In the wake of the disasters at the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, a wide range of entertainment technology industry companies and individuals have pitched in to help with the relief effort.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, September 11, Musco Lighting received a call from the NYPD requesting the use of its mobile lighting trucks. The portable lighting trucks are normally used for sporting events, and four trucks happened to be staged near New York City for the college football season. Musco had provided lighting trucks for the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and was on the police department's list of vendors.
According to Musco spokesperson Diane Crookham-Johnson, four trucks were dispatched immediately with a fifth coming in from the company's Iowa headquarters. They also had two trucks at the Pentagon site. Normally, the trucks operate with one technician per truck, but due to the length of time they will be onsite, with extra crew standing by. “The crews are currently on a two-day-on, one-day-off rotation,” says Crookham-Johnson. “The trucks will remain until released by the New York Office of Emergency Management. They are planning on at least two months at this point.”
When officials from New York City's government realized that they needed more room for the NYC Family Assistance Center, which started out at the armory on Lexington Avenue, they settled on the UnConvention Center located at Pier 94, at 55th Street and the West Side Highway. At 125,000 sq. ft., it is three and a half times larger than the armory and better suited to the families that were searching for loved ones. Ken Longert of KL Productions, a production company based at the piers that provides lighting, staging, and sound equipment for the trade shows, jumped into action supporting the city's efforts.
“On Wednesday, the city wanted to use Pier 94 as a morgue and asked us to put up drapes and lights to create a welcoming place for the families,” explains Longert. “On Thursday, they changed their minds and asked us to help in the construction of the Family Assistance Center. We set up more lighting and staging, we ran a lot of power drops all over the space. There was very little power here when this was a pier, and we have added a lot of power distribution to support the trade shows. Since the pier is 900' long, we have a lot of very long feeder cable and portable distribution to put power where it is needed.”
Longert and a crew of 30 technicians worked around the clock to get Pier 94 ready for the new guests. They worked in conjunction with Verizon and Time Warner to provide phone and Internet access. “There are hundreds of computers as well as a cafeteria for catering hot meals for the families,” says Longert. His crew set up a pier-wide sound system with three zones for announcements. One of the poignant features is a long plywood wall at the entrance to the center with a small roof that is covered with fliers and photos of missing loved ones. A quick trip to an electrical supply house later and Longert's crew had set up weatherproof floodlighting along the wall.
Individuals from the entertainment industry have been contributing in other ways as well. Costume designer and NYU professor Carrie Robbins, who designed the uniforms for the World Trade Center's Windows on the World restaurant, reports that the NYU costume majors sewed protective booties for the WTC rescue dogs. “They said, ‘We can't run heavy machinery, but we can sew,’” Robbins says.
Herrick Goldman, a New York City — based lighting designer, also happens to be a trained EMT. He was working a call when the tragedy was unfolding. Goldman went immediately to Chelsea Piers, where the city was staging ambulances, to volunteer his services. He and a crew of 50 off-duty firemen took over a dark soundstage and were told to convert it into a hospital. “My first reaction was, those eight mercury vapor fixtures aren't going to cut it,” says Goldman, who subsequently ran back three blocks to the jobsite and took some 2kW fresnels and power distribution in a hamper back to the soundstage. “In about five minutes, the Local 52 crew and I got it up and running.” With some supplemental lighting from the Law and Order lighting package, they turned a darkened soundstage into a makeshift hospital.
“I ended up working there as an EMT until 9:00 that night, dealing with coordination of volunteers,” says Goldman. There, 300 doctors, nurses, and medics manned over 100 fully functional operating tables. Sadly, there have only been a handful of patients. “It was incredible to see all of the volunteers coming out of the woodwork willing to pitch in and do anything necessary,” Goldman notes. “It makes me proud to be a citizen of this city and this country.”
Michael S. Eddy
America: A Tribute to Heroes, the all-star telethon that aired commercial-free on over 30 networks in 210 countries on September 21, was a logistical and technical challenge of unparalleled proportions. Created to raise money for the victims of the September 11 attack on America, the event featured a wide variety of musical guests, actors, and celebrities from undisclosed studios in New York City, Los Angeles, and London and came together just 10 days after the horrific attack on the US. Nearly 60 million Americans watched America: A Tribute to Heroes, which ultimately raised over $150 million.
Entertainment and film producer Joel Gallen of Tenth Planet Productions pulled all of this together in less than one week. Overseeing the look of the production was LeRoy Bennett, who was the overall production designer and the lighting designer for the New York portion of the telethon. The Los Angeles location was produced at CBS Television City and a third segment was shot in London. “This one was from the heart. I wanted to do something for the city, to help,” says Bennett. “It was beyond anything that I have done before.” Aiding Bennett in New York was gaffer Michael Callahan and grip Eugene Meinenhoffer.
While no televised event has even approached the magnitude of America, those that come close (e.g., the Grammys) are planned months in advance. In stark contrast, America came together in less than one week, testing the logistical skills and professionalism of everyone involved. In the first few days, organizers determined who would perform and at what set he or she would perform. Nevertheless, Tom Pesa, audio engineer and technician for ATK Audiotek Corp., reports that last-minute impromptu changes were the rule in an effort to make the show as moving and heartfelt as possible. With crude logistics determined early in the week, a mere 36 hours transpired between load-in and the actual telecast. By comparison, up to four full days are typically dedicated to load-in alone for something like the Grammy Awards.
The New York portion was produced at the Sony Music Studios on West 54th Street. Michael Negri, associate director of stages for Sony Music, spoke about the incredible effort that everyone managed in five days. “The whole idea of this telethon started the previous Saturday and we all started cranking to get this show up and running as quickly as possible,” says Negri. “We are in the entertainment industry. We cannot go to ground zero and help with the recovery efforts, so this was our way of giving back.” Negri mentioned that they had so many volunteers to work on the show that they were turning people away. “There was a great effort on a lot of people's parts to get this show up in the limited amount of time that we had. Let's put it this way: a show of this complexity, from three locations, would normally take a lot longer. There was a lot of double time and there were no complaints.”
Sony Music Studios has a complete lighting grid and conventional lighting and dimming system, but to save time and work more efficiently, Negri brought in a full truss and motor package from United Staging. For conventional lighting the Sony system consists of an ETC Sensor dimming system with three-hundred-fifty 2.4kW and forty-eight 6.0kW dimmers. There were 11 spotlights brought in from Fourth Phase Lighting, seven units flown up in the truss, and four units on a spot deck. The automated lighting came from Vari-Lite. “We had no idea what 1,000 candles burning on the set would do, so when they started messing up the shot, we had to open the studio doors and set up fans to clear the air between sets,” says Negri. “There was a strong wind that night and you could smell the smoke from the World Trade Center. It was pretty eerie.”
Daniel Bonitsky, general manager for Vari-Lite Production Services in New Jersey, explains the quick turnaround needed for the New York end of the broadcast. “We got the call late on Tuesday afternoon for the equipment. We had Wednesday to prep for a load-in on Thursday,” says Bonitsky. “It was a last-minute project.” Vari-Lite supplied 24 VL4™ wash luminaries, 24 VL5Arc™ wash luminaries, and 30 VL6C™ spot luminaries. The Vari*Lite technicians for the telethon were Kat Fantaski as the lead and Jason Livingston. “They both provided a lot of support, in very little time,” adds Bonitsky.
The lighting was controlled with an MA Lighting GrandMA control console. The programmer and operator was Patrick Dierson of Dierson Designs. “We only got one run-through with each artist and then it was all on the fly,” he recalls. “Roy was looking for any way to make this project run as smoothly as possible.” Dierson adds that everyone was there to work. “Billy Joel was jamming with the band and then said that it was time to rehearse his song. Right before he began to play, he reached into his bag and pulled out the fireman's helmet, all covered in dust and placed it on the piano. You could have heard a pin drop in the studio, it was that poignant a moment.”
ATK Audiotek provided all of the audio equipment for the LA location, aside from a few items from the Westwood One truck. On the LA set, gear included the ATK proprietary M2 and M5 stage monitors, two Innova-Son Grand Live monitoring consoles (one for each stage), a variety of outboard effects and microphones, plus a dedicated staff to run it all. Their partner company Firehouse Productions of New York provided all equipment for the NYC studio. All equipment was donated. In LA, while most of the microphones were Shure, Tom Petty used a Neumann KMS 150, Faith Hill a KMS 105 and the Dixie Chicks a Neumann U87 brought in by Westwood One.
Sennheiser supported the event by donating a number of Sennheiser and Neumann microphones to SIR NY for use during artist rehearsals prior the telecast. SIR NY Studio manager Marc Alan called Sennheiser's Rob Treloar to discuss their need for a number of Sennheiser microphones for the September 21 telecast. Treloar responded with the following Sennheiser evolution series units: eight e 835 condenser microphones, eight 604 drum mics, eight 609 guitar mics, and four 602 kick-drum mics. Also supplied were two Neumann TLM 103 monolith piano mics, a pair of Neumann 184s for high hats and acoustic guitars, and several KMS 105 vocal mics. “We simply wanted to do whatever we could to help out during this time of need,” notes Treloar.
ATK Audiotek loaded in at 8:00 the morning before the telecast and was ready for sound checks by 3:00 the same day. They sound-checked the bulk of LA's eight acts from 3:00 until midnight and finished the remainder the following morning. “There was no dress rehearsal,” Pesa said. “During sound check, each artist played through their song three or four times. I just built my monitor mixes on the Innova-Son and hit ‘save’ repeatedly. When it was time for the actual show, I relied on those saved mixes — as distant as they seemed given the hectic pace of everything.”
While flexible equipment certainly made the show possible, what made it happen was a genuinely motivated cast and crew. Dozens of professionals joined together for an extremely difficult job that transcended standard industry fare in both spirit and motive. For all involved, it was an emotional time. Just days after the attack on the US, these designers and technicians were happy to give their time and talent to a very worthy cause. “The show was a success because everyone there was absolutely cool,” notes Pesa. “The usual bickering and attitude was noticeably absent. The events of the 11th put things in perspective. Everyone was just glad to be helping in some small way.”
We here at Entertainment Design received an astonishing number of emails from friends and colleagues from around the world in the days following September 11. Some were concerned for our safety — our offices are located on West 18th Street, approximately two miles away — some simply wanted to express their feelings at the time. Though it's been more than a month since the tragedy, their thoughts bear repeating. Here are a few of those messages:
Peter [Wynne-Willson] and I wanted you all to know that all our sympathy and thoughts are with you during your darkest hour. Though we are glued to CNN, we still can't quite grasp the enormity of the crime that has been perpetrated against the USA and mankind in general.
If it's any consolation, from our experience with the IRA in London, (though they have never carried out quite such a heinous act), things will return to normality eventually but it will be normality of a different sort. Nothing will be quite the same again.
The 11th of September 2001 will be with us all forever,
Wynne Willson Gottelier, UK
I attended the BLMC last December. I wish to send a message of sympathy on the horrific events last week. I hope everybody is OK. My good wishes to one and all. Ireland came to a standstill yesterday, we had a “National Day of Mourning.” I had it first-hand: my son works on 17th Street, and was on his way to the Towers that morning, but thank God he is OK.
Scéno Plus is devastated by the events occurring in New York today and wishes to send you all our heartfelt moral support so you will be able to courageously pass through this unimaginable tragedy for the US and the whole civilized world.
Scéno Plus, Canada
Our entire country is horrified and appalled at the recent events in New York and Washington. We cannot even imagine the devastation that you must be experiencing, but even as far away as we are, I cannot watch CNN or our local programming or even read the newspaper websites without tears in my eyes. I hope that all your loved ones and friends are safe.
Selecon, New Zealand
I have just seen the first images of the Winter Garden Palm Court, which is part of the World Financial Center located across the street from the WTC. It was a spectacular place of beauty and serenity and is now a bombed-out shell. The destruction is widespread. I still do not know if many friends of mine who work in that space as well as many others were in the space at the time. I spent a three-week residency inside the Winter Garden with a dance company I used to work for.
My heart goes out to all who have lost loved ones and friends as we have all been touched by this in a horrible way. We must all be together in the healing from this reckless disregard for life.
sound designer, US
I'm actually the only one in the office today — it's about 10:30 on Wednesday. I didn't know if anyone else would be in, so I thought I would try. It's so awful in New York right now. I've never seen such sadness and fear, and yet such hope and coming together. I saw the fire from Union Square on my way to work yesterday and the streets were already packed with people. When I got to the office, Raymond [Mingst], Harvey [Swaine], and Deanna [Andrews] were watching it on TV. Then John Scott, Sara [Hernandez], and Amy [Slingerland] arrived and we all watched from the back windows. We were frantic trying to get through on the phones to our families and the phones were down. Cell phones weren't working and there was no telling what would happen next. We were all standing together as we watched the first one fall and then a few minutes later — in a matter of seconds — the second one fell. We were all so horrified.
When I left yesterday around 2:30, there was not a car in sight on Fifth Ave. All of the stores around here were closed, and only a few food places were open. There were tons of people lining the streets and hugging and crying. One guy was walking around alone with an American flag. It's just been awful.
This morning things are still very shaken up. They haven't said how many casualties yet, and there is still hope, but they're guessing it will be a disturbing number of people lost. I can still see all of the smoke coming up right now. The good thing is that New Yorkers are coming together. People have set up little memorials along the street for candles and flowers. In Union Square this morning, there were long rolls of paper set up with markers so people could write messages and put flowers down. A lot of people are volunteering though, with food, clothes, water, etc. And so many people have helped the hospitals and Red Cross. So we at least have each other to lean on.
New York City