I always believed that Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the real world Gotham City. From the towering Pittsburgh Plate Glass building to how its numerous bridges weave through the city like a metropolitan spider web, Gotham’s urban noir seeps from the comic book pages into this city hidden within the Allegheny Mountains. Now that Christopher Nolan is filming the conclusion of his excellent Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, the world will finally see how Pittsburgh’s gothic landscape provides the ideal setting for Batman’s final cinematic battle.
Thanks to a friend of mine, I had the good fortune to be selected as an extra for a scene in The Dark Knight Rises from a list of over 18, 000 applicants. The scene was shot on August 6th in Heinz Field, the home of Pittsburgh’s iconic football franchise, the Steelers. The Warner Brothers information packet requested that all extras wear black and gold colors. I found this request interesting as black and gold are the colors of the Pittsburgh Steelers; however, the information packet specifically stated that anyone wearing any logos — especially those bearing the Steelers emblem – would be rpevented from taking aprt in the scene. This is because on this day the emblematic black and gold worn by the extras was not in support of Pittsburgh’s Steelers, but instead Gotham’s Rogues. And so the line between Pittsburgh and the fictional Gotham further blurred.
In the early morning hours of August 6th, my friend Justin and I arrived at Heinz Field. The humidity in the stadium swallowed us, and I was running on little sleep having driven to Pittsburgh from Baltimore the night before and hanging out with friends there until 3:30 a.m. Once in the stadium, I could see that the playing field was raised just past the 50-yard line. It looked as if one of those sandworms things from Tremors exploded from beneath. Also, this scene, as with most of The Dark Knight Rises, is set in Gotham’s winter. Therefore, all of the extras had to wear winter coats on this muggy August Saturday whenever the cameras were rolling. Whatever Warner Brothers is paying Christian Bale to run around Pittsburgh in a full rubber suit during this sweltering summer is worth every cent. I think I lost twenty pounds just standing in the brutal summer heat; I can’t imagine having to run in a full rubber Batman suit. Maybe this is how Bale prepared for his role in The Mechanic.
The filming began around 9 a.m. The scene to be filmed was as follows: during a Gotham Rogues football game, Bane, the film’s villain played by Tom Hardy, and his mercenaries blow up the field and start attacking the stadium of fans. Not only did the Rogues logo look similar to the mascot for Pittsburgh’ local Duquesne University, but cast as the Gotham Rogues team were the real Steelers’ football players such as Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger, and former Steelers coach, Bill Cowher, was there playing the coach for the Rogues. Even Pittsburgh’s mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, was to be in this scene — fittingly, playing the kicker for the team opposing Gotham’s Rogues.
This first scene had Ravenstahl kick off to Hines Ward while the crowd waived yellow Rogues towels, an obvious acknowledgment of the Steelers’ legendary “Terrible Towels”. This scene was shot five or six times, and then out came the special effects team. They were going to blow up Heinz Field.
The special effects team had various charges places down the field leading to the raised section just past the fifty-yard line. The scene was to have Hines Ward running down the field after the kick off reception and then a series of charges would explode down the field. The crowd was to panic and run towards the stadium exits only to be met with Bane’s mercenaries holding automatic weapons.
After providing earplugs and several takes of explosions and crowds stampeding, Tom Hardy’s Bane appeared on the field, rehearsed a speech and repeated the scene several times. And that was the day.
Extras also were treated to a raffle, with one person going home with a new car, while others received tickets to The Dark Knight Rises premiere next summer. Raffle winners also took home a variety of Apple products.
While the day was a long one, it’s all about the experience. As The Dark Knight Rises is to be the final chapter in Chris Nolan’s Batman series, it is amazing to be a part of one of the greatest film series ever. To have the opportunity just to see Nolan directing from the field was enough. I cannot wait until July 20, 2012, when The Dark Knight Rises hits theatres, and I will always remember that for one sweltering August day, I officially was in Gotham City.