A solemn re-creation on Stone's 'WTC' set


Although Paramount Pictures' "World Trade Center" is built around a historic and decidedly New York-centric event, it was shot mostly in Los Angeles. Parts of New York, it seems, weren't quite ready for a close-up, especially one that would serve as Oliver Stone's take on Sept. 11.

"The mayor's office in New York was extremely nervous about letting Oliver Stone loose on New York at election time with a 9/11 movie," the film's Los Angeles location manager John Panzarella says. "They couldn't be convinced that we were making the kind of picture we were making. ... They weren't going to let us go anywhere near Ground Zero."

Sources say the production was not allowed to film below Canal Street; the Mayor's Office of Film Theatre & Broadcasting denied any such restrictions existed.

The filmmakers did secure the cooperation of the Port Authority, which let the production shoot in its offices as well as in the Post Authority Bus Terminal. The filmmakers even shot a drive from the 42nd Street bus terminal to Canal Street.

But Ground Zero and its adjacent areas had to be re-created in Los Angeles.

The outside of the World Trade Center actually was shot in downtown Los Angeles. Building facades were enclosed in greenscreen coverings to be either erased or altered in post. The special effects department created fake ash, which was pumped out in such quantity that it took five passes to clean the streets after shooting. Palm tree bark also was covered by more generic-looking bark to simulate trees in the Big Apple.

"It's not the kind of effects movie like a 'Star Wars,' but we had to re-create a lot of stuff," says Michael Shamberg, one of the film's producers. "Our production designers and effects guys deserve a lot of credit."

The rest of the production hunkered down at the Stages at Playa Vista, also known as the Howard Hughes Airport, where Hughes famously built the Spruce Goose.

Using the actual blueprints of the World Trade Center, the production painstakingly re-created its concourse mall, dressing the Coach, Victoria's Secret and Ben & Jerry's stores like they were five years ago. And it was there, on a field just larger than an acre, that it also reconstructed Ground Zero.

"Our guys went to the middle of Ground Zero on a scissors lift and took over 500,000 digital photos in a 360-degree circle so they could, at every elevation, re-create what it looked like," Shamberg says.

At first the production was going to load up the area with iron from scrap yards, but after weighing safety considerations, the construction department manufactured foam to look like wreckage. About 75 shipping containers were brought in and stacked one to three high to serve as "footprints," and the wreckage was loaded in, on and around the containers.

Stone also had about 50 actual Ground Zero rescuers flown in to serve as consultants. On their recommendation, the cramped set was made even more cramped, and the words "Ground Zero" were eliminated because the media only adopted that term the day after the attack. Stone ultimately used the rescuers on camera as well, deeming them more authentic than actors or stunt people.

The set was an emotional place, as the first responders came face to face with that fateful day. And it was overwhelming for the crew and filmmakers to be there with those heroes, who included Will Jimeno, played in the movie by Michael Pena.

"It wasn't a happy, cheery place," one person associated with the production says. "They were very respectful of the circumstances they were trying to re-create. There was a lot of privacy and very closed sets -- they didn't want the typical Hollywood hoopla around this."