Burbank Firm Was Early Entrant in Sept. 11 Films
By Mark R. Madler
Hunched over with cell phone in hand, the male passenger tells his frantic wife that the plane
he is aboard has been hijacked.
Call the authorities, the man tells his wife, who in turns contacts the FBI and implores,
“They’re going to crash the plane. You’ve got to do something.”
This scene between United Airlines Flight 93 passenger Thomas Burnett and wife Deena
won’t be seen in multiplexes around the country. It has already been depicted in a small-budget
film from Burbank company Miracle Films broadcast originally on cable television.
The debut last month of the first feature film related to the terrorist attacks in
Universal’s “United 93” and the summer release of Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center”
are not the first Sept. 11-related dramatic productions to be made. Miracle Films has been
doing it for awhile but in a different way, according to film executives.
“Everyone was going to go in one way with all the destruction and we were going to go
the other route to take away something positive from the event,” said producer Leslie McRay.
Originally broadcast in September to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the attacks,
“Day of Miracles” was released by Miracle Films on DVD in December.
In the weeks leading up to the April 28 opening of “United 93” a debate arose whether it
is still too early for American audiences to see on the big screen a depiction of the
nation’s worst terrorist attack. The “United 93” trailer caused a disturbance among
some audiences when shown in early April, and was even pulled from a movie theater in
For the makers of “Day of Miracles,” however, there was never any hesitation about what
they wanted to present to an audience.
“We don’t condemn anybody,” executive producer Richard Smith said. “There’s not a get up
and fight message. This was a film to show the positive side that could have come out of
this. We felt it was something that really had to get out there.”
California State University, Northridge Professor Nate Thomas said that films should make
the audience want to take some action or either to be happier or a more fulfilled person
or change an opinion.
With its downbeat ending that comes as no surprise, Thomas questions what the goal of a
film like “United 93” is supposed to be.
“Does it inspire you to be like them,” Thomas said. “I don’t know. The jury is still out.”
With its Christian perspective, the goal of “Day of Miracles” is to show that there can be
hope and that God wasn’t absent from that day’s events.
Posted date: 5/8/2006
“God was watching because there were these miraculous survivals,” McRay said. “The one
thing they all had in common was that they prayed.”
While the events of Sept. 11 and even the doomed United Airlines jet that plunged into
a Pennsylvania field have been recreated by Miracle Films and others– “Flight 93” airing
in January on A&E Channel and “The Flight that Fought Back” a docudrama that
aired in 2005 on the Discovery Channel, and “Day of Miracles” – they did not have the
backing of a major studio or have an Academy Award-winning director attached to them.
Still, those television productions may have played their part in paving the way for the
acceptance of feature films on the topic.
CSUN’s Thomas said the television versions of Sept. 11 and the feature film version are
separate entities and the earlier productions are not driving those that follow.
Television tends to jump on current events much quicker than a feature film, which will
take time to cultivate a project, Thomas said.
“They will wait for what they think will be the right time,” said Thomas, an instructor
in the Department of Cinema and Television Arts.
McRay believes that the more films there are about Sept. 11, the better and that
“Day of Miracles” may get more notice now that the Hollywood has gotten into the picture.
“People are going to be comparing,” McRay said. “It’s not going to be based on accuracy as
much as on how you feel walking out of the theater or after watching it on TV.”
In researching the film, McRay went to the Internet to find stories about the survivors
and family members, zeroing in on those who achieved spiritual salvation from their experience.
Mixing real footage taken in Manhattan and the Pentagon, with recreations done by actors,
some of the stories included in “Day of Miracles” are of the Burnetts; Sujo John, who
escaped from one tower while his wife got away from the second, and who later formed an
evangelical ministry; and Genelle Guzman-McMillan, who credited prayer as why she was the
last survivor to be pulled from the rubble.
Miracle Films was even given access to video shot inside the Pentagon the day after an
American Airlines jet crashed into it; footage that McRay believes was not given to anyone else.
Creating a set for the World Trade Center towers was solved the day McRay passed by a
Sunland cement reprocessing plant.
“We thought of how hard it was going to be reproducing the towers because they aren’t there
anymore,” McRay said. “I was driving over the freeway and I thought, ‘It looks like the
Towers” with the big chunks of cement and metal.”
The film’s original budget of $2,000 swelled to about $100,000 through donations from
people who believed in its message, McRay said.
Costs were also cut by the volunteers from police and fire agencies, the FBI and CIA
who gave their time not only on screen but to make sure there was authenticity to what
the film showed, McRay said.
Mark R. Madler
San Fernando Valley Business Journal