Commentary: '24' guilty of Bauer-ization without representation

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Counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer has faced many obstacles in his seven seasons of "24," but he never had to deal with a change of settings. For the first time in its run, the popular Fox series has changed locales, moving its real-time action from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.

According to executive producer Howard Gordon, there were internal and external mandates to shake up the show.

"For one thing, in Season 6, we started feeling like L.A. had been targeted one season too many," he says. "The improbabilities we were forced to make work were going to the red zone."

The show's writers and producers considered moving the show to New York; they even toyed with the idea of relocating to a European city. Ultimately, they decided on D.C. Storywise, the season's jumping-off point was a Senate subcommittee hearing at which Bauer was grilled about his past actions, so the nation's capital seemed an obvious fit.

"That's where the power is and where those institutions of power can be threatened, more directly and more visually," Gordon says.

But just because Bauer is running around the streets of D.C. doesn't mean his real-life alter ego, Kiefer Sutherland, Gordon and the rest of the "24" cast and crew also moved east.

In fact, the show still shoots in Los Angeles.

"It's difficult (shooting L.A. for D.C.) but easier than shooting L.A. for New York," Gordon says. "There are places that are neo-Classical that you can play as Washington."

The production, which shoots most of its interiors on giant soundstages at its home base in Chatsworth, Calif., scours downtown Los Angeles for sites that can pass for the capital, looking especially for buildings that have granite and stone facades.

The exterior of Los Angeles Times building has been used several times, doubling as a financial institution and FBI detention center, including a sequence featuring the escape of a couple of prisoners and a shootout.

To give the scenes a D.C. feel, "24" digitally adds landmarks in the background, with the Capitol being a popular option. Another sleight of hand has been switching color palettes: In seasons past, the show had a yellow tinge to it, giving it a sun-drenched California feel; this season, director of photography Rodney Charters gave it a cooler, blue-and-steel look. And of course, whatever the local temperature, the actors wear heavier clothes and outerwear to add to the illusion.

"You try to narrow your angle of view so that you don't give away too much," says line producer Michael Klick, revealing another trick. "We shoot straight across the street a lot as opposed to up the street or down the street."

The series did take three trips to Washington to shoot certain scenes that will be interspersed in the first eight episodes, but it didn't make economic sense to relocate the production altogether, especially once the series shifts into night episodes. With the action taking place in the dark, it becomes easier to mask locations.

"Once night falls, a lot of the reasons to have gone (to D.C.) would have been erased," Gordon says. "It was too big an ordeal to pull off and ultimately unnecessary."

'Push' gets real

As far as locations go, Summit's psychic-powered adventure "Push" didn't do any cheating: The $25 million film, which opens wide Friday, chose to shoot Hong Kong for Hong Kong.

The filmmakers looked at the city as a sort of modern-day Casablanca, where everyone goes to hide. Director Paul McGuigan also liked that it gave the film a heightened sense of reality.

"It's so extraordinarily exotic that you create a world instantly, and that world becomes extraordinary as well," he says.

He adds: "It's really beautiful to go to actually shoot a city for a city rather than going to Montreal and shooting New York or Chicago. It frees you up as a filmmaker to push the envelope."

Not that the shoot was without challenges.

"You can shoot in New York and you can own the environment. You can lock up streets and you can shoot where you want," star Chris Evans says. "Hong Kong? Forget it. It's so dense and congested."

But the filmmakers flipped that restriction on its head, shooting actors on real streets making their own way among real crowds.

Sort of hiding in plain sight.
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