Warner Brothers

Backlot Adventure

“Afternoon in Gotham”

October 30, 2008

Ever since I started putting on a cape in my so called adulthood, I’ve been continuously amazed and blessed by the kindness of strangers. But with that being said, many don’t stay strangers for very long and eventually become good friends. So the first part of this story goes.

About a week after Vickie and I had come back from the Screaming Tiki Convention in Ohio, Wally had referred a gentleman to me for web multimedia consultation. For privacy sake, lets just call him “Buster.” E-mails and phone numbers were exchanged, a phone appointment was set and I soon got a call. The guy was looking to find out how to personally host a fan film on his own site and such. In the conversation it was brought up that he worked over at the Warner Brothers movie lot in Burbank but this was already known from the previous correspondences between Wally, him and I. As things went along he told me that he was a frequent “lurker” on the Batman message board but never joined yet he enjoys his fandom from afar. We had a lot of mutual interests and really hit it off very well.

At one point he said to me, “You know, we have the steps to Commissioner Gordon’s office here?”

“Yeah, you KNOW I knew that” I replied with a bit of a “Duh!” inflection.

“Well, you’ve been out here, right?”

“No,” I said with a bit more “DUH” behind it.

“Well, we’re going to have to fix that,” he said and with that he explained that he could get me on to the lot as a guest and would try to show me around during his lunch some time. One thing led to another and we both thought it would be cool if I could get some pictures on the steps in my costume. He didn’t see a problem with it but I asked him if he could make sure to check on what their costume policy was just so I didn’t show up and cause any problems or simply get shut down. Either way, it would be really great to check out the facility. I love seeing the behind the scene back lots, especially ones with so much history.

A few days passed and he called back to confirm that it would be okay for me to be in costume. We went over the costume rules of the lot which covered things more on the lines of security, safety and being able to remove one’s mask easy enough to prove one’s identity against their pass. My suit passed all the criteria.

Okay, here’s where I will dispel the notion, rumor or conspiracy theory that it was quite a coup to have an Adam West Batman appear on WB turf without a SWAT team swooping down or a gang war breaking out. It’s pretty simple really. It isn’t a religion with the people at Warner. Most of the people working there probably don’t even realize that there have been some legal issues with the series, licensing or even that the series was a Fox property. The recent Batman films had never even been filmed on the lot and the lawyers, spokespeople and promotional people who have gone on record over the years to make such a “We want nothing to do with THAT Batman” perception prevalent probably didn’t even work on the lot itself. Not to mention, I wasn’t filming a competing film or TV show. I was simply a guest conforming to whatever costume rules they had. Also, it is a working lot so as long as one behaved and followed the rules I should have been okay.

Buster extended the invitation to Vickie as well, but she would be tied up at work that day so I asked if it was okay to have my buddy JoJo attend instead. He said it was no problem and all we had to do was give our exact names and specify what time we would arrive for the guard shack to be able to verify our “appointment.”

Thursday late morning, JoJo and I drove up to the lot and after they checked our ID’s against their guest sheet, we were issued our four hour passes. I parked the car in the designated area and went to meet up with Buster at the building where he worked. He actually met us half way through the door. After introducing him to JoJo and a bit of basic fanboy chatter between the three of us, he gave us a quick tour of the new Feature Post facility including the state of the art theatre sized mixing room where they work out all of the sound elements for feature films. The recording engineer part of me was very impressed.

We then stepped out as Buster announced to some of co-workers that he was taking his lunch break to show us around. The three us got on one of the many golf carts that were used all over the facility and off we went. This time around I was still in just my street clothes. Immediately, I was looking left and right as we approached one of the city back street facades with its fire escapes adorning brick buildings and back alley corners. This would be great for shooting some great Bat scenes I thought. Of course this was followed with my inside voice telling me to shut up with the obvious. We passed by a few of the regular tour trams along the way and JoJo ended up saying, “Bro, did you notice those people kept checking us out like we might be somebody?” I figured it looked like we were clearly being escorted and that the tourists were keeping their eyes open at everybody they saw “just in case.”

Our private tour continued through their jungle area, currently drained lagoon, a quiet retro Beaver Cleaver type neighborhood and eventually through a small township that was most recognized for being the Hazard for the “Dukes of Hazard” series. We even made a stop at one of the house in one of the neighborhoods to take a look inside. Buster pointed out how the inside ceilings were often left bare to accommodate lighting and such. Some of the places looked like they would work very well for a real house where others seemed to function more like skeletons.

Back on the cart, we eventually turned a corner and I got a view of their City Hall. This was in fact the facade that served as the front steps for the Gotham Police Headquarters. The first thing that struck me was how small it looked from this angle. It was clearly a very shallow building and the paved street was not as wide as I thought it appeared on the show. I hadn’t expected to see a large tree directly across from it or all of the big warehouse size sound stages that were behind it. We made our stop and I stepped out to take a better look.

Facilities to the right of the building

Directly across from steps

Upon closer inspection to a screen capture I had brought along I could see that they filled the frame of the shot with the entire structure to suggest that it was the entrance to a larger building. Brilliant movie magic! But still, I got giddy walking up the steps. Buster pushed the doors open to reveal the shallow interior. The door knobs were even missing but then again I had noticed that they were missing off all of the facade buildings that were not presently in use for filming. Maybe they lasted longer that way.

After a good five to ten minutes of gawking, we rallied back onto the golf cart and cruised around the rest of the facility, passing by the wardrobe department, a huge warehouse area that held various set pieces and set wall being constructed. Buster showed the on site store where you could purchase WB DVD’s, jacket and other current items. He pointed out the commissary in case JoJo and I opted to get some lunch later.

We eventually decided to go back and get the costume from the car and set off once again towards the City Hall steps. But when we got there, part of the street was now blocked off with caution tape and there was a big truck parked right in front of the steps. Bad timing. Well, this was a working lot so if they were shooting nearby, we needed to comply. Buster needed to get back to work so he dropped us back off at the car and suggested that JoJo and I should get some lunch and check back at the steps later since we still had plenty of time with our passes. We both thanked him for everything from the passes to the great personal tour and I told him I would be in contact with him real soon with a follow up.

JoJo and I still had a little trouble getting our bearing where everything was on the lot but I finally figured to use the huge WB water tower as the landmark for everything in relation to my car since it was parked real close to the tower. We made our way back to the commissary and had a great lunch. We caught ourselves looking at all of the other people in commissary just in case we’d spot a big celeb. No such luck.

Gathering the costume bags again we headed back to the steps. There was a small restroom right behind the Gotham steps and I could change in there. After so many outings in the suit over the past few years, I had learned to adapt to most any situation. Key word is “most.” Once we got back to the location, the big truck was still there, but the activity of the other shoot had died down. There was still a line of caution tape that went across the street but we were good to go for taking pictures on the steps. I made my quick change and we were in business.

Gotham City Police Headquarters, WB Truck and JoJo

I hoped that once I got out on the steps in costume that somebody might get the idea of what we were trying to do and would kindly get somebody to move the truck. After about fifteen minutes, a guy came over and asked if we would like it moved and I thanked him immensely.

I took my HD video camera and placed in on a tripod to try and reproduce the same angle as the original shoot based on a screen capture that I had printed and brought along. But the caution tape would have been in the shot and the sun was creating a nasty glare behind the building so I had to tighten up the shot to leave out the un wanted bits. Not to mention that my tripod would have ended up in the middle of the adjacent street and got in the way of through traffic. Since I didn’t want to be a nuisance during my stay there, I refrained from putting there and settled for the corner of the sidewalk nearby.

And We’re Rolling

You would think I could just run up the steps in a single take without any interference but this was a busy workday so golf carts, bikes, trucks and pedestrians constantly walked right in front of the shot. I just kept the camera rolling while JoJo prompted for all kinds of stills that may have come to mind with this setting.

A bit of fun

The tour trams passed by and they always pointed out that the steps were the original ones that Batman and Robin would run up. As it turned out they were quite surprised and thrilled to see Batman running up the steps in front of them. The tourists could not get out of the tram but they certainly pointed cameras and cell phones.

Somebody took my Batmobile!

A few security guys came by but it mostly because it was their break and they just wanted to check it out. Yep, even on the WB back lot, Batman stands out.
As I looked from the steps and looked over the area I could see all sorts of buildings that were used for the show in addition to the City Hall one. I made sure we tried to get a picture of the view from the steps As well as one that tried show what was Actually inside Police Headquarters.

Just behind the doors

A view from the doors

That building on the corner looks familiar

From “True or False Face”

I saw the corner that was used in “Penguin’s Disastrous End” where Batman, Robin and Commissioner Gordon duck behind a pillar for cover from the Penguin’s golden tank.

We spent the better part of an hour in that area and the time flew. JoJo told me that we only had a few minutes left for our passes but the security guy assured us that we would be okay. Nevertheless, I had been running up and down the steps and it was getting hotter in the suit so I took my aching legs back to the restroom and switched back into my street clothes. Apparently while I was changing a tour guide drove by the steps and asked JoJo what happened to the Batman that was there earlier. JoJo told him that Batman was finished for the day and the Tour Guide said, “Dude! Seeing him run up those steps made my life!”

Tired, sweaty and aching thighs aside, I looked around the area a bit more before packing up the car and leaving. I just couldn’t get enough of what the possibilities of this location could present. Oh well, maybe one day.

Once again, It was another childhood dream come true due to the kindest of another Batfan stranger who is now a friend.
Thanks Buster!