It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Gotham City. The stadium is packed with families and fans excited to watch their football team, the Gotham Rogues. As the game starts, the fans are screaming because number 86 (Hines Ward) has caught the opening kickoff and appears to be headed for an easy touchdown. But as he approaches the end zone, the opposing players are swallowed by the collapsing field, as explosions are rocking the stadium and causing holes to appear all over the arena. Meanwhile, at the opposite end zone, an intimidating man with a heavy coat and a strange black mask is walking into the light. As he approaches a dead referee, he reaches down to pick up the PA microphone. A moment later, the intimidating figure is speaking to the crowd, and after delivering a few lines director Christopher Nolan calls cut. Meanwhile, up in the press box, a small group of reporters from around the world are watching from up high, and excitedly trying to figure out what it all means. It’s a great day to visit Gotham City. I mean Pittsburgh.
But let me back up a second.
As I type these words, it’s Sunday, August 7, 2011, and I’m flying back from the set of The Dark Knight Rises. Yesterday, I got to visit the set with a few online reporters, and we spent all day watching filming at Heinz Field, interviewing the cast and filmmakers, and trying to figure out the secrets of the most-anticipated movie of 2012. While I’ve been incredibly lucky to see many filmmakers work up close, this was my first time on the set of a Christopher Nolan movie, and I have to say it was everything I’d hoped it would be. Hit the jump for so much more.
the-dark-knight-rises-tom-hardy-posterBefore going any further, I know many of you don’t want to know the secrets of The Dark Knight Rises. Perhaps you clicked the jump because you couldn’t help yourself. Maybe you had to know just a bit more about the movie. So for those that don’t want to know what happens, and simply wish to know what I thought about being on the set, well let me put it this way: Remember when you were a kid and the holidays came around? You’d be sitting, unwrapping your presents, and were so excited about everything in front of you? That was me on the set of The Dark Knight Rises. Everything I saw, learned, and heard was amplified by a thousand because I was on the set of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES!
Like all of you, I think Nolan operates on another level, and to be able to see him work, and watch the raw footage on a monitor was just incredible. In addition, I watched director of photographer Wally Pfister use a huge IMAX camera on a steadicam. I also saw over ten thousand extras react to a terrorist attack, and then I saw the production set off around 50 massive explosions in a professional football stadium. It was truly an amazing day and one of the best set visits I’ve been on.
But I’ve left out the best part: everything I saw and learned tells me that Nolan and his team have found a way to at least match The Dark Knight. But I have a suspicion he’s actually going to top it.
Read on At Your Own Risk
It’s time for me to get specific about the set visit. If you’re trying to stay spoiler free, you might want to scroll to the bottom and click over to the interviews. Most of the interview subjects were well-trained in the art of talking a lot but saying very little.
20 Things to Know About The Dark Knight Rises
christopher-nolan-imax-the-dark-knight-risesWhile the cast and filmmakers were very guarded, and tried to tell us as little as possible, I still learned a lot about the movie on set. Some of what I learned could be considered spoilers, and some are just things I thought were cool. Either way, here’s the list:
- The production is using the old-school huge IMAX camera (not the rumored smaller prototype) on both action scenes and scenes with dialogue. Anne Hathaway said the camera sounded like a cappuccino machine when it was next to her. We were told they will often film a take with the standard 35mm camera, and then the next take would be in IMAX. That’s why they’re unsure how much of the final film will be in IMAX until it’s all put together in the editing room. Either way, if you love the look of IMAX, prepare to be blown away next summer.
- On set, Nolan doesn’t watch playback on a monitor like most filmmakers. Instead he follows right behind the camera and watches the action up close. While he might watch playback at some point, he’s clearly not a filmmaker who stays in video village (where the playback is located and where most directors stay).
- On this particular day, the production paid for 500 extras to be in the stadium, and they had over 10,000 unpaid extras that were there just to watch filming. However, throughout the day, they kept doing contests and at the end of the day they were giving away a car and some other cool merchandise.
tom-hardy-christian-bale-the-dark-knight-rises- Most of the crew have worked with Nolan many times. Also, Nolan expects his crew to stay on for the entire production.
- All the actors and the crew are incredibly guarded about everything. No one wants to be the one that spills a secret.
- One of the reasons they went to Pittsburgh instead of going back to Chicago is that they wanted a new look and they felt like they’ve shot everything in Chicago. Producer Emma Thomas talked about not wanting to repeat themselves.
- According to the actors and filmmakers, the script generally doesn’t change on set, which allows the actors to get comfortable with their lines.
- You will definitely see Bane break someone’s neck in the movie.
- They didn’t want to revisit the Joker as a villain, so they decided on Bane because he represents a physical challenge to Batman as opposed to a intellectual one.
- The Dark Knight Rises will have a different visual aesthetic than Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
- They shot in India, England, Scotland, Pittsburgh, L.A., and New York.
- For the Bane character, they’ve “retained what works for this universe” with regards to his comic roots, but they’ve also changed some things.
the-dark-knight-rises-christian-bale-image- Christopher Nolan and co-writer David S. Goyer drew from comic book elements for the script, but ultimately their plan was to complete the stories they started in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
- The movie starts a few years after The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne has some grey hair on the sides of his head. which Bale showed us during his interview.
- It appears that Bruce Wayne might be pulling a Howard Hughes in the beginning of the film as we saw a few images of Wayne with long hair and standing around in his pajamas.
- The three Tumblers that many of us have seen in leaked photos are all used in the climax of the film. Each one has a different weapon on top.
- Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is a cat-burglar in the film. Her costume is just like Batman in the sense that everything she has on her is practical. For example, her heels are metal and they’re used as weapons.
- Bane is older than he looks. Also, when he was young, he was injured, and he now jury requires a venom/gas (not sure) to keep him alive, and that’s what the mask is pumping into his body. He can’t survive without it.
- The Batcave is definitely in the movie, and it looks like the new way in and out will be through the water. But the water info isn’t 100% as I’m basing this on having seen the promo art, which wasn’t final.
christian-bale-the-dark-knight-rises-image- Batman has a new vehicle, and it’s definitely airborne. I saw promo art and the front of the unnamed vehicle looked like a cross between an X-Wing from Star Wars and the ship from The Last Starfighter. It should be noted by the time anyone reads this, I’m sure the toy images and trailers will have been released, and everyone will probably know the name of the vehicle.
- Gotham Stadium is going to get destroyed in the movie. When it happens, it’s the first time Bane really steps into the limelight in Gotham. I’d imagine this is a little before halfway in the movie, or near the end of the first act.
- Bane has a powerful weapon of some kind. As Bane addresses the crowd at the stadium, his men are wheeling up a huge metallic ball on a cart and it looks like this is the device that does all the damage. No one would tell us what the device was called or any additional information on what it does.
Promo Art and Images
the-dark-knight-rises-christian-bale-batman-imageAfter getting to speak with the cast and with the filmmakers, I still didn’t know much about The Dark Knight Rises. However, that all changed when we got to see a number of images and production artwork on huge cardboard sheets near where we were sitting. Here’s what we saw, which may be online by the time you read this:
Police Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) are in a hospital. The scene looks like it took place either before the scene in the teaser trailer or right after. Levitt is holding a shotgun while Oldman has a handgun and both were standing up. They look like they’re both scared for what is about to happen.
The next image was a close-up of Bane looking at the camera. Behind him was a jail cell, but not in an American jail.
Promo art of two Tumblers on a winter street in Gotham City. The two Tumblers look like they’re approaching a big government building but I couldn’t make out what it was. The streets were empty. I think this is from the climax of the film.
A shot of the Batpod, which has the same design from The Dark Knight.
A scene with a hundred extras. It’s a jail of some sort with the cells towards the top, similar to the jail cell from the Bane image.
Promo art of Gotham Stadium getting destroyed by Bane and his henchmen. It looks very cool.
the-dark-knight-rises-tom-hardy-bane-imageShot of Bruce Wayne wearing pajamas in his apartment. Blake is sitting on the couch talking to him. No idea what he’s saying.
Awesome shot of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. If Warner Bros. had released this as the first image of the character, people would have loved it.
A shot of Anne Hathway as Selina Kyle. She’s in street clothes, her hands are raised, and she’s in handcuffs. I’m wondering if she meets Wayne for the first time when she attempts to break into his apartment and encounters Wayne in Howard Hughes-mode. Again, just a guess.
Shot of Bane from behind approaching Batman. It’s a better looking shot from the teaser trailer. In this shot we can see the liquid going into Bane’s neck and the back of the mask.
Promo shot of the new Batcave. The image shows a long elevated ramp that goes to a single desk. In the image, we definitely see Wayne, but I couldn’t make out if it was Alfred (Michael Caine) or Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) standing behind him. Also worth noting is the water that covers the entire floor of the Batcave. It seems that the rebuilt cave is filled with water, and perhaps this is the new way Batman gets in and out of the location.
the-dark-knight-rises-posterFinally, the last image I saw was only for a few seconds before it got pulled. That’s because this piece of promo art showed the new vehicle. From what I could tell, the new vehicle flies and looks like a mix between an X-Wing from Star Wars and the ship from The Last Starfighter. I’d imagine the production build the shell of the vehicle, and will then use CG to make it fly. Also, on all four wings, I saw a bright white light coming off the engine. I couldn’t be sure if it’s from the engine, or a light shining down. Either way, the ship looked extremely cool.
Bane’s Big Entrance
If you’re still reading this report, then you clearly don’t mind spoilers. Therefore I’m about to get specific with what I saw being filmed, and what I thought of the footage. The thing to know is that we couldn’t see on the monitor what was being shot, so I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to look like. However, we got a crystal clear view at the main shots of Bane entering the stadium and how Nolan filmed it.
When we first arrived on set, we saw the production setting up to film a kickoff return by the Gotham Rogues. The stadium was packed with around twelve-thousand extras, and when they shot it, it looked and felt like a real football game was being played. They initially used a wide show, which means you could see everything in the frame. Not only did Nolan have a camera on the field following the main action, but on the sideline he’d set up a long dolly track, and the camera followed along as the players ran down the field.
Later in the day, they shot the same scene with a camera car driving in front of the players, so the player with the ball was running towards the camera while the camera was driving towards the zone. This is called “coverage” as Nolan will edit all these shots into one great looking return.
In between watching the players running the ball downfield, we watched as assassins from the League of Shadows (Ra’s Al Ghul’s shadowy organization from Batman Begins) entered the stadium with guns drawn, and the fans reacted in horror. They would often film these kinds of reaction shots in between the football shots so there was no wasted time. It’s worth noting that while Nolan could have shot the stadium empty and added in the screaming fans, no computer can make a stadium full of people look totally convincing. Having a section completely filled with real people reacting in different ways will add so much more than any CGI crowd.
the-dark-knight-rises-anne-hathaway-posterAfter getting the shots he wanted, and many takes of the crowd reacting to the chaos, Nolan’s team started setting up the field for a lot of pyrotechnics. The first thing the team did was lay out a number of orange traffic cones. The crew was using the cones to show the area where the explosions would be set for the eye of the camera. In total, we counted 55 explosive devices on the field, and before they set them up, the crew blew one up so the crowd would understand what would happen and the level of noise to expect. That first one was pretty loud, so we were all pretty excited to hear what 55 would sound like.
As you might imagine, setting up what could be a potentially dangerous situation took a lot of time, and we patiently waited and watched the crew make everything perfect.
Once the field was set, we watched a number of rehearsals and then observed filming of the main Gotham Rogue player running down the field, and being chased by the opposing players. When the explosions go off in the movie, it will cause the field to sink in on itself, leaving huge holes in the stadium. As the player runs downfield, the explosions will go off behind him, and as they happen, areas around where he is running will form sink holes, and the opposing players will fall into them. That’s why he’ll get to the end zone unscathed.
To make this look as real as possible, the production built an area on the field that was elevated, but looked like it was absolutely part of the stadium. Then, in select areas, the crew made holes and filled the bottom with mattes so a stunt person could fall in and not get hurt. To make the stunt as safe as possible, Nolan and his team did a number of rehearsals, and then filmed a few takes without the explosions going off behind them.
Finally, once they’d shot enough coverage, they shot the same take except on this one they set off all 55 explosive devices as the players were running towards the camera. While the previous few takes had gone off without a hitch as the players fell into the holes at just the right time, and everything looked perfect, on the one with the explosions, there was a slight mix up towards the end, and one of the opposing players missed his mark. However, I’d imagine with all the ways Nolan shot the scene, he’ll be able to cut away or use another take, and you’ll never know anyone was out of place.
the-dark-knight-rises-christian-bale-posterWhile I’ve seen a lot of cool stuff up close on a movie set, it was really something else to watch twelve-thousand people react to these explosions.
Finally, for the last bit of filming, we got to see Tom Hardy as Bane.
According to producer Emma Thomas, the football game is where Bane makes his grand entrance to the citizens of Gotham City. And if this ends up being true, that first shot is going to be amazing.
Rather than follow Bane from the front into the stadium, Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister follow Bane from behind and down low, so we see this hulking man wearing a long wintercoa,t and a weird mask as he’s really walking onto the field for the first time. Bane is in the center of the frame. As he walks in, the thousands in the stands are terrified as Bane’s men have taken control of the stadium after all the explosions have gone off.
As Bane walks in, he grabs the microphone off a dead referee and addresses the crowd. As he talks, the camera slowly follows him by having the steadicam operator walking around him. Bane is located in the center of the frame and all around you can see the stadium and the fact that he is really there. Where the seats are empty, I’m sure some CG people will be added. This is the moment where Bane makes his grand entrance, and after blowing up the field and terrifying thousands of Gothamites, it’s going to be a powerful moment on screen.
Another thing that was very interesting about this particular scene is that we watched it being filmed a few different ways. The first few takes were with a 35mm camera, and then for the next few we saw the IMAX camera attached to the steadicam. For those unaware, an IMAX camera weighs around 150 – 200 pounds and I have never seen it used on a steadicam. As a film nerd, I was flabbergasted that Nolan and his team had set this up. If he ends up using most of his IMAX stuff, The Dark Night Rises is going to be breathtaking to watch in an IMAX theater.
the-dark-knight-rises-joseph-gordon-levitt-imageIn addition, after Bane addresses the crowd, we watched as his soldiers brought a prisoner to his feet and then after Bane let the prisoner say something to the crowd, Bane snapped his neck! This was actually the final thing we saw and it was a hell of a way to go out.
As you can imagine, getting to be on the set of The Dark Knight Rises was an amazing experience and something I’ll never forget. While I sometimes leave a set thinking what I just watched might be good, I left this set 100% sure that Nolan and his team have crafted something that will make everyone very happy. I just wish I didn’t have to wait almost a year to see it.
Finally, a huge thank you to Warner Bros. for inviting me to the set, and to everyone who reads Collider.