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Profile: Nicholas Meyer
Nicholas Meyer was a participant or observer in the following events:
Poster for ‘The Day After.’ [Source: MGM]The made-for-TV movie The Day After airs on ABC. It tells the story of a group of Americans in Lawrence, Kansas—the geographical center of the continental United States—who survive a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and the harrowing days and weeks of their existence afterwards, as they slowly die from radiation poisoning and a lack of food and water. “Bootleged” copies of the movie have been available for months, adding to the anticipation and the controversy surrounding it.
Concerns of 'Anti-Nuclear Bias' from White House - The movie, described by Museum of Broadcast Communications reviewer Susan Emmanuel as “starkly realistic,” caused concern in the White House because of what it saw as its “anti-nuclear bias.” (The production had taken place without the cooperation of the Defense Department, which had insisted on emphasizing that the Soviet Union had started the exchange depicted in the movie. The filmmakers did not want to take a political stance, and preferred to leave that question unclear.) To address the White House’s concerns, ABC distributed a half-million viewers’ guides to schools, libraries, and civic and religious groups, and organized discussion groups around the country. It will also conduct extensive social research after the broadcast to judge the reactions among children and adults. A discussion group featuring Secretary of State George Shultz takes place immediately after the broadcast. Its original broadcast is viewed by roughly 100 million viewers, an unprecedented audience. It is shown three weeks later on Britain’s ITV network as part of a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament recruitment drive. Emmanuel will later write, “Not since then has the hybrid between entertainment and information, between a popular genre like disaster, and the address to the enlightened citizen, been as successfully attempted by a network in a single media event. ” [Lometti, 1992; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 133; Museum of Broadcast Communications, 1/26/2008] Even though the filmmakers tried to remain politically neutral—director Nicholas Meyer says his film “does not advocate disarmament, build-down, buildup, or freeze”—proponents of the “nuclear freeze” movement hail the movie and conservatives call it a “two hour commercial for disarmament.” (ABC’s social research later shows that the film does not have a strong impact on viewers either for or against nuclear disarmament.) Conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell threatens, but does not execute, a boycott of the commercial sponsors of the film. Some Congressional Democrats ask that the movie be made available for broadcast in the Soviet Union. [Lometti, 1992]
Powerful Impact on President Reagan - The movie has a powerful impact on one viewer: President Reagan. He will reflect in his memoirs that the film leaves him “greatly depressed” and makes him “aware of the need for the world to step back from the nuclear precipice.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write: “If it seems vaguely ridiculous for a Cold War president to reach this conclusion only after watching a made-for-TV movie, remember that Reagan biographers have long noted that his connection to film was often stronger than his connection to reality. He also became far more intellectually and emotionally engaged when presented with issues framed as personal stories, rather than as policy proposals.” Reagan’s visceral reaction to the film heralds a fundamental shift in his approach to the US-Soviet nuclear arms race. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 133]
Nicholas Meyer. [Source: Shanghai TV Festival]Filming was originally going to start in Winnipeg, Canada, around this time for Fall from the Sky, a big-budget CBS TV movie about the investigation of a jumbo jet crash in which the possibility that Osama bin Laden was responsible is one of the lines of inquiry. [Observer, 9/30/2001; Irish Independent, 10/7/2001; Winnipeg Free Press, 3/22/2002] Fall from the Sky was co-written by Nicholas Meyer, who previously wrote several of the Star Trek movies, and Brian Rehak. [Variety, 9/19/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/31/2003; Los Angeles Times, 7/22/2010] It has been budgeted at $7.2 million and is set to star Forest Whitaker, who previously played jazz legend Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood’s movie Bird.
Hundreds Killed in Fictional Plane Crash - Fall from the Sky would be set a couple of years in the future and involve the crash of a plane that is one of a new generation of passenger jets. According to some reports, 700 people die in the fictitious crash. [Chicago Sun-Times, 8/20/2001; Winnipeg Free Press, 3/22/2002] But according to Variety magazine, 400 people are on the plane that crashes. [Variety, 9/19/2001; Variety, 9/24/2001] Whitaker was to have played the National Transportation Safety Board investigator who leads the examination of the crash. The story would “concentrate on the meticulous process of gathering scientific evidence after the tragedy,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. [Chicago Sun-Times, 8/20/2001; Winnipeg Free Press, 3/22/2002] Meyer has said that the planned TV movie would “not show the crash—only pieces [of plane wreckage] on the ground.” [Variety, 9/24/2001] However, Jamie Brown, the CEO of a special effects company that was going to work on Fall from the Sky, will later say his company planned to depict “the destruction of a super jumbo jet” for the TV movie. [Winnipeg Free Press, 12/5/2001]
Possible Bin Laden Responsibility Investigated - Furthermore, the storyline of Fall from the Sky includes “the investigation of a theory that the crash had been the work of Osama bin Laden,” according to The Observer. [Observer, 9/30/2001] But according to Meyer, it turns out that terrorists were not responsible. [Variety, 9/19/2001; Variety, 9/24/2001] Whitaker will say that the story “dealt a lot with the FAA and issues of concealment. It almost read as if it was a true story, because of the political things that were going on inside of it.” [Winnipeg Free Press, 3/22/2002] It “shows the political pressures brought to bear on the investigation,” Meyer will say. [Variety, 9/24/2001]
Production Canceled due to 9/11 - Fall from the Sky was in preproduction in September. Filming was scheduled to begin in Winnipeg on October 2, according to some reports. [Playback, 11/12/2001; Winnipeg Free Press, 3/22/2002] But according to Variety magazine, it was set to begin on October 8 or October 9. Production was halted within two weeks of 9/11. [Variety, 9/19/2001; Variety, 9/24/2001] The Winnipeg Free Press will comment, “Naturally, the deliberate, catastrophic destruction of four passenger jets on September 11 made a TV movie about a fictional jumbo jet crash untenable for CBS.” [Winnipeg Free Press, 3/22/2002] Fall from the Sky is one of a number of movies and television dramas that are canceled or rewritten as a result of the 9/11 attacks (see (January 1998-2001); February 1999-September 11, 2001; June-September 11, 2001; Before Before September 11, 2001; September 13, 2001; September 27, 2001; November 17, 2001). [Denver Post, 9/17/2001; Irish Independent, 10/7/2001] Meyer has commented that his TV movie “was in its own way rather timely,” and added, “I think it’s unfortunate that it’s been canceled.” [Observer, 9/30/2001] Another, unnamed, TV movie dealing with an airline disaster was set to begin production in Vancouver, Canada, around this time, according to the Canadian magazine Playback, although further details of that movie are unstated. [Playback, 11/12/2001]
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