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The Playing Fields
"If someone approaches the house, give us a signal.” - Nick

"I'll honk the horn 6 times.” - Dale

"How about you just honk once?” - Nick

As the guys put Jones' advice into action by staking out Harken's, Pellit's and Harris' homes at night, they see the full expression of their bosses' horribleness in ways unrealized at the office, leaving little doubt about the righteousness of their mission. Production designer Shepherd Frankel, who first collaborated with Seth Gordon on the 2008 holiday hit "Four Christmases,” imagined the film's interlocking storylines like a large-scale game in which the bosses' home and office spaces together represent three playing fields. "It's like we have a team of three people playing against an opposing team of three, with the Jamie Foxx character as referee. We wanted to distinguish these three environments and play the two sides off each other. Each environment is a reflection of the person who controls it.”

"Shepherd and I work hard to create settings that support all the conversations we've had with the actors about character, so we can put them into a world that feels like the person we've been discussing all along,” says Gordon.

Nick's hell is the Comnidyne bullpen, organized, per Frankel, "to enhance the discomfort and anxiety of lower-level employees clustered in the center of the room where every movement is monitored by the boss from his corner office. We met with financial strategists and management companies to learn the architecture and sociology of these layouts, to represent visually what it's like to start at the bottom and aspire to an office at the perimeter.”

Thematically, Harken is perfectly aligned with his surroundings, as costume designer Carol Ramsey worked with Frankel and set decorator Jan Pascale to match his wardrobe to Comnidyne's cold grey and blue palette. The McMansion he calls home, though more lavishly decorated, is equally lacking in warmth and designed for show, right up to its laughably large mantlepiece portrait of Harken and his trophy wife posed with their prized cats.

For Dr. Harris' domain, the challenge was infusing a sensual vibe into arguably one of the least sexy places imaginable: a dental office. "She's a Type A professional at the top of her game, who likes to play cat-and-mouse, so it's a completely controlled environment, with apertures and views into other rooms so she always knows what's going on,” the designer outlines. "It's highly designed, with rich wallpaper and tones, sumptuous artwork and subtle lighting—all very disarming till you step into her private office. The blinds close, the door locks and you think, ‘It's the Temple of Doom.'”

The deviant doc's house is stylistically similar to her office—that is, what can be seen of it through its wide street-facing picture windows, which afford her the opportunity to put on the kind of show she couldn't get away with at work.

The Pellit Chemical Company and Bobby Pellit's house are a jarring contrast to one another because the company reflects Pellit Senior's human touch, whereas Pellit Junior's home is a shameless shrine to himself and his hedonistic appetites. It features a mishmash of anything he finds exotic and erotic, mostly Egyptian and Asian motifs with an ‘80s Studio 54 vibe, a makeshift dojo, lots of mirrors and a massage table. Some of the detail, principally the Asian influence, was drawn from Gordon and Farrell's take on the character's infatuation with martial arts and his delusions of prowess.

The production filmed in and around Los Angeles, although, says Gordon, "We tried to find great L.A. locations that people haven't already seen a hundred times in movies and on TV. The idea was for it to feel like it could be anywhere in America, where people are trying to pursue the American dream but getting stopped by a horrible boss.”

Comnidyne was part of an existing office park building in Torrance, California, where the crew completely remade a vacant floor. For Pellit Chemical, they found the perfect industrial landscape of pipes and containers surrounding an unoccupied water cleaning and storage facility in Santa Fe Springs. The industrial setting and architecture were made-to-order but taking advantage of that meant giving the warehouse's interior a thorough gutting and overhaul, as well as cutting windows into concrete walls to showcase the site's dynamic exteriors and creating an entryway from which Kurt's former boss Jack Pellit makes his fateful exit. The bar where Nick, Dale and Kurt find their mentor, Jones, was staged in one of downtown Los Angeles' oldest neighborhoods, and a Woodland Hills T.G.I.F. restaurant was converted into the guys' favorite watering hole.

Using practical locations was part of Gordon's intention to anchor the story to reality. But it's a heightened reality, where scenarios born in the real world are played out much further than they would be in the lives most of us lead. Possibly the most satisfying of these is a stunt involving the ample windows of Comnidyne's conference room, through which Nick imagines hoisting Harken, head-first, and the parking lot below, where he is gloriously impaled on the sign marking his primo parking spot. Overall, says stunt coordinator Sean Graham, "There are a couple of cool fantasy sequences that involve slamming heads through glass and high falls out of windows, an exploding car, a frantic chase sequence, cars smashing head-on and all kinds of other crazy stuff.”

"The fun of the story isn't whether or not these guys can actually succeed, but in enjoying their inept approach to a terrible plan,” says Gordon. It's his hope that audiences who have experienced the kind of frustration that Nick, Dale and Kurt rebel against in "Horrible Bosses” might have some popcorn and a few laughs, blow off some steam and emerge from the theater with "a new appreciation for how good they actually have it, and that, by comparison, maybe their own bosses aren't quite so bad.”

Barring that, he suggests, "If you ever had the idea that you might be better off if your boss weren't around and imagine how that would play out, this movie takes care of following through on that for you and demonstrating the kinds of things that can happen if you start down that slippery slope. Once you see what's really involved, you might want to rethink it.”


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