Empire: The Tower and the Tornado

When shooting on the construction site at the World Trade Center, there are plenty of complications and dangers to worry about. You worry about where you’ll park. You worry about how to get your gear to the top of the structure where elevators don’t yet carry you. You think about heavy machinery and materials swinging toward you. You think about getting the shots you need before the sun goes down. You worry about getting decent sound with construction noise all around you. You even think about the possibility of inclement weather.

But you don’t think about tornadoes.

Of course, it’s always the things you don’t worry about that cause problems. We were shooting roughly ten stories beneath the very top of Tower One at that point. We were scheduled to interview a high-ranking member of the team responsible for building Tower One. But, as soon as the winds started picking up and the clouds began to darken, he rescheduled the interview and left. Then the workers began leaving. Before we knew it, there were a only a few safety officials and one increasingly concerned film crew on the site.

When the first wave of the storm hit, we couldn’t believe how powerful it was. The winds, we later learned, were gusting at up to 80 miles per hour. We took cover toward the center of the building and held on to our gear tightly. Water was cascading down the sides of the tower. It looked like we were peering out from behind a waterfall.

After the initial wave passed, we began to shoot footage of the storm. Safety is always the first priority on any documentary project. But getting the shot is a very, very close second. We captured some amazing images of the cloud formations and the intense rain hitting the tower.

What really impressed us is that the tower didn’t seem to move at all despite the high winds. Not only that, nothing flew off of the side of the building as far as we could see. The safety systems on the site functioned perfectly. They say that you’re supposed to go to the nearest basement in the case of a tornado. Instead, we stayed near the top of an incomplete skyscraper. But it worked out. We knew that Tower One is going to be an incredibly strong, safe building. We knew that was a part of the story that we were there to tell. We just got a more direct demonstration of that strength than we were expecting.


Tune in to the premiere of Empire this Sunday, May 20th at 8P on National Geographic Channel.