Last weekend I got to go with my husband @VenPixel and our friend @emilyschooley down to Pittsburgh to be an extra in The Dark Knight Rises. It was a really amazing experience, and I felt very lucky to get to be part of it. That said, it was also an extremely hot and sunny day, and not really fun to get through! Big thanks to Emi for driving us down, it was great to spend the weekend together. And also thanks to @VenPixel for helping make this happen, you’re a great partner in crime
I wanted to write out what the day was like, both to share the experience and so I’ll remember it, but be warned – there are movie spoilers within! Also, sorry the photos aren’t the best quality – nobody was supposed to take pics anyways, so we’re lucky to have them and thanks again to the very nice guy who provided them! Click to enlarge, as always.
Our call time is 6:45 am, and we get to the pick-up location at 6:30. Ironically, our hotel is closer to the Heinz stadium, where we filmed, than the pick-up location is. We’re taken on school buses to the stadium where we get our set passes and sign release forms. I’m surprised that we aren’t asked to sign NDA’s, but I guess they’ve just given up on secrecy at this point – about 12,500 people are expected. It’s already warm out, but everyone is comfortable and we chat with some of the other people sitting near us. I hope to see Christian Bale at some point today, since he’s my favourite actor and I adore his Batman, but nobody knows if he’s in the scene or not.
The big screen tv shows the Gotham Rogues logo and sometimes video of the field. Both end-zones are painted bright yellow with the Gotham Rogues name, and on one end a big raised area is built up. It looks like there had been an earthquake and part of the field was pushed up out of the ground, although we later discover that’s not what happens at all. Even cooler, one goal post is all twisted, broken and fallen down in the end-zone.
Chris Nolan arrives early, people cheer when he walks onto the field. Did you ever notice that he always wears khaki pants and a blue blazer? It makes him easy to spot from far away. We go through the American national anthem several times, first a young boy sings (I gotta say, it didn’t sound like he’d practiced much…) and a few times the whole crowd sings. I’m amazed that everyone seems to know they’re supposed to cheer when we get to the “home of the brave” line, I guess you learn this growing up in America? Only one half of the field looks normal (and the spectator seats are only full on one side of the stadium) so they have the two football teams switch sides and shoot the scene from different angles, when they edit it they can make it look like the whole field. Wow – the magic of cinema!
Around 8:30 our section is moved to sit in a different area, and they start filming the kickoff. The mayor of Pittsburgh is the kicker and seems to do a good job (I’ve never watched a football game, how far is the ball supposed to go?). We make friends with some cool people sitting in our area (hi Mary and Jason!), and chat throughout the day. At 9:15 am it pours rain, and although that sucks, it helps us stay cool a bit later in the day when the sun comes out and it starts to get really hot. By this time it feels like we’ve been there all day already!
They film the kickoff over and over, so I go for a washroom break, get a pretzel, see some mercenaries walking down the hallway – you know, normal stuff. I keep going back and forth between being super excited that we’re in Gotham, in Dark Knight Rises, and so bored at shooting the same thing over and over. Nolan walks around holding a young boy by the hand, we wonder who he is, probably one of Nolan’s kids (thanks Wikipedia!). Finally at 12:10 they finish the kickoff and the FX team gets started setting up for the big explosions everyone had been promised. Still no sign of Bale and no word if he’ll be in the scene.
To get the crowd used to the explosions that were coming up, they did an example with just one explosion (in the final scene there would be about 60, all in a row). As if that wasn’t cool enough, they also brought in the Tumblr cars and set it up as though one of the cars had shot the field (causing the explosion). I’m not sure if I prefer the camouflage over the black car, but I am sure that it will be awesome in the movie.
At 12:45 they start filming crowd reaction shots to the explosions we haven’t seen yet. They’re filming people over where we were sitting in the morning, so we don’t have much to do and pass the time talking about Batman and getting to know each other. Half an hour later they’re ready to do the actual explosions! But first we have to do more reaction shots – “ready” doesn’t mean the same thing in the movie business as it does everywhere else. It’s starting to get really warm out and every time they want to film us we have to put our winter coats back on. Eventually they stop filming and distract the crowd by inviting volunteers down to sing, it’s like low-class American Idol. Most of the singers either weren’t very good or chose inappropriate material (Opera? Really? In that moment, you went with opera?) but some were worth listening to.
At about 2 they resume shooting, they do 8 or 10 takes of the football player catching the ball and then running up the field, and then finally at 4 pm we do the final shot – the player catches the ball, runs up the field, and the explosions actually explode behind him. Hours and hours of effort and practicing for three seconds of noise, it’s like so many things I can’t even come up with an appropriate metaphor. They also do crowd shots of Bane’s Mercenaries storming the stadium, and since we’re sitting right near an aisle we’re close enough to talk with a few of the men. One guy was friendly and said he’d been working on DKR for quite some time, doing lots of fight scenes. When they were filming it wasn’t hard to look frightened, their guns sure looked real enough to me! There’s a chance we’ll be visible in one of the shots of mercenaries running towards the field, so that’s pretty cool.
By this time I have a headache and I’m way too hot, so we head to the air-conditioned cooling tent to see if that helps. I can hear noises coming from somewhere far away, and in my epic quest for water (I was Frodo in Mordor, seriously) I hear rumors that the PA’s can’t get to the water because it’s in a storage room off a hallway where they’re filming. Is Batman in the hallway? I couldn’t find him, so we’ll find out in a year. @VenPixel has to leave, too much heat and sun, but Emi and I decide to stick it out and stay until the end. I spend the next hour wondering if he made it back to the hotel or got waylaid by Bane’s mercenaries on his way out of the stadium.
At 5:15 I head back to my seat, and it’s great timing – we get actual dialogue from Bane! By now if you wanted to you’ve probably scene the clip on YouTube anyways, but here’s what happens. After the football field explodes, killing all the players, Bane walks out onto the only section that’s left intact (the part I thought was raised in an earthquake) with his group of mercenaries. They wheel out a large machine, sort of spherical but with extra bits on it. Bane says “Take Control! Take Control Gotham! Behold the instrument of your liberation. … You, identify yourself to the world.” Quite the opening for our newest Nolanverse villain! Bane’s accent was a bit odd, he sounded more European to me than Caribbean, but I’m sure that will make sense when we get to see the movie. They did the scene at least three times, and I found it so fascinating to hear the little changes in how he said his dialogue, the exact order of the world (one time he started with “Gotham” instead of with “Take Control”) – I wonder if that was Hardy’s choice, or if it was Nolan’s direction? We don’t know who he was talking to with the “identify yourself” bit – I heard it was Jim Gordon, but I also heard that he breaks the guy’s neck right then and there, so that couldn’t be Jim.
An hour later the heat overwhelms me, and the cool tent isn’t enough, it’s time to go. They’re already shuttling people away from the stadium so Emi and I head back to our hotel, and that was it. I’m still disappointed not to have seen Batman (and secretly was planning to run away with Christian Bale, at least for a little while) but they never promised that he would be there, and it’s cool enough to have seen Bane. Next year when Dark Knight Rises comes out I’ll definitely look to see if we’re visible in the stands. It was an amazing experience and such a wonderful thing to have been part of, thanks again Emi and @VenPixel for making it happen and sharing the adventure with me!