'1600 Penn' Set Visit: Hollywood's Version of the White House
10:00 AM PST 12/13/2012 by THR Staff
THR got a behind-the-scenes look at the set of NBC's new comedy, which had a former Obama speechwriter behind it as it set out to create the president's home on the Fox lot in Century City. Photographed by Jessica Chou.
“We couldn’t approximate the level of activity inside the White House, which is — occasional press conference aside — actually very little,” says Emmy-winning director Jason Winer, who conceived the single-camera comedy with former Barack Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett. Because of this, Winer and Lovett judiciously sprinkle in scenes featuring official White House business. These include Rose Garden addresses like the one pictured at left, featuring Pullman as President Dale Gilchrist and filmed outside Fox’s Stage 8 near the studio commissary. “Overall, the White House is a very quiet place, so I had to let some of the realism go and create occasional chaos in the hallways.” Right: Obama gives a press conference in the Rose Garden.
Affectionately known as the Will Rogers Stage, Fox’s Stage 8 — built in 1933 — has played host to classic films and TV series such as M*A*S*H and Dynasty before becoming home to 1600 Penn.
“What you’re seeing here is the exterior White House colonnade set half built, with the black plastic indicating where the L-shape part of the set would extend 30 more feet,” says Winer. The Fox commissary (left) won’t be seen because the crew shoots in the opposite direction. “We just roll a cart over from Stage 8, shoot a scene and go back inside.”
The Oval Office set was the only one built last spring in time to shoot the pilot. “Those cables show our enormous lighting rig,” says Winer. “I like to invest more in a complex grid because it means I don’t have to stop and relight each set as often. I’ve used this approach on all my shows, including Modern Family.”
With a new administration comes an Oval Office redesign, courtesy of the first lady. “So our challenge here was to decide, how would Emily, Jenna Elfman’s character, reimagine it?” says Winer. “We wanted it to read classic Oval Office. This rug pattern is fictional but inspired by the sunburst one in George Bush Jr.’s office and Obama’s, which was the first to feature words around the outside of the emblem.”
Press Briefing Room
“Our press briefing room is much larger than the real one, which is really narrow, almost like an alley,” says Winer. “That would be too impractical for filming. But the podium, chairs and overall setup is extremely accurate to real life.”
Many facets of design on the set, including this finial at the base of a staircase, are in the Palladian style of 18th century architecture, commonly seen inside the White House.
White House Kitchen
Cameras haven’t been invited inside the White House kitchen since the Kennedy era, so Winer says his team had only a loose floor plan. “I wanted to stay true to the real-life architecture of that window on the far right,” he says. “But also wanted to add a dining table nearby to allow for some potential Norman Rockwell-esque moments.”
“The idea for our Lincoln Bedroom was to draw upon all its grandeur, then layer with Skip’s bullshit,” says Winer of the decor additions. The president’s son “loves robots and is a huge Star Wars nerd.”
In the Game
“Skip tapes Nintendo game cartridges to the wall, which is taken from Jon Lovett’s real life” as a former speechwriter, says Winer. “He used to do the same thing and asked that we do it in Skip’s room, too.
“The presidential bedroom is entirely our interpretation because no one has a clue what it really looks like,” says Winer. “One of our designers, Hernan Camacho, found this bed and told us, ‘This has to be the presidential bed!’ He also cleverly added a fabric inlay above the pillows, which is removable and creates a shooting window into the bathroom.”