The afternoon of Friday, July 9 turned out to be a mostly rainless interlude in the midst of a week of deluges. That was a stroke of good fortune for HBO, which had booked Kingston Point Beach that day to shoot a military landing scene for its upcoming cable series The White House Plumbers.
“Rain or shine, pretty much – that’s what they told us,” said Tyson Charles of Poughkeepsie, who had been hired as an extra for the shoot and was waiting around in the parking lot for his turn to perform, along with Mike Estela of Fishkill. Both were overdressed for the muggy heat in military fatigues.
“We still haven’t done our scene yet. They’ve been setting them up for the past three hours,” Estela said. “We’re playing part of Castro’s crew against the brigadistas.”
That was just a bit more of a spoiler than HBO location manager Miguel Virola had been willing to share. He confirmed that the setting was Cuba, but said, “We can’t say what war.” Still, it’s reasonable to presume that the scene being shot was the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, as part of the backstory of future White House plumber E. Howard Hunt. Among other dubious activities, Hunt had been the mastermind of the failed CIA plot to overthrow Fidel Castro, when he worked for the agency’s Special Activities Division in the early 1960s.
The scene being shot at Kingston Point that afternoon involved a squad of about three dozen soldiers storming the beach in inflatable rafts. Aside from one pup tent, there were no structures meant to be within the camera’s field of view (and some preexisting volleyball-net posts that definitely needed to be kept out of the shots). That too was fortunate for the production crew, as Thursday’s relentless downpours would have presented a major headache in terms of setup.
Best boy grip Vinnie Caraccio and his crew of eight grips, congregated around their equipment under a tent in the parking lot, didn’t have much to do on Friday, so long as the action didn’t involve any close-ups or overhead shots. “The shooting grips generally work with the shaping, diffusing and coloring of lighting,” he explained. The wide-shot scene being captured on the beach at that moment relied on ambient light; but waiting patiently for the moment when you’re needed is a major part of a film actor or techie’s existence, it seems.
Caraccio said that the crew is currently based at a hotel in Fishkill, and that previous Hudson Valley shooting locations for The White House Plumbers included various sites in Poughkeepsie and an indoor stage in Newburgh. “This is a lot more woody than we’re used to,” he observed of Kingston Point Park. “It’s nice being out of the City, though. It seems like a lot more people like us up here than in the City. All the people are very happy when we go into a small coffeeshop and get a big order.”
The Poughkeepsie locations seem apropos, considering that another of the top Plumbers, G. Gordon Liddy, worked as a Dutchess County prosecutor in the 1960s, having already made a dubious reputation as an aide to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Highlights of Liddy’s Poughkeepsie years include a raid on Timothy Leary’s LSD commune in Millbrook, as well as the drug raid on the Bard College campus that inspired Donald Fagen and Walter Becker to write the Steely Dan song “My Old School.” Liddy ran unsuccessful election campaigns for Dutchess County district attorney and for US Congress against representative Hamilton Fish IV before heading back to Washington, DC to work for Nixon’s Treasury Department, thence to be recruited to the Plumbers.
Woody Harrelson stars as E. Howard Hunt and Justin Theroux as G. Gordon Liddy in this five-part limited drama series about the shady crew of former intelligence operatives tasked by the Committee to Re-Elect the President with stopping the leaks to the press about what was really going on at the Nixon White House in the period leading up to Watergate. Officially called the White House Special Investigations Unit, the Plumbers specialized in political sabotage, orchestrating the raid on Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office as well as the 1972 break-ins to Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Complex. Domhnall Gleeson co-stars as John Dean, the White House counsel who spilled the beans, and Lena Headey plays Hunt’s wife Dorothy, long suspected to have been a cash courier for the CIA.
Based in part on the book Integrity by ex-Plumber Egil “Bud” Krogh and Matthew Krogh, The White House Plumbers is created by Veep co-writers Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck; Veep showrunner David Mandel will direct all five episodes. To learn more about the series, visit www.hbo.com/white-house-plumbers.