I found this on my computer that I saved from almost 15 years ago that reminded me of what our industry did to help with 9/11. Proud to be apart of this industry and a IATSE member. My prayers and remembrance on this 15 year anniversary of this terrorist attack on our country. I did have the opportunity to visit ground zero a month after. I still have a heavy heart and a tear when I remember this tragedy and the months that followed. This is worth the read being the 15th Anniversary whether you are in the film industry or not. I'm not even who the author of this article was, but I did save it. Very proud to be a member of our industry and IATSE.
A month has passed since the Sept. 11 attacks and within the ruins of the World Trade Center, fire continues to smolder. Network television has resumed normal programming and the U.S. government has begun its retaliation. Looking back, it is important to take a moment and reflect on the mindless destruction of it all, and at the same time recognize the strength of countless, nameless heroes.
Among the crew of firefighters, policemen, emergency workers and volunteers at Ground Zero hours after the Twin Towers crumbled was also a group of people that many in New York's film production community have come in contact with while working on a shoot. We're talking about the gaffers, electricians, Teamsters and union members, non-union members, vendors and producers, who all found a way to help out in the effort.
As evening approached on New York City Sept. 11, network news reports speculated the rescue efforts at Ground Zero might be delayed because of a shortage of lights and power. Not long after, sources of light gradually came into view on TV. The rescue effort was visible by lights like 18Ks and Maxi-Brutes shining down. Around the world, much of the audience involved in production recognized the lights hovering above the wreckage as the same lights often used in shooting features, commercials and music videos.
Unbeknownst to many, as darkness encroached on the site, many were risking their lives to simply light the way for rescue workers. New York film unions, vendors, production companies and individuals volunteered their time, weaving an intricate network of donated services and equipment that helped out the relief efforts.
Among these patrons were Luna Lighting, Panavision, Motion Picture Studio Mechanics Local 52, Teamsters Local 817, Feature Systems , Musco Lighting, Paramount Studios, Power Source, Camera Service Center, Kaufman Astoria Studios, Coast to Coast catering, the production team of the NBC series "Third Watch," Ritter Sysco Food Services and countless other generous donors.
A key grip, who asked not to be identified, was one of the first individuals to help light the area at Ground Zero. He spoke about the challenge of helping the rescuers and the chaos that ran amuck the first day of relief efforts.
He described how Tony Argento, owner of Luna Lighting, began making plans to bring a crew and lighting equipment in as soon as the collapse of the World Trade center took place. Half an hour after World Trade Center Building 7 fell, the team of 15 mostly non-union crew members, was brought into Ground Zero, consisting of grips, electrics, camera assistants, an AD and a producer, along with generator trucks and lighting equipment. These were the individuals who would man the cables and lights that were to illuminate the rescue area. They were also the people who took the risk of lighting precarious locations within the collapsed buildings so rescuers could hopefully find the living.
At this point, fires were still breaking out, buildings continued to give way, the air was filled with ash and the three hundred people who were intended to organize the emergency had been killed when they rushed to the World Trade Center and suddenly, both towers collapsed. The people who were meant to take charge were no longer there and a lot of people were very confused about what to do.
The team proceeded and was split up into two groups: one to serve the South Tower and one to take care of the North Tower. Our key grip was on the team designated for the South Tower. "They asked us to light a peripheral area at Broadway and Church," he said. "We lit that and I walked down the hill towards the Trade Center to see what was actually happening at the site. It was very, very, very dark. All of the firemen were working off headlights on their helmets."
The two teams reorganized and realized they needed to get closer. Large, bulky construction lights that had been set up by the city were too clunky to reach into the small spaces rescuers were going in and out of. "The area was just a mess of gnarled debris and a mess of firehoses," the key grip explained. "There were crushed emergency vehicles. There wasn't any way to get anything in that was larger than a light stand. If you trudged your way in with a light stand, put a light on top and ran a cable, you could get so much closer. That's what we ended up doing. Similar activity was going on at the North Site. We also ended up lighting some triage spaces, as did they, but they had the unfortunate task of lighting the morgue area, which was one of the most horrible experiences that any of us had down there. It was truly horrible."
The crew worked through the night, installing lights wherever they were needed. The next day, more people and equipment started to arrive to add to the exhausted crew of 15 and the entire equipment stock of Luna Lighting. Eventually in the next following days, the effort would gradually become more and more coordinated, but initially the situation was one fueled by pure reaction and instinct. "The first night was spent trying to respond to the apparent need for light in various places, but really without any direction from the fire department," the key grip said. "Tony really put his whole business on the line in order to help out and he did so without anyone asking him to. There was no organized call from anyone."
One of the most instrumental organizations to arrive in the following days was Local 52, the union that covers electric, grip, property, medics, nurses and other crafts. Secretary and treasurer of Local 52 John R. Ford noted, "The membership of Local 52 responded swiftly to the call. When the office opened the morning after the tragedy, the phone was ringing, and it didn't stop the entire day. Vendors called saying the city was using their generators and equipment, and could the Local send people with it? There has never been a shortage, with about 25 grips and electricians at Ground Zero every night since. In addition, dozens of members of all the crafts have been working at the various staging areas as well as assisting the Salvation Army and the Red Cross."
Ford explained that from the very first day the Local ran the operation like they ran a movie shoot, with the office staff (Bob Stocklin, Carmen Maldonado, Irma Vando, Gary Brink and Tommy Hill) desperately trying to keep track of who was on or off the job. Ford said, "If you needed a night off, [you'd ] either replace yourself with a buddy, or call the union and we would get someone for you."
Similar to how deals are made in the industry on a normal day, word spread quickly by word of mouth. Bob Bailin, CEO and president of grip and lighting rental house Feature Systems, explained, "As soon as we were notified by Local 52, we sent equipment down to the area so that the rescuers could find their way. We were just one of a number of companies that sent gear down."
With Feature Systems general manager Jay Karasick working as the central clearinghouse for coordinating their people and equipment to Ground Zero, the rental house donated generators and Maxi-Brute lights. Bailin explained that the Maxi-Brutes could be easily moved while, at the same time, they are able to emit large amounts of light. "The crew was being asked by the rescuers to move the equipment into areas so they could see down into voids and could dig that way," he said. "One of our generators was also being used to light up small, mobile lights for medical stations and whatever else was necessary."
In the case of Camera Service Center (CSC), the company had already established a relationship with the New York Mayor's Office from a previous misfortune when scaffolding on the Conde Nast bulding nearly collapsed in 1998. The company donated a generator truck loaded with distribution cables, stands and Ruby 7 lights. Glenn Vanderlinden, the lighting and grip supervisor over at CSC, spoke highly of the Local 52 and 817's ability to gather a large amount of people and equipment. "Those are the two groups who really made all the phone calls and got the additional lights and people."
JournalE photo essaysAllen Stearns, owner of Coast to Coast catering, became involved by submitting his company's name to the American Red Cross. He received a call from Charles Carrol, a producer from "Third Watch," telling him that the firemen, police and other rescue workers were working around the clock with no hot food. Stearns gathered his team comprised of Maria Stearns, P.J. Haines, Greg Power, Rich Elmiger, in addition to Ray Kidd of Ritter Sysco Food Services and many others to make preparations. "'Third Watch' has a close affiliation with the firefighters and I believe they wanted to show their support and help out in any way they could," he said. "That evening we got a police escort into Ground Zero and we stayed there for four days, 24 hours a day, serving hot food."
Ritter Sysco Food Services along with area restaurants like Cosmo's and Arthur's Landing supplied the food that was given out and worked together with Coast to Coast to make sure that a home-cooked meal would be ready out of the hot trucks parked nearly 100 feet away from the World Trade Center. Getting a good meal out may seem like a small thing, but to many of the relief workers who worked until exhaustion, it was a welcomed offering in comparison to a cold sandwich. "We served over 7,000 meals over those four days," said Kidd.
The towering lights seen on televisions across the world at the World Trade Center and Pentagon sites were Musco Lights brought in from nearby areas. For Musco employees, the effort was a deeply personal one: the company's Web site manager, Frank Kminek, lost his sister Mari-Rae, who was a passenger aboard the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon. The Musco Web site lists with pride the following crew members as operators of their lighting trucks: Justin Clayton, Brent Jack, Mike Fee, Gene Fynaardt, Chad Jaquay, John Kennelly, Scott Larson and Don McLaughlin.
Operating the generators, hooking up the lights and moving them into place was one matter; transporting the equipment to the location was another. This would take the coordination of the rental houses to provide the equipment, and the Teamsters Local 817 to drive the trucks down to Ground Zero and other designated relief stations.
"Local 52 and Local 817 were instrumental in getting and transporting the eqiupment down there and having the manpower to take care of the cables and lights," said Bailin.
Jim Leavey, recording secretary of Local 817, recounted the outpouring of help given by his members and professional colleagues. "I called the union hall, knowing that we had the capabilities of what was going to be needed. I spoke to Tom O'Donnel Sr., who is the national vice president of the Teamsters and he said, 'Jimmy, whatever it takes.' At that point, we got the word out to our guys about volunteering and we were inundated with phone calls. More and more camera houses got involved. I don't think there was a vendor here in New York that was not involved."
Said Scott Fleischer, vice president of Panavision, "Everybody had heard on television that they needed generators, lighting equipment and trucks, so we coordinated with Local 52, Local 817 and FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency[." Fleischer also described the necessity for smaller lights once the rescue was underway. "As the rescuers made their way further and deeper into the site, we donated some belt battery Sun Guns and Pocket Pars. These lights are small and the rescuers can go down into small spaces with them."
Fleischer made a special acknowledgement to the men who worked with the Panavision equipment. "The guys who drove our trucks down there were Richard Kornak, Chris Kornak and Joe Featherstone. The electricians Jay Fortune and James "Mugsy" Malone have been running my generators. All of the drivers and all of these electricians down there have been working around the clock. We're just doing everything that we can do."
The importance of an able and willing crew was also echoed by Bailin. "The equipment was there, but it's really the crew who just dropped what they were doing and ran down there," he said. "They reported to work everyday at Ground Zero, basically at 4 p.m. and worked 12-14 hour shifts. They are the guys who really deserve the credit."
At the same time the unions were gearing up, hundreds and hundreds of non-union members of the film community found other ways to help out, whether through giving blood, volunteering with the Red Cross, Salvation Army, their local churces or temples, or through groups set up at Jacob Javitz Convention Center, where FEMA was located. Getting volunteers was not a problem, but finding tasks for them was. Many volunteers sat helplessly at the sidelines with good intentions, eager to do something -- anything -- to aid during the crisis.
Of the many people we contacted for this article, no one was completely comfortable with accepting recognition for themselves or their company. Some people did not want to be included at all, perhaps still too traumatized by the events. Some people simply wanted to move on. However, everyone seemed to prefer placing the recognition on the film community of New York as a whole for the tremendous relief effort.
Said Leavey, "I got the same answer from everybody: 'Whatever it takes.' Our guys got the keys to the camera houses if we needed additional equipment or the houses would open the houses up. They were right there, and boom, we would get what we needed. I would have to say, we had an excess of well over $4 million in equipment just on a phone call. It was outstanding the way everybody pulled together."
"We're in a competitive industry in New York," said Vanderlinden. "All that was put aside and everyone worked together. I was down there and it was a real strong showing of the film industry. Instead of stepping on each others' feet, everyone just stepped in line."
Although the call for help was answered generously by many of these companies, individuals and organizations, the overall feeling for many remains bittersweet.
"We were happy to do what we did and that we could help somebody. I wish to hell we didn't have to do it at all, but it's something the union is all about: giving and sharing, not just with our members," Leavey said.
It's just been very emotional...But the film community in New York has really galvanized together to help in any way we can," said Fleischer.
"The area of Ground Zero was very familiar to us," said Stearns, whose company had often catered many films, TV shows and commercials in and around the vicinity of the World Trade Center. "To see the area like it was, we felt pretty helpless. But we felt like at least we were there, serving a purpose and helping somebody. As horrible as it was out there, there were thousands of people trying to help out, just trying to do the right thing."
It was as basic as providing light or filling an empty stomach, but it was a plea for help that the collective filmmakers in New York answered, with no questions asked. The motivation for all the crew members, vendors and unions, was not for any special attention or self-promotion, but out of sincere concern. Hundred of reports point out that there was more than enough help, that many well-intentioned people stood by powerless, eager to do anything that was needed. Many people who risked the most and gave more than could be asked for are still relunctant to be named, feeling uneasy about the recognition. The recognition is not what matters, but the fact that people did step forward to help out should not go unnoticed either. Inevitably, everyone continues to deal with the pain and loss. For many of those involved, the best way to reward them for their actions seems to be to keep them working and help the process of rebuilding their great city.
"It's been an incredible effort, but that's what we do." Bailin said. "It's fairly simple and miniscule in light of the tragedy that has happened. You do whatever you can. The film community has come together and we're open for business. We're ready to go and we want to keep the New York economy going. The only way to beat the bad guys is to keep our economy alive."