OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN
"It's Not a Matter of If, But When"
Fuqua sat down with a team of consultants, including former Secret Service, FBI, CIA and law enforcement officials. "We brought in Joe Bannon, who was Secret Service, and as well as Ricky Bryant Jones and Daryl Connerton, who both have spent time in the White House, to establish the boundaries of realism.
Jones, who has an expert's knowledge of counterterrorism techniques, assured Fuqua that a direct attack on the presidential manor might not be a matter of "if", but when.
"And if the White House were occupied, it would take someone inside with an intimate knowledge of the building to eliminate the threat," he says. "Someone like Mike Banning would be able to infiltrate and systematically retake control. If he could also find a way to communicate with the outside world, he could aid in the government's response. It all seemed very, very believable to me."
Through his consultants, Fuqua learned that it would take an emergency military force at least 15 minutes to get to the White House and provide support to the agents already on the premises, making a successful siege of the White House even more plausible.
"The way that Washington, D.C. is laid out, there is no direct road to the White House," says Fuqua. "It would take a bit of time for any real force to arrive by land. In the air, it would be much shorter, but a well oiled-plan would still cause chaos. Even with all the security they have in place, the concept that someone could inflict serious damage is real. You get up to the fence with a backpack, how do they know what's in it? If you can get into our airspace, and you're willing to die, what kind of harm could you do first?"
With that 15-minute window as a starting point, the consultants helped plan a mock attack, down to the minimum number of fighters needed to take the White House, as well as what kinds of weaponry would be most effective. "We considered the smallest details," says Butler. "Nothing is simple conjecture. It's all about the genius of the plan, rather than just the level of action. Remember, 9/11 was as simple as some guys taking a box cutter onto a plane. That's what grabbed me about this, how relevant and how provocative it was."
Using toy soldiers, the team mapped it all out in meticulous detail. Fuqua's concept for the attack was that the North Korean commandoes would turn America's abundance against itself. "The concept of an enemy destroying the ultimate symbol of America with our own weapons is shocking," he says. "We considered what would realistically happen if terrorists got their hands on certain weapons, if they created a diversion, if they had someone on the inside. The terrorists put our own tools, our guns and all our equipment to devastating use. We used commonplace items, like garbage trucks, as well as sophisticated weaponry. Everything we take for granted can be used in some way by a terrorist."
"We thought a trash truck would be relatively easily available and could make a pretty solid bunker, so we started there," Jones says. "We set it on the 5th of July, so the trucks appear to be cleaning up after the holiday celebration. Antoine took that idea and added his own cinematic touches."
Even America's most basic freedoms are exploited by the commandoes in order to get close to their target, Fuqua explains. "Some of them are posing as tourists and moving around with impunity. The idea that people use our freedoms as a weapon is viable.
The attack scene takes place in real time, with the terrorists taking control of the White House in just 13 minutes. "It is ruthless, because it is so grounded in reality," says Fuqua. "We did a lot of research to make it authentic. We debated what kinds of weapons would be most effective
"We brought in the writers and went through the scene step by step," he continues. "They had already created a very thorough picture of what would be happening inside the building. We expanded that onto the lawn and the street outside. As far as the takeover goes, there's no scene in the film that could not happen in some way."
Seeing it all unfold on camera was chilling, says Jones. "Watching terrorists walk into the White House gave me goose bumps. The set is amazingly realistic, so it is a surreal and sobering thing to see. It took me completely aback. That's the most secure house anywhere, with the best-trained warriors in the world, the Secret Service, protecting it. To see it fall in battle is an emotional and sobering experience."
Once the small force has secured its target, they move to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (or PEOC), the bunker under the White House that the president is evacuated to in an emergency. Again, Fuqua diligently did his homework.
"That's where Dick Cheney and other high ranking officials were taken during the 9/11 attacks," he explains. "We did our best to get all the details right, including making sure doors are red, just like the real-life PEOC. Whatever inside information we got, I tried to put on the screen."
Just a few years ago, the scenario at the center of Olympus Has Fallen might have seemed impossible, the director says "The movie is extremely entertaining that unites audiences is a collective sense of patriotism, but it's also a cautionary tale. When we let our guard down, anything can happen."
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