19 years later, I still have nightmares about this.
Not long before the towers crumbled, we were on top—shooting a commercial for the World Trade Center. The spot featured Bobby Short playing the piano and singing “You’re the Top” by Cole Porter. As an over-the-top agency concept, the initial plan was to airlift a grand piano to the top of the tower. Logistics prevailed over reason. Too windy. And so we shot background plates in all directions from the top of the World Trade Center. It was eery. The tower swayed. Aluminum foiled allegedly protected our film stock from the microwave transmitters that surrounded us. We also shot scenics of the WTC from Brooklyn and Liberty Island. All these background scenes were rear-projected in the comfort of a studio, with Bobby playing in real time.
I remember 9/11/2001 vividly. The sky was a Technicolor blue pierced by a plume of gray-black. I remember panic when the phones went silent with no way to reach family. We were the lucky ones. It was a day of unimaginable horror.
As the day developed on 9/11, there was an eerie silence in the rest of the city. People staggered home. Many looked at the sky above. Where was the Air Force? Was someone up there protecting us? The East River was calm. Surely Coast Guard cutters should be there? The realization came much later. We were on our own. It’s a recurrent theme.