Everyone has their own story. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they found out about the planes hitting the towers. It was not a good day for our country. Sadness, confusion, fear all still come to mind when allowing ourselves to go back to that day. What many people outside New York will never understand, is what happened the days and months following the attacks on 9/11. WTC View, was released 10 years ago. Tuesday, March 3rd, it is finally available on iTunes. This film is a beautiful glance at the time after the world came to a stop in 2001. What we, as New Yorkers, felt, saw, smelled, heard, and had to process after a day that will never leave us.
Eric places and ad for a roommate on 9/10. What happens over the next few weeks while showing his extra room will turn into a cavalcade of emotions and paranoia too many of us know too well. Interview after interview in an empty bedroom that has a clear view of smoldering ash rising into the air, sparks confessions and reignites old habits. This film is portrait of survival and the coping mechanisms we used to live day to day.
First a Fringe stage production, WTC View made the big screen leap in order to reach a wider audience. Today, kids who were too young to experience the day first hand, anyone who was abroad, or simply afraid to delve into the aftermath, now has a delicate looking glass into people’s lives. Michael Urie is undeniably charming and vulnerable. He captures this historic moment in time with ease, since he lived through it. His character’s decent is a slow and perfectly cultivated burn. If I could go back and give him all the awards for this, I would. So I leave it to you, audience. Rent, buy, have a viewing party for a peek into the reality that changed a city and its inhabitants forever.
I was fortunate enough to speak with Brian and Michael about the WTC View over the weekend. Here are our interviews.
Liz: First of all, love, love the script. Was this sort of your catharsis with dealing with that day and then everything that followed?
Brian: I definitely approached this as a way to deal with what had gone on and what I had experienced. I don’t think I really realized how much it all affected me until about 6 months after, ya know there was a lot of activity around the 6 month anniversary of 9/11, and I watched this documentary on CBS. These two guys did a documentary about one of the probationary fireman. And in watching that, it kind of brought it all back and I had a lot of unresolved feelings and a lot of emotions around it even still. That’s when I thought maybe writing would be a way to look at those things an try to process them in a productive way. And in a way that might help other people and inform other people, too.
L: Yeah, felt the same way. I remember the day, I was here as well, and ironically I was also in drama school, just like Michael, I was at AMDA on 73rd, so we were only a couple of blocks away from each other. It didn’t hit me either until about the 1 year anniversary. That’s the day I cried. Before it was just shock and survival mode. Everyone reacted in a unique way, so it was really lovely to see all these different people, from different perspectives, dealing with that day. It was nice, from someone who had also experienced it first hand, to hear all these people’s stories for the first time, almost.
B: Also, I think in that next month or so, there was all this attitude of “Let’s get back to normal. Let’s just keep on moving, it’s New York. We can handle it,” that I think that a lot of people suppressed these emotions and feelings where they were almost in denial about what had happened. I think it was somewhat damaging, that “let’s get back to normal” attitude, because things were not normal at all, in no way can you express how un-normal where when you’re walking down the street and you’re confronted with people who have died. These missing posters that were everywhere, you pass a firehouse where there are candles burning, it was in inescapable. (Referenced in the film) This whole thing about the smell of the smoke that was still burning after the attack, this experience was just a part of everyday life and to deal with that, people sort of had to repress and deny it and try to move on, but I think that approach can be damaging too.
L: How much truth is there to the dialogue?
B: Well, the story about placing that add in The Voice is actually what I did on September 10th. right before I had went to bed, I had posted this add on The Village Voice website, which I believe was published the next day, or on Wednesday. So that is sort of the true starting point, after that it sort of gets a little more mixed up. I had a lot of people visit the apartment, some of them said some very interesting things. That was what was really unusual about it. This was really just a real estate transaction and suddenly, out of nowhere, people would just start telling me where they were on 9/11. Usually I didn’t even ask them, and people would just start spilling out what was going on with themin there lives and it was just such an unusual circumstance. I mean, I had had roommate seraches before, and it was usually kind of questions like, “Where’s the bathroom and how much are utilities?” Here the quesionts were, “Oh, did you smell the smoke yesterday?” People were talking about all this intense stuff that a directly an effect of what had happened. In the final version of this, it think everything kind of gets mixed up. All these different people who came to see the apartment defintely informed the writing of this piece but no exactly a documentary in that way but inspired by the true situation. IN some ways I wish I had had a tape recorder to record some of these conversations because they were much crazier than anything that ended up in the script. Real life can be nuttier then anything a writer can create.
L: The dialogue about 7 minutes in where Eric is giving directions uptown using the Empire State Building and the Towers as reference points, I still do that today. I live down on Wall Street so I’m constantly giving people, mostly tourists, directions to the memorial. Which is a trip. I didn’t even go down there until I accidentally ran into it last summer and visited the infinity pools for the the first time.
Can you talk to me about the decision to jump from stage to screen?
B: After the successful run of the stage version, we got some great reviews, we wanted to move it with the same cast to a bigger theater. But there really was not a lot of interest because of the subject matter. Commercial producers felt that it was still too close to the events and they felt there really wasn’t an audience. That same year, there were two plays that were with the same subject, that were relatively big, and both were critical and financial flops. In the commercial theater world, it just wasn’t going to work. I thought, well, I’m a filmmaker, and that’s what I did before I wrote the play, this is something I can do low budget and maybe it was going to be better audience, broader, outside of New York, national and maybe even international audience.
L: Have you gone down to ground zero yet?
B: I have gone down to the memorial last summer It’s a beautiful spot. It’s just strange I guess I still think about what happened there and. I can still see that area of destruction after it was all, ya know. It’s just hard to imagine now that it’s a beautiful and pristine place. There is a huge disconnect for me.
B: I feel like there is very little president for this sort of a memorial, so I don’t what else they could have done. Most memorials aren’t actually in the place where the event actually happened, in the middle of a huge bustling city. It’s a tough situation so I guess I don’t feel super critical of the memorial. It just felt very odd to me.
L: Same. I accidentally passed by it. When I walked up to the pools, it thought it was very beautiful but there is this awkward disconnect now that I’m here…
Before they steal you away, I just want to say Thank You on behalf of everyone that was here, and anyone with any sort of connection to it, thank for a beautiful piece of art. It’s super important. Thank you for sort of putting it all on paper in order for us to express how we have felt about it all these year.
Liz: Thanks for chatting with me!
Michael: Thanks for making time on a Saturday!
L: My absolute pleasure. Actually you and I were only blocks away from each other on 9/11 because I was at AMDA.
M: Wow, that’s crazy.
L: I know, right. it’s such a small world… So I wanted to know what it was like for you, being in that environment (theatre school. Michael was a student at Julliard)) and your day?
M: Well, I was living in Queens off the N train, and when I left the house for school that day, it was the second day of school, third year, I had turned on the TV and caught Good Morning America and they were reporting the first plane that had crashed into the first building. I thought, “That’s so strange, what a weird thing.” And I just thought, ‘well, I’ll just go to school.” And, I knew that when I got to the train, above ground I would be able to see the World Trade Center… between the time I left my house and arrived at the train station, the other plane had hit. When I got upstairs to the platform I saw that both towers were on fire and I didn’t understand it, I didn’t know what was going on, it was all very strange, and someone turned to me and said, “They got the other one.”,… And that was the first moment I realized that it was a “They” and not some crazy freak accident. And then I went to school, and when I got there, instead of class, we all got ushered right into a room with a television and we all watched the whole thing unfold. Then we were assembled in the theater downstairs, the Dean came and spoke with us, and we were dismissed. A bunch of us went to a classmates house and we watched TV all day and then eventually I found my way home that night. It took a long time. And the weeks following 9/11 really were like the movie. I don’t know about your experiences, but I found the movie to be a really accurate microcosm of what it was like to be in New York on 9/11 because everyone, in a way that I had not experienced before, or since, everyone changed in New York. We don’t talk to strangers, unless we have to, in New York. And we did. Even from the first guy that said, “They got the other one,” that was the beginning of us being together, of being familiar to each other. It’s gone away, it’s sort of changed. That beautiful comradery has gone away. But, we needed that and we did it. A lot of people think New Yorkers are rude, and I don’t think that’s true at all.
L: No. I don’t either.
M: I think we’re fairly friendly and we’ve got each other’s backs. We needed comfort and we needed protection in that time, and I think that’s what we did for each other. That’s what the film represents in a small way, but the ideas are quite big. That’s what we did! We told each other our stories. The film has now become this wonderful scrapbook of that time, in a of course painful way. It’s hard to think about what it’s like but I find it so beautiful that we all came together, as New Yorkers, and citizens of the world, even.
L: I agree that shift was literally an overnight shift. I remember going out the next morning at 6 am to get a newspaper, that I still have, and it was me and one other guy on Broadway and not another soul. It was the craziest, weirdest thing ever. 6 am, on a weekday morning in Manhattan, and it was a ghost town. Because no one knew at that point, “Are we allowed to go outside? Should we be breathing the air? Are they gonna stop?” It was just such a crazy time for New Yorkers. Brian and I were talking about this, how it’s such a different perspective of someone who was actually here, and now that the film is being released digitally, people outside the city that didn’t get to experience it, or maybe, perhaps the generation younger than us can really get a beautiful insight of what it was like for us those weeks after. The emotional impact on the people that were here.
M: Yeah, yeah. I agree with that. It’s not a reminder of what it was like on that day, it’s what it was like after. For people who were too young to remember that day, it’s easy to know what that day was like, it’s on YouTube, ya know? But, to know what it felt like to be a victim of terror, whether first hand or not, we wee all victims. We were all feeling that afterwards. Well, I wanna hear what your day was like!
L: Well, I mean, I was woken up by a friend, right after the first plane hit. I was so mad at her because it was 10 minutes I had to get up for class, and I thought, “Who the hell is calling me at 8:30 in the morning?!”. She said, “I’m standing in line at the infirmory (at UCONN). Some kamikaze plane just flew into the World Trade Center. Do you have a TV is your room?” I said it didn’t have cable, so I hung up and turned on NPR. That’s when I heard that the Pentagon was on fire, I ran to the other floor and just woke up everybody. I knocked on all my friends doors and yelled, “Get up! Something is happening!” We didn’t even go to class, we just sat in front of the TV’s. We lost all of our cell reception so none of our families knew what was going on here. If you don’t know where you are in respect to the Towers, New York is tiny. Your perspective is very skewed when something like this is going on. I grabbed all of my vacation money hidden in my bottom drawer and bought everyone candles, water, and bread, and we just sat together for the rest of the day. (Like in the film) I had kept the shirt I was wearing that day for years. Ironically, it also got stain on it and I was devastated. So we had very similar days, and I’m just glad we were both in environments where we were surrounded by folks that were emotionally able to deal with it, maybe being from a theatre background, we were a little more open for each other.
M: Yes. Ya know, when we went back to school, I’m sure your experience was similar, so many peopple had to go back to work, we went back to school and continued to train our emotions. We all felt the same things and it was a therapeutic way to re-acclimate.
L: I think we are some of the lucky people. To have had that happen in that environment, in a strange way, it helped us… I know they’re gonna steal you, but I just wanted to say that you are incredible in this role and that I am truly eager to tell people about this piece. So Thank You.
M: I’m so glad you’re writing about it and I’m happy that it’s out there.
This critically praised and captivating portrait of a young New Yorker’s search for a roommate for his apartment and genuine connection in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks is getting a first time digital release on March 3, via iTunes, for its 10th anniversary. The film, featuring Michael Urie (Ugly Betty, Buyer & Cellar), originally premiered in NYC at the New Festival in 2005. After that it hit the festivals circuit and had its national broadcast premiere on MTV’s Logo Channel, airing on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 in 2006. It was also released on DVD by TLA Video.
Now, after being out of circulation for a few years, the film will be available for the first time in its original HD format. It will go on sale on iTunes March 3, 2015 for purchase and rental.
Director Brian Sloan is thrilled to get the film out to a whole new national audience with iTunes, 10 years after its debut. “The film serves as a time capsule of a unique moment in the city’s history,” said Sloan. “Everyone knows what happened on 9/11. This film is about what happened in those days and weeks after, what life in the city was like during an extraordinary moment in New York and the nation’s history. I’m thrilled that it will now be available to millions of people who might want to learn about that time and also see the story of 9/11 from a different perspective; that of a young man struggling to survive in New York.”
The film is also unique for introducing the world to the talents of Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) who made his feature film debut in WTC View, after having performed the lead role in the original Fringe festival stage production of WTC View when it started out as a play.
What is most remarkable is that 10 years after the film’s release, acts of terrorism continue to occur, and the resonant themes of the film – of healing, loss, catharsis, and the universal search for human connection – are stronger than ever.