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Sunday, August 15, 2004


ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Following is an edited transcription of the question-and-answer portion of DC Comics' and Warner Bros.' Batman Begins panel on Saturday at Wizard World Chicgo.

Guests were director Chris Nolan, his wife and producer Emma Thomas and screenwriter David Goyer. DC's Paul Levitz oversaw the panel.

Nolan: We're so far out yet. I have a month more of shooting still. And the way I work, which is different from some people, is that I don't edit anything until I'm finished. The film has not been made very much. We're in the middle of doing it right now. So we don't have great chunks to show you.

Question: Why did you want to get involved in the Batman project to begin with?

Nolan: Well, really because I always loved the character. Like a lot of people, when I was a little kid, I used to watch the TV show and I didn't realize how amusing and campy it was. As a 6- or 7-year-old, I thought it was fantastic and just dead straight.

Like so many of us, I think, the character just gets under your skin and you never quite lose it. From a filmmaking point of view, I was looking to do a bigger film, a kind of film that I grew up very much enjoying, the kind of grand, epic type of Hollywood entertainment.

I was in the wonderful position in talking to Warner's where they were really looking for somebody to reinvent the franchise. From a business sense they wanted to do it, but creatively they really didn't know where they wanted to go with the thing. They were looking for somebody to suggest how they should restart the clock, if you like. That to me is an incredibly exciting opportunity that very rarely comes along. So I just grabbed it.

Not only is it the opportunity to sort of reinvent something that is already so exciting, but it's also I felt, and David very much felt when he came on, it's a story that had never been addressed really, never been told. It's the origin story of the character.

With all the other characters in pop culture, the origin story's been done to death and it's been very, very familiar. I felt, certainly in cinematic terms, and really in comics terms as well, there hasn't a single, definitive account. So it seemed like a really exciting opportunity.

Question: How's it been working with the cast.

Nolan: The cast has been truly wonderful. And it's nice to be able to say that without lying. (laughs). Really, a wonderful bunch of individuals. And I think because it's such a large cast, there isn't a huge weight on anyone, really, except Christian Bale, and he's marvelous. He's incredible to work with.

It's really been a joy. It's been a huge relief to me, actually. Because you never quite know as you cast. You cast people whose work you admire. You never really know how it's going to work out personality-wise. But it's such a good bunch.

And it's allowed me to concentrate on the scale of the film and all the things I have to tackle. When you do a film this size, you don't have the opportunity to get as wrapped up in the characterization with the actors as you do. You have to balance it with all of the other things.

Question: What kind of difficulties are you running across and are you going to be back for the sequel?

Nolan: The difficulity is really just the scale of it. But even with that, we've put a wonderful team together.

I think the hardest thing is definitely the length of the project. I've been working on it for almost two years now. And I think today is Day 108 (of shooting). I shot Memento in 25 1/2 days and I shot Insomnia in 53 days. We have another month to go. So there's a pacing in there and just an endurance.

I think the struggle, actually, that I found is balancing the needs of the actors, the need to produce characterization. A film really starts from the point of view of interesting characters. Balancing that against all the mechanical requirements of a large film like this, it becomes very difficult.

Question: Why did you decide to shoot in Chicago?

Nolan: Well, Waukegan has the type of freeway we can shut down. (Laughs). Chicago, I grew up in Chicago. Quite a lot of my childhood was spent here. And quite a lot of it was spent making student films down on lower Wacker, in the streets underneath Chicago.

So when we were looking for streets to have a car chase... Because we have a new Batmobile, we thought we would do a very extended chase with it. And I wanted to do a real car chase. It just felt to me in movie terms, that Batman has had this amazing car, but he's never gone outside the studio or outside the backlot. So we were looking for streets where we could really get out there and race around. It's an area that's covered over, so you have these great kinds of tunnels downtown and all of this runs for miles and miles. So really I was just grasping at what I knew.

I think it's going to add a lot to the film in terms of the scope that we're able to get out there and shoot in a real city.

Question: Did the Batman comics serves as a guide or an inspiration?

Nolan: Moreso I think at the script stage and the design stage. What I've been trying to do with the film as a whole is make it from the inside out rather than outside in. So to me the hope is it becomes real at a certain point. At a certain point, I put everything aside and delve into it as you would any other film. You get into the characters and deal with the reality of the story.

Prior to that, David and I were throwing a lot of ideas. We drew a lot from the comics and very knowledgable people pointed me in direction of all kinds of thing. For me, some of things that stuck were from the Adams/O'Neal people. They drew a lot from cinema and James Bond things at the time. And that, for me, was a very exciting period.

and then Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween I was very struck by. We just kind of them wash around in the back of our heads and we threw ideas around. In visual terms, we spent a lot of time with the whole history of the characters. The character really has an evolution. The wonderful thing about the way the character has developed over the years is that people try things out. Some things stick, and some things don't. So you able to view this great volume of work related to the character as an evolutionary process and you can look at the things that have stuck and the things that haven't.

Question: Why did you do that design for the Batmobile?

Nolan: We were just hammering the story out when we actually designed it. What I felt, very strongly, is that if we could crack in the design stage of what element of the film would need to be, everyone would kind of get what we were doing with the film, the studio guys. I was looking for a way to the reality of the character, a way of creating this character from the ground up and creating a contemporary version of all the different element.

I feel the character is timeless and I felt the character could sustain a contemporary, reality-based interpretation. In all the previous incarnations, we sort of reaching an element where they had become, I felt, very retro. They were sort of embracing elements of car design that no longer fit here. When the Batmobile was designed for the TV series, cars had fins. So they were able to exaggerate them. Cars don't have fins anymore. So, to me, what I felt we should do, very aggressively, is break this retro view of what this technology would be and try to design something that looks like it could do all the things that you want Batman to be able to do, and be a very useful tool for the character, rather than a design element.

Goyer: It came out of the story element. As we were developing it, it was like, "What does he need this to do? Why does he have this? How does it help him do what he does it?"

Nolan: In the story, what you see built, it's a military prototype he appropriates, which is an element that comes from the comics. We talk about it in the script as being a combination of a Humvee and a Lambourghini. To me, that's what the Batmobile should be. It should be something incredibly strong and powerful, but have the feeling and sexiness of a sports car -- in a contemporary sense. Those are all things that fed into the design.

Question: Did you read comics?

Nolan: Yeah, I did. I was not a huge comic guy. Movies has always been the thing. But I did read comics as a kid, and, for me, Batman was always the most interesting character and I was always drawn them. David read them.

Goyer: Yeah, I read them. I actually had letters printed in Captain America and Swamp Thing. I had lots of them.

Question: Was there any interest in having a Chicago-based premiere?

Nolan: That's not really my department. (laughs)

Question: What are you thoughts about how much freedom the stuido has given you?

Nolan: I think the development process is a very peculiar and tricky beast. And it's different for everybody. On a project like Batman, it's a Warner's project and you have to deal with the Warner's maching. But I've found them absolutely marvelous, and it's not because they've let us to whatever we want -- because they haven't. It's not been like that at all. What it's been is a process, where I think we've done it right, is that I've taken great lengths to explain to them very, very clearly in terms of how I see things. And there was a real understanding of whatever Batman comes next, it has to be very original, very different and very fresh. So they were very open to that. And I always taken the approach to be as clear and and as inclusive as possible. There's a lot of bright people who work at the studio who want nothing more than this film to be great, because that serves all of us. That's really been the process. It's been excellent.

(At this point, Nolan left and the clip was shown)

Question: As a comics reader, how does it feel to be working on a Batman movie.

Goyer: It's a very surreal experience. I don't know if I would like to take over something like. I was over at Warner Bros., watching a bunch of footage, I just said, "Holy shit! We're doing Batman!" It's very weird. I grew up in Michigan, single mom, mowing lawns so I could go down to the comic book store on weekends and buy comics. It's just a very surreal experience.

Question: Is there going to be origin stories for Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul and is Talia going to appear?

Goyer: I can't really answer those questions. I mean, I can't really answer them.

Question: I like when Ra's Al Ghul addresses Batman, he addresses him as Detective. Are you going to be doing that?

Goyer: Not exactly and you'll see why when you see the movie. This is the first Batman story, so he hasn't built up that reputation yet. That would be something further down the line.

Levitz: Let me add to that that every word like that has been the subject of conversation.

Goyer: Debated, endlessly over every little detail. Trust me.

Levitz: You may or may not always agree with the conclusion that the team has come to, but the amount of effort that has gone into what will fit with what...

Goyer: That's just the thing. Obviously, we're telling a story that draws from various incarnations of the Batman comic books. But it's also our story. Ra's Al Ghul never existed in the comic books when Batman was first beginning, so certain things have to shift around a bit.

Thomas: That's a great thing, that all the way through the process, we've had Paul at the other end of the line.

Goyer: There was a moment when we were sitting in Paul's office and he's got that big Batman tapestry. And I said, "Those things on his glove, what are those called?" And Paul said, "We call them scallops." I said, "What do they do?" And I was with Chris and he said, "Do you think we should do something?" It was a lot of fun, and now they do something.

Question: How much of the detective aspect will go into the film?

Goyer: Some. But like I said earlier, this is his first story. So he has that inquisitive nature and in the story, some of that is involved. You're literally seeing him create the Batman myth in the course of the movie. Some of that would necessarily come later in the other films.

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