Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx and 'White House Down's' Superhero-Free Summer Gamble

9:00 AM PST 06/26/2013 by Stephen Galloway
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Hollywood's fastest-rising male star joins forces with the Oscar winner in Sony's latest try for a (non-superhero) hit; says Amy Pascal, "Whatever else works, in the end, people want to see movies about people."

A fortresslike chamber built during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and reportedly able to withstand even a nuclear attack, the PEOC was mentioned in former National Security Adviser Richard Clarke's 2004 memoir, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror. But the room never has been filmed and only rarely has been glimpsed by outsiders.

"We had to guess what it was like," says production designer Kirk Petruccelli, referring to himself, cinematographer Anna Foerster and effects maestro Volker Engel.

The room he conceived was built with reinforced concrete, steel and glass, with the assumption that work on it "would have been [done] under the guise of plumbing. As the complex was built, the dirt, rock and old material would have to have been removed through one location, with as small a footprint as possible. I felt that 12-foot-by-20-foot steel forms would be craned below the surface. Roland introduced an octagonal structure. It is not meant for comfort but for survival."

Equally crucial to the film was another supersecret component: the president's limousine, known inside Washington as the Beast, a heavily armored car that is part of his motorcade and that is seen during the movie in a lengthy chase sequence on the White House grounds.

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Vanderbilt says that when he was researching the screenplay, he was unable to access any information about the vehicle's protective features. "[The person] who was in charge of replicating the cars contacted the Secret Service and said, 'What can you tell us about it?' " he recalls, "and they very politely told him to take a hike. We built three of them, and it looks like a Cadillac stretch limo until you walk up and realize the doors are as thick as an airplane's."

The limo and the White House both were specially constructed for the film, but audiences will see an entirely computer-generated Washington for most scenes not shot within the house and car. Unable to get permission to shoot from the skies or at the city's monuments, the filmmakers turned to CGI, using about 900 shots before the movie was finished.

The opening sequence of the film -- when three helicopters (including one carrying the president) loop toward the residence -- was done with computers. "Marine One flies in a squadron of three helicopters, two of which are actually decoys," notes Fischer. "You don't know which one the president is riding." Still, he notes, audiences shouldn't expect insider revelations: "This isn't a documentary. It's a big, fun, summer popcorn movie."

A relatively trouble-free, 95-day shoot kicked off in Montreal on Aug. 8, with the crew racing against the clock and using several different versions of the same set at various stages of destruction -- including two Oval Offices, one of which would be wrecked by a truck driving through it as well as being doused by water and spattered with bullets.

"I don't know how Roland and Sony figured it all out, but they did," says Tatum, "and next thing I knew, we were working six-day weeks, 15- or 16-hour days."

Gyllenhaal, playing a Secret Service agent, was stunned at the sheer scope of the film, shot on seven soundstages with a barrage of gunfire and clouds of smoke wafting around.

"I didn't want to be in the OK version of a big summer movie," she says. "If I'm going to do it, I want it to be the awesome version. And that's what Roland does."

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Despite the controlled mayhem, nearly nothing went wrong. Tatum emerged unscathed (though he had a bad fall that left him with a "butt bruise"), and only Woods reportedly got slightly hurt when a piece of blank cartridge caught his eye -- without lasting consequence, however.

Tatum says Foxx kept everyone in good humor: "Being with Jamie is like going to the theater while you are on set. He'll break out into three or four different characters even while he's [playing the president]; he'll just bust out and then be over on the piano playing classical music. He is the purest form of entertainer I've ever met in my life."

Says Pascal: "Jamie Foxx is somebody we have believed in for a long time, [and] Channing has everything. He can tell jokes, kiss girls, shoot guns and act, and he appeals to everyone."

A mere seven months after shooting wrapped, Sony will see whether audiences agree.

The studio has crafted a marketing campaign heavily reliant on the film and its stars, arranging about 600 screenings nationwide before the picture opens. Those screenings are intended to reach out to people of color and women, among other audiences. "That worked great for us on 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike," says Carolin.

At the same time, Tatum and Foxx have appeared on Univision to target the increasingly important Latino audience, and earlier this year they created a much-discussed rap video for Jimmy Kimmel Live! that aired in late June and gently poked fun at Tatum's sex appeal, with both stars singing the sexually suggestive lyrics, "I wanna Channing all over your Tatum."

Whatever the film's box-office take, Emmerich is adamant it will have nothing to do with audience reservations about destroying the White House, nearly 12 years after 9/11. "Yes, there's a lot of gunfire," he notes. "But it's the good people who win in the end."

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