I would use Reagan and do it against a black background or the WTC rebuilding montage you’re talking about, though I prefer the black background.

On the passage of time, I think it would work really well to only hint at dates. You generally need a countdown to create tension, but here you would be getting the countdown from all the other signals. That gives you a countdown, of which you are aware, but which isn’t shared with you -- hence, tension. Also, it lets you do the head fake thing by having one or more characters visit the WTC every so often. And if gives you a sense of shock when they call their girl/boyfriend and right behind that person you see the first plane suddenly slam into the building unexpectedly (i.e. not done in the standard Hollywood exploitive way). So you get the best of all worlds because you can use the audience’s foreknowledge to trick them.


AndrewPrice said...


I think the composite characters are essential. Otherwise you end up with people arguing about whether that really happened, etc. etc. Plus, it lets you build stronger characters because you can do anything you want with them during the character building phase. That’s where the real emotional impact of your film will be won or lost and I would want as much control over that as possible. You need to give these people lives that the audience cares about -- something you almost never get in disaster films (they usually just try to fake it by tossing in an affair, some guy who just turned his life around, and a pregnant woman).

BUT, during the 9/11 phase, these people need to observe the real stories we know about. So you will have a lot of real people in the story, they just won’t be the people you focus on in the early phases.

The ceremony is one of those things I couldn’t really predict until we got further into the writing. You don’t want a hammy ending so you have to be careful at that point not to fall into clichés.

On the music, that is something I would defer until it was all on film and then I would see what the score people could come up with. I’m not averse to silence, but life is about music and too much silence is not as dramatic as sudden silence.

Anonymous said...

(they usually just try to fake it by tossing in an affair, some guy who just turned his life around, and a pregnant woman).

And Shelley Winters!

I have no further thoughts at this time but this has been an interesting exercise.

I just hope whoever ends up making this film doesn't f--- it up.

AndrewPrice said...

Shelley Winters can swim man! ;-)

Let's hope!

Koshcat said...

It is a topic that doesn't work well with the standard story arc. You need some sort of resolution, which doesn't exist. Flight 93 works better because, although a sad ending, we can tell ourselves that they sacrificed in order to save others. There is a true story of some men that helped many out, something like that might work, but I think this topic works best as either a backdrop to starting off another story or frankly as a documentary. The one out there hot by the filmmakers who happened to be with a firefighter group is chilling. Watching those dozens of firefighters walk into the building we all know is going to collapse is heart rendering. I want to yell at the tv to keep the from going, but they always go in...and die. How can a movie compete with that?

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I definitely needs a different type of story arc, but it can be done in the same way that something like Pearl Harbor could be done -- by projecting into the future.

The emotion is the question. Can you come anywhere near what you get with the documentaries and the such, which just have a tremendous amount of power to them.

Koshcat said...

The problem as I see it, and is a problem overall politically as well as artistically, is there really isn't resolution. With Pearl Harbor, the US picked itself up and kicked some Japanese ass. In the movie Pearl Harbor, even though it was a poor movie they didn't end it with the attack but ended it with Doolittle's Raid. In Midway, taken place just after the attack, there is the winning of a major naval battle that turned the war.

What is the resolution after 9/11? Blew up some tents? Built a new office building? YAWN. 9/11 is what make terrorism so scary and so effective. It was an act of war. If say France would have done it, we would have gone in kicked their butt and demanded restitution. Instead we shot some goat herders in a country that could literally (and they would probably like it) be shut off from the world. And we are still there. There is no resolution to this and at this point there won't be a satisfactory one. All we can do is rebuild and move on. I am trying to think of a successful movie with that theme, without having a true "WE WON" moment.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, That's an excellent point and part of what I think is our bigger political problem at the moment -- there is no good ending for this kind of war. So once you get started, you just keep going because no one wants to be the leader who gave up, even though there's no real chance of winning.

I think the only way around that problem would be what Scott and I discuss above, where you finish with a kind of generic statement that America will always be there. I'm not sure there is much more you can offer? I'm also not sure that's 100% satisfying, but it's realistic.

I also think you could use that kind of ending to call out some of the stupidity that has beset us since 9/11 -- like the airport searches, DHS enforcing copyright laws, our politicians demanding military action without specifying a target or identifying victory conditions, etc. I think that's probably where the genuine ending lies in this, in criticizing the way our idiot politicians have used this incident to make America worse because they felt they needed to be seen doing something and they didn't know what to do.

That's probably the angle I would go for to end the film. That might give people a mission to (1) re-examine everything our government has done since 9/11 and (2) take back our freedoms.

Ed said...

Koshcat and Andrew, That's a great point and something that really has been bothering me, how does all this end? We don't seem to have a plan to win the war on terror, except high security forever and the occasional military raid from now until... when?

Kit said...

I actually thought it was quite good.

It is not THE defining movie about 9/11 (yet to be made) but it was still good.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It wasn't that it was a bad film, it's just that it was such a small film for what it could/should have been. Especially for a guy like Stone who has generally been so good at grasping large events and bringing them to the screen in compelling stories (politics aside), I thought this was a real disappointment. In other words, while it wasn't a bad film, it wasn't the film it should have been.

Kit said...

Andrew Price,

I've always thought there should be an epic LONGEST DAY-style* motion picture about the event. One that covers, at least, the World Trade Center attacks, United 93, the President, and, possibly, the Pentagon.

Stories inside the WTC could include Rick Rescorla, Father Mychal Judge, and perhaps a few others.

*Not TORA TORA TORA, please, God, no. That movie was dull -at least until the bombs started dropping.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I agree, some sort of Longest Day really is called for to capture the feel of what actually happened.

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