Casting was handled primarily out of New York City, with calls going out not only for those actors who resembled the actual people aboard the flight, but also for any performers who may have flight-related experience that could be germane to the characters. Actors who made it to audition found that Greengrass' unusual working style was apparent right from the start--no scripts (or "sides") were provided, and actors were brought into the room in groups, instead of one at a time. Once inside, they were given minimal information, only that the film concerned United 93. Chairs were arranged in rows, as on a plane, and the group was then instructed to improv (e.g., getting on the plane, reacting to a hijacker).
Actor David Rasche, eventually cast as passenger Donald Freeman Greene, remembers, "The audition process was very mysterious--they just said that it was about United 93, that was it. It was really interesting to see people going through various stages of hysteria or however they reacted to the situation. Then they said, 'Thank you.' That was it." Of the entire audition and filming process, Rasche adds, "Paul has more courage about diving into the complete unknown than I've ever been involved with. The most difficult thing for me was the convergence of realities--the reality of what Paul thinks happened, then what I think happened…but the truth is no one knows for sure. It was a challenge and a fascinating work experience."
For a director looking to create a believable truth, the verisimilitude of the flight personnel's actions necessitated a search within the ranks of actual experienced crew members. Commercial airline pilot J.J. Johnson (who has enjoyed a distinguished career with United Airlines) was told about the film by another pilot, who ended up recommending Johnson for the role. Next thing he knew, Johnson received a call from a casting agent, who wanted to know how quickly he could be in New York for an interview--in his captain's uniform; Johnson was later cast as UAL 93's Captain Jason Dahl. Johnson arranged for the five weeks off from United, noting, "They were very supportive of me."
The role of First Officer LeRoy Homer was filled by Gary Commock, who has flown commercially (passengers and freight) for just over a decade. (Both Johnson and Commock--in the course of their work--flew commercial 747s to arrive in London just prior to arriving on the United 93 set.) Of the five flight attendants on United 93, two--Sandra Bradshaw and Lorraine G. Bay--were played by actresses who had worked as United flight attendants: Trish Gates (still working in the field when cast) and Nancy McDoniel. Their experience proved invaluable to the other actors, particularly those cast as the three additional flight attendants, who would look to them for advice on in-flight procedures.
Other roles were also filled by those best equipped for the characters--civilian and military controllers (some of whom had been on duty on 9/11) were interspersed among actors on the sets of the Newark tower, as well as the Herndon, NEADS, Boston, New York and Cleveland centers. Real-life Boston controller Thomas "Tommy" Roberts; military specialist Colin Scoggins; and NEADS' Major James Fox, Senior Director, Weapons Crew and Sergeant Jeremy Powell, Senior Director, Technician, were among those who participated, replaying before the cameras the events they themselves had witnessed first hand nearly five years ago.
The FAA's Ben Sliney had initially signed on to work in an advisory capacity. His nearly three decades of expertise in air traffic control and singular involvement with the events of 9/11(as the man in charge of the FAA's command center in Herndon) would render him a highly valued asset to Greengrass and his team. He was then invited to work on-camera during filming, portraying a controller in the New York center. Ultimately, he was asked to step into the shoes of one of the key players of the day--so Ben Sliney was eventually cast as Ben Sliney.
The FAA center in Herndon is a unique facility in that it does not communicate directly with aircraft. Instead, it exercises command authority over the 20 regional air traffic control facilities in the United States, overriding those regional boundaries and facilitating cooperation among the separate entities when the situation calls. On the morning of September 11, it fell to Sliney to give the order to clear the skies, landing approximately 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft within hours, before any more could become involved (at one point, it was believed as many as 11 planes had been hijacked). Astoundingly, this was accomplished without further incident…and all of this on Sliney's first day at the job.
Relating his experience reliving 9/11 for the cameras, Sliney states, "What I was called upon to do for Paul was accurate, in that I would have responded in the way that he wanted me to--albeit it was heightened for the purposes of the film. But it was factual in the progression of the events, since it was developed using the facts from the 9/11 Commission Report. I cannot say I was nervous, and I attribute that to being relaxed around Paul, knowing that he had provided the parameters of the scene and you had the freedom to bounce around within those. I think also, having read the treatment, it seemed to me that the story was about how people in ordinary walks of life--without any guidance from hierarchy or protocol--could all rise to an occasion, which culminated in the ultimate self-sacrifice of the people on United 93. It was focused and clear, so it was easy to do my job on the set."
Production had also begun searching for another important element that would play a key role in the re-creation of the day: a plane. Fortunately, the production team found a 20-year-old, out-of-service Boeing 757 earmarked for the scrap heap, had it dismantled and shipped to Pinewood Studios outside of London, where United 93 would be filmed. Then, gleaning instruction from a massive, 9,600-page "owner's" manual, the production crew began the careful re-assembly of the 140-foot-long fuselage. Rather than putting it back together as one contiguous piece, however, builders reconstructed the 757 in pull-apart sections (the cockpit, first class and coach cabins). Each could later be mounted separately on motion gimbals that could simulate the movements of the plane (banking, ascending, descending, turbulence), or assembled back in one piece. The art department then performed a makeover on the interior, dressing the seats and cabins with period-appropriate, company-issue graphics, fabrics, lights, magazines, even the correct images on the in-flight television monitors--all to replicate, as closely as possible, the appearance of the five-year-old Boeing 757 that took off from Newark on Monday, September 11, and later crashed in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, near the town of Shanksville.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Paul Greengrass (Written and Directed by / Produced by) has worked extensively across British film, television and theater.
Greengrass wrote and directed the critically lauded, documentary-style feature Bloody Sunday, about the 1972 civil rights march in Northern Ireland that resulted in 13 deaths. Bloody Sunday's awards include the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival 2002, the World Cinema Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival 2002 and Best Director, the British Independent Film Awards 2002.
He most recently directed the international blockbuster The Bourne Supremacy, which grossed more than $50 million during its domestic opening weekend and went on to earn more than $175 at the US box office. Greengrass' other credits include Omagh (Best Single Drama, BAFTA 2005), The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (Best Single Film, BAFTA 2000; Special Jury Prize, BANFF TV Festival 2000), The Fix, The Theory of Flight (Best Foreign Film, Brussels Film Festival 1999) and Resurrected (Interfilm and OCIC Jury Awards, Berlin Film Festival 1989).
Greengrass has also written and directed many documentaries, including the official Live Aid documentary, Food, Trucks and Rock and Roll. He began his career on World in Action, where he won a BAFTA. He was also co-writer with Peter Wright of the controversial bestseller Spycatcher.
Lloyd Levin (Produced by) most recently produced Hellboy with Lawrence Gordon, continuing an ongoing working relationship that began in the mid-'80s. Levin received his first credit as associate producer on Die Hard, which was based upon Nothing Lasts Forever, a book that Levin brought to Gordon's attention; he subsequently oversaw the film's development. Levin then served as associate producer on both the Academy Award®-nominated Field of Dreams (1989), directed by Phil Alden Robinson and starring Kevin Costner, and K-9 (1989), starring James Belushi. In 1990, Levin served as executive producer on both Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Predator 2. In 1991, he produced The Rocketeer, directed by Joe Johnston and starring Billy Campbell and Jennifer Connelly.
Levin joined Gordon at Largo Entertainment, where he served as president of production and oversaw the production of such hit movies as Point Break, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze; Unlawful Entry, starring Kurt Russell and Ray Liotta; and Timecop, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. At Largo Entertainment, Levin also executive-produced Used People, starring Shirley MacLaine, Kathy Bates and Marcello Mastroianni.
After departing Largo, Levin continued his partnership with Gordon as a producer. In 1997, he executive-produced The Devil's Own, starring Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt. The same year, he also produced Event Horizon, which starred Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill. In 1998, he produced Paul Thomas Anderson's breakthrough movie, Boogie Nights; nominated for three Academy Awards®, Boogie Nights starred Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Heather Graham and Burt Reynolds.
Levin produced Mystery Men in 1999, which starred Ben Stiller, William H. Macy and Geoffrey Rush, and followed it with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie. The movie, based on the video game, went on to a worldwide box-office gross of over $280 million and became the most successful action movie of all time starring a female lead. He also produced K-PAX, directed by Iain Softley and starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. Upcoming for Levin are the Jan de Bont thriller Meg and the sequel to Hellboy.
Working Title Films, co-chaired by Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner (Produced by) since 1992, has become Europe's leading film production company, making movies that defy boundaries as well as demographics.
Working Title, founded in 1983, has made more than 80 films that have grossed $3.5 billion worldwide. Its films have won four Academy Awards® (for Tim Robbins' Dead Man Walking, Joel and Ethan Coen's Fargo and Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth), 22 BAFTA Awards and prestigious prizes at the Cannes and Berlin International Film Festivals. Bevan and Fellner have been honored with two of the highest film awards given to British filmmakers: the Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema at the Orange British Academy Film Awards (2004) and the Alexander Walker Film Award at the Evening Standard British Film Awards. They were both recently made CBEs (Commanders of the British Empire).
In addition to those films mentioned above, Working Title's other worldwide successes include Mike Newell's Four Weddings and a Funeral, Richard Curtis' Love Actually, Roger Michell's Notting Hill; Mel Smith's Bean; Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter; Peter Howitt's Johnny English; Joel and Ethan Coen's O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Chris and Paul Weitz's About a Boy; and both Bridget Jones movies (directed by Sharon Maguire and Beeban Kidron, respectively). The company has enjoyed long and successful creative collaborations with writer/director Richard Curtis; actors Rowan Atkinson, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant; and the Coen brothers' filmmaking team, among others.
Currently enjoying international box office success are Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland; and Kirk Jones' Nanny McPhee, written by and starring Emma Thompson and also starring Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury and Kelly Macdonald.
Working Title has four films in post-production; Phillip Noyce's Hotstuff, starring Tim Robbins and Derek Luke; Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces, starring Jeremy Piven, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta and Alicia Keys; Ringan Ledwidge's Middle of Nowhere, with Amelia Warner, Shaun Evans and Scott Mechlowicz; and Weiland's Sixty Six, starring Eddie Marsan and Helena Bonham Carter.
Currently in pre-production are Shekhar Kapur's The Golden Age--the long-awaited follow up to the successful Elizabeth--starring Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Clive Owen; Edgar Wright's Hott Fuzz, starring Simon Pegg; Bean II (working title), starring Rowan Atkinson; and Joe Wright's Atonement, adapted from the book by Ian McEwan.
In 1999, a new division, WT², was formed with the purpose of providing an energetic and creatively fertile home for key emerging U.K. film talent and lower-budgeted productions. Its first film, Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot, was released in 2000 and became an international critical and commercial hit. The film grossed over $100 million worldwide, earned three Academy Award® and two Golden Globe Award nominations and was named Best Feature at the British Independent Film Awards. The film's director, Stephen Daldry, and screenwriter, Lee Hall, reunited for a stage musical version, with newly composed songs by Sir Elton John. The hit production, marking Working Title's debut theatrical venture (co-produced with Old Vic Prods.), has been playing to packed houses at London's Victoria Theatre.
WT²'s subsequent films have included Mark Mylod's Ali G Indahouse, starring Sacha Baron Cohen, which was a smash in the U.K.; Marc Evans' acclaimed thriller My Little Eye; Terry Loane's Mickybo & Me; Damien O'Donnell's Inside I'm Dancing, which won the Audience Award at the 2004 Edinburgh International Film Festival; and Edgar Wright's award-winning sleeper hit "rom zom com" (romantic zombie comedy) Shaun of the Dead.
Debra Hayward (Executive Producer) joined Working Title in 1989 as producer's assistant on such films as Fools of Fortune and Dakota Road, and then moved into development, where she worked on such diverse films as 1991's London Kills Me and 1993's Map of the Human Heart.
Hayward recently served as executive producer on Nanny McPhee, Pride & Prejudice and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason; and as co-producer on The Interpreter. Additional recent co-producer credits include Ned Kelly, Love Actually, Johnny English and About a Boy. She also recently executive-produced The Guru and 40 Days and 40 Nights.
Hayward's additional co-producing credits include Bridget Jones's Diary, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Elizabeth, The Matchmaker and The Borrowers. As development executive, Hayward was instrumental in bringing to the screen Notting Hill, Plunkett & Macleane, French Kiss, Moonlight and Valentino, Panther, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Posse.
Liza Chasin (Executive Producer) has served as president of U.S. production at Working Title Films since 1996. She recently produced Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason starring Renée Zellweger in the role of the quintessential modern single woman; Wimbledon, directed by Richard Loncraine and starring Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany; Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley and directed by Joe Wright; and Nanny McPhee, starring Emma Thompson, Colin Firth and Angela Lansbury. Chasin also served as executive producer on the highly acclaimed Thirteen, co-produced Richard Curtis' worldwide hit Love Actually and executive-produced the family adventure Thunderbirds.
Over the past several years, Chasin has been involved in the development and production of such acclaimed films as Dead Man Walking, Fargo, Notting Hill and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Chasin also served as co-producer of About a Boy, Bridget Jones's Diary and High Fidelity. She also co-produced Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett.
A graduate of NYU Film School, Chasin first joined Working Title in 1991 as director of development. She was then promoted to vice president of production and development, becoming the head of the Los Angeles office, overseeing the company's creative affairs in the U.S. Prior to joining Working Title, Chasin worked for several years in various production capacities in New York-based production companies.
Barry Akroyd (Director of Photography), member of the British Society of Cinematographers, has served as director of photography on more than 40 motion pictures and telefilms since he started as an assistant camera operator in the entertainment industry in the mid-'80s.
Very soon after, he served as cinematographer on seminal English director Ken Loach's documentary The Eleventh Hour: The View from the Woodpile, which began what would become a longstanding, fruitful collaboration between Loach and Akroyd. To date, Loach has filmed 11 projects for the director, which include: Raining Stones, Ladybird Ladybird, Land and Freedom, Carla's Song, My Name Is Joe, Bread and Roses, The Navigators, Sweet Sixteen, Ae Fond Kiss and the upcoming The Wind That Shakes the Barley.
Akroyd's other director of photography credits include Gideon's Daughter, Love + Hate, Eroica, The Lost Prince (BAFTA nominated), Out of Control, Dust, Very Annie Mary, Beautiful People, The Lost Son, Amazing Grace, Anne Frank Remembered, Tracking Down Maggie: The Unofficial Biography of Margaret Thatcher and Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer. Akroyd also directed the BAFTA-nominated short film The Butterfly Man.
Clare Douglas (Editor) has been editing feature and telefilms for more than three decades. Her work has garnered three BAFTA nominations for Best Editing: 2003's The Lost Prince, 2002's Bloody Sunday and 1982's Smiley's People. Douglas has previously worked with Paul Greengrass, editing both Bloody Sunday and The Murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Douglas' other film editing credits include Friends and Crocodiles, A Way of Life (starring Brenda Blethyn), The Misadventures of Margaret (starring Parker Posey and Jeremy Northam), Midnight Movie, For the Greater Good, Secret Friends and Christabel. Her work for television includes such projects as Family Money; Cold Lazarus; Lipstick on Your Collar; Needle; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Dial M for Murder; and Emma.
Christopher Rouse's (Editor) keen sense of story combined with his ability to cut unique action sequences has made him one of the most sought-after editors around.
Rouse most recently edited the hit Eight Below and the international blockbuster The Bourne Supremacy (with Richard Pearson). He also worked on the first installment of the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Identity, and edited the John Woo-directed film Paycheck, starring Ben Affleck. He also co-edited The Italian Job and lent his talents as the additional editor on Manito (winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival) and on the IMAX film Olympic Glory.
In addition to his work on feature films, he received an Emmy nomination for editing the miniseries Anne Frank: The Whole Story, starring Ben Kingsley. He also edited several episodes of the award-winning From the Earth to the Moon, a miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Ron Howard.
Richard Pearson (Editor) most recently served as editor on the motion picture adaptation of the groundbreaking Broadway musical Rent; on the ensemble dark comedy A Little Trip to Heaven; and on the international hit The Bourne Supremacy (with Christopher Rouse). Pearson also edited the jungle-set action-adventure The Rundown, starring The Rock and Seann William Scott, and the hit sequel Men in Black II (with editor Steven Weisberg). His other motion picture credits include The Score, Drowning Mona, Bowfinger and Muppets From Space.Pearson received an Emmy nomination for his work on the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. He also created the title design for the acclaimed series.