Donald O'Connor is the co-founder of Compulsive Pictures and father of Notre Dame softball infielder Kasey O'Connor ('12). A resident of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., Donald shares his account from Sept. 11 and the following days with Irish UNDerground.
A couple of days after Sept. 11 my company was asked to participate in a public service announcement to promote tolerance and remind people that we are all Americans. Because the airports were closed, the creative director of GSD&M, an advertising agency in Texas, rented a car and had to drive home to New York from a client meeting several states away.
During his long ride, he heard a report on the radio that a person working in a gas station was beaten just because they were of Middle Eastern decent. He then decided to put together the "I am an American" project.
A variety of directors were to go out, interview people and have them say on camera " I am an American". I believe six different directors took part in the project, including the world renown documentary film maker, Albert Maisles. It was all shot one week after that horrible day, but I have to tell you it was one of the most moving experiences in my life. Everybody pitched in. The crew all worked for free, The equipment was donated. Nobody wanted anything out of it. We were just trying to help in our own way.
We started the day on the Brooklyn Promenade, which is directly across the East River from downtown Manhattan. We started at sunrise and since the idea was to just stop people in the street and ask them to be filmed, we needed to make sure we had some people to start with at that early hour.
I brought my daughter, Kasey, and my niece, to be used in the first shot of the day. The eerie thing about that morning was that when we filmed the people on the Promenade, it didn't look real. It looked like there was a backdrop behind us because everything was hazy from all the smoke that was still in the air. It is an old film trick to make fake backdrops look more real by adding smoke or a white netting to defuse a painted backdrop. But this was no painted canvas. This was real. The pile of rubble that was once the World Trade Center was still smoldering and a layer of smoke was still thick in the air even though it was a week later.
There were make shift shrines with candles burning all around and we filmed Kasey and her cousin in front of one of those. After we were done with Kasey, the crew walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and stopped people as they were walking over the bridge to go to work. We traveled that whole day by foot because the traffic was so bad in the city they were asking people not to drive, especially in downtown.
That day we walked all over Manhattan and filmed a priest down the block from Ground Zero. He had traveled up from the south to see if there was anything he could do to help.
We met firemen and policemen, we went through the city to different shrines that were set up. Past the bulletin boards with notes from people looking for information on their missing loved ones. People in restaurants would stop us and feed us. Never asking for anything - just trying to help out people who were trying to do something good. We talked with dozens of volunteers, some of them widows of the fallen heroes.
The whole New York community bonded together in those days after Sept. 11 like I have never seen it before or since.
Editor's note: "I am an American" was tabbed as a historic campaign by the Ad Council.