Hermosa Beach's Steven Golebiowski was in Hollywood working 24 hours a day, seven days a week as an assistant to actor/comedian Rob Schneider. While sleeping he got a frantic call from a friend saying “We’re under; we’re under attack.” It was Sept. 11, 2001.
“I turn on the TV and I'm shocked as everyone else,” recalled Golebiowski. “I remember the eeriness of that day. I went up to Rob's house and I just remember, we're so familiar with hearing airplanes buzzing over our heads ... it felt silent because there were no airplanes in the sky.”
Years later, Golebiowski received a project on his desk that intrigued him, a story about a group of people stuck in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The producers wanted Charlie Sheen to star. They were fans of his dramatic work in the acclaimed films “Platoon” and “Wall Street.” Golebiowski had been Sheen’s assistant early in his career and later an associate producer on Sheen’s sitcom “Anger Management.”
“The role honestly scared him. For 20 years he became known as a comedian. Once “Hot Shots” hit he kind of never went back to drama even though at the age of 20 he was in a movie that won Best Picture,” Golebiowski said. “But I think the challenge of getting back in that dramatic role excited him.”
With Sheen on board, the film “9/11,” which hits a limited number of theaters Friday, Sept. 8., got the go-ahead. Golebiowski came on the project as a co-producer and co-wrote the script originally written by the film’s director Martin Guigui, based on "Elevator," the Patrick James Carson play. As a fictionalized account of what might have happened in the elevator, Golebiowski said the ultimate goal was to “honor and respect the story and the day to the fullest.”
“Whenever you're confronted with death, reality, the whole perspective on life changes, so we wanted to bring that into the elevator and bring different people from all walks of life,” Golebiowski said.
Sheen and Gina Gershon play a husband and wife about to finalize a divorce. They get stuck on the elevator in the North Tower, along with three others. Luis Guzman plays a janitor. Guzman knew a janitor who died during the terrorist attack. Guzman asked Golebiowski to change the character’s name to Eddie to honor him.
Golebiowski added it was “surprisingly easy to get actors to say 'yes'” to be in “9/11,” including Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg who “didn’t hesitate” to join the cast as a character whose job is to monitor the elevators.
“They’re going to bring the film to a level we think it can get to,” said Golebiowski of the cast.
Being it's an independent film, financing for “9/11” was always a challenge. So producers made the best movie they could with the limited resources.
“You have to get your audience to fall in love with the characters on the screen the old fashioned way through dialogue and through relationships,” he said. “We don't have the backing of a major studio. It's always a challenge to get these types of movies off the ground because they're passion pieces. They are not the typical blockbusters the studios look for.”
“9/11” was shot over a month in 2016 at Thunder Studios in Long Beach. Archival footage was pulled from “The Today Show.”
“I was an observer from the outside, so I was glued to the television set like I think the entire world was that day and we all watched it from the outside,” he said. “For me creativity, my mind really became obsessed with what was it like on the inside.”
Golebiowski said he’s had a great relationship with Sheen since his first job as his assistant and has since moved up the ladder.
“There has never been a day that I've worked with Charlie that he doesn't hug me and say 'thank you' at the end of the day,” Golebiowski said. “I think that speaks volumes of his character. Charlie has always told me, 'You don't work for me. You work with me.' He has a mantra that no one is above common courtesy. Whether you're an executive producer on the set or you're a production assistant on the set, he treats everyone the same. That's why I think he's loved by so many people he works with because, when he walks on the set, he's so approachable, he's so charismatic that you can't help love working for the man. He's really just a great dude.”
Golebiowski, who was far from his family in Chicago, went to church in Santa Monica the Sunday following the terrorist attacks.
“What really hit me was we were in church and the church was packed, it was wall-to-wall people. I remember the priest saying 'If anyone knew anyone on September 11 you can say their name.' Dozens and dozens of names were called out.”
He also remembers the unity that was felt in America. But, he said, much as changed 16 years later. In an interracial marriage, he’s Polish and his wife is Guatemalan, he embraces diversity and is concerned about how much hate there is in the country.
“We've never been more divided, now all of things that disappeared in the face of that tragedy have now reappeared and so … I'm okay this movie is coming out now. I think it could be a good thing for us as Americans to go watch it because maybe it will remind us at the end of the day, we are just Americans. Maybe we can set aside these piddly differences because there will come a day unfortunately, we don't know when, we don't know how, but something like this is going to happen again. History always repeats itself.”