From the Mind Of... Jason Reitman
Writer/Director of Thank You For Smoking In many ways, shooting in our nation's capital is a lot like Hollywood. They're both expensive. They both boast a population that is preternaturally fed up with the presence of a film set. They both believe in power structures that leave film crews at the bottom of a very long food chain. That said, while a misunderstanding in Los Angeles can lead to a shouting match... the same mix-up in DC can lead to getting shot, arrested, or sometimes both. Thank You For Smoking was shot in DC in March of 2005, right at the tail of the cities infrastructure security build up. Many of the streets remained dug up so that "pop-up barriers" could be installed. These are literally metal walls that shoot out of the ground at any given intersection. The idea being that a series of these could create a veritable freeway through the city for a presidential motorcade or National Guard deployment. Similarly, Pennsylvania Avenue remained dug up and fenced off from all sight in front of the White House. The latest rumor was that missile turrets we're being buried into the road so they could take out any last second air attacks. Yikes. This was the environment we were shooting in. To make matters worse, we were doing a lot of filming from rooftops along side the Capitol. There's nothing the secret service loves more than when you set a giant Panavision camera upon a tripod and point it at their building. The first thing a camera operator tells you, when lining up a shot of the dome, is if you see red dots on you - Don't move. Sometimes snipers like to kid around... but it's probably better to presume they're serious. There are countless stories of cameramen looking through the lens at a government building, only to find someone looking right back at them. Only the other lens is called a scope, and is usually attached to a loaded and cocked rifle with a hair trigger. Peek-a-boo. Any time we even thought about bringing equipment up on a rooftop, there were twelve agencies that needed to be notified. We did one shot in particular that was meant to represent the point of view of a man contemplating suicide off of an eight story building in front of the capital. The shooting required me to harness myself to the building, take the fifty-pound camera into handheld mode, then step out over the edge looking straight down while two guys held onto my body from behind. (check out a photo at MySpace). The authorities still got calls. Instead of a threat warning, there were frantic calls about a guy trying to commit suicide. The worst part is the shot never made the film. Look for it on the DVD. Nothing clarified the need for open communication more than our location scout. Our location manager, John Latenser, had made it clear that we needed permission to visit any building. That said, at one point I saw a building I thought would work for the the Academy of Tobacco Studies. I told the driver to pull over for an impromptu stop... They don't like this word in Washington - "impromptu". About nine of us hopped out of the van and began taking pictures of the building, while pointing and discussing. I'd guess three minutes had gone by, before we were surrounded by men in flak jackets. One guy in an overcoat was particularly peeved. You see, the building was the DOE. The Department of Energy. While I though this meant they handled electricity, it turns out they are responsible for all nuclear weapons and thus don't like to be photographed without being asked. We apparently got within an inch of imprisonment, (which would probably make for a better story). However, our location manager knew the head of security for the DOE and worked out a deal. We actually got to film outside the building. It looks great in the movie. When watching Thank You For Smoking, if you see a wide shot of an officious looking building, check in foreground for a prominently placed girl in a blue jacket. That's the head of security's daughter.