Chasing Batman on a pink pedal bike
Yesterday was a textbook example of why photographers need to know the laws covering where you can and cannot work, and what you can and cannot take pictures of. It’s also handy to know the tricks that security people use so you can play them at their own game.
The new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, has been shooting around the Highlands, and I’ve already had a couple of scoops. Last week I got the exclusive first pictures from the production, with parachutists rehearsing a stunt at a private airfield in Feshiebridge in the Cairngorms:
And yesterday I got the first exclusive pictures of the location where a special effects unit is preparing a major stunt sequence involving four large plane fuselages and goodness knows how many explosives and pyrotechnics.
Warner Brothers are trying to keep the whole production under wraps. But people are interested that a big movie is being shot in the Highlands. So I have mixed feelings. I’m as excited about this film as everyone else is so I don’t want to blow any secrets or spoil the illusion, but I make my living from photography so I need to be objective and just get on with the job. Unfortunately for Warner Brothers their super-secret Highland location just happens to be right next to a public right-of-way, so anyone can go and have a look. It’s a hell of a long way and you can’t drive there, but if you’re determined then anyone is free to go along and have a peek.
I’ll get the embarrassing (but funny) bit of the story out of the way now: To make yesterday’s expedition a bit easier I borrowed a bike. It was a girl’s bike, and it was pink. Imagine going up against Warner Brothers security on a girl’s pink pedal bike. I knew the day would be fun before it even started…
I’d guess it was about 5 miles in to the journey when the first security guard parked his vehicle across the path and told me I wasn’t allowed to go any further. I explained the right-of-way law, which he already knew because he was local, and soon continued on my way. A few hundred yards along the road and I was blocked again by another guard who put up a "construction site" sign and told me the area was closed due to health and safety regulations. Bzzz! Nonsense. Lie #1. As soon as they’re telling you something that you know isn’t true, you know they don’t have a leg to stand on, and you know that they know it too. So the arrival of the construction site sign was great news because it confirmed that they had no legit way to stop me.
Out in the middle of nowhere, arguing with a 6-foot tank of a security guard isn’t a smart idea, so I waited for the site manager to come along. He arrived soon and repeated the health and safety mantra. I asked if the site was registered as a construction zone with the Highland Council. "Yes." And is there a police control order in place? "Yes." Can I see the paperwork? "I don’t have it with me." Damn right you don’t mate because I just made that stuff up. Bzzz! Lies #2 and #3. Everything they say from now on is going to be a lie.
The site manager wandered off out of sight to "call the police" and came back to let me know they were on their way. We stood in the rain for half an hour chatting. Nice bloke. Everyone was being nice. I could have walked past whenever I wanted but they were being courteous to me so I was courteous to them. But the police never arrived. The site manager went out of sight to "call again". Oops, turns out there had been a shift change and the police sergeant couldn’t make it so they were sending a different sergeant. The site manager looked me in the eye and asked me to wait a while longer because the police were definitely on their way now. Did I know he was lying? No, couldn’t be sure. But he was, I found out later. So that’s lie #4.
I waited and waited, and waited some more, already soaked by the constant rain. One of the security guards took pity on me and we went and sat in his van for warmth while the site manager tried to get permission from Warner Brothers for me to access the site. Except of course that wasn’t what he was doing, he was stalling. The security guard kept "trying" to radio through to him for a progress report, but hmm… don’t you need to press that little button on the radio when you want to transmit? Putting your finger over it but not actually pressing it won’t get us far. Dozens of radio attempts were unsuccessful until I got out of the van to set off again, and suddenly the radio worked! Amazing. Must be that little button.
Another quarter mile and the 4×4s arrive to block the path again. Progress report from the site manager: Can’t get hold of anyone at Warner Brothers, police are still on their way, but he has now been in touch with the land owner who has told him that photography isn’t allowed on his land and any photos taken within 1-kilometre must be approved by him prior to publication. Another lie? Probably, but I don’t know for sure so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Either way I told him that land owners can’t prevent you taking photos from anywhere along a right-of-way, so even if the "rule" was real, it was irrelevant and unenforceable. I’ll be on my way again sir…
Ah but now, without any more phone calls, he tells me that the land owner has decided to close the right-of-way! Okay. Not that he could do that even if he wanted to, but why didn’t you mention that first? I’m going to go ahead and say that’s a definite lie #5.
Next the site manager hints that Warner Brothers might be willing to pay me to not take the photos. Don’t ever get in to a conversation like this, they’re trying to set you up for an extortion claim. "I do not want Warner Brothers or anyone acting on behalf of Warner Brothers to pay me for any services and I would not accept such payment if it was offered." That’s all, any talk of accepting money needs to be shut down immediately with no further discussion.
So I’m still pedalling along on my girly pink bike and things are about to get nasty…
The security guard in a Range Rover has managed to turn round somewhere and he comes barrelling along behind me, blasting his horn. Range Rover horns are freakin’ loud when the driver looks like he wants to kill you and his bonnet is inches away from the back wheel of your girly pink bike. I get out of the way and he parks across the road. I try to go in front of him and he moves forward. I try to go behind and he reverses. Time to break out Keeping It Legal For Dummies and I advised him that he was blocking a public right-of-way and I was about to go behind his vehicle, so he should ensure he doesn’t reverse or do anything else that may endanger me. He still gave it a go but I got round him, until he shot forward and got in front of me again. We then did a go-slow for a mile or so with him swerving from side to side to block me, until I got round him again, just in time for a couple of guys arriving in another 4×4.
The previous two guards had at least been trying to stay legal. These new guys didn’t care. It turned out they weren’t even security, they were technicians from the film unit, which might be why they didn’t know it’s illegal to drive in to cyclists. (I’m sure that little rule is buried somewhere in the Road Traffic Act but I could be wrong?) They first tried to sandwich me between two vehicles, then when I went around their vehicle they moved alongside me and moved over, pushing me in to a ditch. As soon as I got out of the ditch they ran me off the road again, before I got around them and — haha — was now cycling away frantically while they tried and failed to chase me in reverse!
I almost reached the stunt location by the time both 4×4s caught up with me again. The guy in the Range Rover put me off the road this time, without making contact, and one of the other guys told me that they had "just" got a site closure order from the Highland Council due to a "commercial sensitivity clause". Sorry but I couldn’t help it, I just laughed in his face. Lie #6. On we go…
The rest of the story is pretty boring by comparison. What is it they say about the journey being better than the destination? The location was exactly how it had been described to me by my source: just a field with some portakabins and four large plane fuselages. I walked around for a couple of minutes, taking pictures of the planes from every possible angle. The site manager told me that the police had now ordered the site be closed and I was breaking the law. That’ll be lie #7. And finally, a very welcome sight: the police arrived. I was relieved. I could relax at last!
The sergeant and his partner were both really nice to everyone. They interviewed members of the film crew, then came and told me I hadn’t broken any laws. Apparently the site manager had commented on how "decent" I had been (and he had too) but he still asked the police to confiscate my camera, which of course they didn’t do. The nice sergeant put my girly pink bike in the boot of the police vehicle and drove me back to my car about 10 miles away.
There’s a little something we can deduce about the film from these pictures. Notice that there are two identical fuselages being prepared for the stunt:
We already know that the parachute stunt being rehearsed at Feshiebridge is for the sequence that will be filmed at this other location. And look at what plane is being used for the stunt:
That’s an Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante, and it’s awfully similar to the fuselages covered by the tarpaulins. So it looks like a scene in the film will have people parachuting out of that plane and then the plane crashing, done with special effects. Maybe we could even guess that the parachutists are assassins from the League of Shadows. Big news? No. But if you loved The Dark Knight as much as I did then it’s fun to try working out what might be happening in the sequel. It’s all good fun…