On the Set of 'The Dark Knight' - Director & Producers

During our June [2007] set visit, my fellow members of the press and I spoke to a number of people affiliated with the production in a variety of roles. In Part 1 of my report, we discussed costuming and the new Batsuit, while in Part 2 we looked at Production Design and Special Effects. This time, I’ll recap the group’s conversations with producers Charles “Chuck” Roven and Emma Thomas, and director Christopher Nolan.

For his part, Roven’s been in the producing game for decades. In addition to The Dark Knight, his 2008 producing credits include The Bank Job and Get Smart. Little wonder, then, that he was ShoWest 2008’s Producer of the Year. Among his upcoming films will be the cinematic adaptation of The Flash.

Emma Thomas, Nolan’s wife, has an extensive resume going back to terms as a production assistant and script supervisor. Since 1997, she’s been producing; she’s worked on many of Nolan’s films, including Memento, The Prestige, and both Batman pictures.

Roven gets right to the heart of things by alluding to the end of Batman Begins. If you recall, there was the conversation between Batman and Jim Gordon regarding the idea of “escalation”. Roven noted that there “is escalation ... not only with what’s left of the mob, but with a more ... interesting kind of criminal element.”

Of course, that more interesting element includes the Joker, played by Heath Ledger. At the time of our discussion, all parties were extremely enthusiastic about Ledger’s work. When we would meet Gary Oldman at the end of the day, one of the first things that he did was regard a large picture of Ledger in make-up, shake his finger at it, and smile before giving us many words of praise for the young actor. Thomas explained Ledger’s involvement by saying “He contacted Chris and said he was interested.” Ledger, according to Thomas, had a firm idea of how to play the Joker, and it was “in tune with [Nolan’s] vision.”

Nolan himself would heap praise on Ledger upon his arrival. He said, “What Heath's doing is very unique and really I think pretty amazing and very frightening as the character should be.” He went on to emphasize that while there’s humor in the performance, “he's definitely taking it in a very intense, very scary direction.”

For Nolan, this is obviously his second turn in the director’s chair of the Batman film franchise. His reboot, Batman Begins was a success with fans and critics. The director, hailed for his sensibilities on critical darlings like Memento, brought a new energy to the familiar characters. It seems important to Nolan to completely embrace the aesthetic that he deployed on Begins, keeping the films consistent.

In terms of the attraction of a sequel, Nolan explained, “I just very much enjoyed making the first film, and I had no real intention of doing a sequel. But having created a view of Batman's universe that ... at the end of the film we introduced the idea or the thought of the Joker ... that to me becomes an irresistible, creative process that myself, and David Goyer and [Jonathan] have got into.”

Nolan, of course, refers to the writer of the first film, David Goyer, and his own brother, Jonathan Nolan. Goyer and Christopher Nolan are credited with the story for The Dark Knight, while the Nolan brothers share screenplay credit. Christopher Nolan indicates that during the story phase, he and Goyer worked mainly off of their memories of the characters rather than hard research. When his brother came aboard for the screenplay, the director noted “one of the things he specifically said was, "Did you look at the first appearances of the character?" And I said "No." Then we went back and looked at those as we were writing the script and we were, I think, very, very close to the original jumping off point of the character in the history of the comics.”

For some of the small changes wrought on the characters (such as the fact that the Joker wears make-up versus a chemical change to his face), Christopher Nolan says that they “just tried to go [their] own way” and make the characters each “an amalgam” of “everything that’s been done with the character.”

Asked what makes for a good sequel, Nolan replies, “I think that what makes a good sequel is a film that feels inevitable, and that when you go back and see the first film, you completely understand that the story had to continue with a second film.” He also acknowledges, “I think the pitfalls are simply repeating yourself, repeating yourself but on a bigger scale.”

As far as what’s in the sequel, Nolan was asked about things that perhaps did not make the cut. Nolan elaborated, “You know, I mean honestly, we really pretty much stuffed everything I wanted into the movie. My biggest fear right now is just there's a lot to put in that we're shooting and when we get to finishing the film, we'll have to be somewhat ruthless about how we put it together.”

In the big picture, he says, “ ...we're telling a very dense story, and a very sprawling story with a lot of characters, a lot of plotlines, a lot of things going on. So I kind of didn't leave anything, and I thought that that would be part of the problem doing a sequel actually, that you're jumping into the story of a character we've introduced to the audience very fully before, we're not having to deal with the origin of the character, so you've got a good head start, so we really wanted to be as ambitious as possible with the scope of movie and what we put into it.”

Looking at the future, Nolan didn’t go much into the discussion of whether he’d do a third Batman film. Calling back to the notion of sequels and inevitability, Nolan was asked if he viewed a third film as inevitable. His response? “No. I'm really just making this film. Honestly, I'm sure I could look back and say at all the things I talked about when I was doing the first film because I wanted everything to be on the first film. That was a very genuine process, and for me having a great story of two halves is something really in accord with this movie. So when people see this movie, they really feel that they have seen a complete story.”

Related Content:

  • Part One: Costumes

  • Part Two: Special FX & Production Design
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