Game Day for Batman filming at Heinz Field

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Steelers Nation went Rogue today inside Heinz Field as thousands of extras played fans of a fictional team for a scene being filmed for "The Dark Knight Rises."

The Gotham Rogues are playing the Rapid City Monuments in a fictional game at the stadium, and after a morning of filming several takes of a kickoff scene, the mayhem started in the afternoon.

Fans who spent hours donning coats and cheering, then waiting while scenes were set, got a chance to play a panicked crowd as an attack on the field took place.

Vehicles called Tumblers -- which resemble Batmobiles but are painted in camouflage -- rolled onto the field after noon, and special effects teams set explosives for the explosive scene being filmed this afternoon. Shortly before 3 p.m., an annoucement that explosions were to start went out over police radio.


Later about 60 bombs set on the field went off in quick succession. That was the crowd's cue to scream, run and generally freak out.

Earlier in the day, thousands of extras decked out in the Rogues' colors of black and gold cheered as some Steelers, including Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward, appeared, playing members of the Rogues. Bill Cowher returned, prowling the sidelines in his first coaching gig since leaving the Steelers after the 2006 season. Kevin Colbert, the Steelers director of football operations, is reuniting with Cowher as an assistant coach for the Gotham Rogues.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is dusting off his college skills and playing a kicker for the Rapid City Monuments, the Rogues' rivals. That may have been one of the reasons he was booed when one of his practice kicks did not go well.

A 2003 graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, he was a kicker there during his student days.

No Terrible Towels were in evidence, since they bear the distinctive Steelers logo which is banned for the day. Instead, fans were given gold hankies to wave and, in keeping with gridiron tradition, the national anthem was sung.

On the kickoff, Hines Ward received, blowing past the mayor as he returned the kick. That scene was repeated many times over about three hours, with the fans putting on coats they had been instructed to bring to simulate the cold during each take, then taking them off between to try to cool off in the muggy weather. Shortly after noon, the kickoff scene was done and setup began for a special effects scene.

There are many homemade signs, including: "Rogue Rage," "Rogues Gallery," "Rogue Nation," Rogue, Rogue, Rogue Your Boat," and "You're in Rogue Country."

During a rain delay earlier, fans passed the time practicing the wave. Prizes were awarded to members of crowd, which included people of all ages, but seemed to have more 20 and 30-somethings than other age groups.

As expected, whole sections of extras are being moved between shots to allow the camera to make it appear that the stadium is packed. In the filmmaking equivalent of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, there are two ways to make 10,000 or so extras look like 60,000: Film them and reproduce them digitally to fill in empty seats or have them move so the background always appears robust and full.

The fans had lined up outside the Civic Arena early this morning to board buses for Heinz Field, making it seem like game day. They had been told to expect filming to last until 7 p.m. or so and were told there would be moments of "high exciting energy" and down time.

"This is very exciting but can be tiring by the end of a big day," extras were told in a packet they received after being chosen online. "If you do not plan on staying to experience the whole day, please do not come."

Extras were promised stadium food--hotdogs, burgers, pretzels, ice cream and water--and chances to win prizes from raffles, including a grand prize of airfare and tickets the U.S. premiere of the movie in July.

The influx of so many people caused traffic tie-ups on Grant Street and other byways, including the Parkway East at the Grant Street exit. Pittsburgh police officers were stationed at intersections on Grant Street. One officer said backups were to be expected "when you have 10,000 extras coming in." By 10:30 there was gridlock Downtown.

Fans who had signed up as an extra online were told to arrive at staggered times outside the Arena. They lined the sidewalk along Mario Lemieux Place, three abreast from Centre Avenue to Bedford Avenue.

But boarding of the buses was a well-oiled operation, with the line moving at a relatively brisk pace as full buses left for Heinz Field every few minutes or so. At one point, 14 buses, seven abreast, were lined up.

As instructed the fans wore the Rogues' colors, black and gold, which they had no problem finding in their closets. One caveat though: No Steelers logos.

Waiting to board a bus, Jeannette Walker, 51, and Cindy Witham, 40, and their children, Jaime and Levi, respectively, stood out in a sea of black and gold. They wore black and gold wigs, their faces were painted black and gold and they wore black and gold boas and clothing.

Ms. Walker and Ms. Witham, both rural postal carriers from Northern Cambria, Cambria County, took the day off yesterday and drove with their children about 100 miles and stayed with Ms. Walker's daughter at her place Downtown.

"We wanted to be a part of the movie. I plan on starting as an unpaid extra and leaving as a paid one," she laughed.

She said they realized it was going to be a long day, but "That's OK."

However, one discomfort had already arisen: "It's hot in these wigs," she said.

Further down the line, Peggy Graham, 54, of Ohioville, Beaver County, waited patiently. She's no neophyte movie extra. She and her then-boyfriend were extras in the "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, the 1979 movie filmed partially at the Civic Arena outside which she now stood in a yellow t-shirt.

She was resurrecting her movie career at the urging of her 24-year-old daughter, who accompanied her.

"We'll have fun," she said.

As for "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh," she never saw the movie "so I don't even know if I was in it."

She did take something away from the experience though--her then-boyfriend is her now-husband.

The Steel City may be playing Gotham City, but it's just one stop on "The Dark Knight Rises" location list.

Before shooting concludes, the movie will visit three continents and film in Pittsburgh, New York and Los Angeles. The production started in India more than three months ago and then moved to England and Scotland before arriving here.

Director Christopher Nolan has said "The Dark Knight Rises" will be the conclusion to his Batman trilogy. The film returns Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox.

Anne Hathaway joins the fray as Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman; Tom Hardy is the villain Bane; Marion Cotillard is Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member who may have a secret identity of her own; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is John Blake, a Gotham City beat cop.

Staff writer Lillian Thomas contributed.


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