When I first set out on my last trip, I only knew for sure that there were two places I would be heading to. The first was NYC because that was where my plane would be landing. The second was Pittsburgh. Now, every time I would tell people I was going to the ‘Burgh, I got a funny look. And even now, when I mention that it was part of my itinerary, I still get the look (although it usually gets replaced by the look I get when I say I went to Ohio for 2 weeks). I’m not entirely sure why it is that the PGH has such a bad rep, but I’ll wax poetic about the city another time (truth be told, it’s a pretty underrated town and I happen to be a fan). Instead, I’ll talk about what brought me to Pittsburgh in the first place: Batman.
I can’t exactly say that I am the world’s biggest Bat-fan, because I’m nowhere near. As a child, I watched Keaton and Nicholson duke it out in the first Tim Burton film and on random Saturday afternoons, I would catch old re-runs of the Batman show on television, mimicking the POW, WAP, ZING of every fight scene. I remember watching Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, hoping that someday I, too, could wear leather, hold a whip, and kick ass the way Catwoman did (I guess I technically could do that if I decide on a change of careers).
But it wasn’t until my last relationship that I began to truly get a better sense of who Batman was. My ex is a huge, HUGE Batman fan. He introduced me to incredible comics and graphic novels like Arkham Asylum and The Killing Joke and showed me that while Batman may have begun as the campy Detective Comics’ caped crusader, over time, he along with his enemies have evolved into much more psychologically complex characters. I watched Batman Begins and was impressed, although I couldn’t help but make fun of my beloved Christian Bale‘s “Batman voice”. And then The Dark Knight was released and all hell broke loose. I would never have guessed a superhero movie to quickly become one of my favorite movies, but I was beyond impressed. So when I found out that BeInAMovie.com had joined Christopher Nolan‘s team to gather a large mass of unpaid extras at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field (home of the much beloved Steelers) for the filming of The Dark Knight Rises, I knew I had to be a part of it.
On August 6th, after an evening of too many drinks and very little sleep, I got up at 6am to grab my things and head out into the chilly, gray morning. I was staying at my 2nd Couchsurfing host’s, Evan’s, apartment in Uptown Pittsburgh at the time. Fortunately, it was walking distance from the meeting spot for extras. Evan left a half hour before me because he was actually working as a PA on the movie set, but he gave me directions and we agreed to meet up after the filming. The streets were pretty empty until I hit the main road, where I began to see cars loaded with Batfans on their way to the stadium. As I approached my destinations, I saw a young Asian girl I was almost positive I recognized.
“Nancy?” I yelled out.
Sure enough, the girl in the black top turned around. Nancy was a girl that wrote to me in response to a post I made about meeting other CS folks at Heinz. We walked together toward the lines of people in black and yellow, waiting for buses. Jill, another girl from CS, sent me a text earlier telling me she was already on the bus en route to Heinz, which initially worried me; but seeing the lines of fellow stragglers, I was no longer worried about getting left behind. Looking around me, I was already regretting waiting til the last minute to read the notice about what to wear and bring to the stadium. The film takes place in the winter (you may have heard stories about the summer snows in Pittsburgh earlier this year) and so we were all supposed to bring coats, sweaters, gloves, hats, etc. On top of that, there were people with masks, capes, signs, face paint – the works, all in black and yellow for the Gotham Rogues, the City of Gotham’s football team, played (not surprisingly) by the Steelers. Meanwhile, all I was able to put together was a pair of black pants with a gray shirt and a dark colored flannel that Evan lent me.
The wait was short and soon enough we were already on the buses. Everyone was handed some forms stating that we wouldn’t take pictures or talk about what happened during the filming (which was bogus since you can read about it pretty much everywhere), and also a form stating that they weren’t responsible for any injuries or deaths that occurred during filming. Luckily, I think everyone left the stadium with little more than a bad sunburn, but I’ll get to that later…
Nancy and I hopped off the bus anxious to get inside and become faux stars. The 5 Hour Energy Drink folks gave us some free samples (vile stuff, but I drank it anyway after hour 6 or so of filming), we signed in, and got our “goodie bags,” which contained: a bag of chips, a cookie, a tiny bottle of water, and a mini bottle of sunblock. We scoffed at the sunblock considering the skies were covered in clouds. Nancy was wise enough to bring an umbrella though, which proved to be helpful throughout the day. The crew herded the crowd to their seats and Nancy and I freaked at how close we were. Right behind the goal post! We entertained ourselves and I ate my snacks almost immediately since I’d skipped out on breakfast (a decision I’d later regret).
Finally, I spotted Nolan in his baby blue button down shirt, navy blazer, and khakis walking around the field, pointing this way and that. I noticed, however, that not many people had actually realized it was him. More than that, throughout the day, I realized that a large portion of people (whose conversations I overheard, anyway) were actually at the stadium not so much for Batman and Nolan as they were there to watch and support their football team. At the time, that kind of pissed me off, but I suppose it’s neither here nor there.
Actual filming didn’t begin for at least an hour or longer. The first scene just involved a young boy singing the National Anthem. Poor kid screwed up the first time and the bastards that were standing behind me were already crucifying him.
“If he actually sounds good in the movie, we’ll know it was edited afterwards,” they joked.
Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. Filming began to resemble something more akin to Catholic Mass and I was waiting for my turn to drink some of that blood of Christ to assuage the boredom. I’d heard that Tom Hardy (oh, have you met my latest husband? hands off!) should be making an appearance, but I kept wondering if my beloved Batman might actually grace us with his presence. I would’ve also enjoyed seeing Gary Oldman or Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but alas, they were nowhere to be found. After some time, they decided to move us to a different section of the stadium. For some reason, I had naively imagined that the entire stadium would be filled. However, they actually only wound up using about 1/3 of the seats, if that (the wonders of camera angles!)
The new seats were just as good if not better than our first seats (we were on the 50 year line and had an even better view of one end of the field where you could see part of the ground broken open – undoubtedly the work of Bane). The Steelers, er, Gotham Rogues finally came out on to the field along with The Other Guys and they filmed the team playing, and stopping, and playing again. It was our turn to act like excited sports fans. Our coats came on and off between shoots. Sometime before noon, I felt a raindrop. And then another, and another, and pretty soon we were getting drenched. Nancy opened her umbrella, as did one of the young kids next to me, so I hid underneath both and managed to stay relatively dry.
About an hour of rain later, the sun began to finally peek out from behind the clouds and everyone was ready to film again. It was also time for “lunch.” The BeInAMovie site claimed that while vegans should probably bring their own meals, vegetarians would be okay with the meals provided. As such, I decided to just enjoy the free food since I was broke and traveling anyway. To my disappointment, lunch was a hot dog and a giant pretzel with a bottle of water.
“What happened to the vegetarian option?” I asked one of the food workers.
“This is all we have. I think they might have veggie burgers later?” they replied, as people passed me to grab their dogs.
I retreated back to my seat hungrily, but managed to keep a smile on my face when they began to discuss our next scene. Nolan, unfortunately, never gave the audience directions, though he was present the whole time. Instead, the guy from BeInAMovie explained that in this next scene, there would be a huge explosion and some of the football players would end up falling in this hole in the ground, thanks to Bane. Our job? Scream, look frightened, try to run away. However, as we would attempt to flee the stadium, we would all be further frightened by Bane’s henchmen, military personnel with rifles pointed right at us. This became the bulk of our afternoon as the sun began to blaze overhead. The mini bottles of sunblock all came out for this as everyone’s skin began to resemble less Jack Frost and more Zoidberg the Lobster.
If it hadn’t been for the promise of explosions, I’m pretty sure the extras might have revolted – first drenched and then burnt to a crisp. The morale see sawed throughout the afternoon. At one point, a caravan of Batmobile tumblers drove out on to the field that made everyone pretty giddy. Afterward, we prepared for the main explosion scene. It only happened once, but there were dozens of explosions all set throughout the field and it was pretty awesome to see. I can’t imagine what crazy things they’ll do to make it seem so much greater in the film though.
The afternoon progressed in to an absolute scorcher and by the 9th and 10th hours, many people weren’t even putting their coats back on for the filming. I took frequent breaks in the mist tents and had a nice chat with Jill that got cut short when Nancy texted us to let us know Bane would finally be appearing on the scene. By that time, I knew Batman (and company) would definitely not be joining us, but it was still freaking badass to see Bane in his gear coming out and addressing us as we looked on in pretend horror from our seats.
Part of me had considered leaving early at points because I was so exhausted and hungry (although the veggie burger did finally come at around 5pm), but the promise of giveaways was too alluring. They’d been raffling off Batman memorabilia, iPod touches, Delta flights, and more throughout the day. At one point, they had an audience-based sing-off (American Idol style) which was pretty goddamn awful to be honest, but provided momentary entertainment while the crew searched for an explosion that never detonated. The big prizes weren’t going to be raffled til the end of the day, however, including a brand new car raffled off by Tom Hardy himself and a trip to the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises as well as an invitation to the after party that would be announced by director Nolan. Sadly, I won absolutely nothing. Neither did Nancy. Neither did Jill. Not even a damn Gotham Rogues shirt. Still, it was pretty cool to be a part of the whole thing. It made me realize how painfully slow the movie making process is and also made me think that next time, I should look in to a paid extra role (or at least bring some food along so I don’t feel quite so worn out).
I’ve tried looking through some of the pictures on the BeInAMovie site to try to find Nancy and I, but with almost 2k pictures uploaded, I think i’ll just settle for the crappy ones I took with my cellphone (Note To Self: Next time sneak in a real camera).
At the end of the day, I wound up walking out of Heinz and over one of the bridges into Downtown to meet Evan, who had left an hour or so earlier. His day consisted of hanging out in the shade, making sure everything went okay with the helicopter that was shooting scenes from overhead. He treated me to ice cream at Dave & Andy’s afterward, which was seriously appreciated, while I relayed my experience as an extra.
“Was it worth it?” everyone asks me. At certain moments that day, I really didn’t think so.
But then I watch that goddamn trailer and all I can say is, “Hell yeah.”