IAR Mixing Stage Visit: 'Olympus Has Fallen'

Tuesday, 22 January 2013 18:40 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR Mixing Stage Visit: 'Olympus Has Fallen'

Ever since John McClane first uttered the words “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” in Die Hard almost twenty-five years ago, Hollywood has been copying the extraordinary success of that film. In fact, the groundbreaking movie actually created its own sub-category of action film that has been repeated many times and affectionately referred to as “Die Hard on a plane,” as in the case of Passenger 57, or “Die Hard on a boat,” as in the case of Under Siege, or even “Die Hard in a hockey rink,” as in the case of Sudden Impact. Actually, I once heard a story about a studio executive that pitched an idea to a writer and said, “Its Die Hard in a building!” The writer replied, “Hasn’t that been done before?” To which the executive quickly answered, “Yeah, but only in the first movie!”

Well, now audience can get ready for a new twist on the “Die Hard in a …” concept, “Die Hard in the White House.” In fact, there are actually two “Die Hard in the White House” films coming out in 2013, believe it or not. However, it is not unusual to see Hollywood release two similar high-concept films at the same time. Remember when asteroid movies (Deep Impact, Armageddon) were all the rage? And don’t forget that there was two films featuring the 16th President (Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) released last year. So it should be no surprise that Training Day director Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, which opens in theaters on March 22nd and features Gerard Butler as a Secret Service agent saving Aaron Eckhart’s President from terrorists, is being released just a few months ahead of Independence Day director Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, which similarly finds Channing Tatums Secret Service agent trying to save Jamie Foxx’s President from terrorists. 

Last week, I had the pleasure of being invited to the Olympus Has Fallen mixing stage, along with a select group of journalists, to see the new trailer for the film (which was released online yesterday), as well as three unfinished scenes, and a chance to speak with director Antoine Fuqua about his new movie. As anyone who has had a chance to see the trailer can tell you, it looks extremely cool and I was personally very impressed with all the footage that I saw. 

The trailer introduces us to Gerard Butler’s character, Secret Service agent Mike Banning, who successfully saves Aaron Eckhart’s President from a car accident but fails to save the First Lady (Ashley Judd). After removing himself from duty and taking a desk job, the White House becomes under attack from mysterious forces led by a North Korean terrorist played by actor Rick Yune (The Man with the Iron Fists). When the President is taken hostage, Banning becomes the only man in a position to save him, and stop the terrorist forces. Also along for the ride are Academy Award-winner Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House who becomes acting President, Academy Award-winner Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense, Academy Award-nominee Angela Bassett as the head of the Secret Service, Academy Award-nominee Robert Forster as a high-ranking general, Dylan McDermott and Cole Hauser as Banning’s fellow Secret Service agents, and Radha Mitchell as Banning’s wife. 

After we screened the trailer, Fuqua was asked how he feels about the new teaser for the film. “I’m pretty excited about it,” he replied. “I literally prepped this movie in six weeks. I shot this movie in a place called Shreveport, Louisiana and it is not Washington D.C.,” he laughed. “I’m really proud of it and what we pulled off but I’m still working on it. We are literally approving two hundred shots a day and the movie has to be in theaters on March 22nd. So I’ve never made a movie in this short of time but it does put a certain pressure on you.”

“We spent a lot of time discussing with people in Washington who will remain anonymous, how would you really attack the White House? That is what appealed to me when I first read the script, and I thought, that is kind of fun and we need to scare the shit out of Washington,” the director continued. “Because in New York we dropped our guard so now since 9/11 you believe that we can be vulnerable to this type of thing. If someone was smart enough to use our tools and our freedom against us, they can get in and do what they want. There is a quote we always say that you might see on a poster or something down the line: it’s not a matter of IF … it’s a matter of WHEN. It’s a balance because it is supposed to be fun and it is a “take over the White House” movie but I wanted to make it feel authentic. I wanted you to believe this could happen, and I want you to think about that.”

The director was then asked if he has plans to test the film in Washington D.C. and how he thinks it will play in the nation’s capitol. “We tested it already and it scored in the eighties (out of one hundred). It’s interesting because in a movie like this we try to make it as appealing to a broad audience, as exciting, and as fun as we can. It should be exciting. We blow shit up and all kinds of good stuff,” Fuqua explained. “What we managed to do was get great actors, which helps to make it feel authentic and grounded. You know, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Aaron Eckhart and all those guys. So it has some substance and a sense of reality to it. So we really worked hard on that.”

Fuqua also discussed casting Gerard Butler for the lead. “I’m a good friend of Gerry Butler’s. I remember when I first saw him in 300. We met a long time ago when I did King Arthur and he wanted to be King Arthur. I don’t really even remember him auditioning for me so he has been mad at me for years,” the director joked. “So we’ve been trying to work together for a longtime. I’ve seen him in these romantic comedies and I wanted to see him kick some ass again and be the guy from 300. I really think we’ve lost a lot of men in our film culture. Gerry is a big guy, he’s handsome, and he’s a talented actor so it’s nice to see him this way.”

We then had a chance to screen some unfinished scenes from the film. The first scene we saw was a longer version of the opening scene from the trailer, which involves the First Lady’s accident. The First Couple is traveling on Christmas Eve from Camp David to a dinner party on a snowy country road. The scene is mostly character driven and helps develop the relationship between Butler’s Banning and the President’s young son, which as we understand will be pivotal later in the film. The sequence also gives us a glimpse inside the President and First Lady’s private relationship and allows the audience to develop a connection to them, which makes the tragic accident that is about to come even more devastating. Basically this scene sets up Butler’s character so we understand what he’s gone through once the actual attack on the White House happens, which in the film’s timeline takes place about a year later. 

Speaking of which, the next scene we saw is in fact the beginning of the attack on the White House. In the wake of the First Lady’s death, Banning has taken himself off of active duty with the Secret Service and now has a desk job with the Treasury Department. He is in a building across from the White House when it comes under attack. Banning’s reflexes bounce right into action and he runs towards the White House to help as a C-130 is shooting down pedestrians. There is a really cool sequence that had unfinished special effects where the C-130 takes out the top of the Washington Monument. I think once that scene is finished, it will be one of the highlights of the movie. Eventually the terrorists take siege of the White House, and Banning manages to get inside to try and stop them. 

The final scene we screened takes place a little while later after the President has been taken hostage. Banning is now the lone gunman in the White House and has made his way to the Oval Office. While he is erasing top-secret information from the President’s laptop so the bad guys can’t get to it, he uses the President’s secret cell phone hidden in a wall safe to contact the head of the Secret Service (Bassett) at the Pentagon, who is accompanied by Robert Forester’s general, and Morgan Freeman’s Speaker of the House, who has just been informed that he is now the acting President. Banning identifies him self and Bassett’s character realizes that he is now their only hope to saving the President. While Banning did save the President at Camp David, many blame him for the First Lady’s death and there is some question whether he is the best man for this job, but they conclude that they really have no choice. Banning gives what little information he has to his superiors at the Pentagon and, again, insists that he is the only chance they have to saving the President. He also learns that the President’s son is missing and is presumed to be somewhere in the White House. This is where the scene between Butler and the boy from the beginning of the film really kicks in. Afraid that the terrorists will get to the President’s son first, and then have leverage over the Commander in Chief, Banning vows to find the boy and bring the terrorists down. 

I can’t emphasize enough how cool these scenes played out and how excited I now am to see this movie. I’ve always been a big fan of the “Die Hard in a …” concept but I think Gerard Butler is the perfect actor to for this type of vehicle, and with such a stellar supporting cast around him, and a seasoned director like Fuqua, I don’t really know how this film could go wrong. Based on the footage I saw, I’m much more excited now for Olympus Has Fallen than … that other “Die Hard in the White House” movie.

After the final scene, we had a chance to discuss what we saw with Fuqua, who had this to say about the research he did for the film. “One thing I learned, and you know this as well because you know history, the Secret Service job is either one hundred-percent success or one hundred-percent failure. There is no in between for them. If Kennedy dies, it’s a failure. If the First Lady dies, it’s a failure. Your job is to protect the President. Even when Reagan got shot, that’s a failure,” Fuqua explained. “The fact that he was even hit with a bullet and could have died makes it a failure. Their job is so extreme. For a guy like Banning, who’s always there to protect and put his life on the line for what he believes in, he had to remove him self from service because he felt he failed. A lot of guys who were involved in the Kennedy assassination, as far as Secret Service guys, went through serious depression and alcoholism. A lot of these guys go through a lot emotionally when it happens because their job is prevention. It shouldn’t happen, just like 9/11 shouldn’t have happened. But one mistake, one time, these things can happen.”

In the film, North Korean terrorists are depicted as the bad guys and they actually attack us the day after the 4th of July, so I asked the director if there was any debate over what country affiliation the villains should have. “The Middle East has been done. You know that story. We’ve dealt with that. It seems to me, and we talked about this a lot, North Korea is the black spot on the globe. There is the least known about the country. They don’t let anybody in, and they don’t let cameras in. It’s a dangerous place and it’s so close to South Korea, it’s right at the border. Part of the thing we deal with in our movie is the Seventh Fleet, which is there to keep the peace and make sure North Korea stays in place. I felt like it was a very contemporary villain, if you will. It feels like it’s a place where you could see a villain coming from.”

The director also elaborated on the villain that Rick Yune plays and his motivations in the film. “In the movie, Rick Yune’s character is a terrorist and he pretends to be the security for the Prime Minister of South Korea. He worked his way to become Head of Security but he’s factually rom North Korea,” Fuqua explained. “He’s a terrorist that we haven’t been able to find for years, no one’s ever seen him. So he blends in and comes into the White House for a meeting that the President’s having with the Prime Minister regarding North Korea’s nuclear threats. They use the C-130 as a diversion, because that’s what forces the President down into the PEOC (Presidential Emergency Operations Center), and once they get in the PEOC, they have a plan. He wants the nuclear codes to our silos, which is why he is torturing (the President), and eventually he wants to create a nuclear chaos here in the U.S., to create death and mayhem and for us to suffer.”  

Since the First Lady’s death in the film and the attack on the White House only happen a year apart, Fuqua was asked if there is any connection between the two events. “They’re not related,” he replied. “The first event has to do with the loss and how it affects Banning and his journey. It’s meant to show the success rate or failure rate of a Secret Service agent. When a major event like this happens, it does things to these guys. It just shows how life takes its own journey and we are all just along for the ride. We also get to meet the President’s boy. He’s lost his mother and once the attack starts, he’s lost in the White House. If they get him, they can get what they want from the President.”

Finally, I had a chance to ask Fuqua about the elephant in the room … White House Down. I asked the director if it is difficult as a filmmaker when you are working hard on a movie and you then realize that there is another similar project scheduled to be released just a few months later. “Well, ours is coming out first,” laughed Fuqua. “But I did have to prep this in just six weeks. I wish the best for everybody. I think there’s room (for both movies). Roland (Emmerich) and I are completely different filmmakers, good or bad. Jamie (Foxx) is a buddy of mine so they’ll have some fun. But they have way more money, and I think they’re still spending money. I wish I had that money,” he joked again. “But we’re the smaller version of it. As you will see, once I get all the visual effects right, it has scale. I think we managed to pull that off and we’re definitely going to have stronger actors. I’ve played sports my whole life, so I want to kick his ass,” he admitted. “I don’t want to lose, and I don’t want to see him do bad, but … I don’t want to lose. I haven’t seen their movie but I do wish the best for them.”

Olympus Has Fallen is scheduled for release on March 22nd. 

To watch the new trailer for Olympus Has Fallen, please click on the video player below. 

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