WHITE HOUSE DOWN
About the Film
Columbia Pictures' White House Down is the new action film from director Roland Emmerich, whose films, including Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and Anonymous, have taken in more than $3 billion worldwide. His latest film is an action movie on an epic scale starring the most recognizable home on the planet, which is very familiar territory for Emmerich. "Actually, that was the one thing holding me off -- I wondered, 'Can I really do the White House again?'" laughs the man who had aliens blow up the building in Independence Day and sent the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy through it in 2012. "Ultimately, I wanted to tell this story because it features strong characters and a very different and unusual narrative, combining action elements with those of a political thriller of worldwide significance."
"Obviously, Roland likes to play with symbols and icons," says producer Bradley J. Fischer. "If you look at the content of the films and the storytelling, his films are big event movies that unfold over a worldwide scale, but they're also about breaking down ivory towers of one form or another. So, sure, he's destroyed the White House before, but it's never been the centerpiece of the film -- both in the plot and in the underlying storytelling -- the way it is here."
"This is really a global story," says producer Harald Kloser, who previously worked with Emmerich as a writer and producer on 10,000 BC and 2012, and composed the music on those films as well as Anonymous and TheDay After Tomorrow. "If anybody takes over the White House, they'll have access to the world's largest weapons arsenal. takeover of the White House would for sure trigger a global crisis with unimaginable consequences."
The character at the center of White House Down is John Cale, an ex-soldier and divorced father who's trying to put his life back on solid footing -- especially when it concerns his relationship with his daughter. The role is played by Channing Tatum. "Cale's been trying to figure out his life for years, to get it together. He doesn't really have the tools to put it all into place," says Tatum. "But his heart is good -- he's always wanted to be his daughter's hero. And now that he's realizing that he can't be that, due to mistakes he's made, he thinks, 'Well, she idolizes the president -- if I can't be her hero, maybe I can help protect the guy who is.'"
"At the start of the movie, he's probably a better buddy than a father," says Tatum. "He's not a good role model or someone you want to go to for advice. But if the stuff hits the fan, he's the guy you want -- he's been through a lot of it."
"That's part of the hero's journey in this movie," says Kloser. "He has to accomplish something on the outside -- saving the world -- and something on the inside. And the story on the inside is the emotional story with his daughter."
Opposite Tatum, the filmmakers cast Jamie Foxx as President Sawyer. Fischer says that casting Jamie Foxx was part of the key to defining the tone of the film. "We were hoping to find the right actor to play the President -- somebody who could play it in a way that was a little disarming," says Fischer. "We were hoping to find an actor who could bring the gravitas of the presidency, but also a comedic element -- not jokes, but funny, light moments that would cut the tension. In a way, Cale and Sawyer are a classic 'buddy' pairing. That's why Jamie was perfect -- he won an Oscar for the way he can inhabit different characters. Not only that, but it turned out he has great chemistry with Channing -- they played off of each other in a way that we all found incredibly satisfying to watch. With Channing and Jamie together, the movie is just so much fun."
Foxx says that the 46th president of the United States is "a man who would do anything to protect America, but also a man who understands that in order to protect America in this day and age, you have to have an understanding of the enemies. If you don't have that understanding, or a way to open a dialog, you'll forever be at odds and something drastic will constantly keep happening."
Emmerich says that Vanderbilt wrote the character of President Sawyer as an interesting counterpoint to Cale. "When President Sawyer gets elected, he wants to do so much -- and then when he's in the job, it's not that easy. He has to spend an inordinate amount of time on the politics of the job," says Emmerich. "Whereas Cale's goal is to try to impress himself and his daughter, the president is holding himself up against greatness -- he wants to do something truly presidential, something Lincolnesque. He wants to be remembered as a great president. So that is part of the fun of the movie: you have a former soldier battling it out intellectually with the commander in chief as they're stuck together throughout the movie."
Fischer came to the project along with his Mythology Entertainment partners, James Vanderbilt and Laeta Kalogridis, when Vanderbilt revealed to Fischer that he had written the project in secret. "James said, 'I've been working on something. I don't think it's quite ready yet, but I want you to take a look at it.' So I took a look at it and told him he was crazy, because it was fantastic. The script started making its way around town and before we knew it, we were getting unsolicited offers from studios. We decided to go with Sony, and within 48 hours, we were sitting with Roland Emmerich, the movie was greenlit, and we were off to the races."
"When I started this project, I was excited to try to bring back the type of action movie that I grew up with: the ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances having to rise to the occasion," says Vanderbilt. "Part of the excitement for me was the inherent mystery of the White House. It's ironic -- here's the most famous, the most iconic building in the world, and yet it remains a place of great mystery for so many people. In that way, it was a perfect setting for an action thriller, because the building always brought that element of surprise."
Vanderbilt says that Emmerich was a perfect choice for director. "The biggest thing we were able to do right off the bat was get Roland," he says. "He understands innately how to make this film big, explosive, huge -- but also tight and contained, in one location. He focuses first and foremost on story, on the emotional connections between the characters. I think that's the secret to Roland that nobody realizes: he's a very emotional director. His stories are all rooted in emotion. If you look at Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, both of those movies are about people trying to reconnect with each other in the face of tragedy. So what was so great about watching him attack the movie was he was always asking, 'What does Cale want?' And for Cale, everything is about getting back together with his daughter."
"When you work on a film with Roland, 5% of the conversations are about the big images and 95% are about what drives the characters, who they are, details about where they come from, where they want to go, who they want to be," says Kloser. He also notes that once filming begins, Emmerich's filmmaking skills shine. "I'm always impressed by how he composes his images and how much detail he puts in. When you see it on screen, you see the layers and the depth of his images -- which is also a testament to our fabulous director of photography, Anna Foerster. This movie became an action movie with a beauty that I can say hasn't been done before."
Part of that comes through in the depiction of the third key character in the film -- the title role. To make White House Down, Emmerich and his team committed to making the setting as realistic as possible. "The White House is the star of the film," says the director. "Working there, visiting there, is not like going to any other building in the world. A lot of countries have a presidential palace, but most of the time the president doesn't live there anymore, it's just a representative thing. America's such a unique country in that way -- the White House is our house, the people's house, and the president lives in it."
"With that in mind, we said, 'Let's make this as real as we can,'" Emmerich continues. "We thought that would be the most fun way to do it, and it was a lot of fun to research. Naturally, we had to make educated guesses about a couple of things -- there are parts of the White House that have never been photographed, and other parts that are rumors or hearsay -- but it's pretty true to life."
To lend the film that level of accuracy and honesty, the filmmakers turned to McLarty Associates, where Richard Klein oversaw efforts as one of the film's White House Advisors. Founded by Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III, who served as President Clinton's chief of staff, McLarty Associates has built a global team of seasoned international specialists with expertise in all the major markets of the world; McLarty Media, their film and entertainment practice, advises major film studios, directors, producers and screenwriters on issues of international concern, covering story development, authentic script content, unique location requirements, and complex production logistics.
"Our firm is made up of former White House staff, senior aides to the president, Congressional staff, national security officials, and military officers -- we all have lived and breathed and worked in the places that White House Down takes you," says Klein. "While the story itself might be fanciful, the world it's set in is very real and has a very real culture and very real set of rules. The filmmakers wanted to ground it in reality, because that would then make the storytelling a little more credible. Where they could base the movie in fact, they wanted to be factual. The goal was that when the movie comes out, the people who know this world will say, 'They really knew their stuff,' and the people who don't know this world will say, 'That was so cool!'"
Klein says that on a project like White House Down, any number of questions might arise: What are the computer terminals like at the White House, and what do you see on the screen when you log in? What kind of buttons do members of Congress wear on their lapels so that security knows they're members of Congress? What does the military and the political dialogue sound like? What would the police do when a huge crowd descends on the White House -- who would be in charge and how would that play out and what uniforms and vehicles would you see? What would the 24-hour watch at the Pentagon look like? When Channing Tatum picks up the Speaker of the House at the beginning of the movie, what kind of placard would he have on his car? What is the relationship between the Secret Service and the Capitol Police? All of these questions were answered by Klein and his team. "We spent weeks on the different identity badges that people in the White House wear and what that means in terms of access and movement and seniority, so we're accurate but cautious enough not to compromise actual White House security," Klein says. "There was an incredible eye for even the finest detail."
But the advisors also weighed in on a cultural reality as well as a physical one. "We had input into the movie when it had to do with politics or tradition on Capitol Hill, or in the White House, or in the relationship between the Speaker of the House and the President," says Klein. "The realistic dialogue, the realistic social and professional interactions, the realistic sequencing of events -- these are things that many of us worked with, and we had a receptive audience from the filmmakers."
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