Gotham’s globe-trotter: Filming The Dark Knight Rises
The final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s grittily realistic Batman trilogy filmed around the world in an epic shoot that lasted nearly a year. TLG explores the marathon scouting trips, finding Wayne Manor in Nottingham and turning Pittsburgh into Gotham City.
Christopher Nolan has a reputation for favouring massive location shoots with minimal CGI and after the staggering success of The Dark Knight - and the mind-bending spectacle of Inception - he has the power to film where he wants. He’s signed off his Batman trilogy with a shoot that took in locations in places including India, the UK and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
Ilt Jones was the project’s Supervising Location Manager: “We had an eight-day scouting trip where the team, including myself and Christopher Nolan, travelled between Los Angeles, Frankfurt, New Delhi, Mumbai and Transylvania in Romania. To save time at each airport Chris didn’t want us checking in any bags, so we were carrying around huge parkas to prepare for the cold-weather places.”
As a whistle-stop, world tour of a scouting trip the team wasn’t spending more than two hours in any given location. They had to make sure they were kitted out for the wintry weather of Eastern Europe, while simply peeling off the layers and tossing them in the back of the car when they toured India.
Jones comments: “Going on a scout like that is a real adrenalin rush and that’s what keeps you going. You’re seeing all these amazing locations and travelling with one of the world’s top filmmakers. You’ve simply not got time to be tired and you’re only sick when you allow yourself to be!”
The India leg of the shoot ended up focussing on locations in Rajasthan in the north-west, including Jaipur and Mehrangarh Fort overlooking Jodhpur. Initial nerves about filming in the country on a project of this scale were eased by the involvement of On The Road Productions, who, in Jones’ words, made it “a magical experience [that] ran like a Swiss watch!”
Going on a scout like that is a real adrenalin rush and that’s what keeps you going. You’re seeing all these amazing locations and travelling with one of the world’s top filmmakers.
Ilt Jones, Supervising Location Manager
Filming in the UK took in locations as diverse as London, Nottinghamshire and Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. Wayne Manor makes a return to the story, having been burned to the ground in Batman Begins and substituted for a luxurious penthouse and a sleek underground bunker in The Dark Knight.
Adrian Wootton is Chief Executive of the British Film Commission and Film London, which helped co-ordinate the shoot: “We wanted to make sure the UK could deliver on every level for one of the year’s most anticipated films. Support we provided throughout pre-production and production included successfully liaising between the filmmaking team and Government agencies to help facilitate one of the film’s key set pieces.”
The 18th Century Osterley Park near London and Nottingham’s Wollaton Hall (above) provided exterior and interior locations, with Warner Brothers paying for alterations. Osterley is a National Trust property inside the M25 motorway – allowing easy access to central London – and changes were made to some of the rooms for the shoot.
Claire Reed is with Osterley Park: “We are able to accommodate a large-scale unit base in our overflow car park – something that can obviously prove difficult to find as we have also been used purely as a unit base location for crews shooting elsewhere.
“The team of staff and volunteers at Osterley are very experienced in working with film crews and are able to come up with creative solutions for the unique issues that filming can present.”
Three weeks were spent setting up Wollaton Hall and the entire complex was shut to the public for a week for the shoot with a 300-strong crew. It took two weeks to remove everything afterwards.
Members of the film’s production team arrived at Wollaton Hall eight weeks before the shoot and alterations including GBP100,000 of internal redecorations and the building of a graveyard outside. Three weeks were spent setting up and the entire complex was shut to the public for a week for the actual shoot in June 2011 with a 300-strong crew. It took two weeks to remove everything afterwards.
Filming shifted to the US and Pittsburgh was transformed into a wintry Gotham City during the height of summer. Chicago was used as Batman’s home in the two previous films – Nolan spent part of his childhood there so he knew the cityscape intimately – but the filmmaker felt he wanted something a little different for his final chapter.
Jones states: “Pittsburgh has the grand sense of Gotham City and offered a great look with its brick buildings and general east-coast look. It would have been very difficult to shoot elsewhere because of the amount of freedom and control we needed.
“We ended up filming pretty much all the way down Smithfield Street in central Pittsburgh – the main shopping area - for two or three weekends and that’s not the kind of thing we would have been able to do in a city like New York.”
Jones singles out the Heinz Field American football stadium (above) as the biggest challenge he faced during the whole shoot. The site of a devastating attack from Tom Hardy’s Bane, the central villain of the story, the set-piece involved nearly 12,000 extras and all the challenges that come with filming in a major city in the summertime.
He comments: “This stadium is near the city’s PNC Park baseball ground and because we were filming during their playing season a non-compete agreement meant we couldn’t use their parking facilities.
“It became quite a challenge to find space in the middle of the city where we eventually had cooling tents, immense water palettes being carried around on forklift trucks and about 80 school buses for transport. It was like D-Day, only without the guns!”
There were separate challenges for Pittsburgh. Over the course of six months’ planning for the 18-day shoot local businesses arranged compensation for having their customers re-routed and city authorities laid down detailed plans for the road closures.
Steve Bittle is with the Pittsburgh Film Office: “Months of advance planning were needed to develop a system of detours for traffic around Carnegie Mellon Institute and the downtown area. Buses had to be re-routed and city police had to be trained to be aware of traffic detours and how to respond.
“The prestige of hosting a film of international acclaim cannot be measured. The city of Pittsburgh received worldwide media exposure before and during the production, and once the film is released the region will also receive attention as people see Pittsburgh on film.”
Jones concludes: “At the end of it all you may feel like you’ve been shot out of a cannon or gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson, but you find yourself having a lie-down and thinking ‘Wow, that was a really terrific experience!’”
The Dark Knight Rises is opening now in cinemas around the world.
(Heinz Field Stadium photo courtesy of Ilt Jones. Wollaton Hall photo courtesy of Gerry Molumby. The Dark Knight Rises film stills: Warner Bros Entertainment Inc and Legendary Pictures)
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