White House, Office of the Vice-President… Set Decorator Jan Pascale SDSA International takes us inside the making of VICE... Enjoy the journey!
Portrait of a powerful man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, with his predecessors’ portraits hanging behind him. Traditionally, the Vice President had a ceremonial presence in the White House. The VP and VP staff were generally based out of the EEOB, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Cheney had different plans.
White House, Oval Office, George Walker Bush, 43rd President … For W’s Oval Office, we tried to repurpose some traces of Texas that likely would have come from his stint as the Governor of the Lone Star State.
As the most photographed building in the world, the challenge was to get each of our five (!) Oval Office administrations decorated in as true a manner as possible. Lincoln’s bust was present in every Administration, but he did move around a lot. The beautifully embroidered Presidential flag was as constant as the US flags. The flags of all Branches of the military, complete with campaign ribbons in their proper order came and went with the Commanders-In-Chief or the circumstances of the day.
White House, Oval Office, George Walker Bush, 43rd President … Sam Rockwell as George W Bush, Director Adam McKay, Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, Cinematographer Greig Fraser...
Each iteration of the Oval Office reflected its inhabitant in some ways. We added to the story when it helped to make a point. For example, we kept W’s desk fairly devoid of work; some simple files and the ubiquitous framed Daily Calendar that most Presidents have on their desk, updated daily. The rugs, drapes and furniture also reflected tastes and trends of the era. W Bush used the Resolute desk, made famous by John F Kennedy, Jr., when he was photographed playing underneath it during the JFK years. The Oval Office rugs are a different matter entirely, and a source of great stress... ...For more, read below!
White House, Oval Office, George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President …
George HW (Poppy) Bush, our 41st President, used the dark blue Presidential rug and gold damask sofas that Nixon employed at the time of his departure.
Poppy Bush’s desk proved a challenge, as he used a one-of-a-kind desk that he had obtained from an old railroad station. However, we were able to find one that was similar in style at Omega|Cinema Props, along with the sofas and chairs, which we had re-covered by the Omega upholstery dept.
White House, Oval Office, George HW Bush, 41st President …
The cane-backed side chairs that were used by all of the Presidents in our story were another sort of challenge. We couldn’t find ANY. We were on the verge of manufacturing them when CP3 began liquidating their stock through RL Spear. We found some very old upholstered chairs with the right bones and Allan Songer and Elder at CP2 figured out how to transform them into these wonderful cane-backed side chairs. Since each Administration changed the upholstery on those same chairs, Allan made us interchangeable seats that we could quickly change on our fast Oval Office transformations.
White House, Oval Office of Gerald Ford, 38th President …
A younger Dick Cheney [Christian Bale], selling President Gerald Ford on the idea of developing a “Team B”, a group of outside experts assembled to evaluate classified intelligence, under the direction of then CIA Director George HW Bush.
Ford was a WWII Navy man and his Oval Office reflected his affinity to the sea, complete with a ship’s wheel behind his desk.
White House, Oval Office of Richard M Nixon, 37th President … Early version of the Nixon Oval Office (1969), before he redecorated. It was Cheney’s first time at the White House, as Rumsfeld’s Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEC). These furnishings were a holdover from the LBJ Administration, and luckily for us, we had fabricated the rug, sofas, coffee table and ashtrays for the LBJ bio ALL THE WAY for HBO several years ago. This is a replica of the Truman rug with the Presidential seal hand sculpted into the pile of the rug, with 49 stars. Curiously, Nixon had an extensive ceramic and brass bird collection.
Resources: Sofas upholstered, coffee table fabricated, 2nd ashtray fabricated, and desk all by Omega, under the direction of Allan Songer. Birds: Warner Bros, Omega and Faux Library. End tables, lamps, paintings, rug, chairs and clock: Warner Bros White House Collection.
White House, Nixon Administration, OEC… Cheney’s first office in the White House as Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEC), under Donald Rumsfeld, who had become Nixon’s Chief of Staff.
Stark and utilitarian was the goal here. One thing I have learned about decorating government offices is that they were the originators of ‘repurposing’. Due to the uncertainty of budgets during any given administration, people in Washington and the White House are resourceful about scavenging for the furniture they need.
We had a bit of fun doing the 1960’s Roadside Bar where Dick Cheney, Yale dropout and Wyoming lineman, spent some serious time relaxing with his co-workers. Here’s a peek of a corner of it. We looked up drink prices from the era and did some handmade signs. We also stumbled upon a bin of odd antlers, which we put to good use all over the bar...an actual feed barn on the Newhall Ranch Property, CA.
Yale dorm room, 1960s… An example of our 3-walled sets that were the result of meticulous planning by Patrice and Adam to be the barest minimum of set needed to support the story.
David Smith* came onboard to help dress and complete several sets while I was driving all over SoCal, including the Yale dorm room, where young Dick Cheney spent some time feeling unwell and not doing much homework.
*Set Decorator David Smith SDSA International Resources: Typewriter and smalls, History For Hire; Bedding, Warner Bros Drapery; desks, Advanced Liquidators; furniture, PSW; lighting, Practical Props and WB.
Casper, Wyoming, 1950s… Though not seen in the released version of the movie, we created half a dozen storefronts on a small street in Norwalk, CA that stood in for a main street in Casper, Wyoming. 11-year-old Dick Cheney is cleaning the window of the Five and Dime store, when he sees the reflection of a young blonde Lynne crossing the street with her mom. The Five and Dime store also reflected many late nights and long hours on eBay spent by my Buyer Joni Indursky* and me, trying to find 1950s items that didn’t look 60 years old. I lucked into a person in Pennsylvania who had found the contents of an old Five and Dime store and the items had been stashed away, with hardly any wear and tear on them! We supplemented with pieces from History For Hire and RC Vintage (including Champion, the working kiddie-ride outside the Barbershop across the street). Awnings carefully adapted from Warner Bros by Ruben and Armando Abarca. *SDSA International member
Casper, Wyoming, early 1960s, Lynne Vincent Cheney’s family home…
One of the many wonderful things about working here and introducing someone from another culture to the American vernacular is the availability of resources. As we scouted our location for this set, we batted around ideas about how to transmit vintage Wyoming to the audience. I tried to explain to our Canadian friend Patrice that many places in rustic America used a wood paneling with deer, trees and wildlife on it, especially in the 1950s and ‘60s to spruce up a place. Construction Coordinator Mike Diersing knew exactly what I meant, found a quantity of this amazing version and ordered it that day. Patrice loved the finished set, but I think I can safely say he will not be installing this paneling at his home in Montreal.
Resources: Kitchen table and chairs, RC Vintage; window treatment, Warner Bros Drapery; kitchenware, History For Hire.
Casper, Wyoming, early 1960s, Lynne Vincent Cheney’s bedroom… Another treasure from the sad liquidation of CP3 that gained new life is this bed. Our rationale for the furniture at Lynne’s house was twofold. People in the first half of this century were often more practical than our somewhat “disposable” era. They passed furniture down through generations, and they often bought furniture in “suites”. We imagined that this was Grandma’s bedroom suite, and this was her special chenille bedspread. We found a vanity and dresser that looked like it was meant to be part of the set.
Resources: Linoleum City still carries a line of carpet that is as close as we can get to 1950-60’s sculpted. Astek Wallcovering can either get or fabricate almost any wallpaper.
Casper, Wyoming, early 1960s, Lynne Vincent Cheney’s family home…
The scenes in this living room at Lynne’s house are some of the most potent in the whole film, enough to turn a life around. David Smith helped shape this set into the subtle background it needed to be to support such emotion...
Cheneys’ first DC apartment… A quick but significant scene: Lynne, home with two young daughters, hears from her husband on his first day working at the White House. Another one of Patrice and Adam’s efficient sets. This photo shows the extent of the set that was needed, plus a few more feet behind the cabinet wall in the living room to accommodate the sofa. The scene needed to tell us he was in a junior position, not earning much money yet. Lynne was at home, the TV was on, the baby was fussy, and he called to share the excitement with her. We needed to be economical both fiscally and physically, with so many sets to do and not much space or time.
The scene that takes place in their spacious bedroom is quite unique and we needed bedding worthy of their economic level that complemented the built-in headboard at the location. It was indeed a challenge, but Joni knew just where to go for the luscious linens. We also assisted our DP by providing a lighted LED mirror over the sink at the start of the scene. Our mantra throughout all of these sets was “support the story”, “don’t distract”.
Cheney home, Houston… The phone rings early on a Sunday morning in the exquisite Houston home of the Cheneys...
Adam, Patrice and I were so enamored by the giant painting in the foyer of this location house...a small terrier jumping to try to get the stick from the big dog...as Cheney takes the call from George W Bush, the unlikely candidate asking the wealthy Halliburton CEO and seasoned political operator to be his Vice President. We had to pursue permission to use the painting!
Texas Governor’s office… Texas Governor George W Bush [Sam Rockwell] meeting with Dick Cheney [Christian Bale] in his office, filmed at the Biltmore Millenium Ballroom, Los Angeles. We loaded Gov. Bush’s office with Western collectibles, souvenirs from his stint as part owner of the Texas Rangers, some games, and a nap spot on the sofa.
The Biltmore also provided us with several other sets: a hotel room for watching election results, a hotel room to dress in a tux before an event, yet another hotel room, a hotel Ballroom scene, and an outdoor café where an imam is abducted in Milan.
White House, Office of the Vice-President… Cheney’s VP office in the West Wing, with our version of the map that had been commissioned by the Cheney daughters, along with some of the representative souvenirs of a rich family life. It was in this office that Cheney watched the events of 9/11 on television, until the Secret Service whisked him away to the PEOC, the President’s Emergency Operation Center.
See below for more details...
Resources: Desk and credenza, Advanced Liquidators; VP portraits, Omega; furniture, WB; carpet, Lino City; desk dressing, Faux Library, upholstery, drapery and sheers, Ruben Abarca, Warner Bros and Omega|Cinema Props.
President’s Emergency Operations Center, PEOC… The table in the President’s Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) was custom built by Allan, Elder and Hank at Omega/CP2. The table itself was challenging enough to build, but the added requirement was that each seat space had a drawer between the chairs, under the table, that had to be large enough to house the secure phones that are used by the people involved in the situation.
The Situation Room, thankfully, had been very well photographed, especially on 9/11, where Cheney took charge while the President remained on Air Force One. It is a pivotal scene that illustrates the extent of the authority taken by Cheney.
President’s Emergency Operations Center, PEOC… Getting the correct, controllable clocks that needed to be built into the set to advance to very specific, recorded times on 9/11 added points to Lead Brent Rice’s blood pressure, but in the end, they worked perfectly, fitted into the sets at the last second by Construction General Foreman Tom White. Back orders, wrong sizes shipped by mistake and lost packages be damned! The working, live phones on almost every set were a cooperative effort by PropMaster Matt Cavalliero and Dan Golden from Golden Phones in San Diego.
Power brokers Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld [Steve Carell] and Vice-President Dick Cheney [Christian Bale] meet with Pentagon officials who questioned Halliburton receiving the no-bid contract at the outset of the war in Iraq.
Rumsfeld had very specific furniture in his Pentagon office: two desks facing each other in the middle of the room, a standing wooden desk, seating area, conference table and huge world map. We had most elements ready to dress, except the signature standing desk...
See below for the great story of the discovery of the standing desk!
One of the many world maps fabricated by Graphics Designer Martin Charles.
Resources: Architectural artwork, Hollywood Studio Gallery; furniture, Advanced Liquidators, Warner Bros. Property and Spellman Desk. Desk dressing and lamps, Faux Library, History for Hire, Warner Bros; carpet, Linoleum City
This is the second movie that Patrice and I have done together. [SICARIO] One of the many adventurous things that I admire about him is the bold stretch to build glass offices. This set with two glass CIA conference rooms was built on a University campus, in a large open space where at least 4 other sets were located in various buildings. Just the audacious idea that secretive meetings were being conducted in glass offices is the creative playfulness that Patrice and Adam shared.
Another pair of oversized conference tables built by Allan, Elder and Hank at Omega/CP2 and Time Life chairs from Spellman Desk.
The Chief of Staff office housed both Rumsfeld and Cheney, (the youngest Chief of Staff in history), both of whom served in the Ford Administration...with slight adjustments and art shuffling for each guy. This room is another study in efficiency, as it was used for each Chief of Staff, changed over to serve as a White House meeting room...using some of Omega Cinema Props Cabinet Room furniture...and as a backdrop, complete with SFX gas fire in the fireplace, for Condoleezza Rice’s famous speech in favor of bombing Iraq, using the defense about not wanting the “smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”.
Resources: Blue leather furniture, Spellman Desk; carpet Linoleum City; art, Hollywood Studio Gallery and Warner Bros White House Collection; desk and credenza, Advanced Liquidators.
White House, Condoleezza Rice’s speech… Condoleezza Rice’s “Smoking gun as mushroom cloud” speech, same room, 4th iteration.
One detail that facilitated the iterations of these rooms is the architecture. The windows in the White House are basically the same, so you can’t really tell where you are in the building. These are the ways that we needed to compromise, due to schedule and timing and makeup, so that we had to transmit the “essence” of the room as opposed to being as dead accurate as we would like.
Scooter Libby office… This iteration of VP Chief of Staff Scooter Libby’s office is one of 4 uses of this room. It was also Donald Rumsfeld’s first office, Henry Kissinger’s office, and an upscale hotel room. For each change of offices, the only constant was the bookcase. Most books and smalls were changed to reflect its occupant. Desks, conference tables, lamps, drapery and chairs changed, loveseats came and went. Levels of paperwork varied, as well as types and colors of file folders reflecting each decade, along with artwork, all pre-hung for each version and staged for quick changeovers. Every allowable nook and cranny was utilized on the two stages that we inhabited.
The setting for the first Rumsfeld office, Scooter Libby office [previous photo], Kissinger office...and for this scene, dressed as an upscale Hotel Suite. Most of our multiple sets were pre-dressed, photographed, and then stored on our crammed-packed stage.
Cheney home, Virginia 2006… VP Cheney’s home office, where he makes an important phone call.
Souvenirs from his days at Halliburton, a hardhat, a few mugs, several awards, business and education certificates are all present amongst the contemporary computer, printer and ever present paperwork. Fishing books, magazines, and vintage fly fishing reels loaned to us by Set Dresser Scott Leslie accompany leather club chairs, family photos, models of oil derricks, and Western art
Resources: Leather club chairs and smalls, WB Collection; model oil derricks and desk dressing, Faux Library; art, Hollywood Studio Gallery.
Yes, we’ve returned to the 9-11-01 situation room to underline a couple of points. Lynne Cheney has always been closely involved with her husband’s power positioning...and her own. She has become formidable both behind and in front of the scene. The insidious power of the phone call, when wielded quietly and firmly and with utter conviction and control.
One of my favorite sets and scenes, this redecoration of the downtown LA restaurant Cicada evolved into a unique work of art for a surrealistic scene. The setting was meant to not so subtly support the “menu”, which included an extensive list of torture options. Patrice chose some classic art that, upon closer look, is incredibly violent, such as “The Rape of the Sabine Women” by Paul Peter Rubens from the 1600s, among others of similar ilk. These paintings were printed on canvas and pressure-fitted into the side walls of the restaurant.
See below for more about the floral creations fantastique!
Cheney’s merry band of advisors: Karen Hughes [Jillian Armenante], David Addington [Don McManus], Paul Wolfowitz [Eddie Marsan] and Donald Rumsfeld [Steve Carell], meeting in Cheney’s White House VP office...
From Academy Award winning writer/director Adam McKay [THE BIG SHORT] comes the audacious and subversively comedic VICE, an unconventional behind-the-scenes look at former Vice President Dick Cheney’s stealthy rise from Congressional intern to the most powerful man on the planet. Fully inhabiting the role of the highly secretive title character, who changed the world in ways few leaders have over the past fifty years, is previous Oscar winner Christian Bale in another transformational performance. He heads an all-star cast that includes Amy Adams as Cheney’s ambition-driven wife, Steve Carell as the affable, yet steely Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell as the malleable George W. Bush. -- Annapurna Pictures
We often discuss the importance of trust and collaboration for filmmakers, something in which Writer/Director Adam McKay excels, partly because of his wit and generous personality and partly because of his great choice in teams! Production Designer Patrice Vermette, Set Decorator Jan Pascale SDSA International, Director of Photography Greig Fraser and their teams took the leap into this vast project, and the evidence of their success is on the screen.
Producer Jeff Waxman points out that the film, “...Covers [more than] five decades, has over two hundred sets with locations ranging from small towns in Wyoming to a café in Italy – from the wide-open spaces of Texas to Vietnam, Cambodia and a Middle Eastern desert, plus the United Nations in New York, the White House and several other iconic Washington, D.C. locales...”
McKay’s dense script included numerous cutaways and flashbacks, which seemed nearly impossible to pull off in a fifty-four day shoot. Relying on years of directing television and film, McKay was able to strip down the needs of each scene to its essence, which Vermette and his Art Directors made come about, while Pascale and her teams added visual characterization and defined with detail.
As the studio noted, “Audiences can easily overlook the amount of storytelling that goes into production design. It’s not just about constructing something on a stage where everything can be art directed and walls can be moved and removed. A major part of the job is adding character to existing locations.”
Pascale explains, “We can make multiple changes with the artwork, with props. Sometimes it’s simply finding that extra detail that will help tell the story, even if it’s subliminal.”
One of Vermette’s favorite examples of subliminal storytelling is a scene set in an upscale D.C. restaurant where Cheney, Rumsfeld, David Addington and Paul Wolfowitz are discussing the invasion of Iraq.
“In the scene, Cheney and his cadre are at the top of their game, in a position to make horrifying world-shattering decisions. Dining in the restaurant, a waiter (brilliantly played by Alfred Molina) reads them the specials of the day, which is really a menu of torture. We shot it in Cicada, an Art Deco restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. We had the idea of using Nicolas Poussin paintings, which seem at first glance to be very classic and inoffensive. But when you look more carefully, the visuals are quite atrocious – people being raped, beheaded. So, we included deer antlers and spears and shields in the midst of the beautiful posies that made up the very large flower arrangements. It was simply playing with symbolism.”
Adds Pascale re: the floral feats for this set, “Each column had a collar shelf built around it, and we had a huge center table, upon which the Sandy Rose Floral team, led by Corri Levelle and Francesca Tamburelli and their talented designers assembled their creations on site, using feathers and bones and fossils and edibles, and deckers of hand props from Warner Bros, mixed with flowers and vegetables and lighting and swords! Each of the 20 tables’ centerpieces was one of a kind as well, also employing bones and organic material to help drive home the eeriness of it all.”
“To help convey the level of power and wealth, Buyer Joni Indursky, SDSA International member, sourced gold rimmed glassware, dinnerware and flatware from Town and Country Rentals, to push the look the rest of the way over the top.”
Other scenes required combining accuracy with visual fancy in keeping with the fantasy elements of McKay’s screenplay.
Characterization...the Cheneys’ homes...
“We tried to put little bits of character everywhere in the Cheneys’ house,” Pascale reveals. For the film’s apt symbolism, “I found a great fish sculpture with the fly hook still hanging from its mouth. Then, for the scenes when Cheney was working at Halliburton, we found little oil derrick models that we placed in his study...sort of the history of oil derricks. I always try to sneak in subtle hints, like having the right book beside the bed. He’s reading about fly-fishing and she’s reading about being a novelist. That’s the fun part of this job, when we can add a little bit of humor without sacrificing accuracy. It also gives Adam and the actors something more to work with.”
For scenes earlier in the couple’s life...to convey their modest beginnings, Pascale reached back to a definitive 1940s-50s style paneling with images of ducks and deer imprinted. She convinced the team of its significance, enough for everyone to go the extra steps to make it happen.
“It conveyed a very rustic feel and communicates to the audience that you’re in a small town, and that the Cheney’s were not very well off at that time,” she smiles. “As their social position changed, their taste level increased. Their first apartment is a little nicer...the drapes match the bedspread.In the next, they have a few pieces of Asian art along the staircase, and, in the next, the furniture is better quality. They’re still eating food in front of the television, but with nicer TV trays.”
To allude to the Shakespearean tone of the film, particularly as the Cheneys rise in power, Pascale “found this beautiful chair that looked as if it had come from a Shakespearean drama. I stuck that in the Cheneys’ bedroom. Everything else is luscious silk with very expensive comforters. Then there is this odd, almost dragon-embossed leather chair. It’s slightly incongruous, but it really worked.”
The largest set was the re-creation of the White House. Not simply the Oval Office, but also other offices, hallways, anterooms, conference and meeting rooms, and various reception areas.
Vermette notes, “We re-created a large part of the West Wing on Stage 30 at Sony, which measures 32,000 square feet. It’s a big soundstage but not big enough to accommodate the entire West Wing, which often meant that when we finished shooting a certain scene, we’d immediately remodel those rooms. So, for instance, the Chief of Staff’s office became the Cabinet Room.”
Their biggest task was jumping back and forth through time in the West Wing to convey the look of five different administrations, most of which is well-documented and required exquisite precision on their part.
“Some sets were being switched within the same day: Rumsfeld’s office was transformed into Kissinger’s office, which also became Cheney’s second White House office,” says Vermette. “It required amazing choreography to change the drapes, the furniture. Often the set dressers, drapery foremen and gang bosses were scrambling to change rooms between takes while the shooting company was filming in another part of the White House set.”
Pascale was experienced in researching all the period looks in the Oval Office, a few years earlier, on another major film production, she “virtually” met many people on line who helped her out. “There’s a Facebook group called ‘White House by Design’ and I’d ask them very specific questions. There are also many curators who have worked at or have written books about the White House, and societies that know every detail of the building and how the décor shifted between administrations. Plus, it is the most photographed building in the world! We had a lot to look at and process.”
One of the larger sets on Stage 28 was that of the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), where George W. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, David Addington, Scooter Libby, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice were herded by the Secret Service on September 11, 2001. “Fortunately,” according to Vermette, “a White House photographer immortalized those moments, so we were able to design and build the set using reference pictures.”
Timing and time periods...
Here, as elsewhere during the attenuated production, the biggest hurdle was to have the set ready on time.
“Some of our prep times were tricky. A day-and-a-half to pull together a very specific 1950s wedding; a 1950s football field,” says Pascale. “The hardest part was trying to get things that would tell the story of where we were at a specific time. For example, we created a small town ‘Five and Dime,’ which meant many late nights on eBay searching and searching. Even when you're able to find vintage pieces on eBay, they often look like they’re sixty years old. Finding period pieces that look new is difficult. Sometimes we tried to manufacture them ourselves, but with a hundred and sixty sets spanning five decades, there wasn’t always time!”
BTW, this extensive set didn’t make it into the final cut of the film, but it is so beautifully rendered that we had to show a photo of it in the gallery above!
We asked Pascale for more details re: some of the sets pictured above and the behind-the-scenes work, and she has generously responded.
So do read through the photo captions, plus the additional notes below...
And enjoy! *Thanks go to Annapurna and Pascale for extensive notes on this project!
Additional notes and perspective from Set Decorator Jan Pascale SDSA International...
This show was a numbers challenge:
· 168+ sets shot in 54 days
· 7 Decades, 1953-2016
· 5-page timeline per scene
· 5 Oval Office administrations
· 30 Senate desks
· 50 Senate chairs
· 4 custom conference tables
· Hundreds of chairs
· Dozens of desks
· Thousands of books
· Palettes of paperwork
· Thousands of file folders
· Dozens of flags
· Hundreds of historical photos
· Hundreds of pieces of art
· Dozens of maps
· Dozens of playback televisions, spanning 7 decades
· Miles of drapery and banners
· Hundreds of yards of carpet
· Hundreds of floral arrangements
· 12 podiums
Sandy Rose Floral Designs became the White House florist.
We had a weekly spreadsheet of what flowers played where and in what decade, (sometimes 4 decades in a day!) which were delivered daily to our stage at Sony.
White House details... ...The Oval Office rugs...
There are copies of the W. Bush administration’s version of the rug in Los Angeles, however due to the scarcity, and the varying sizes of the Oval Office sets available for rental (ours was 30’ x 42’, and was completely renovated down to raw wood by our Construction Dept.), plus the amount of times they have been used, we quickly knew that we needed to make our own! Graphic Designer Christina Myal was tasked with recreating the W rug, and Dangling Carrot printed it, under the watchful eye of Art Director Brad Ricker. It now resides in the Warner Bros. White House Collection, as do all the draperies.
The early Nixon Oval Office furnishings were a holdover from the LBJ Administration, and luckily for us, Omega|Cinema Props had fabricated for us the sofas, coffee table and ashtrays for the LBJ bio ALL THE WAY for HBO several years ago. Plus an exact replica of the Truman rug with the Presidential seal hand-sculpted into the pile of the rug, with 49 stars.
...White House East Room...
One of the completed sets that didn’t make the final cut of the film, but gratitude to Set Decorator Kim Wannop SDSA International, the VEEP producers and Kim’s Set Dressing staff for the loan of a generous amount of furniture and dressing during their down time. Dave Michel and the VEEP crew were so helpful with the White House dressing, after having done various West Wing sets for so many years.
We were also able to borrow back from them some of the White House and Government dressing that was made for us for ALL THE WAY that we were able to share with our fellow HBO show at the end of our wrap. That included the curved House of Representatives benches and tables, individual Senate desks and chairs, the amazing Mace that was hand carved by Elder at Omega|Cinema Props and is ever present when the House is in session, among other things.
...White House Office of the Vice-President...
Cheney had some very specific art and mementos in his office.
An avid fly-fisherman, as evidenced throughout the film, we tried to tell that story through the smalls on his desk, credenza and in his hutch.
Mixed in amongst his official paperwork were a few game balls from George W Bush...from when W owned the Texas Rangers...along with a list of names and numbers (presumably most often called) taped near his phone on his desk.
His daughters had commissioned a map of Cheney ancestor Samuel Fletcher Cheney’s route taken during the Civil War, which we needed to create as faithfully as possible, within the confines of clearance guidelines. Our Graphic Designer Martin Charles did an amazing job of this.
...interchanging White House sets...
With time and space at a premium overall, one set room had 3 different looks, two White House West Wing rooms had 4 different looks each, the 2 long West Wing corridors each had at least 3 different looks varying by decade and presumed location and the Oval Office went through changeovers for 5 different administrations.
There is nowhere else in this country that this volume of furniture, artwork and speedy custom craftsmanship could be as accessible as it was for us at the time that we needed it.
Joel Prihoda, agreed to Gangboss the heavy load of stagework which involved Tetrus-like storing of furniture, and intricate choreography, not only by our great team of Set Dressers, but coordinating with other departments to clear paths on our cramped stages for our changeovers, most of which took place on bells during shooting days.
...Rumsfeld’s special office at the Pentagon and the mystery of the standing desk!
While driving back from dressing the Cheney wedding set at the Moose Lodge in Whittier, I made a “wrong” turn and happened upon an amazing antique store. I started gathering a collection of lamps, smalls, an embossed Spanish 19th Century chair (for the Cheney bedroom), when I spied, across from the cashier, an antique standing desk. My heart was pounding as it does when you find THE piece that you need. The missing key piece for the Rumsfeld office! This particular one needed a bit of love, and a bit of a lift. Steve Carell is not a tall man, but this desk was a just a bit too short, so it was off to CP2, and Allan, Hank and Elder gave it the rejuvenation it needed.
The set that became Rumsfeld’s Secretary of Defense Office was in its 3rd iteration.
It began with the Team B office with brown carpet, wooden blinds and brown drapes in 1976. There were typewriters on every desk, a card catalogue and dozens of file cabinets.
In 2003, the team and room were transformed to the Office of Special Plans (OSP), analyzing data prior to our invasion of Iraq. There were now computers on every desk, which had been generously provided by Dell—CRTs which they searched for and purchased for us. There were less file cabinets, 2 drafting tables, and a different huge map. The Rumsfeld changeover required us to change the carpet and drapery from brown to blue, as well to install some very specific ceiling fixtures, which became one of the many challenges conquered by my Lead Brent Rice.
Cheney Houston home...
The phone rings early on a Sunday morning in the exquisite Houston home of the Cheneys...
As I mentioned above, Adam, Patrice and I were so enamored by the giant painting in the foyer of the house on location that we were using for the setting for the Cheney's exclusive Houston home...a small terrier jumping to try to get the stick from the big dog...as Cheney takes the call from George W Bush, the unlikely candidate asking the wealthy Halliburton CEO and seasoned political operator to be his Vice President. We just had to pursue permission to use the painting!
Canada Gordon, our Set Decoration Coordinator, discovered that this painting was a copy of a 19th century English painting, so we were thrilled that it might be in the public domain…. However, before we could celebrate Canada’s discovery, we learned that the homeowner, now deceased, had commissioned this copy of the original painting, and asked the artist, also now deceased, to paint the small dog in the image of their family’s beloved pet. Lovely, but...This slight adjustment made the existing 9’ x 8’ painting a new work of art, with no one still alive to sign over the rights to us! Enter my friend, Alex Panov, who had done portraits of the ANCHORMAN team for me a few years ago. Alex was able to re-create this painting for us as a faithful copy of the English original and thus, we had our symbolic art piece!
Iraq, Saddam Hussein Palace...
Ever resourceful and natural born scavengers that we all are, when we were scouting the Biltmore Hotel to use for several of our sets, Patrice and Construction Coordiator Mike Diersing noticed that there was quite a bit of concrete debris outside the Millenium Ballroom. After a bit of negotiating, Mike was able to send laborers down to the Biltmore to retrieve the debris the was perfect for our destroyed set and helped our friends at the Biltmore as well.
Also, while the propmakers and painters began to work on the Oval Office sets, they realized quickly that the walls were too far gone, so Brad and Mike made the call to completely take the walls down to bare wood, which meant having the laborers scrape of countless layers of plaster and patching, which they also saved to use as debris for the palace.
We found a cheap piano online, painted it white and dropped it from a forklift to help the destruction along. What you see in the photo above is the entire set, a small footprint with a large impact.
Each show seems to have a “thing” that either repeats and/or makes us crazy. VICE seemed to have a plethora of those “things”… conference tables, chairs of every flavor, phones, clocks, family photos, maps, artwork, etc.
When the right group of people come together, those “things” can be handled with as much ease as possible.
Our amazing Set Dressers, under the direction of Master Planner/Lead Brent Rice, our Set Dec Coordinator Canada Gordon, Art Dept. Coordinator Alanna Levy, our Prop Master Matt Cavalliero and his talented sidekick Johnny Youngblood, my friend and fellow Set Decorator David Smith SDSA International, Buyer Joni Indursky SDSA International (our first project together), Gangbosses Joel Prihoda, Dave Agajanian and Dave Michel, our On-set Dresser Chad Davis, PA’s Cheyanne Lee and Elizabeth Wedding...our team player Teamsters, often 8 of them, who helped keep us moving and organized all over town.
Our “can-do” Construction and paint teams were always ready to jump in and help us or get the heck out of our way so we had a minute to do our part of the job. Martin Charles and Christina Myal churning our truckloads of graphics on paper and carpet and wallpaper, and the Art Dept, with dedicated Art Directors and Set Designers, under Brad Ricker’s leadership.
It was also one of those great crew experiences where every department worked seamlessly and in concert with one another, under sometimes arduous circumstances, from the rigging grip and electrics crews, to the accounting department, the cooperative and organized location team, to the inspired camera team, all under the pressure of shooting 168 historically accurate period sets in 54 days.
In my experience, the “personality” of a crew starts at the top and Adam McKay creates such a pleasant environment and sparks such creativity in everyone, that he, combined with Patrice’s contagious passion, helps kick the overachiever gene that we all have into an even higher gear.
Pascale would like to acknowledge the depth of support from SDSA International Business Members throughout her innumerable film and television production experiences. For this film, particularly:
• WARNER BROS
• OMEGA|Cinema Props
• FAUX LIBRARY STUDIO PROPS
• ASTEK WALLCOVERING
• ADVANCED LIQUIDATORS OFFICE FURNITURE INC
• HISTORY FOR HIRE
• GREEN SET INC
• HOLLYWOOD STUDIO GALLERY
• U-FRAME-IT GALLERY
• WERTZ BROTHERS FURNITURE INC
• ALPHA COMPANIES MOTION PICTURE RENTALS
• SANDY ROSE FLORAL INC
• PLAYBACK TECHNOLOGIES INC
• PRACTICAL PROPS
• LINOLEUM CITY INC
• THE DESIGNER FABRIC STUDIO, ATLANTA
• EC PROP RENTALS INC
• LENNIE MARVIN’S PROPHEAVEN
• RC VINTAGE
• ALLEY CATS
• TOWN & COUNTRY EVENT RENTALS
In recognition of her crew, which was not properly recognized in the film credits, we are making an exception and presenting the credits here:
Set Decorator: Jan Pascale SDSA International
Additional Set Decorator: David Smith SDSA International
Lead: Brent Rice
Buyer: Joni Indursky SDSA International
Set Decoration Coordinator: Canada Gordon
Gang Bosses: Dave Agajanian, Joel Prihoda
On-Set Dresser: Chad R Davis
Drapery Foreman: Ruben Abarca
Set Dressers: Deborah Harman, Fante Zamora, Howard Miller, Scott Richards, Paul Penley, Scott Leslie, Andrew Duncan, Brant Boling, Brook Bacon, Chris Taylor, Armando Abarca, Danny Florian, Eduardo Abarca, Carl Studebaker, Chris Fuentes
The VEEP crew: Dave Michel, Dustin Blankenship, Vincent Yague, Rick Dodson
Drivers: Johnny Agnew, Eric Andrews, David Machado, Krista McLean, Steve Coreas
Production Assistant: Cheyanne Lee
With set dressing assist from: Sophia Male, Cosmo Kuzmick, Sean Eyre, Bob Renna, Sim Ezzes, Ed Tamayo, Rick Pond, Craig Schultz, Corey Ramirez, James Bennett, JP Fitting, Scott Elliott
Promoting the highest standard of excellence in the field worldwide, and to entertain, inspire, teach and preserve the legacy of set decoration in motion pictures and television.