Snowy Gotham City sets up camp on Lawrenceville street

Hot, rainy Friday doesn't stop filming for Batman from getting under way


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Thanks to the movie magic employed by the makers of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises," one block in Lawrenceville was immune from the heat, humidity and intermittent showers that fell Friday afternoon.

On 41st Street between Butler and Foster streets, director Christopher Nolan was on-site to oversee the film's first day of shooting in Pittsburgh. Under his watchful eye, dozens of cargo-short clad staffers converted picturesque row house No. 170 into the home of a Gotham City judge, played by Brett Cullen.

Piles of fake snow dotted the sidewalks, and black canvas drapes and heavy-duty screens blotted out the sun to create a dreary winter backdrop. Wind and dust machines were on hand to create a storm, even though Pittsburgh skies threatened their own as the afternoon wore on.

Gary Oldman's police Commissioner Jim Gordon ran up the house's steps in take after take to alert the judge to dirty dealings and increasing violence in Gotham.

Well-meaning Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate, played by Marion Cotillard, came to the judge's house in a scene with Commissioner Gordon and Detective Jim Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Ms. Cotillard braved the heat in leather boots and a navy wool peacoat, which she quickly shed at the end of the take, while Mr. Gordon-Levitt was lucky enough to film in shirtsleeves.

At either end of the 41st Street set, city police guarded barricades and kept spectators from edging onto the set. Timothy Kust was as close to the action as a Pittsburgher could get: His house, No. 172, sits next door to the home featured in Friday's scenes. He was home throughout the day, even as crews stored tall lights in front of his front door and leaned stacks of light filters against the facade.

From his vantage point, the shoot was far from exciting.

"Let's just say, it's been an experience," he said, declining to elaborate.

Tom Cox, who lives on 42nd Street, said the first indication that Batman would film in his neighborhood came when a fleet of "white trucks" began gathering in a parking lot across the street from the Catalyst Building at the corner of 41st and ripped a fence out of the lot to make space for trailers and trucks.

Though Mr. Cox expected crews to close Foster Street, where he and his dog, Belle, went Friday afternoon to get a peek at the set, he said he was surprised they managed to keep the street open and avoid causing parking jams in the neighborhood.

"I thought maybe a lot of people would be parking on our street, which fills up really fast, but that doesn't seem to be happening," Mr. Cox said. "They're managing it well."

Between President Barack Obama's visit to the neighborhood in June and the Batman shoot, Lawrenceville has seen a great deal of excitement this summer, as 44th Street denizen Mary Hartley pointed out.

Ms. Hartley brought her son and daughter to the set after lunch at Wendy's on Butler Street, and 11-year-old Jack was quick to notice the customized yellow cabs waiting at the end of 41st. They had the word "Gotham" emblazoned on their doors, as well as special license plates tailored to the movie.

Grace, 7, said she appreciated how the crew members "were trying to work together."

Despite the maturity of her remark, Grace's mother said she doubts the then-8-year-old will be allowed to see "The Dark Knight Rises" when it hits theaters in July 2012.

Beyond the barricades, business continued as usual on the Butler Street thoroughfare. Demetria, an employee at Citizens Bank, was handing out flyers to passers-by for a bank promotion.

While the street is usually "pretty dead" during most of her canvassing assignments, Demetria said she noticed an increased amount of traffic in the neighborhood -- and it all seemed to be for Batman.

For her part, Demetria intended to visit the set on break in hopes of seeing one cast member in particular.

"Christian Bale isn't going to be here, is he? He's not coming at all?" she asked.


Lauren Rosenthal: lrosenthal@post-gazette.com .


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