On The Set Of White House Down, Joining Channing Tatum On An Epic Race From Script To Screen
Even in its rough state of construction without paint or set dressing, the attention to detail on all its moldings—precisely and individually fitted—was literally breathtaking. Here Petruccelli pointed out some of the specifics of the set's recreation before explaining that some liberties on layout of rooms had to be taken to accommodate the space afforded in the soundstages, but biggest differences from the actual White House were made to better accommodate Emmerich's vision of the place. This meant eschewing its traditional rugs for glossy wooden floors and speaking in depth with Jamie Foxx about his character to decide what touches his president would bring to this hallowed home.
As we toured the sets with the elated designer, I realized that he—as well as everyone else we spoke with—practically radiated with the sheer joy over this project. It reminded me of my days in regional theater, where the air was filled with a contagious enthusiasm of the "let's put on a show" variety. Fischer echoed this ambience, calling Emmerich "one of the most collaborative filmmakers that I’ve ever worked with," adding there's no ego to his decision, "The best idea wins. And it’s pretty great." It was impossible not to be caught up in this stages-wide enthusiasm. Full disclosure: this reporter took the opportunity to skip through "The White House."
The White House Historical Society, Petricelli explained, was essential in research for the White House sets' construction and design. Of course some elements of the real White House not even the Society could help him with. Though Emmerich and Petruccelli toured the White House three times (twice on the public tour, and once a more private tour) they were never allowed to take pictures nor granted access to the bowels of the building that serve as a bunker in case the president is under attack. Likewise peeks at the PEOC (Presidential Emergency Operations Center) and the interior of "The Beast"—a custom-made limousine specially designed for President Obama with intense but unknown protective measures—were off limits. But Petruccelli has attempted to reverse engineer these locations with a touch of swagger:
"We're anticipating what's possible, what's probable and trying to add a bit of style to it if you want to say that. Just enough to say it's cool. But it's all based in reality. Every question I ask everybody of my team is: 'Why? How? Why would it be that way?' And Roland asks me the same questions…. Everything is the technologies that exist now."
But for all the detail and hard work he and his team have put in, Petruccelli recognizes that if he did his job right, no one will notice his efforts. "If I disappear behind the canvas and no one knows we did anything, my team and I will know that we've done our job well," Petruccelli confessed, "And that's the thing that's somewhat—you just have to understand that because no one will ever pat me on the back because they shouldn't. It should be seamless. (People should think,) 'They shot at the White House! How'd they do that?' To me, that's success."
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