my day on set: the dark knight rises.

**Expect spoilers.  I’ll warn you before they get bad.

To begin this story, it’s appropriate to rewind to the various nights I spent sitting in my bed on the Internet in Atlanta.  I was on Twitter when I saw it:  Dark Knight Rises needs extras in Heinz Field!  I immediately got upset, because, of course something unbelievably awesome would happen while I was sitting around in Georgia.  I clinked on a link that led me to this—http://boringpittsburgh.com/what-to-do-412/batman-dark-knight-rises-filming-heinz-field-extras/#more-6956, and then got super excited when I noticed the filming wasn’t until August!  There was a small period of hesitation when I realized that the film date was during the weekend I had planned on going to Lexington for Math Fest, but I prioritized my love for Batman, Heinz Field, and football over my love for math and signed up right then.  It’s a darn good thing I did this too, because spots filled within the week.

Back to Friday, August 5th—I made plans to stay with my cousin Chris who lives in Pittsburgh since I had to get the Bat Shuttle at 6:15.  Naturally I had my day planned out to shower, pack, and eat last minute before heading over to his place around 6 pm.  Also naturally, this plan was interrupted by my aunt inviting us to a town festival outside of Pittsburgh that night where The Clarks were going to be playing.  I really like The Clarks, and I’d never seen them live, so of course I made this happen.  Typical to my life, however, this could not go smoothly.

Irritation number 1: I had only forty minutes to get ready, and my brother decided to hop in the shower.

Irritation number 2: My keys were MIA. I searched the house at least three times to no avail and ended up borrowing my brother’s keys.

Irritation number 3: As I scarfed down my food up the road and was rushing to head out, I remembered that I left my cousin’s address at home and would have to stop back.

Irritation number 4: I forgot that the road is closed and had to turn around and go the long way.

Irritation number 5: I pulled up way too close at the gas station and didn’t have enough room to stand in front of the tank while still being in view of the pump screen.  I was annoyed enough at this point that it was irritating.

I eventually get to my aunt’s house, and we and my friend Missy eventually make it to Chris’s, and we all eventually make it to the show.  And it was a lot of fun.

 ***

Even though filming was at Heinz Field, we had to park behind Civic Arena on the other side of the city.  I got there around six to catch the Bat Shuttle.  It was really disappointing to discover the shuttle was just a regular school bus.

I was within the first 1,000 people to arrive at Heinz, and was seated about 20 rows back with an aisle seat in a section facing the corner.  I sat there for a few minutes until I saw that people were being escorted into the end zone seats.  At this time, I turned on my charm and asked the usher if I could go over there.  I now sat 5 rows back and 4 seats in from the tunnel by a funny short couple and a couple from Boston that had flown in just for this.  This back part of the stadium continued to fill, all the way up to the top.  The people seated in section 218 probably weren’t happy with their seats, so they started to get really rowdy (rowdy for 7 am at least) and began chanting, “2-1-8! 2-1-8!”  While the crew was setting up on field, one of the liaisons came over to talk to us about what we would be doing.  She made a strong point that we weren’t extras, we were going to be actors.  Of course we all assumed that she was just telling us this to make us feel special, but it really did turn out to be true.  The first scene that they shot was the national anthem.  The kid singing wasn’t all that good; I’m not sure how he got the part.  There is a chance I could be seen in this shot.  Looking at the video on the Jumbotron, I’m right over his shoulder.  I might not be recognizable, but I’ll probably be able to pause the film, count seats, and be pleased.

After an hour of the national anthem, they began moving people around to fill up the left side of the stadium.  The bottom tier was already full, so all of the end zone people, the first people to arrive, got moved up into the club level.  This turned thousands of happy people into bitter, angry people.  Aside from the frustration, I kept thinking about how great of a seat that would have been at a real football game.  Here’s a shot from my new seat looking towards my old seat.

!cid__0806111032_0001_0001Once everyone was moved, they brought out the Rogues and the Monuments.  The first thing I noticed was that there were two 86s on the Rogues team.  My first thought was, “Does Hines Ward need a stunt double?”  If you are unaware, TDKR really embraced Pittsburgh football for this scene.  A list of players/coaches, copy/pasted directly from an email:

ROGUES P L A Y E R S

#91 Aaron Smith

#7 Ben Roethlisberger

#99 Brett Kiesel

#13 Dan Rooney

#83 Heath Miller

#86 Hines Ward

#24 Ike Taylor

#51 James Farrior

#92 James Harrison

#56 LaMarr Woodley

#53 Maurkice Pouncey

#17 Mike Wallace

#25 Ryan Clark

#43 Troy Polamalu

ROGUES COACHES

Bill Cowher

Kevin Colbert

Kelvin Fisher

Omar Kahn

Bruce McNorton

Dan Prunzik

Matt Smith

MONUMENTS P L A Y E R S

#19 Luke Ravenstahl

How awesome is that?  We began doing the national anthem again.  They first did the Rogues sideline, and then the Monuments.  Since there were only about 12,000 extras, they had the Rogues and Monuments switch sidelines, told us all to put down any signs we had, and had us face the other direction to create the illusion that we were different people on the other side of the field.  All in all, there were probably about 4 hours spent on the national anthem.

There was a short rain delay around 10:30, and while we waited for the crew to bring all the equipment back out, we did a very spirited wave.  This might not have been a real football game, but just being in that stadium surrounded by black and gold was amazing.

There are spoilers from here on out. I’m talking what happens in the movie in detail type of spoilers, so if that will ruin things for you, stop reading.  Only one more sentence after this one to make up your mind.  All right, here we go.

It was time to watch some football.  Mayor Luke kicked off and Hines Ward ran down the field. Over and over and over.  I’m not complaining though, it was AWESOME cheering him on in Heinz Field surrounded by black and gold fans waving our crappy Terrible Towel substitute yellow bandana things.  It was exhilarating.

All of us in the stands were still wondering what the heck was with the raised part of the field.  At about this time, we were told it was time for explosions! They put off one of the explosives, then told us to imagine it times sixty.  This is why we were given earplugs.  It was time for us to act.  We were told that Bane was going to explode the field, and that we should react accordingly.  The excitement could be felt.  The director (not Nolan, an assistant maybe?) guided us through practice runs. “Hines has the ball….he’s running down the field….still running…touchdown!!!….BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!” You get the picture.  As soon as he yelled boom, the cheers turn immediately to screams.  People run.  People duck.  The people in my section, myself included, started climbing back rows of seats and climbing over the railing to get to the next level where doors were closer.  It was a work out after a lot of takes, and by the time the actual filming happened, no one was doing this anymore, which is kind of sad.  It would have been good footage. So yeah, the field blows up and all the players disappear.  No happy ending there.  I was right about Hines needing a stunt double.  They did some takes of him running on the field addition weaving around holes the other players fall into.  This makes me think the touchdown will not occur in the movie.

Pre-explosion field.  The little balls of grass are the explosives.  When the movie is made, only the green addition will be left.  The rest of the field will be a giant pit.

!cid__0806111324_0001

We got a break again and the crew brought out some tumblers just so we could cheer and feel cool.  Hines rode one out at some point.  Coach Cowher announced a set of raffle prizes, and he was hilarious.  The Rooneys made an appearance.  It was a good time to be a Steelers fan.  When it was time to go again, we !cid__downsized_0806111221heard that Bane would be coming out to speak to us.  We were to be the first people to see him in full costume, which is pretty cool.  He’s some type of militant, but is wearing a mask that makes it hard to understand him.  I’m hoping this was just explosion-protection and won’t be for the whole movie.  We acted scared as he told us to “take control of [our] city” and killed a guy.

There came another really long break, and things became miserable.  It was insanely hot.  Crew members were throwing us endless water bottles and popsicles, but it wasn’t helping.  I was glad they required us to bring umbrellas, the shade was nice but still not enough.  How better to please a crowd than throwing shirts, right?  Wrong.  They didn’t have a t-shirt launcher, so only the lower levels got any.  My section watched in increasing frustration as about every person in the section behind the goal got a shirt.  WE should have gotten those shirts.  Angry chants began, which worked for section 218, but not us.  We never got any shirts.  They switched tactics and decided to have a singing competition.  People could go down to the front and sing a chorus to their favorite song.  This was not a good idea for thousands of irritated people.  The crowd was brutal, at one point even starting a “Bring back CJ” chant, and we all knew that kid was barely any good.  A few more takes were done of crowd shots and we were done.   All the prizes were raffled off and I didn’t win anything.  It took forever (at least an hour) to get out of the stadium and the heat was even worse in the tunnels.  Yes, the end of the day absolutely sucked, but I’d still do it again.  Heinz Field + Batman = awesome.

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