The Batman: a stunning Gotham, realistic action… What the film team promises us…

Part two of our interviews with the cast of “The Batman”. This week, focus on the shooting, the realistic approach and the creation of this Gotham City. Made mostly in the studio according to Robert Pattinson.

Tackling Batman on the big screen is the assurance of being observed very closely by very demanding fans (Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck, very strongly criticized when they were chosen, know something about it). And many are the elements expected with firm footing: the interpreter of the Bat Man, his costume, his voice, his Batmobile, the human and visual approach of the director…

Without forgetting his vision of Gotham City, which is often a note of intent. Gothic at Tim Burton, neon at Joel Schumacher, realistic at Christopher Nolan, the city of Bruce Wayne is getting a new facelift thanks to Matt Reeves. And in the second part of our interviews with the team of The Batman, place today to the creation of the universe in which evolves Robert Pattinson. Which gives us a very surprising revelation.

WELCOME TO GOTHAM CITY

Robert Pattinson (Bruce Wayne/Batman): 90% of the film was shot in the studio, but the sets were incredibly immersive. About eight city blocks in Gotham City were built at Leavesden Studios [en Angleterre, près de Watford, où ont été tournés les Harry Potter notamment, ndlr], and it is almost impossible to know if you are not told. Especially since there was a railway line and lots of other things like that.

It was a very, very full set. Very well cut. You’ll find it hard to believe these are studio sets when you see the film. But it is nevertheless the case. So much so that the members of the technical team, who were English, started speaking with an American accent because it felt like we were on a big street in Gotham (laughs) But it’s so much easier to work that way: you arrive on set, and you don’t have to imagine the sets. There were very few green funds, and we also had this new technology.

Zoë Kravitz (Selina Kyle / Catwoman): LED screens! It was our cinematographer Greig Fraser who invented this technology [le Volume, ndlr] on the Star Wars series The Mandalorian. And it was amazing. Our hardest job as actors is to face a green screen and make it look like one thing is another. It takes a lot of energy to pretend that something is happening when it is not. You even feel a little silly, and it almost holds you back.

the batman: a stunning gotham, realistic action... what the film team promises us...
Warner Bros. Pictures

Zoë Kravitz and Robert Pattinson at the dawn of a new saga

Robert and I share a scene over the rooftops of Gotham as the sun goes down. To be able to see and feel the city, and have the light, was… Oh my God! I was very grateful for that because it really allowed us to focus on what was happening on an emotional level, instead of thinking “You are facing a skyscraper, there is a skyscraper in front of you” (laughs) We almost forget the effect of light on us, so much so that every detail, like birds, is incredible. It made the film world more real.

John Turturro (Carmine Falcone): When I looked out the window of an office or hideout setting, seeing all those projections that looked so real impressed me. I had never been on a set like this. I’ve been on a lot of sets, and I thought it would be easy for me to imagine the world outside of the sets. But it was impressive.

Peter Sarsgaard (Gil Colson): There are massive sets, and walking into a cathedral is something. But what changes everything is when you go up and discover the level of small details in such a big thing. Everything is very nicely done, and with great precision. It was breathtaking, the whole time.

We’re so used to seeing visual effects that we assume almost nothing is real anymore (Matt Reeves)

Matt Reeves (Director, co-writer): I wanted people to believe what is happening on the screen. And I have always tried to use as many practical effects as possible. On Planet of the Apes, we made sure to take the cameras out, to shoot in places where motion-capture had not been used: on the first [réalisé par Rupert Wyatt, ndlr]everything was very staged with cinematic lighting, so I wanted natural light, and we went into the forest.

It added a level of reality even though, of course, there were no monkeys there. But there was a lot of real stuff in the frame. And that’s an approach that I tried to apply here, like I did on Cloverfield, where the basis of everything was real, even if there was something virtual in the shot. This allowed us to have a reference.

PRACTICAL SENSE

Matt Reeves: In The Batman, there’s an incredible mix of things we were able to do, like stunts or explosions, and things we couldn’t. And I hope that mix creates a level of credibility and reality. We’re so used to seeing visual effects that we assume almost nothing is real anymore. And I find it crazy that we start from this principle!

In particular, I wanted to do a very realistic chase with the Batmobile, which you saw in the second trailer. I wanted it to be 100% realistic. But there are things we couldn’t really do when the scene reached its climax, otherwise people would have died. (laughs) We had cameras securely attached to vehicles, like we were in Bullitt with Steve McQueen, where the camera doesn’t do anything he can’t.

And, for me, the Batmobile is an emblem of revenge. Almost like in a horror movie such as Stephen King’s Christine [adapté par John Carpenter au cinéma, ndlr], where she creates terror herself. I wanted her to be able to jump through the fire, and that’s an image you see in the trailer: when the Penguin looks in his rearview mirror and the car jumps through the fire. I thought it could only be done with digital effects.

the batman: a stunning gotham, realistic action... what the film team promises us...
Warner Bros. Pictures

“This plan is real!”, assures us Matt Reeves

But when we started working on it with Dominic Tuohy and Robert Alonzo, my visual and physical effects and stunt managers, they told me it was doable in real life. And we did. This plan is real! But it breaks my heart to think that we really did this stunt, and people are going to assume it’s digital effects. Even if the shot is in the middle of a sequence full of special effects.

That’s what I find fun about making films: to manage to make it so that when you watch it, you have no idea that certain things are the result of visual effects. And that, conversely, the spectators will think that real things are special effects. That’s the fun part: making you think it’s all real.

BATMAN FACING COVID

Dylan Clark (Producer): Our way of filming was the same as on Planet of the Apes. We don’t like being only in sets. We also like to be in physical spaces, outdoors. And that was our initial plan here: we shot in Liverpool, around London, in Chicago… And it got a lot more complicated when the Covid spread. We couldn’t take the whole team to these places anymore, for security reasons, because we didn’t know how to contain everything. So we adapted our way of filming.

And we did more studio after the break in filming. We shot from January to March 2020, then resumed in August of the same year, changing some methodologies. Fortunately, we had an incredibly creative team and our actors are amazing. Solving the slightest problem on set is a task generally assigned to a certain number of people. Before the Covid, all these people met on the set to find a solution. With the pandemic, that has changed.

We were able to achieve this, but it was more complicated. We had to isolate ourselves more, communication was done more often through headphones. And we’re social people by nature so normally we get together and shake each other up and solve problems. Having to do it in our tents, isolated, was more difficult, but we had to go through it because, in the end, we had to make sure the environment was safe enough for the actors to take off their masks and get lost in their respective characters, without worrying about getting sick.

Matt Reeves wanted everything to be alive for the duration of the take. Let it all happen at the same time, so he can use every element (Peter Sarsgaard)

Peter Sarsgaard: During filming, we had all these things because of the Covid: goggles, a hood, a mask… Which would normally make communication with your director almost impossible. But we were dealing with someone obsessive. Truly. Not in a desire to control everything and try to make things the way he had imagined them. It must live before him. Let it all play out at the same time, so he can use every element.

Of course, I’m not saying that there are a million sequence shots in which everything plays out for five minutes on one shot. But Matt wanted everything to be alive for the duration of the take. It’s interesting because I feel like the director is challenging me, and it allows me to actively focus on knowing that someone is really watching me.

Interview by Maximilien Pierrette in Paris on December 6, 2021

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