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The American President

The American President

1995  |  Director: Rob Reiner  |

The biggest challenge of this design was that access to the actual White House was severely limited and a straightforward reconstruction was beyond budget. The crew did as much measuring and photographing at the actual White House as they could and then combed through books on the national monument. Ultimately the set was built on Sony’s sound stages in Culver City. The set was styled after the White House of the JFK years, which was based on Jefferson’s original conception of the building in its simplest, purest form.

The White House itself acts as a character in the film, being with the President wherever he goes. Other details were designed to specifically reflect the character of the fictional President. While most Presidents have wives, in this film, the President is a widower, so giving his private quarters a more masculine touch was important.

For obvious reasons we were not allowed to film the American President in the white house, however we were allowed to look into private areas, without cameras though. My art director and I madly scribbled notes as we were ushered through and we had the great honor of meeting President Clinton. It was incredible.
In designing the set for the film, I wanted the white house to feel as much like a prison as a palace so we made a point of looking in from the outside to give the set the feeling that the window was holding us in.
Once again I had the pleasure of working with the magnificent John Seale.
The opening sequence of this film is something I am very proud of. Rob wanted a continuous shot that moved us thru the vastness of the building to get a sense of majesty. Michael Douglas leaves the upstairs of the east wing, from his daughter’s room walks down the hall gets into an elevator. He descends to the barrel-ceiling’d hall of the east wing, walks out into the garden and across to the rose garden, enters the west wing, walks down the hall and into the oval office.
To get this shot we went to a parking lot on a Saturday and taped it out. Michael spoke his dialogue so we knew exactly where each break would be. We then shot on four different stages and in two different parks, with a little forced perspective added. It is seamless – and all it needed was a little tape and a Saturday!