Hollywood says it’s ready to deal with 9/11. The question is: Are audiences?
With Paramount’s Oliver Stone-helmed film in pre-production, it raises the question about the progress of a slew of other bigscreen and TV projects that were announced in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Most have since languished in development, as filmmakers and execs try to grapple with the problem of telling a story the audience knows (and dreads reliving) — without trivializing the subject.
During the Depression and WWII, films regularly reflected what was going on in the world. But Vietnam stayed off the bigscreen for years, partly because it was a hot-potato subject and partly because auds had seen it for years on the nightly news.
Similar concerns have kept Hollywood from tackling current-events movies, with a few exceptions like the upcoming “Jarhead” and “Syriana.”
According to the producers of Par’s 9/11 pic, the solution is to focus on the lives affected, not the event itself. Stone’s film, starring Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena, centers on two New York City rescuers.
“It’s important to note that this isn’t the story of 9/11,” says Stacey Sher, who is producing with Michael Shamberg. “It’s one story from 9/11. It’s not the ‘Titanic,’ macro version of the event.”
Adds Shamberg: “What audiences don’t need and what we never wanted to do was the ‘Towering Inferno’ version of the event; they saw that on TV.”
Can any of the other projects make it to production?
“It’s hard to say,” says Michael DeLuca, who is developing “102 Minutes,” a book by New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn that follows a group of survivors’ escape from the first WTC tower.
DeLuca likens the subject to the slow evolution of Vietnam pics. Only John Wayne’s “Green Berets” was made during the conflict, but the late 1970s saw a slew of films exploring it from different angles. “There are so many ways of getting at the experience,” he says.
Other features hoping to find their own 9/11 voice include “Against All Enemies,” based on Richard Clarke’s book about the CIA and FBI’s failure to detect the plot; WB’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a Jonathan Safran Foer novel about a 9-year-old whose father was killed on 9/11; and Universal-based Gold Circle Films’ untitled project about terrorists living in America just before they carry out an attack that may or may not be 9/11.
Until a few weeks ago, ABC and NBC were quietly racing behind the scenes to get separate projects on the air.
NBC and its in-house studio had pacted with Imagine TV’s Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and David Nevins to produce an eight-hour mini based on the 9/11 Commission report.
Graham Yost (“Boomtown”) had written a script. But thanks to the Peacock’s disappointing upfront, execs aborted the $30 million project.
Now, only the Alphabet pic, spearheaded by feature producer Marc Platt, remains on track. ABC is expected to formally unveil its project as early as this week, and it will likely air in the coming season.
Producer Michael Nathanson worries that even a few projects will be too much.
Nathanson, the former MGM Pictures president who’s now a Col-based producer, is developing the story of John P. O’Neill, counter-terrorism expert who was hired as security director at the Twin Towers two weeks before the attacks.
He admits that Par’s Stone pic being the first up and running is a distinct advantage in avoiding audience backlash or, worse, indifference.
“After ‘Black Hawk Down,’ there were four or five different war movies (released),” he says. “It became a blur to the audience. You can only go to the well so many times. Instead of remaining competitive, you become repetitive.”
(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)