Last year, on the set of White House Down, I was able to participate in a group interview with producers Brad Fischer and Reid Carolin. They talked about how quickly the project came together, the crazy first meeting between Channing Tatum and Roland Emmerich, the tone (which they compared to Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and Independence Day), how the film is going to take us into parts of the White House that normally aren’t shown, how the script changed, why Tatum wanted make this project, and so much more. Hit the jump for what they had to say
Here are a few of the highlights from the interview:
- The period of time between when Sony gave the green light and the film’s release will be 14 months, which is incredibly fast.
- The tone is similar to Independence Day in that the serious moments are serious, the scary moments are scary, but the characters are fun and it’s a thrill ride. The stakes are high and the tone is also similar to Lethal Weapon and Die Hard.
- The film isn’t so hyper real that it’s scary; it’s supposed to be fun and enjoyable.
- Tatum and Foxx have a sort of buddy chemistry in the film.
- The Security Service headquarters is right under the Oval Office, and it’s called The Beehive.
- Once Emmerich came on board, he tweaked the script a bit in order to flesh out the villain’s motivations and agenda.
- When Tatum signed on, they built a lot of the actor’s personality into his character.
- All of Tatum’s “ass-kicking” comes from the emotional drive that his character has to save his daughter.
- Certain scenes will be in IMAX.
Here’s the film’s trailer:
How did each of you guys first hear about the script?
BRAD FISCHER: Well Jamie (James Vanderbilt) and Laeta Kalogridis are my partners in Mythology Entertainment. So Jamie and I did a movie called Zodiac together that David Fincher directed. So this is actually our third movie. We also did, years ago, a movie called Basic, which he describes it as the John Travolta-Sam Jackson movie that is not Pulp Fiction. So, Jamie sometimes has a secret project that he doesn’t tell anyone about. So I got a call one day, and he’s like, “I’m gonna’ send you a script that I haven’t told you about at all.” He sent it to me and he’s like, “I don’t think it’s ready yet.” And I read it and said, “I think you’re fucking crazy. It’s fantastic.” And so he sent it to his agent, and it happened really fast actually. The period of time between when we made the deal with Sony and the release of the film will be 14 months, which is super fast as you guys know.
I think it’s another category than fast.
FISCHER: Yeah! I actually don’t know if it’s (the fastest). I’m sure there’s some other movie that’s gone as fast.* But you know, look, it’s a testament to the script. It’s a testament to Sony’s desire to work with Roland again, and Channing. It’s come together in a great way. You guys met Kirk Petruccelli, our production designer, who in my humble opinion is like the hero of our film for being able to pull all these sets together as quickly and as well as he did. It’s close to 100% a stage shoot. Although, we’re doing plates in DC, aerial plates. And there’s some stuff with The Beast chase, the presidential limousine, which is referred to as The Beast. Most of which actually is shot on stage but we’re doing some second unit stuff at a park nearby which we’ll be tearing up. But it’s been-what—we’re day 32?
FISCHER: Of 82.
CAROLIN: Channing and I were finishing a movie in New York, I was finishing post on Magic Mike and Channing was finishing shooting Bitter Pill in New York. And we were a day, two days away from going off the grid for two weeks and doing this survival trip in Guyana in the Amazon. And we were about to take off. He was about to wrap. I got this call from Amy Pascal, and she’s like, “I have this script, and it’s really good. Will you check it out?” And I checked it out immediately. And I really liked it. And she said, “Would Channing be interested in meeting Roland?” And I said, “Yeah, of course!” And Roland was literally like on his way to the airport to fly to Germany. So he’s on his way to the airport, and we’re making all these calls so that he could divert his flight, land in New York, meet Channing in like seven in the morning for a coffee at his hotel, and see if they liked each other, and then get back on the plane and keeping going to Germany. Whatever. And this movie was supposed to start what, November?
FISCHER: We were talking about the fall, generally speaking. But yeah, I think odds were on October, November, somewhere in there. Then that moved up!
CAROLIN: Yeah! Like all of a sudden! They had a good meeting and a good breakfast and Roland liked Channing and Channing liked Roland. And we went to the jungle and we told our reps, “Let’s do this. Let’s make this happen.” But we had another movie that Chan’s shooting that starts October 15th, and that was supposed to start a little earlier. So, Sony and these guys and Kirk and everyone had to weigh the option of if we’re going to do this movie with Channing, we have to move everything up to make it happen, and I guess everyone was stoked enough about Chan that they bent over backwards and made it work. We busted our ass to make this happen. We didn’t know if we’d get the opportunity to work with these guys or not because of the timing but they accommodated us and it really cool.
Maybe working with Jamie before maybe you would know. When you read a script like this you need to be able to have a huge budget and an incredible amount of work, because using the White House it’s not something you can just fake. Die Hard could be in any building. Did you talk about that with him after the fact and be like, “Why’d you even go crazy and reach to do this?”
FISCHER: I think Jamie always loved the idea. I think he loves those action movies from the ’80s that we haven’t really seen a lot of (lately) that were set in a world where the building was part of the character, like the building in Die Hard, and also had this sort of sense of humor to them where they didn’t take themselves so seriously. And I think he always wanted to write something like that. And Jamie’s a huge history buff, and I think has always been fascinated by the White House. And it seems like a really obvious idea to set this kind of story inside the White House but it just hasn’t been done yet. I think there were other scripts that have tried to do it before, but never got off the ground. I think like in terms of the scale and scope of it, I’m sure if he were here he’d tell you that’s always a lot of fun for a writer to be able to dream up without having the physical limitations or financial limitations to it. And you know, looking at how it all comes together when you’ve got a filmmaker like Roland and a star like Channing, Jamie Foxx and everybody that comes into it. But the authenticity that I think you’ll see, and a lot of Jamie’s sort of knowledge of history, the details of this place, which is this crazy kind of collision between a museum and a hi-tech security marvel in some ways. Because it’s the people’s house, so they have to have tours go through, which must be an unbelievable nightmare for the Administration. It’s where the President lives and works and you’ve got people filtering through constantly. How do you deal with that? You make a lot of bunkers.
CAROLIN: I was actually so surprised when we read the script, I thought to myself, “Why hasn’t this been done?” Because Hollywood has done every other obvious homerun concept, that now we’re doing Green Lantern and Battleship and all that other stuff, because all the other good stuff is taken, in a weird way. This one I read, and I was like, “Damn! Yeah! Why hasn’t someone done a movie where the White House gets taken over?” That’s something that I, and I think a lot of people, want to know what’s under the ground there and what is the car like and what is the mythology behind this place that is the icon of security of the free world. I think that was a genius stroke on Jamie’s part, just doing this simple idea very well.
From a producing standpoint, is that daunting though? When you finally realize, “We’re going to make this movie, then oh shit…” This movie is just such an awesome, great, simple idea. “Oh shit, this is the White House and people are going to drive by after seeing this movie.” Is that a daunting thing? What are some of the challenges?
FISCHER: It starts with the filmmaker. I know that’s what gave Sony the confidence that they have. Roland has an amazingly talented crew and team of department heads. It is daunting when you look at the schedule and the amount of work that has to be done in such a short period of time. We built the White House and rooms to scale. It’s pretty remarkable. When you have all of these challenges and all this momentum that gets behind something, it also helps make it happen in some weird way. Knowing that Channing, we had this window, and we had to reserve stage space now otherwise we might lose it to another production. All of those things that are daunting in your mind. There’s a critical mass that kind of helped make the movie happen. I think that way on a lot of films. I did this movie, Black Swan, that took ten years to get off the ground. That barely got done at the last minute, and it almost never saw the light of day because of last minute financing falling out and everything else. I think almost any time a movie gets made it’s a small miracle. Whether it takes ten years or 14 months.
I’m curious about the tone of this. Obviously you’re trying to tell a realistic story, but you want to have some humor. Are there maybe certain movies you look to to try and mimic tone? How would you describe the tone?
CAROLIN: I would say if you look at what Roland did with Independence Day, which was grounded in a lot of ways, so that the serious moments were serious and the scary moments were scary. At the same time, it’s fun and the characters are fun, and it’s a great thrill ride for the audience and it can release in the summer. I think also if you look at those movies like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon. I think what’s also emerged in this movie is the chemistry between Jamie Foxx and Chan. There’s sort of a buddy thing that kind of unfolds in a really cool way. At the same time he, Channing, gets separated from his little girl at the beginning of the movie, so there’s this emotional core that the film has about this character who desperately wants to win back the heart of his little girl. At the same time he’s in this position trying to save the leader of the free world, which is this great tug-of-war.
FISCHER: Yeah, and I think tonally you just have to make sure the stakes are high. Die Hard, Independence Day, Lethal Weapon: the stakes are really high in those movies, you still believe the characters are in danger, but you can have fun with them because they are aware of the fact that they’re living in this movie world in a way. Audiences in the summer can enjoy that, and it’s not going to be so hyper real that it’s scary. It’s going to be fun enough so you can enjoy it, but you can see your characters in jeopardy that you believe. I think Independence Day is the one we really try and emulate.
You guys kind of make it sound like this movie is going to take us into parts of the White House we don’t get to see. Like revealing the Bat Cave. We’ve heard a lot about how the White House is being reconstructed, but can you tell more about those elements?
CAROLIN: The PEOC is the Presidential Emergency Operation Center, which is a real thing that is below the White House. Jamie is the real person to drill in about the mythology on that, but that’s something that obviously isn’t on the tour. That’s the fantasy below the White House. What happens if there is a massive problem? Where does the President go? How does he or she still run the country from down there? What kind of controls do you possibly have in it? Those are things we’re playing with with the villain plot as well. What is it when you descend into the bowels of the White House during an emergency? It’s what your villain or your hero has access to that can change the balance of the world.
FISCHER: There’s definitely a lot behind the walls. It’s the thing, when I took the tour, where I was looking around, and I was like, “Where the hell are the cameras? I know they’re here somewhere.” You look at the Pentagon, which is built to serve this purpose, which I’m sure if certain people had their way, the White House would not be set up the way it’s set up. I think not long ago somebody took a shot from outside the gates and the bullet went through some glass somewhere, and it’s got to be a total security nightmare for these people. I can’t even how much money is spent on dealing with those aspects of it. At the same time, we know right underneath the Oval Office is a Security Service headquarters, I think it’s called the Beehive. Underneath the East Wing, I don’t know if it’s the Situation Room. There’s construction going on right now, in plain sight all around there, the mall and the White House itself. There’s all kinds of rumors about what it is they’re doing, what they’re building. I think people are fascinated by it. By how it all works and how those pieces fit together.
Sometimes movies change as you’re in production. Talk about the changes that have gone on in the first 30 days, if any.
The script has really been pretty tight in terms of the story and the plot, the character journeys. Some it’s come out of rehearsal. It’s been more nuances that have to do with certain elements of character that have come out of Roland and the actors working together. Geography has been something that’s snuck up on us a couple of times. Geography within when you get to a set, when you’re holding hostages in one room and the White House is being evacuated. How far away from the front door is that room actually now that we’re here? How can we figure out a way to have that logically make as much sense as it does? Tracking just what people have on them as they’re making their way through the film. It’s more of those kinds of relatively mundane details that have changed more so than, well this guy should be the hero instead of the villain.
Jumping of that a little bit, Harald [Kloser, producer] had talked about, when Roland came on board, he felt the bad guy should have a little bit more of a human motivation. You guys obviously built the script pretty early, and obviously from script to set. What suggestions did you guys have on anything? Were there any changes or suggestions you guys had before you went into production?
FISCHER: Oh yeah. Roland definitely had felt, from the beginning, that the motive — I don’t want to peel back the onion and reveal too much of the plot — that the motivations should be deeper than they were originally. A great villain sometimes, even if their agenda is evil, that you can sort of understand the internal logic of it for that character. So I think that’s probably what Harald was talking about.
What about you guys specifically. Did you guys bring any suggestions to Roland or Jamie?
FISCHER: It’s pretty collaborative. Like I said, Jamie and I, this our third movie together. Roland is one of the most collaborative filmmakers I’ve ever worked with.
FISCHER: I think, you know, it’s the best idea wins. It’s pretty great.
CAROLIN: That goes for Channing and I as well. Every time we come onto a project there’s certain amounts, with any actor who’s playing a character central to a movie, they develop an understanding of a character they want to play. They talk about it with the director, and then you sit down and you make some changes to make it feel like that person’s movie. For us, that’s the whole idea of producing, when it’s not homegrown stuff, when it’s collaborating with other people who have existing material they’ve worked on, it’s trying to leave what great about it but then have it be tailor made for that actor. I think those are successful character, successful movies, are literally written and hand tailored to the actual person that’s playing them. There’s a lot of who Channing is built into John Cale now, in the way that the script was open for anyone to come in and do that.
FISCHER: That’s actually really what the process was like. Roland’s having the thoughts that he had globally about the script and the characters, and then once the cast started coming together, sitting individually with each actor and us and Jamie, and basically hearing from their point of view how they saw the character through their eyes.
Can you give us an example of how the script has evolved to more suit Channing Tatum?
CAROLIN: For Channing, I think it comes down to most characters that Channing plays, he wants to drill down on a single objective that his character has, and to really find in that objective something that he can embody as a human being. There’s a lot of things in this movie that he can relate to as a character, but the one core thing is he has his daughter trapped inside the White House. Chan, he really loves the idea of a character who is trying to redeem himself for his mistakes that he made to his daughter, who is hellbent on getting her back. It’s part of his process of redemption and earning her love and her trust back. It was really just coming in and drilling in a little bit more on this, and that’s a character he can really relate to and play. It was just going in and going some things to make it feel more coming from who he is as a person.
Reid, when you first read the script, what elements of the script made you say this would be a project Channing would be in to?
CAROLIN: First, I thought the concept was great. I thought it was the type of movie I wanted to see in the summer. I wanted to go have a great time, laugh, be totally entertained. I just read the script and thought this has all of it. It’s not taking itself too seriously, at the same time the stakes are really real and original. A – the movie was fun. B – for Channing, I’ve always thought a lot of directors that we worked with thought that… a lot of the roles he’s going for now are leaning a little bit, he’s going to do a Bennett Miller movie after this that’s a real performance piece that’s going to be a really cool movie, and then this movie with the Wachowskis, and Jump Street 2. This kind of showcases his natural prowess when it comes to his physicality, and that’s something when you work with Channing you really realize there’s very few actors today working that can do what he can do.
You can see when he does Magic Mike, he can move like nobody else in his age group. You only have so much time when you’re a young actor like that before your body starts not being able to do that, and when you watch movie stunts, he’s flipping around and doing crazy stuff like he did in his little small part in Haywire. I just feel like we’ve got to seize the opportunity and do one of these things because actions movies are action movies. They’re super fun and they’ve got a certain formula to make them work, but when you have somebody in the role who can make you believe in them but also do the physical stuff, that’s really rare. Like when you have Jean-Claude Van Damm kicking people’s ass, but also don’t really have the emotional stakes as much, and that’s what I thought would be really cool. Give Channing something you can believe in emotionally, but also just watch him kick ass, and that’s really fun. I haven’t gotten to see him do that over the course of a movie, so I was really happy that this came in front of us because I thought it was an opportunity to let him do what he does best.
Is that how you would pitch to him? Like, you can be Bruce Willis.
CAROLIN: No. The one difference between this and Die Hard that I loved was that, at the end day, what Channing really does best is he really is able to sell emotional stakes. This is really about a guy winning his daughter’s love back for Channing, as his character. The ass kicking part — in Die Hard it certainly was going to get Holly back, but it was going to be a thorn in these people’s sides. For Channing, all the ass kicking comes through this emotional journey of his. I think that’s what was most natural for me.
CAROLIN: So you get to have fun with it, but it’s all with the understanding with go, get your daughter back, and prove your self-worth, and I think it’s going to be a fun way to watch him do it. You’ll care the whole time.
This has been designed for PG-13. Is there anything that you’re nervous is going to push it a little too far?
FISCHER: I’m sure we’ll look at it in the edit, and when we go through that process we’ll have to scale back certain things. We’ll see. We’re looking at obviously going with it being a PG-13 movie.
You talked about earlier some stuff’s going to be in IMAX and digital IMAX. How early in production does that become part of the conversation these days?
FISCHER: The conversation started during prep, about that, just given I think the scale and scope of the movie, it would be really cool if we could pull that off. We met with the IMAX folks and talked to Sony about it and it just seemed like for certain sequences, it really makes sense. If we can pull it off, and Roland believes in it.
What about the 3-D conversation? Did you ever have it?
FISCHER: Somebody threw it out at one point, but we dismissed it pretty quickly. For me, 3-D can be a great storytelling tool as opposed to the gimmick it seems to cycle through, as technology evolves and people use it for different reasons. I think it didn’t strike us as something we have to do with this, until somebody says when the movie’s done, “Wow, we should really convert it.”
Channing has a history of that recently. The studios did with Pacific Rim, a last minute Del Toro thing.
FISCHER: Conversations happen, and I think actually it’s a mistake when people say that all conversion is bad. A friend of mine runs a conversion company and I think whenever you go into a 3-D production, it’s what are you going to shoot native and what shots should be converted should be a natural conversation. I don’t think conversion means cheap 3-D.
Plus conversion, if you look at Titanic which took a year, looks fantastic. It’s when you have the time to do it right.
FISCHER: Exactly, and not rushing it. Given our early schedule, it’s probably not in the cards.
CAROLIN: It’s been right for some movies I think, world building things. Then other movies decide to tack it on as another reason to get people to theaters when there may not be one initially when they watch the movie, and I think our movie’s got a great story going for it and there’s no reason to put a gimmick onto it when you’ve got a story that’s working.
Essentially you feel like this is an event movie even without 3-D.
CAROLIN: Totally. I think so. I don’t think people want to see the White House like it was actually exploding, that it’s different then when you’re in Avatar and you’re experiencing this whole new world.
FISCHER: If the storytelling works and the emotion works, and the characters feel like they have heart, then the action will work also. If it’s just action wall-to-wall, then that’s not going to be an event for anyone.
Catch up on all of our White House Down set visit coverage below:
- 35 Things to Know About Roland Emmerich’s WHITE HOUSE DOWN
- Channing Tatum Talks Working with Roland Emmerich and Jamie Foxx, Doing His Own Stunts, MAGIC MIKE 2, and More on the Set of WHITE HOUSE DOWN
- Director Roland Emmerich Talks Working on an Accelerated Production Schedule, Paying Homage to DIE HARD, & More on the Set of WHITE HOUSE DOWN
- Production Designer Kirk M. Petrucelli Talks Recreating 65% of the White House, Crafting “The Beast”, and More on the Set of WHITE HOUSE DOWN
- Producer/Composer Harald Kloser Talks Touring the Capitol and White House for Research, Crafting the Score, and More on the Set of WHITE HOUSE DOWN