The public is being denied the opportunity to re-experience one of the finest productions about the 9/11 tragedy ever made, ABC’s miniseries “The Path to 9/11” that aired without any commercial breaks over two nights on last year’s fifth anniversary of the hijacking attacks. Produced by Marc Platt Productions and seen by an estimated 28 million viewers (Nielsen does not keep ratings on unsponsored telecasts); it was shown just that one time. ABC has no current plans to rerun “The Path to 9/11,” and a DVD release has significantly not been announced.
AND THE WINNER IS...
But this is not about the political controversies surrounding “The Path to 9/11.” You can read about that on Google News. The screenplay as written by Cyrus Nowrasteh goes back to the original 1993 attempt masterminded by Ramzi Yousef (played by Nabil Elouahabi) to bring down the World Trade Center, cuts back and forth in time to depict the motivations and machinations of dozens of players in as many countries, all tied together through the perspective the FBI’s John O’Neil (Harvey Keitel) who went on to be director of security in the World Trade Center when the planes hit in 2001.
Fortunately, the members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences did see this $40 million, five-hour production, because on Sept. 8 at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the five editors who cut this magnificent post-production tour de force took home golden statuettes in recognition of their achievement.
These included Geoffrey Rowland, A.C.E., Eric Sears, A.C.E., Bryan M. Horne, David Handman, A.C.E., and Mitchell Danton. I was able to speak with the first three of that crew, and they all agreed editing “The Path to 9/11” was both a creative and a cooperative editing experience.
Rowland was the first editor who started on the project a year ago in July with Danton and, since he was responsible for bringing the other editors on board, eventually became first among equals on the growing editing team as the footage shot by director David L. Cunningham topped 2.5 million feet of Super 16mm film. Sears joined the group in October; Handman around Thanksgiving and Horne took an editor’s chair in December.
| (L to R) Bryan M. Horne, David Handman A.C.E., Geoffrey Rowland A.C.E., Eric Sears A.C.E., and Mitchell Danton receive an Emmy for their work on “The Path to 9/11.”|
Working on Avid Media Composer systems, the editing squad shared 1.5 TB of storage from an Avid Unity managed by assistant editors including Steve Sahagun, Jacqueline F. Bisbano Damien Simon, and Brad Schreiber.
The look of the production has a surprising continuity considering the number of cutters involved. It utilizes a fast-paced docudrama style, richly covered thanks to director Cunningham’s use of up to six cameras to shoot a scene, thrusting the action forward with a daunting inevitability.
“There were so many intertwined story lines that each editor wound up cutting scenes involving a consistent plot thread,” said Horne. “For example, I concentrated on all the scenes in the Middle East terrorist camps. Geoffrey took on the conference room scenes with Madeline Albright [Shirley Douglas], Richard Clarke [Stephen Root] and Samuel ‘Sandy’ Berger [Kevin Dunn], someone else took the FBI thread following O’Neil’s experiences, and another followed the involvement of ABC newsman John Miller [Barclay Hope]. Then we were able to meld them all together because everyone was very in tune with the style of the show and what Cunningham was going after.”
Many of the editors had worked together on other movies and shows such as “Survivor” so as Rowland puts it, “When one says ‘blue’ everyone knows what shade of blue he means. We all worked as equals on the ‘Path to 9/11’ team.”
Their contributions as editors are sometimes subtle. Rowland cut the scene toward the end of “The Path to 9/11” where a woman gets a cell call from her husband who is on one of the hijacked planes. Rowland cut in images of family pictures on the wall and shots of the woman’s daughters in a side room watching cartoons as if life was swimming along in expected normality while the husband describes the impending attack by the passengers on the plane.
“It’s the subtlety of it that makes the scene work,” said Horne. “It doesn’t feel like someone is slamming emotions down your throat. The audience is affected by the nuances of the scene without being manipulated by the technique.”
Sears had just finished working on the Warner Bros. feature “Must Love Dogs” when Rowland called him to help on the 9/11 project.
“I’ll probably remember it as one of the most exciting and creative editing experiences I’ve ever had,” Sears said. “I usually try to cut a scene in a day or two. But scenes shot by David Cunningham would sometimes take weeks to edit. He simply shoots a tremendous amount of film and that gives the editor multiple layers of options.”
Sears especially remembers the elaborate battle scene where the Taliban attacked the pro-western Northern Alliance in Afghanistan after Clinton’s failed attempt to kill Osama Bin Laden with Tomahawk missiles in August 1998. Sears worked almost three weeks to cut together a traditional battle scene, but when director Cunningham saw it he said, “Nope, it’s not what I want.” Sears was stumped. “Think betrayal,” Cunningham said and Sears understood the insight that the director had given him into this scene.
A CHANGE OF SCENE
The Clinton administration had felt an obligation to alert the Pakistani government before they fired their missiles over their territory into Afghanistan. This had warned the Taliban and the leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud (Mido Hamada), realized this was going to cause his defeat.
Sears searched through out takes and pre-and post-handles of alternative shots to find shots of Massoud peering through binoculars and then looking down with a grimace of apparent disappointment.
“By intercutting these reactions, the tone of the whole scene was changed,” Sears said. “Now this man was watching his army being destroyed because he felt the United States had betrayed him. David looked at it, said ‘That’s what I wanted,’ and we didn’t change a frame. It was this kind of inspiration that lead all of the editors to create something very special from the great material this director gave us.”
For the sake of good TV, let us hope ABC decides to rerun “The Path to 9/11.” For the sake of history, let’s hope they release it on DVD. But for the sake of all of us, let us hope there is never a sequel.