Four local first responders, firemen and police officers from Brookfield and Danbury, were extras in the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. They joined hundreds of other law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs and former military personnel, along with a sprinkling of professional extras from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), in the all-out, choreographed brawl that takes place on Wall Street between the police and a mob of escaped convicts, all while Batman fights his nemesis Bane.
Nolan and the movie’s producers were searching for extras that could look the part of police officers defending their city, and hand-to-hand combat skills were a plus.
“They were going for the look,” film extra and Danbury Fire Lieutenant Eric Handau explained. “Short hair, trimmed mustache, not too fat — someone you can pretty much slap a uniform on and look like a cop.”
“They wanted people that would be comfortable handling weapons, would look natural in uniform and with weapons,” Brookfield firefighter Joseph Kyek said. “Plus, they knew people training in those areas are disciplined and can follow instructions.”
The extras trained in the art of fake combat for three days in Long Island before the shoot, honing their ability to throw and receive fake punches and kicks before filming started.
“Fake fighting is different, you have to hold back,” Danbury firefighter Tyler Bergmann said. “You actually have concern for the person you’re squaring off on.”
The fight was fake, but often the bruises were real.
“It’s a choreographed fight, so I knew what was coming,” Bergmann recalled. “But sometimes the timing was a little off and you got grazed.”
In order to minimize injury, the extras were paired with specific fight buddies, who planned out how they would engage each other before the scene began.
“You would find him six out of 10 times in the crowd,” Brookfield police officer Devin Quintard said. “If not, you pick some random person,” who doesn’t know what to expect.
“I actually got hit a couple times,” Quintard said.
“It was all about, do you look good fake fighting, could you be on screen,” he said of making the cut. “Could you fake it enough to make it look real.”
Though he has more experience with handling himself in a real fight, Quintard said his police training allowed him to “pretty much roll with the punches.”
That and emergency personnel, as Handau said, “are dependable.”
That dependability came into play during the long hours of shooting during their two days on Wall Street.
“We were either catching the first train [into the city] in the morning or the last train from the night before,” Handau said, starting in the early morning hours and spending upwards of 16 hours on set.
“We would be on set at four or five in the morning and returned our costumes at 11 at night,” Bergmann said, setting up, shooting, then resetting and running the entire scene again.
The scene was shot and re-shot until Nolan’s attention to detail and compulsion toward perfection was satisfied.
“You can definitely see that he is a perfectionist on his shoots,” Quintard said of Nolan. “The amount of takes for a two-second shot, just running up, but that’s what makes him so good as a filmmaker.”
The resulting scene in the movie is short, but they ran what felt like hundreds of takes to get it just right.
“We literally did it 40 times, over and over again,” Quintard said. “It felt like high school football all over again, like doing wind sprints.”
“Chris Nolan wanted it to be epic, as he told us,” Kyek said, and that meant running take after take until it was perfect.
Going Behind the Magic
They would run a take, hear the assistant directors yell “cut” and then take the hour or so to reset before going again, all the while surrounded by the false bedlam of a war-torn “Gotham” and a glimpse behind the scenes of movie magic.
“The entire thing was a ‘wow, this is awesome’ moment until the cold set in,” Kyek said. “But knowing it was going to be in The Batman movie made the experience worth it.”
Being behind the scenes of a movie for the first time, Kyek said he was amazed by the fact that it “takes so much man power and man hours to complete one scene.”
“I also never knew how regimented everyone has to be,” he said.
“They were telling you not to talk to the actors, don’t ask for autographs and that sort of thing,” Quintard said, but during one encounter with Christian Bale he found the actor to be very personable and down to Earth.
“We were close up to him [after a take] and he turned around and was telling us all about the bat suit,” how the pieces were held together by zip ties and how it was difficult to maneuver in, he said.
“It was funny at times to see them interacting between scenes, hamming it up,” Bergmann said, recalling an instance where he saw Batman and Bane hugging it out after a fight. “It seemed like everyone was having a good time.”
Having too good a time, however, was often the cause of delays.
“After the first 20 seconds of fake fighting someone starts laughing and then you start laughing,” Handau said, blaming a number of the aborted takes on extras like him enjoying themselves too much.
“It’s hard to stop smiling but you can’t look like you’re having fun,” Bergmann agreed, since as Gotham police they were supposed to be fighting for their city and their lives.
Once in a Lifetime
Despite the need for intensity and the cold temperatures, all four said they had a great time, though that’s not to say they’ve found new careers.
“No way,” Bergmann said about pursuing a job as a professional extra. “I like running into burning buildings — much easier.” Though, this is “definitely a story I can tell my children and family down the road,” he added.
“It was a great experience,” Handau said. “Am I stopping being a firefighter? Probably not, but I would do it again so long as I wasn’t missing out on any other opportunities,” he said. “I wouldn’t miss a day of work,” for instance.
“For the right movie I would definitely do it again,” Quintard agreed, though a lot more work goes into producing a movie than he had thought.
“It takes a lot to go into one of these scenes for a three-second shot,” he said. “It takes a lot to do what they do on a daily basis.”
For Quintard, this one scene will be something to show his kids, if he can see himself clearly enough to prove it.
All four of the men have seen the movie since its release, but they weren’t able to see themselves in it.
“We came to the realization that you’d need a remote and a pause button to see us,” Quintard said. “We’ll see when the DVD comes out.”
But, “Just to see it all play out on the big screen makes a huge difference.”
A Tragedy in Real Life
Though their experience as extras in the movie had little to do with the premiere, as Batman fans and first responders — firefighters, EMTs and police officers — they were struck by the , where a gunman opened fire during the screening, killing 12 and wounding 58.
“Thinking about the responders arriving at the scene, dealing with a mass casualty incident on their hand, it’s overwhelming,” Bergmann said, shuddering at the thought.
Quintard’s cousin lives 15 minutes from that theater and was planning on going to a midnight showing of the movie, he said, though, luckily, he was not at the theater in Aurora when tragedy struck.
“It is completely devastating that this could happen again so close to Columbine,” he said, in disbelief that someone could be so troubled to be moved to such an action.
Speaking only days after the shooting took place, Quintard said his thoughts were on the “victims who stood there and took a bullet so someone else could get out,” the heroes whose first thoughts were about saving those around them.
“That that could happen is just horrible,” Handau said, noting that something so sudden and unexpected “could have happened anywhere.”
“The harsh reality is there is no way to control someone who has a plan to kill,” Kyek said, but emergency responders can be trained and equipped to handle such situations.
“This is exactly why politicians and government leaders need to tread on water when they try to save money by consolidating things in the public safety field,” he said. “Those officers in Colorado should have had gas masks for every officer… Give our police what they need to keep us safe because when the ‘bad guy’ is better prepared than the ‘good guys’ we have problems.”