Filmmakers let it snow Downtown for shooting of Batman movie


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For one esoteric Los Angeles company, there's no business like Snow Business.

And Snow Business Hollywood lived up to its name Wednesday when it created a winter scene in Pittsburgh in the middle of August, blanketing Oliver Avenue, Downtown, with faux but realistic looking white flakes for the filming of "The Dark Knight Rises."

The movie, the last in the Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan, is scheduled to film here through Aug. 21.

It took from 10 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday to cover Oliver Avenue and its sidewalks from William Penn Place to Wood Street with flakes of snow -- actually, a chopped up combination of reclaimed paper and nonwoven fiber. Parked cars bearing Gotham City license plates likewise got the snow job.

Unlike most Pittsburgh snowfalls, this one produced smiles galore and not one motor vehicle accident.

In fact, under Mr. Nolan's watchful eye, a camouflage Batmobile called the Tumbler barreled from Wood Street onto Oliver Avenue with nary a slip or a slide during filming of several takes early Wednesday morning.

To be sure, a snowfall in Pittsburgh, er, Gotham City, is easier to appreciate when it's Hollywood movie magic at work and not Mother Nature and when you're wearing sandals, and summer dresses or short sleeves in balmy temperatures.The scene drew hundreds of pedestrians, many coming in from the suburbs, who were delighted with the pristine wintry scene glimmering under a bright sun and blue skies. Pittsburghers acted as if they were Southern Californians or Floridians who had never seen snow. They photographed it, rubbed the fake snow between their fingers to test the consistency and walked away with souvenirs, or some unintentionally clinging to their clothes as orange signs taped to metal barricades announced, "Fresh Snow, Do Not Disturb."

PG VIDEO: DOWNTOWN SNOW

An official for Snow Business Hollywood in Los Angeles declined by telephone to discuss its work for The Dark Knight Rises," citing a confidentiality agreement with the production company An official for Snow Business Hollywood in Los Angeles declined to discuss its work for "The Dark Knight Rises," citing a confidentiality agreement, but the company touts itself on its website as "worldwide experts in winter effects for the motion picture, television and entertainment industries" as well as for visual merchandising, theme parks, theater and weddings. It can provide 168 types of artificial snow and a variety of frosts and ices to create winter scenes.

The company is part of Snow Business International, formed in 1982 and headquartered in Gloucestershire, England. It has operations in 29 other countries, from the frigid to the sweltering and everything in between -- Austria, Croatia, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Russia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates, to name a few.

Since Batman's enemy Mr. Freeze wasn't available -- he's not in this film -- the winter wonderland on Oliver Avenue was created by workers who loaded large bales of the paper/fiber product into a machine that churned the solid material into tiny specks of white stuff. Those flakes in turn were sprayed onto the street with a large hose.

A liquid Snow Business material was also on set. That product is poured into a machine that frosts it up and blows it into the air to create the effect of falling snow. It evaporates when it hits the ground.

Mr. Nolan used Snow Business Hollywood's services in "Batman Begins," his first film in the trilogy. It's also been used in four James Bond movies, including "Quantum of Solace," as well as in three of the Harry Potter films, the Bourne triology, "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," "X-Men 2," "Kill Bill Vol. 1," "Vertical Limit" and "Wonder Boys," a 2000 film that also was shot in Pittsburgh.

But just like real snow, the faux flakes, which are eco-friendly, need to be cleared from streets and sidewalks. That's done with vacuum hoses and by sweeping. As streams of lunchtime pedestrians walked by, the comments ranged from, "You guys want to see the Batmobile, I don't care about no Batmobile" to "Look at the camera. This is the food that they eat. Oh my God!"

The August snow scene Downtown, where filming is expected to continue today, created quite a sensation.

A woman along William Penn Place handed her digital camera to a friend and struck a pose in front of the yellow tape cordoning off Oliver, executing a fake shiver to go with the fake snow.

"Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving" was the mantra of security guards and production assistants who were fighting a losing battle as people shuffled, stopped and clicked as they spotted the faux snow, Gotham Police Department cars or the St. Swithin's Home for Boys bus.

Jennifer Bird took a photo of her husband, David, and their 5-year-old son, Daniel, with the fake snow off Wood Street. Mr. Bird works at nearby Reed Smith and his wife and 5-year-old son came from Shadyside to view the scene.

"When we told Daniel that they were going to make it snow in August, he asked if he'd have to wear his coat," Mr. Bird said. Instead, the boy wore sunglasses and a T-shirt, shorts and shoes with a dinosaur theme -- not that far of a leap from Tyrannosaurus Rex to "Magnus Rex," the movie's working title.

"I like snow in winter, too," Daniel said, when asked his thoughts about the summery snow. "I'm not really a Batman TV watcher. But I am a Batman snow guy, and I wanted to see the Batmobile."

Rick Conley, owner of Oliver Flower Shop at 300 Sixth Ave., said the filming has attracted people who never or rarely come to the Golden Triangle, including those from West Virginia and the suburbs.

"It certainly brings thousands of people by the store," he said.

He was rewarded with a look at the Tumbler, visible earlier in the day and still attracting attention even when shrouded by a tarp. In the next block, Colin Kramer, 3, from Mt. Lebanon was wearing his Batman T-shirt as someone toted his Batman backpack. His great aunt, Sandy Zera of Whitehall, had brought him Downtown and he was with a group that included Jacob Christian, 6, and his mom, Stacie Kane, of Jefferson Hills.

The South Hills gang arrived Downtown at 10 a.m., surveyed the dinosaurs near PPG Place and splashed in the fountain there before walking through the snow, tucking a little in their pockets for souvenirs, sizing up the Tumbler and capping it off with lunch. A good morning all around.

"The Dark Knight Rises," starring Christian Bale as Batman and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, started production in India and moved to Great Britain. After Pittsburgh, it will head for Los Angeles and New York and arrive in theaters in July 2012.

The movie started it's local shoot in Lawrenceville July 29. It then moved to Oakland and eventually staged an explosive scene at Heinz Field Saturday and Sunday.

As Mr. Conley observed, the filming has attracted people who never or rarely come to the Golden Triangle, including those from West Virginia and the suburbs, who may venture into Pittsburgh to see a ball game on the North Side but not to venture Downtown during a weekday.

"Since they're carrying their winter coats [for the movie] they don't exactly want to be carrying flowers all day," the florist said, but added, "Downtown needs it. We have sold a few things to people, particularly if they're on their way home. I'm so appreciative of the amount of money they're spending in Pittsburgh, because we need it."


Staff writer Joey Nolfi contributed. Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632 Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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