SECRETS OF THE SECRET SERVICE
In order to bring the interior world of the Secret Service to cinematic fruition, the producers brought in a retired Secret Service agent as an advisor. Gerald A. Cavis, a recently retired USSS agent and nationally recognized law enforcement expert, spent years protecting presidents and developing law enforcement and security techniques. In his career, Cavis, who lent his expertise to every aspect of the Secret Service activities and details portrayed in the movie, had direct responsibility for overall security at such events as the 2001 and 2004 presidential campaigns and inaugurals, the NATO 50th Anniversary Summit in Washington, D.C., and the visit of Pope John Paul II to St. Louis. He has been a primary consultant to other large events such as the G-8 Summit at Sea Island, Georgia, the presidential debates and the Athens Olympics.
Cavis has been a field agent, specializing in interrogation, the polygraph program, and undercover work. In D.C., he served on the elite Presidential Protective Division (PPD) from 1994 to 1997, during President Clinton's term, rose to supervise one of four teams directly responsible for the president's safety, and was also in charge of Clinton's second inaugural.
Now a national security specialist and educator, Cavis brought a network of law enforcement's most sought-after professionals, such as his colleague Kevin Billings, another former agent, who protected presidents and dignitaries for more than 20 years.
Cavis was impressed with the filmmakers' - and the source material's - intent to accurately portray the world of the Secret Service. "Gerald Petievich, the author of the book, was a former Secret Service agent himself," says Cavis. "And [screenwriter] George Nolfi did an outstanding job. His level of knowledge and research to create the realism was almost scary."
The screenplay is liberally sprinkled with bits of lingo. "George and Clark and I talked a lot about the dialogue," said Cavis, "so the actors would talk like real agents." The look of the government offices - how the radio console, desks and computers were set up - had to be as accurate as possible, although a few liberties were taken to accommodate camera movements and visual style. Garrison's White House office, for instance, would be very modular and functional, with a lot of paperwork and supervisory documents for signing, while the desk of the agent in charge of the detail would be clean because he would have a staff to handle his paperwork.
In order to accomplish the forensics reports and threat letters, Cavis sat with the production design staff and guided them in the designs. He helped the costumers select shoes and boots: Secret Service agents wear tie shoes rather than slip-ons, "so they don't come off when you take off running," he explained. The fabrics were high-end, "not like an FBI agent in double-knit nylon," says Cavis. He also helped to choose the right sunglasses, earpieces and sleeve microphones. In addition to props, costumes and the art department, Cavis and Billings advised on the motorcade cars and armored protection vehicles.
Cavis and weapons specialist Charles Taylor taught Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland and Eva Longoria to shoot real guns the way Secret Service agents actually do it. This tactical training, similar to some of what agents actually receive in the Academy, taught the actors gun safety, including handling, drawing and holding, plus range safety, range rules, aiming, firing, holstering, loading and reloading. The experts outfitted the actors with the same weapons - 9mm Sig-sauers, holsters, belts and rounds - as those used by agents, plus proper protective clothing, including ballistic vests, and eye and ear protection. "Kiefer does a lot of gun handling on the set of '24,' said Cavis, "but not with real guns. He found it very useful to learn how to find the right site picture that enables you to hit the target, and he shot very well. Michael had had some training as well and he also shot very well."
After the live ammunition shooting, the actors learned how to approach, ride in, and exit a motorcade, which way they would turn, how to move and act as they surround the person they're protecting, protocols on how to use their bodies as shields, how to protect themselves, and how to ID a suspicious person, all with a high degree of authenticity. They received instruction in the shift formations agents use while walking with the President or First Lady, such as the "Diamond" or the "Box" shape. The motorcade has a particular alignment and organization of vehicles. They practiced entering and exiting cars and buildings in the correct way, plus covering and evacuation procedures. All training and procedures were correlated to the particular script requirements and scene set-ups.
Eva Longoria was the best shot among the cast members. Cavis explains why. "She had no bad habits. She listens very well and was able to translate that into the correct posture, trigger-pull, site-picture alignment, and physical requirements for hitting the target." Douglas, Sutherland and Longoria were required to do live fire shooting on an indoor range, with target practice at three yards, five yards, seven yards, 15 yards and 30 yards, both standing and kneeling, with time limits. They then shot from 30 yards, ran 15 yards, shot at another target, and then shot through an open doorway. All were scored and then debriefed. Longoria hit every one at 30 yards. Then they put the targets next to each other. "She was exceptional," said Cavis. "In fact she would be recognized as a good shot even in the Secret Service. It was impressive."
Michael Douglas adds his praise, "Eva's a crack shot. I wasn't ready for how good she was. They told us that she's better than 90% of the police officers out there. She's quite the athlete."
All three stars gained new respect for what these agents do. It's difficult to run, move and shoot at the same time. "Our stars have that cool and confident look," says weapons specialist Charles Taylor. "They all exude it. But women are generally better shooters. They're more still. They don't have all that testosterone coursing through them. They just look through the site and not at the target and they hit it."
THE LOOK OF THE SENTINEL
"The look of this movie is one of kinetic energy," says director Clark Johnson. "That's why we used many cameras and lots of moving shots." Johnson and his director of photography, Gabriel Beristáin, previously collaborated on "S.W.A.T.," in which they created spectacular depictions of Los Angeles. On THE SENTINEL, they merged the look of a big action thriller with the glamour of the White House and a very elite law enforcement organization. "So much happens within that world," says Beristáin. "We wanted to give that world a visual style, a high beat, visual staccato.
"We worked out a progression to allow us to create and have our lighting and cameras react to the action. It's a well-protected world at the beginning, with warm tones, elegant and classical camera movement. As the story becomes more ominous and nightmarish, our cameras and lighting respond to it, becoming cooler and more hectic in their movements. There are some overlaps of course. It's not a mechanical, but a philosophical process. We are thinking in terms of audience emotion. We don't want the audience to guess; we want to keep them wondering. Camera movement should not give away the story."
The high shine and polish of the White House co-exists with a darker raw world as Garrison goes on the run. Johnson and Beristáin used a number of techniques, including traditional camera set-ups, video, Steadicam, hand-held, and sophisticated monitors showing the primary image as well as other glimpses into that world.
Examining a world rife with surveillance, the filmmakers provide a feeling of watching and of being watched, and of feeling that one is fully inside the world of the U.S. Secret Service. "We thought it would be interesting to see our film from the point of view of the audience," says Beristáin. "The world we depict is not simple. The characters become paranoid and suspicious, even more aware of the people around them. The world around our characters is collapsing. It's chaotic.
Beristáin was responsible for lighting two of the most beautiful women in the world: Kim Basinger and Eva Longoria. "Both have interesting character arcs," says the cinematographer. "And I was lucky enough to have two women who look beautiful under any lighting circumstances.
"The First Lady's world is crumbling in a way that could be disastrous. She had to go through a transition. We used much more than just glamorous lighting and her face responded to any lighting situation with dignity, grace and elegance. Eva's beginnings in the movie are modest and humble, in a dark little Secret Service office where she meets Kiefer Sutherland's character. As she grew as a character, we made the camera and the lighting on her different, making her a little more heroic. She took anything--direct lighting on her, low angles, not soft, no filtration--she looked absolutely marvelous. It was my privilege and my pleasure to work with both of them." Beristáin comes from a European tradition of filming, where he says, "they celebrate the lighting you give them. Kim and Eva took it the same way the great European actors I used to work with did - and did it magnificently."
Production designer Andrew McAlpine's creations included an in-studio "Presidential Protective Division" (PPD) room, where the agents do their office work. It entailed an elaborate set-up of dozens of computer screens with streamed images, desks, work stations, protective intelligence and forensics reports, plus such details as mousepads, paperweights, chairs, binders, plaques, photos and flags.
Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, who has worked on eight Michael Douglas pictures, decided to treat the Secret Service uniforms and suits in an elegant and sophisticated way, with garments sharply cut and sculpted to the body. Using dark, rich navies, no-pattern shirts, and an assortment of specific tonalities from blues to grays, she and her team created a look that added up to a uniform for the army they created. Like the other filmmakers, Mirojnick strove for realism - but made a slight exception for Eva Longoria. "She looks a little more beautiful than regulation allows," laughs Mirojnick. "Our version is a little more stylish. The women wear pantsuits so they can run, but the fit is the key."
CLARK JOHNSON (Director) is helming his second feature film with THE SENTINEL. The veteran actor of more than 50 movies, MOWs and series became famous as Detective Meldrick Lewis in the hit TV series "Homicide: Life on the Street" (1993-99). He also directed five episodes of the series.
In THE SENTINEL, Johnson plays the pivotal part of Secret Service agent Charlie Merriweather, whose murder sets in motion the presidential assassination plot investigation.
In 2003, he directed the feature film "S.W.A.T.," an action thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell.
Since 1991, Johnson has amassed 19 directorial credits, including the 2001 HBO movie "Boycott," about African Americans' bus boycott during the 1950s civil rights movement. In addition to "Homicide: Life on the Street," Johnson has directed episodes of "The Shield," "Third Watch," "The West Wing," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "NYPD Blue" and "The Wire." He first directed in 1991, with an episode of "African Skies," a TV series about two teenagers, one black and one white, living in post-apartheid South Africa.
As an actor, Johnson most recently starred as Detective Stephen Tree in the 2005 TV movie "Tripping the Wire: A Stephen Tree Mystery," as well as in the dystopian "The Limb Salesman" (2004), "On Their Knees" in 2001, and "Disappearing Acts," "Task Force: Caviar," "Deliberate Intent," "Fear of Fiction," "Virtual Mom," and "Homicide: The Movie," all in 2000. Also that year he played a feature role in Clément Virgo's "Love Come Down," about two brothers, one black, one white, from a blended family. Johnson had starred in Virgo's earlier films "Rude" (1995) and "The Planet of Junior Brown" (1997).
Johnson played football while attending Concordia University in Montreal, before getting into the film business as a driver on "The Last Chase" in 1981. His first big break came with the CBS series "Night Heat" in which he played Detective Dave Jefferson from 1986 to 1988. Roles in "Adventures in Babysitting" (1987), "Iron Eagle II" (1988), and "The Women of Brewster Place" (1989) followed. He played the part of J.J. as well as did some of the stunt work on the film "Renegades" (1989), which starred Kiefer Sutherland.
Johnson's next directorial project will be "Killing Floor" for Mutual Film Company in 2006.
GEORGE NOLFI (Screenwriter/Co-Producer) wrote "Ocean's Twelve" (2004), the sequel set three years after "Ocean's Eleven" and directed by Steven Soderbergh. The film stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, and Catherine Zeta Jones.
Nolfi grew up in Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Living in Washington sparked a lifelong interest in government and national security issues. He studied public and international affairs at Princeton University and political philosophy at Oxford. He was a political science Ph.D. student at UCLA when he sold his first script, which was about an undercover CIA officer during the Yugoslavian Civil War in the 1990s.
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