Over the past few years, producer/composer Harald Kloser has been working with Roland Emmerich on a number of projects. However, while they’d both expected the sci-fi film Singularity to be their next movie, everything changed after a late night of writing. Sony offered them the chance to make the thriller White House Down, and almost immediately after reading the script, they were in pre-production.
During a group interview on the Montreal set last year, Kloser talked about how the project came together, what it was like to build the White House from scratch, shooting partially in 48fps, scoring the film, script changes, the importance of having a strong antagonist, if the CIA or another government agency give them any notes, and more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Here are a few of the highlights from the interview:
- Both the good guys and the bad guys in the film are Americans.
- Some people at the Pentagon read the script and gave them a tour, but the government couldn’t officially support the production with equipment, etc.
- The White House Historical Society was able to provide them with high-resolution prints of the oil paintings hanging in the real White House.
- Emmerich and some members of the production team met with John McCain and got a tour of the Capitol.
- Harold says that Emmerich’s “hang-up” with destroying the White House onscreen is the fact that it’s the one symbol in the world that represents power, freedom, and democracy all in one building.
Here’s the trailer for the film:
Harald Kloser: Well, we were actually in the middle of writing something else – “Singularity” – literally in a daily process of writing. We just kind of left it off at 11 at night or 10:30, and then I went home and I went to bed and the next morning, I saw I had five or six calls from Roland when I woke up. I thought, “OK, there must be a problem.” I reached him and he said, “Hey, I read this script and we gotta do this right away. Let’s put ‘Singularity’ aside and we’ll do that. But, this, we need to do this.” This was basically a few months ago. I got the script, I read it, I also thought it was great. You know, we added few ideas that we thought could enrich the story. But it was basically I read the script, read the last pages – I actually read the very last pages at a red lights in L.A. I was already already driving to the chairman of the studio’s house to meet Brad and Jamie and we had a short talk and we’re in production.
I think the script sold in March and Sony bought it; now it’s September and you’re already a month into shooting.
Kloser: Yeah, it was super fast. I mean, we’re kind of a little used to super fast because when we wrote 2012, we basically gave the script to every studio on the same day – at noon on a Tuesday, I remember – and nobody had read it then. I’m like, ‘Oh god, if nobody wants this.’ And I went and took a massage. I shut off my phone and thought it’s going to take them two hours or so to read the script, so I’m going to have a massage and ran on the treadmill. And then when I came back into my locker room, I saw there’s a lot of calls. We basically sold the script that same day also to Sony and made 2012 also super fast. So we’re a little bit used to it.
How fast did you actually go into pre-production after that?
Kloser: In this one, it was like, since we wanted to cast Channing Tatum, we were a little bit scrambling with another movie that he had already committed to – he was supposed to do this movie Foxcatcher with Bennett Miller directing and they were slated to go before us. When we were already in production here and starting to build stuff – we were aiming at shoot start around mid-September, end of September. And the Foxcatcher guys said, “Now we can give you Channing on the 9th of October,” and we said, “No, then we can’t make our release date.” We went back and forth and I remember on one flight to coming here actually, we said, “Well, if we would start like four or five weeks earlier, then we could actually go before Foxcatcher and give them Channing when they need him.” So we kind of thought about this and Larry Franco, who is our line producer, who is the best line producer in the world by the way, he looked at me and he said, “This is a little crazy, but I love this shit so let’s try and make it work.” And Roland was on board and yes, now we’re scrambling a little bit sometimes. We’re literally walking into places where the paint isn’t dry yet and we’ve had working crews that work in construction 24/7 actually. We even brought people in from Toronto and Vancouver just to build. This is two days, three days and then the moment we walk out, there’s guys sledgehammers and chainsaws striking it to build the next thing. We’re a little bit in a race.
Is that why the release date got pushed up?
Kloser: Well, the release date got pushed up at some point. We were thinking, well, this is a movie about the White House, directed by the director of Independence Day. And it was like, “Hey guys. Due to the other movie, we started six weeks early.” This date was a bit out of the question with the other production start. So, suddenly, now that we’re scrambling to start so early, obviously we’re ending earlier. And, so, you know, we’re staring at the calendar and saying, “You know, in the middle of the year, the Fourth of July weekend is looking at us the whole time.” And, sure enough, we kind of said “C’mon, we can’t less this pass.”
What changes did you make to the script when you first had it? Was there an element you felt needed to be added?
Kloser: Yeah, there was a little bit of an element. Roland and I felt that our bad guys in the script need a real cool – not cool, it’s not cool thing to take over the White House – but they need a really deep and thought-through motivation why they’re doing it. In Jamie’s first script, those guys are basically in it for the money, and we tried to figure out something that goes a little deeper than that. I think everybody’s very happy with that, especially Jamie [Vanderbilt], the writer – he embraced it immediately.
Kloser: Yes, yes he did.
So what is their purpose now?
Kloser: Well, not giving away some of the things that hopefully the audience will go, “Oh, Jesus!” So I would like to save that.
Wouldn’t you agree though, it is very important for bad guys to have good motivation? Of the best bad guys in all the movies, if you have a weak antagonist, forget it.
Kloser: Well, if you have a bad guy that’s bad only, that’s actually bad. The ideal bad guy is tempting you with his views of the world. He takes you very close to the point where you think, “Ah, he has a point there.” The more seductive a bad guy is to convince you about his views or his motivations, the better the movie is. That’s always true.
Good guys and bad guys in this movie are Americans rather than us fighting some kind of foreign entity. What encouraged you to do that?
Kloser: Well, number one: I’m not American and I feel to look for an enemy somewhere out there in the world, you know, can’t speak up in our world, is a cheap shot and I’ve never done that or had like the North Koreans or the Arabs. I wouldn’t want to do that either. We were trying to look at people who have certain ideas and, if you have ideas where you feel the world is going the wrong way, it doesn’t matter where you are.
You rebuilt the White House in Montreal without being able to rebuild all of Washington, D.C. Are you going to shoot there?
Kloser: We’ll shoot a lot of elements there, yeah. It’s kind of hard to. They don’t let us shoot at the real one. We’re having like a real big action chase on the White House lawn and they wouldn’t let us do that. So we’re having a park in Montreal and all the magic of digital effects and the elements of the plates and Roland’s expertise.
How much was the government or CIA or any government agency involved in looking at the script and offering feedback or advice? Or did they just say, “Go do what you’re gonna do?”
Kloser: No, we made plans. We were able to go meet some people in the Pentagon who said, “Well, we read the script, we don’t want to officially support you with equipment, etc., because it is an edgy subject.” But they were really cool. They showed us around. We also have scenes in the Pentagon and we got a really, really cool tour. We basically got even to peek into the office of the Secretary of Defense. At some point, I said, “Oh my god, really? I’m standing at the center of the power of the Western world in a way.” There were also sometimes you could peek in these windows at these rooms that had all these greenish windows. Like in the movies.
Did you add anything to the script?
Kloser: As it goes in these visits, you really don’t make it into the power rooms. So we come up with our own way to maybe think how the command center looks. James Woods actually claims he’s been into the Emergency Command Center at the White House but we didn’t get to see it, so we get to build it ourselves.
How detailed could your set be? Presidential seal and all that?
Kloser: Actually, they give you a whole lot of support. The whole white towers architecture, every piece of artwork is totally archived in there. I think it’s called the White House Historical Society, or the White House Museum. They support you, the prints, all the pictures they have hanging in the White House, the oil paintings, they have super high resolution files that they give you. You can license that. If you see the interiors with all the artwork, the furniture. You get a lot of support. I don’t think the White House has ever been rebuilt in such detail as we did it, and totally to scale. I even caught myself on the White House set on the other stages, saying, “I need bathroom – Where’s the bathroom?” I was like, “Oh no! There’s no bathroom here.” We don’t build those!
Have you and Roland actually been inside the White House?
Kloser: Yes, we’ve been, all through a strange connection, actually; one of our producers had a connection through John McCain’s brother – he was a family type who, out of all people, we get to basically meet John McCain. But he was very cool and we were very nicely received, and we got a little bit of an inside tour of the Capitol with him and he showed us where the Watergate hearings were and the history that’s been made there.
Kloser: Yeah, of course it always comes up. He blew it up. In 2012, we had an aircraft carrier crash into it and, now. This is actually the best movie for the White House because it survives.
Do they think he’s got a bit of a hang-up?
Kloser: I know the hang-up. The hang-up is quite fascinating. It’s like the White House is the one symbol in the world that a building represents power, freedom, really democracy. This is all embodied in this one house. I mean, I don’t know, what other symbol would be there if you wanted to say, :This symbolizes Western free world.” I wouldn’t know anything else. If you play with those big ideas, you always somehow end up at the White House.
Even the title White House Down paints a very vivid picture. Did you guys consider any other titles or was that it from the start?
Kloser: The title was a part of the excitement when we read the script. It was like, “Oh man.” Just the title really tells a little picture.
How closer were you guys to being done with Singularity? Was it one of those things where you were utterly shocked that you were switching?
Kloser: Yeah, it was totally shocking. We were actually in preparation to shoot Singularity. We were casting, we did everything. It just came together. Also, the fact that Roland met Channing was maybe…we had a lunch and he was traveling to Europe and Channing was traveling to South America for two weeks and we had a lunch. We said, “Well, maybe we could get you guys to meet,” and he said, “Well, you know, I’m leaving today.” And we had two phone calls and we basically could get them to meet – Roland made a stop over in New York just as Channing was leaving. They met and we had our movie cast. If we would’ve gone to lunch literally two hours later and had that conversation, Channing wouldn’t be in this movie and it wouldn’t have gone this fast obviously.
Kloser: It’s a totally unique story. It’s Roland. It’s like, “C’mon, let’s go all the way. Let’s not do something in a prison or something.” And again: What is the place that represents all of us, where we think must be the safest place in the world? And if you show something like that as vulnerable, it has an impact.
Can you talk about shooting part of the movie in 48 frames per second?
Kloser: Well, it obviously also serves the purpose to stop time a little bit sometimes. But, you know what? May I just admit that that technical aspect of it might not be my super expertise? I also write the music for our movies, so I can’t know about the frames and all that too. But I know we do and, often, when I go to editorial, I see stuff moving slower than it should and they say it’s because it’s shot in 48 frames per second.
Are you doing the music on this? Have you come up with certain themes for this movie?
Kloser: Yes. Of course! Just before I saw you, I was working on them.
Kloser: Well, this movie’s kind of clear. It has an uplifting, patriotic…not even patriotic for Americans only, but a patriotic feeling about the people who believe in freedom and democracy and peace. And then there’s a lot lot lot of running, shooting, screaming and jumping and whatnot. It’s kind of clear what the music does there most of the time. Unless, at some point, you know, you can also stop time and work against the running and the screaming with music. You go really slow and suddenly you get this other reality which I’m sure you all have seen done really well before in many movies.
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
- Producers Brad Fischer and Reid Carolin Talk Tailoring the Lead Character for Channing Tatum, the Tone, and More on the Set of WHITE HOUSE DOWN