The Call: A Portrait of the 911 Call Centers

The Call - Halle Berry

Veteran 911 Emergency Call Center operator Jordan (Halle Berry) has the kind of job that’s not for the faint of heart: navigating the public’s distress in order to save lives. But when a young woman’s frantic report of a prowler ends tragically, Jordan is devastated. Reassessing her life, Jordan wonders if perhaps she’s experienced her last fraught-filled phone call.

With a supportive cop (Morris Chestnut) for a boyfriend, maybe it’s time to step back, enjoy life, and teach others the ins and outs of her high-pressure profession. That lifeline to strangers isn’t over yet, though. When average American teenager Casey (Abigail Breslin), is abducted by a serial killer (Michael Eklund), she manages to place a 911 call from the trunk of the killer’s car.

Jordan, leading a group of new recruits through the massive Call Center operation, is in earshot of the call. It’s an all-too familiar scenario for this experienced public servant, but before long, Casey’s situation reveals itself as eerily, shockingly familiar. There’s only one thing Jordan can do: take charge in a way she’s never done before. She must turn Casey into a partner in helping them track down the killer, and prove that this call is Jordan’s calling.

Making The Call

Screenwriter D’Ovidio spent time at LA’s downtown call center, sitting with operators and listening in on calls. “Every time a call came in, my stomach would drop, but they were so calm!” he says. “I didn’t know what to expect next, and they were just pros. I found that they were the glue of the city. They held the police, the fire, the ambulances — nobody moved in the city without them.”

From the various true stories D’Ovidio culled, a scenario was imagined that dealt directly with a fear of the screenwriter’s: claustrophobia. “I wanted to write a contained thriller, and I figured shooting in a trunk with somebody and keeping the screws tightened would be a great way to carry through the suspense.”

Only later would D’Ovidio find out that his scenario was all too real. “It actually happened to a girl,” he reveals. “After we had written the script, we went down [to the Call Center] and they started telling us a story about this girl that was put in the trunk of a limo, and they tried to locate her all around the city.”

Needless to say, when the script fell into the hands of the producing partners at Troika Pictures, eager to find the right movie to launch their company, it was an instant hit. Says producer Robert Stein, “When I read the script, right away I thought it was a fantastic thriller, and exactly what we were looking for as our first project.”

The Call - Abigail Breslin

His producing partner Michael Helfant quickly recognized the powerful appeal of the story for audiences, as a chance to show 911 operators as heroes. “They serve a really critical function in our society,” says Helfant. “There’s a great line from the movie that says, our 911 centers have to be very secure because if they go dark, we’re in trouble. I don’t think there’s really been a feature film that highlights the role of the 911 operator.”

WWE Studios President and Producer Michael Luisi said, “I’ve known Robert and Michael for over twenty years, and when they approached me about partnering on this project, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity for WWE Studios. We had also just worked with D’Ovidio on another project and were confident that with the right director and cast, The Call would be something special.”

Finding the right director for The Call was crucial to making the project work as something commercially viable as a nail-biting suspense movie, but authentic as a portrait of the job 911 call centers do, and anchored by great performances. Producer Bradley Gallo says all signs pointed to director Brad Anderson. “Where’s the indie director who gives you the character performances, can handle the dark material, then add a commercial script so he gives you a little different version? That’s what we were looking for, and Brad is perfect for that. He can go as lighthearted as Next Stop Wonderland, he has the horror of Session 9, and the character-driven The Machinist. Then we met with him, and he’s kind of a serious guy, and we say, ‘What’s your vision of this movie?’ And he comes out with exactly what he’s going to do, and we were just floored. It was a done deal.”

Says Brad Anderson, “I read the script, and the novelty of the story and the world it depicted attracted me to the project. 911 calls have always fascinated me. We hear the calls but never really know what goes into the call. We only get bits and pieces. This film will answer a lot of those questions.”

It was also a chance to exercise skills in the suspense realm that seemed completely unique. “Most of the story takes place in the course of one day, a couple of hours. It’s almost kind of a real-time type scenario and it’s very contained, literally contained. I mean, much of the action occurs at the call center, and in the trunk of a car. I was sort of interested in the idea of how to tell a story, dramatically and visually and cinematically, in such a small space. It posed a lot of challenges, but that was part of the draw for me, as well.”

Directed by: Brad Anderson
Starring: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, David Otunga
Screenwriter: Richard D’Ovidio, Nicole D’Ovidio, Jon Bokenkamp
MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing content and some language.
Studio: Sony Pictures
Release Date: March 15th, 2013

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