Steelers part-owner Thomas Tull had a hand in bringing Batman film here
May 27, 2011 4:00 AM
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A lifetime fascination with comic books and the Steelers -- and now the city of Pittsburgh itself -- combined to help bring the big-budget movie "Dark Knight Rises" to film here starting this summer.
Thomas Tull, president and CEO of Legendary Pictures, became a partner in the Steelers ownership group two years ago when the Rooneys restructured the franchise by adding a dozen new shareholders. He's been a fixture at many of their games, flying back and forth from Los Angeles, and now he has another major project scheduled in Pittsburgh, a $250 million movie.
According to Steelers president Art Rooney II and other sources, Mr. Tull used his influence as executive producer on a string of hit movies to encourage Warner Bros. to shoot a large part of "Dark Knight Rises" in Pittsburgh. The studio began principal photography for the third movie in the Batman trilogy last week and will soon arrive in the city with its cast and crew to shoot scenes here. Warner Bros. announced last Friday that Mr. Tull's Legendary Pictures again will partner as the production company, as it did for "Dark Knight" in 2008. It is the latest in the 40-picture deal between Warner and Legendary.
"There was competition, this wasn't an automatic thing," Mr. Rooney said of Pittsburgh becoming one of five cities in which "Dark Knight Rises" will be filmed. "Thomas wanted to see it happen, and he worked hard. We assisted as much as we could and worked with the Pittsburgh Film Office. It's an exciting thing to have happen for the city, and I think it will be a fun summer to have the movie here. As I understand it, it's the biggest movie ever filmed here, budget-wise, so there will be a lot of activity and people working on it.
"There are a lot of positives to it and we're happy Thomas was able to make it happen."
Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said the movie's budget had not yet been revealed (although reportedly it is $250 million), so she could not say whether it's the most expensive ever shot in the city. However, "it's definitely the highest-profile picture; everybody knows the story."
Ms. Keezer said location scouting was done at Heinz Field and that the Steelers talked to her about Legendary Picture's involvement. "We're thrilled and hope he brings more," she said of Mr. Tull. "Legendary should open an office here.''
That might not be a stretch.
"Obviously, we're very happy that Thomas is part of our ownership group," Mr. Rooney said. "The contributions he's made and [is] trying to make, he's been a great partner. I think he has developed a fondness for the city and actually is considering buying a house here. Bringing the movie here is something he really wanted to try to do."
Mr. Tull, his representatives and a spokeswoman for Warner Bros. all declined comment, so there are few specifics on just how he won over the studio. Mr. Rooney, though, says it was all about relationships.
"He's been involved in the Batman films, his company is one of the producers, he's worked with the director [Christopher Nolan] before and they have a good relationship. Certainly they trust his judgment that Pittsburgh could do it .... He was able to convince them this is a good place to film the movie."
Pittsburgh has seen increased interest from Hollywood in recent years. "Perks of Being a Wallflower" is shooting here now and another film, "Still I Rise," will soon begin shooting.
In "Dark Knight Rises," Pittsburgh will stand in for Gotham, the fictional big city home of Batman. The studio will film scenes in other cities and countries as well -- New York, Los Angeles, the U.K. and India.
Like Batman himself, Mr. Tull's story has been one right out of a comic book.
For a Post-Gazette profile of Mr. Tull two years ago, he described himself growing up "dirt poor" in Binghamton, N.Y. He fell in love with the Steelers when, as a 41/2-year-old, he watched them win Super Bowl IX, 16-6, over the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 12, 1975.
"That was it," Mr. Tull said. "I remember taking a yellow T-shirt and, with black, writing No. 12 on it. I had yellow wrist bands, and I was hooked for life."
His path to Hollywood movie producer was not as direct but still fascinating. He used his love of comic books and video games to become head of a media entertainment holding company in Atlanta. One night in Los Angeles, he sat next to a vice chairman of MGM at a dinner party. They chatted about the film business and its challenges, and Mr. Tull offered some suggestions on how to fund a movie.
The official took him up on the idea, and Mr. Tull quickly became a successful producer, ultimately forming Legendary Pictures.
How successful? At his invitation, a few Steelers, including Ben Roethlisberger and former coach Bill Cowher, attended the Los Angeles premier of "Hangover II" May 19. Mr. Tull is executive producer, as he was for the mega-hit "Hangover," and others including "Inception," "Clash of the Titans," "Watchmen," "300," "Superman Returns" and many more.