'Dark Knight' rising in 'Burgh

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Riddle me this: When is a Dark Knight a bright day in Pittsburgh?

The answer: When "The Dark Knight Rises" here.

The news media and social networking sites have been abuzz about Pittsburgh ever since the April 5 announcement that "The Dark Knight Rises," the third installment in director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, will be filming here in July and August.

Filmmaking may be nothing new for "Hollywood on the Mon" -- more than 101 movies and television productions have set up shop here since 1990 -- but four to six weeks of filming of the iconic and lucrative Batman franchise puts the city into an entirely different category.


Simply put, Hollywood insiders say, this is a really, really big deal for the city.

As with any film shot here, the Warner Bros. production, slated to open nationwide July 20, 2012, means money spent on local film crews and actors, hotels, restaurants, transportation, dry cleaners, entertainment -- you name it.

No one knows how much money because it's unclear how much of the film will be shot here. The movie, whose budget is rumored to be in excess of $185 million, reportedly also will film in England, Bucharest, Romania and Los Angeles.

Christian Bale, who won an Academy Award for his work in "The Fighter," will return in the title role as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Anne Hathaway, who has been cast as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and Tom Hardy, who is playing Batman enemy Bane, may also be here depending on what role Pittsburgh plays.

Mr. Nolan, an Academy Award nominee, is a favorite of audiences and critics, having made "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" -- both filmed in Chicago -- along with "Inception," "The Prestige" and "Memento." Released in July 2008, "The Dark Knight," is the third-highest grossing film of all time, earning $533.3 million in North America,

Put together all of that commerce, pop culture and star power and you don't need a klieg light to see something special will be happening in Pittsburgh this summer.

Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said that while Pittsburgh has a positive reputation in the Hollywood community as a great place to film a movie, landing Batman creates a buzz heretofore unknown for the city.

"We have a great film history, from 1914's 'Perils of Pauline' to 1968's 'Night of the Living Dead' and also 'Silence of the Lambs' and 'Deer Hunter' and now we're brought into this century with one of the most recognizable franchises.

"Nobody knew what those other films were until they were done, but everyone knows Batman. It's just pure excitement."

The largest budget for filming in Pittsburgh was $100 million for 2010's "Unstoppable," starring Denzel Washington. "I don't believe this will fall into that category," Ms. Keezer said, "but it's the most recognizable film ever done here.

"This is Warner Bros.'s tent pole for next summer. This is a big film."

Squirrel Hill native Bernie Goldmann, a top Hollywood producer of movies such as "300" and 2012's "The Brothers Grimm: Snow White" starring Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, said there's no overstating the city's good fortune.

"It's a Good Housekeeping stamp of approval, both by the franchise and one of the top directors in the business," he said.

Such recognition, he said, "has a cool factor, that Pittsburgh is some place great for entertainment, some place great for pop culture and it gives the city the recognition it deserves. It sends an unconscious message out there that creates more business."

In announcing that Pittsburgh had bested Chicago, Detroit and other cities vying to be the film's location, the London-born Mr. Nolan said he chose the city because of its great architecture and diversity of locations.

"Pittsburgh is a beautiful city. We have been able to find everything we were looking for here, and I am excited to spend the summer in Pittsburgh with our final installment of Batman."

Such publicity for a city like Pittsburgh is invaluable, said Mr. Goldmann.

"Pittsburgh has always suffered from a lack of knowledge and an image problem on a worldwide basis. Perception is a huge generator of revenue and Pittsburgh is a city that can do with a huge perception change.

"This is something that moves the needle and creates that perception change."

Robert Thompson, founding director of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, agreed.

Beyond the economic impact, he said, "Batman is part of the major canon of American popular culture ... and the cultural stuff can have a much more long-lasting effect, especially in a city that's not used to having a real national identity other than billowing smokestacks.

"And there is an incalculable value in civic pride when big stars in a big movie franchise come to your city.

"It's very important but impossible to measure the value of people feeling good about their city," Mr. Thompson said. "It's a bragging point."

So, what can Pittsburgh anticipate? A lot of excitement and benefit, said Richard Moskal, director of the Chicago Film Office.

"I can't say enough good things about the whole experience. We'll miss them this time," he said.

"Batman Begins" filmed in Chicago for three weeks; "The Dark Knight" was on location there for three months. Mr. Moskal estimated that those two films brought in more than $50 million in local spending. And the filming paid dividends for the future, he said.

"It spoke volumes to others about working here in Chicago and I expect Pittsburgh will receive the same benefit. Plenty of movies that turn out big don't start that way because you don't know what they are ... but with a brand name like Batman, it conjures all kind of interest and we found out every quickly how excitable Batman fans are.

"Websites and blogs picked up on it and there truly was wildfire word of mouth that got people talking about Chicago. It was far beyond the normal interest in a film production that may have big stars."

As with any movie project, there are inevitable public inconveniences, such as street closures and setting up perimeters for filming, Mr. Moskal said.

"The good news is that Batman only comes out at night," he said with a laugh. "A lot of the stuff they were doing happened when most everybody else was sleeping, so just by its nature it wasn't as impactful.

"There were some things they did, particularly some of the stunts, that were a big challenge for us, that raised the bar -- cars going end over end, imploding buildings, very high-energy aerial work with helicopters.

"It was challenging, difficult work but we found the filmmakers to be extraordinarily responsive to our concerns, to make sure it was done safely and to engage the community, to let people know what was going on. I think when all was said and done, everyone was pleased with the way it done."

Just as Chicago did, he said, Pittsburgh will learn one undeniable truth.

"Batman is cool, there is no question."

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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