Sunday, October 23, 2005

Air Force One on "West Wing"

The LA Daily News has an article about the fictional Air Force One on "West Wing" and the set designers talk about refurbishing it to be a campaign plane.

"It's essentially nose-to-tail - the front cabin with the presidential quarters all the way to the back kitchen," said Ken Hardy, production designer on the NBC drama, who has overseen the Air Force One set since "The West Wing" debuted in 1999.

Stored in a local Warner Bros. warehouse, some 30 miles northeast of the Reagan Library, the set is 168 feet long and more than 20 feet wide - about three-quarters the size of the Boeing 747 in presidential service since 1990.

On a recent visit, it sat grounded as the crew focused on another corner of the massive stage, where Martin Sheen was performing a scene as the president in a lavish hall bedecked with fresh bouquets.

The 747 has been busy. It's an election year on the show, and the set has been doing triple duty as President Bartlet's jet and as campaign planes for presidential contenders played by Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda.

Posters touting Democratic nominee Rep. Matthew Santos (Smits) as "The Real Deal" shares press cabin wall space with political cartoons and other campaign memorabilia. But step behind a door embossed with the presidential seal, and the cloth seats and red-and-blue motifs of the rugged campaign plane give way to the rich wood paneling, broad leather loungers and roman blinds of Air Force One.

"We had to plain it down a little bit to make it more like a charter plane that a large presidential campaign would have," series producer Michael Hissrich said. The conversion took about two weeks.

"It's basically first-class or business-class seating (on Air Force One)," Hardy said. "For the campaign plane, it's more coach seating. There are not many overhead bins on Air Force One.
Six set artists ensure the 747 is always camera-ready - right down to the presidential seals adorning the planes' intercoms.

"When it's fully 'dressed' and fully working, there could be 150 to 170 in that space at any given time with the crew and the background artists," Hissrich said. "It gets a little worn, but the maintenance our set department does is amazing."

Hardy said there's more work ahead, now with an actual presidential jet just a half-hour drive away.

"I'm planning to take my crew up there for a field trip as soon as we have a spare moment - to see what we can learn," he said.

"You can't do a show like this for as long as we have and not be oversensitive to any sort of presidential history and artifacts," Hissrich said. "To have such a significant piece of history and such a large piece of history so close, it's great."

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