Oliver Stone has begun shooting one of the first Hollywood films about Sept. 11 in New York — without recreating the large-scale devastation that’s all too familiar to residents who lived through the 2001 attacks.
After months of meetings with community and family groups, producers of the untitled movie have promised to tread carefully on sensitive ground. Most of the major action portraying the World Trade Center collapse will be shot on a Los Angeles sound stage. And although news footage of the towers themselves will be shown during the film, it will play on television screens in the background.
“We’re not doing the ‘Towering Inferno-Titanic’ version,” said Michael Shamberg, who’s producing the Paramount film with his partner, Stacey Sher.
Stone started shooting scenes in New York last month for his untitled film, starring Nicolas Cage as one of two policemen who survived the towers’ collapse and were rescued from the trade center ruins after 22 hours.
After holding dozens of meetings, producers decided to limit their filming in the city, shooting the bulk of the action in Los Angeles and staying away from the 16-acre trade center site.
Family members who met with the producers said they still weren’t sure whether Hollywood would treat Sept. 11 with proper respect.
“Are there going to be love scenes in it? How do you portray it correctly?” said Lee Ielpi, who lost his firefighter son on Sept. 11, and met with producers about the film. “It has to be done with some reverence.”
‘An exploration of heroism’Others said they were concerned about how Stone — whose more controversial films include “JFK,” which offered conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination — might interpret the attacks in the film. In October 2001, Stone was quoted as referring to the attacks as a “revolt” against multinational corporations. But in July, Stone called the untitled project “a work of collective passion, a serious meditation on what happened, and carries within a compassion that heals.”
“It’s an exploration of heroism in our country — but it’s international at the same time in its humanity,” he said.
Charles Wolf, who lost his wife on Sept. 11, has met with producers and asked to see a copy of Andrea Berloff’s script. He said he appreciated the outreach and sensitivity of the filmmakers, but wanted to make sure that the day’s events, including details as precise as the officers’ view of the elevator from the rubble, are represented accurately.
“I think they need to be factual. It’s too close in people’s minds,” Wolf said. “‘Based on a true story’ should not happen here.”
Because Berloff’s script focuses entirely on police officers John McLoughlin and William J. Jimeno’s experience on Sept. 11, the film will not interpret the politics or meaning of Sept. 11, the producers said. Stone has taken great care to portray the event as it happened, and has worked to make sure that Cage, Michael Pena and the other actors playing officers are using authentic equipment.
“We’re not doing everyone’s story that day,” said Shamberg. “We’re trusted with the accuracy of the particular story that we’re telling.”
The script about McLoughlin and Jimeno also focuses on their families. The filmmakers plan to show news footage of the towers on TV screens watched by actors, the producers said.
Other Sept. 11 projectsThe Stone film may not be the first studio film about Sept. 11 to be released. “Flight 93,” a Universal Studios film about the hijacked plane that left Newark, N.J., and crashed into a Pennsylvania field, is scheduled for an April release. Stone’s film will be shooting in New York through mid-November and is tentatively scheduled to open Aug. 11, one month before the attacks’ fifth anniversary.
Other Sept. 11 films are in development, including an adaptation of the book, “102 Minutes” and a TV miniseries based on the findings of the Sept. 11 commission.
Paramount hired Jennifer Brown, a former vice president for community development at the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. in charge of rebuilding the trade center site, to act as a liaison with the community. Brown set up more than a dozen meetings with business, community, family and survivor groups, along with police and fire officials.
Brown said that once people understood that the story was only about the officers and not about the entire story of Sept. 11, they were supportive.
“What we’ve heard mostly, is just to be real,” she said.