The Dark Knight: The Set Visit!

On June 29th, 2007, I got the chance to visit the set of The Dark Knight (TDK) in Chicago for and Superhero Hype!. Being a lifelong Batman fan, this was an absolute dream come true for me. After taking the morning to walk around Chicago’s beautiful downtown skyscrapers, I met up with the rest of the visiting press and headed by bus to the set. The production was shooting at Chicago’s old Post Office. TDK actually took over the entire old building and was shooting many scenes in and around the location. They began filming on April 13, 2007 and would continue shooting through November. The production then moved to London and Hong Kong.

As we arrived at the Post Office, it didn’t take long to realize we were on the set of the Batman film. As soon as we drove in the gate, I saw a large sign on the building that read “Gotham Police Department” (View Set Pics).

Security was tight on the set and as soon as we got off the bus we were issued badges. The letters “RFK” were on them which stood for “Rory’s First Kiss,” the cover name for the production. (Not much of a cover considering all the “Gotham” signs all over the place!) Our group was then led through the old Post Office building. We immediately encountered extras dressed as SWAT team members. I joked, “Boy, they really are strict about security!” As we made our way through the maze-like building, we saw signs that read “To Set – Vault”. This would make more sense as we arrived at a tent at the back of the building.

As we entered the press tent, several things were immediately apparent. Around the walls were large images of the Batpod, Heath Ledger as the Joker, some new Bat costume production art, and the TDK bat logo. Also in the room was the new Batman suit hanging in a corner. And oddly enough, it took a while to notice one of the most significant items in the room – the new Joker costume. We were able to inspect all of these in great detail.

I first went up to the Batman costume. As you’ve no doubt seen in the photos, it’s a bit different than the previous Batman costume. There’s a mesh undersuit with many, many armor pieces glued to it. I looked very closely at the pieces glued to the suit and discovered that some were solid black and some were a bit translucent. You could see the mesh through it. Also notable was the neck. Rather than being big and bulky like the “Begins” costume, it was very thin and made of several pieces. As the costumer would later tell us, they actually had to scale down the Bat mask so it wouldn’t look so huge on the smaller neck. Also noteworthy was the bat logo being significantly smaller and split in two pieces. When I asked the costumer about it later, he said there was actually some debate for a time whether to even have the logo or not. Fortunately, they kept it. I also noticed that the Batman cape was significantly darker than the rest of the costume. When I touched it (I couldn’t resist), it actually felt like velvet. I then decided to touch Batman’s prongs on his gauntlet. They were flexible foam pieces, but they were very tough. We all wondered how Batman got his mask on and off. Later in the day when they dismantled the costume in front of us, I saw them take his cowl off first. The line is basically along his jaw, under his chin, and back around the back of his head. The mesh goes up to the top of his neck, then there’s a hood that goes over the top of his head. He’s essentially wearing a hoodie under the cowl. (The costume was actually mounted on a casting of Bale’s body.) I also got to see what was under the cape. It was laced up in the back and there was no bat butt. (I knew you were wondering.) All in all, the costume looked great, and very functional, in person.

I then moved to the Joker costume. At the time we visited the set, very little had been revealed about the Joker. So I was a bit stunned to see how much the TDK Joker costume looked like a traditional Joker costume. It had a dark purple trench coat and purple pants with stripes. Inside were a dark blue coat and a dark green vest. Underneath that was a blue tie and a blue shirt with hexagons all over it. On the pants was a silver chain, but no pocket watch (possibly part of a weapon?). Also included were dark purple gloves and black shoes. It wasn’t over the top, but it was definitively “Joker,” too.

In the middle of the room was a video monitor where we got to watch filming that was going on in the main building. Throughout the day and during the interviews we got to see take after take of a scene involving Jim Gordon and Batman. The scene would be shot from one side, then another, then in close up, etc. etc etc. We saw bits and pieces filmed out of order, but I’ll piece together the entire scene for you from what we saw. (The dialogue varied slightly in every take and some dialogue couldn’t be heard over the TV, so it could be different in the film.)

The scene begins inside a vault at the Gotham National Bank. Obviously, the Joker and his gang have just struck. Detectives are taking photos of a dead Joker goon outside an open vault door. You can see a clown mask lying on the ground next to him. Gary Oldman as Lieutenant Gordon walks in the vault along with Monique Curnen who plays Detective Ramirez. Gordon holds an envelope and a security photo of the Joker. Gordon says, “What’s he hiding underneath that makeup?” Suddenly, Batman walks into the vault. Detective Ramirez turns around, surprised. She looks at Gordon then says to the other cops, “Can we get a minute people, please?” She then leaves along with the other cops. Gordon says something and Batman replies, “Him again? Where are the others?”

Gordon: “Just another bunch of small timers.”

Batman walks up to a cart with some cash on it. He pulls a small device from his belt and it pops open. It has a blue light and a radiation symbol. Batman waves it over the cash, “Some of the marked bills I gave you.” Batman takes the cash bundle and throws it to Gordon who catches it. Gordon replies, “We found the bulk of the dirty cash. My detectives have been making drug buys with it for weeks. This bank was another drop for the mob. This makes five.”

Batman: “Time to move in.”

Gordon: “We would have to hit all banks simultaneously. SWAT teams, backup…”

Batman says something, and Gordon asks, “What about this Joker guy?”

Batman: “One man or the entire mob? He can wait.”

Gordon: “When the new DA gets wind of this, he’ll want in.”

Batman: “Do you trust him?”

Gordon: “It will be hard to keep him out. He’s as stubborn as you.”

Gordon looks up from putting evidence in an envelope and sees Batman has disappeared again. He shakes his head and the scene ends.

We were told this scene happens early in the film. It was also worth noting that Christian Bale was wearing the old Batman Begins costume in the scene. This obviously takes place before his big wardrobe change.

As filming continued taking place, we first spoke with Aaron Eckhart. This was his day off, but he graciously came in to work to talk to us. We knew he played Harvey Dent, but he did reveal one big secret to us – he actually turns into Two-Face in The Dark Knight. (This was a major secret at the time we visited the set.) Throughout the day we continued talking with cast and crew as shooting continued on the monitor next to us. As the interviews continued, I would sneak glances at what was happening on the set. What I saw ended up being almost as interesting as some of the stuff said in the interviews.

Between takes people would fiddle with Batman’s costume. One time a guy that looked like he was from ZZ Top picked at it, another time it was director Christopher Nolan. Occasionally I’d see Christian Bale cracking up at something that happened on set. It was weird seeing Batman actually smiling. Then, as the scene would start, he’d go completely stone faced again. At another point, he took the radiation device off his belt during a close up… and it broke. Turns out a magnet holding it to the belt needed to be glued back on.

But one of the funniest bloopers we saw unfolding before us involved Batman throwing the stack of money to Gordon. In one take, he’d throw it and Oldman would miss catching it. And it happened again. And again. And again. And again. The only time Oldman caught it was during a close-up when a guy o- set tossed it to him from short range. (Bale later joked it proved he was a bad tosser and Oldman wasn’t a bad catcher. Oldman later said Nolan joked that he only caught it in the closeup to ensure that was the only usable take for the scene. A good acting trick, eh?) There were so many misses that both Oldman and Bale started cracking up after each miss. When Oldman finally did catch the money properly in a long shot, he only got about one line in the scene before Bale and Oldman started dying laughing again. Oldman literally laid down laughing on the table. So imagine Batman cracking up and Gordon lying on his side on a cart. That was the surreal scene before me and I was loving it. I hope that makes it on the DVD as a blooper.

After interviewing director Chris Nolan, the cast and crew all went to lunch. This was our opportunity to actually walk through the bank set. We walked through one part of the building and there was an actual vault door. I thought it might be fake, but when I knocked on it, it was definitely steel. It seemed to be part of the original Post Office. We then walked farther into the lobby of the original Post Office which they had converted into the Gotham National Bank (GNB). The set was incredibly detailed. There were deposit slips everywhere that said “Gotham National Bank.” I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to swipe one for a souvenir. (But I didn’t!) There were also GNB signs, loan applications, and even ATM’s. At one end of the lobby a fake wall had been destroyed. We were told this was where the Joker’s truck had been driven through a wall. There was also some glass at some desks that had been shattered. But a small office in the middle of the lobby showed the most damage. Glass from a window was shattered and was all over the floor, surrounded by Gotham Police crime scene tape.

We walked further into the lobby and found the bank vault set where the earlier scene had taken place. It turns out that some old PO Boxes were doubling for safe deposit boxes in the vault. A fake door and bars had been added to the hallway to make it look like a vault. A drill, Joker goon mask, and crime scene kit set outside the fake vault door. It certainly looked a lot bigger on the monitor we were watching.

After touring the vault set in person, we went to lunch where we joined extras dressed like SWAT team members, police, and civilians. We even saw Gary Oldman’s stand-in. After lunch we returned to the press tent for more interviews and to watch more scenes. (Exhaust from nearby trucks made me start wondering if WB was trying to gas us. Maybe my editor had ticked someone off and I was paying the price?) We watched the earlier scene being shot from new angles.

Finally, a new scene was shot. It chronologically took place immediately before Batman’s scene with Gordon, but was shot later in the day. In the scene, Gordon enters the bank lobby and surveys the damage done by the Joker and his gang. Police are everywhere taking photos and collecting evidence. As Gordon walks in, Detective Ramirez hands him the security camera photo of Joker. Ramirez says, “He can’t resist showing us his face.” Gordon replies, “We should put up a big top in City Hall and sell tickets.” They then walk off screen towards the vault.

Later, we saw another scene being filmed. In it, Gordon and four SWAT team members tear down a hallway and into an empty bank vault (different from the vault they were shooting in earlier, presumably at a different Gotham bank). Gordon walks in and yells, “Anarchy! It’s empty!!” (In other takes he just yelled, “It’s empty!!”) Gordon looks down on the floor of the vault and sees stacks of money. (To me, they looked like they were laid in a specific pattern – 2 stacks, 3 stacks, 2 stacks, and 3 stacks. We’ll see if there’s really any significance later.) In frustration, Gordon kicks the stack of money and walks out of the vault.

After watching this scene, we got our chance to talk with Gary Oldman. Oddly enough, he walked in with a huge Dunkin Donuts coffee cup. I don’t know why my fellow press and I thought it was odd. Maybe such an accomplished actor is expected to walk around with a more refined coffee? Now if you ever go to a movie set, you realize that much of the time is spent just waiting around. I always wondered who the heck everyone was waiting on. Well, this time it was us. Our WB rep literally stalked Oldman, then pulled him off the set for 10 minutes to talk to us. He went from one scene, into the press tent, then back out again to shoot another scene.

After our final interview of the day, we went outside the Post Office building to watch one more scene being filmed. This time it was out on the open street where fans and passersby could watch. As we walked up, a couple dozen people were on the sidewalk looking across the street at filming. The Post Office had a large sign on it that said “Gotham National Bank.” Out front of it were cabs marked “Gotham Cabs,” GPD police cars with their lights on, and news vans marked “G11 News” and “GCN.” Camera crews and reporters lined the street next to one of the gray unmarked police cars. As police lights flashed, the scene began. Gordon steps out of a car and the press mob him asking questions. “Who killed him?” “Who saved him?” “Lieutenant Gordon!” As cameras flash and microphones are pushed in his face, he makes his way through police tape and through a revolving door into the building. And thus he walks into the scene we saw filming earlier.

As all this went on, fans were taking pictures with their cameras, shooting movies while PA’s chided them, and generally geeking out. While the scene shot, real traffic drove by it. One woman, thinking there was a police emergency, rolled down her window and asked the gawkers, “What happened??” It was fun to see.

You can read our on-set interviews using the links below!

Writer/Director Christopher Nolan

Christian Bale – Bruce Wayne/Batman

Aaron Eckhart – Harvey Dent/Two-Face

Crowley, Henning & Oldman – Production Designer, Costume Designer and Commissioner Gordon

The Dark Knight opens in conventional theaters and IMAX on July 18.

Source: Scott Chitwood