“Hope, After 9/11: A Story by Writer and Director Michael Phelan”
In a time of loneliness and shock, writer-director Michael Phelan found solice in the lives of three people who did not exist until he penned them into reality. Phelan began writing Into the Fire, his new feature film, the night after 9/11.
“It was a really challenging time. The things I thought I could count on were wiped clean,” Phelan says. “I locked myself in my house. These characters kept me company.”
Into the Fire, Phelan’s directorial and screenwriting debut, depicts the story of three strangers left broken after a series of tragic events whose lives collide into moments of emotional heroism and mutual healing. They learn that hope never really dies. He says about the film, “This is one very truthful story.”
Phelan says in observing people’s fear of placing their trust in anyone or anything following 9/11 and the current twisting of reality on reality television, he developed a desire to shoot a simple story of truth and inspiration. After 9/11, Phelan wanted to show that a sense of community can help take fear away.
“It’s not an us and them thing, but a we thing,” he explains.
Phelan stresses that Into the Fire is not specifically about 9/11, but rather a film about individuals who become heroes by simply taking the chance to reach out to laugh and love again after tragedy. Walter Hartwig, Jr. (Sean Patrick Flanery, Powder) is the Lieutenant of the New York City Harbor Police who carries around debilitating guilt from a painful past carefully concealed behind his badge. Catrina Hampton (Melina Kanakaredes, Providence, CSI: New York) is a grade school music teacher awaiting the return of her twin sister Sabrina–her guarantee that she will never be alone. June Sickles (JoBeth Williams, Fever Pitch, “Somerset”) is a woman haunted by the death of her firefighter son on 9/11 and now guardian of her granddaughter Quinn. On the night that a jet crashes on its final approach to JFK Airport, these separate lives converge into an opportunity for each to gain new hope if they would only have the courage to take it.
In addition to these stars who contributed to the making of this film, the crew include director of photography Christopher Norr (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), production designer Steven Jordan (Clueless, Third Watch), casting agents Kim Miscia and Beth Bowling (Third Watch, Johnny Zero) and music composers Steve O’Reilly and Matt Anthony with Tammany Hall New York City (music featured in Sex in the City and The Sopranos).
When asked why these sought-after actors and crew members agreed to work under a first-time director and screenwriter, Phelan credits the story.
“To work with a first-time director frightens people,” he says. “When circulated, it was the honesty of the script. At the end of the day, it was something they wanted to be a part of.”
Shot in New York 19 days with a budget less than $2 million, the crew of Into the Fire braved a hovering hurricane, freezing sandstorm, and a blackout during casting in a roomful of frightened children amongst other challenges during the filming.
Although he is a nine-year resident of Los Angeles, California, Phelan still considers New York City, where he was born and raised, his home.
“You can take the kid out of the city, but not the city out of the kid,” he says.
Phelan’s mother, whom he affectionately calls a “cenophile,” engrained in him a passion for cinema from an early age. She would regularly take Phelan and his three older siblings to the movies and afterwards, the family would sit down to a formal discussion about the day’s film.
“She opened up the floor to her children,” Phelan remembers. “There was a lot of respect given to the storytelling.”
In Los Angeles, Phelan worked under Producer Joel Silver before spending five years with Terry Semel, then Chairman and Co-CEO of Warner Brothers. In the fall of 2001, Phelan began the production company Silent Thunder Entertainment under which he writes, produces and directs.
During his time in the studio system, Phelan says he read literally “thousands and thousands” of scripts.
“It was a wonderful way to learn–to read and read and read,” he adds. “I was able to see the written moments that moved me and didn’t and [learn about] the why.”
Phelan wrote Into the Fire as the fulfillment of a promise he made to himself five years ago in a darkened movie theater on a solitary Christmas night. Seeking solace in the theater–the only place where he says “I’m never alone”–Phelan found himself sitting next to a woman, also by herself on Christmas. In those