From The Oval Office To The Cuban Skies
In order to give the story of Thirteen Days maximum impact for contemporary film audiences, the filmmakers knew they would have to successfully create a dynamic, living, breathing 1962 White House, and a palpable sense of the spirit of the times. To do so took exhaustive research into everything from 60s fashions and foodstyles to White House manners and protocol. The filmmakers wound up recreating the Kennedy White House on Los Angeles soundstages and forging the Cuban jungle and Florida airfields — from which U.S. planes staged their secret Cuban reconnaissance missions — in the Philippines.
"We wanted to capture not just the events of those times but the tone and the visceral feeling. We strove for a sense of moving through history in a very active sense that makes the story very urgent and dramatic," notes producer Peter Almond. "The
authentic settings helped inspire all of the actors and crew to feel as if they were inhabiting these historically significant spaces in the present."
Production Designer Dennis Washington took on the formidable task of recreating such familiar American landmarks as the Oval Office and Cabinet Room in the West Wing of the White House. Armed with actual blueprints, Washington set out to create authentic sets — but ones that could also accommodate a large film crew. The art and set decoration departments literally built a working White House replete with hundreds of authentic pieces of memorabilia and details.
JFK's famous desk was painstakingly recreated in precise detail, including the famous door where the President's children were pictured playing and the coconut Kennedy carved an SOS in after his WWII boat,
PT-l09 had been sunk and he and his shipmates were stranded on a desert island. The curved sofas seen in JFK's office were reproduced based on information provided by the Kennedy Library. The special Paul Revere sconces on the walls of the Oval Office were hunted down on the Internet. A bed was carved to the exact specifications of the one in the President's bedroom. Even the United Nations Security Council was re-created on a Los Angeles soundstage, with Washington's team referring to news footage that they ran on monitors as they designed the set.
"We really did our homework and paid as much respect as possible to honoring history," says Washington. "After all, President Kennedy was perhaps the most photographed and most well-document President perhaps ever, and our images of him are indelible in our minds. His Oval Office is so well known. So we tried to authenticate it down to the brass tacks." Smaller details, such as October, 1962 issues of major newsmagazines, are everywhere.
Technical advisor Bill Codus, who served in the White House in more recent years, was brought in to oversee issues regarding the look, use and protocol of the Oval Office and West Wing, found himself amazed by the re-creations. "I was fascinated when I first
came to see all the sets because they were very accurate. This Oval Office and Cabinet Room were as magnificent as the real thing," he says. Other sets built included the Flag Plot Room at the Pentagon, the United Nations Security Council chamber and Organization of American States chamber.
The production also traveled to the Philippines, which stood in for both Cuba and Florida, providing seas, airfields and jungles — as well as authentic operating vehicles from the era. Philippine craftsmen even built 65-foot replicas of Soviet Sandahl S4 Missiles — the nuclear warhead missiles first seen by President Kennedy in the spy- plane photos taken over Cuban jungles.
The production also located ten F8 low-flight reconnaissance jets that were transported in pieces through the dense Philippine jungles and tiny villa
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