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The Student Films of 20 Famous Directors

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We all have to start somewhere. Before they conquered Hollywood, these famous directors made student films. 

1. George Lucas // Freiheit

The creator of Star Wars has become an industry unto himself, but George Lucas had some inauspicious beginnings. He first enrolled at Modesto Junior College in his hometown of Modesto, California, but soon transferred to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts where he made Freiheit (German for “Freedom” and credited to “LUCAS”), a student film about an unnamed man trying to escape an unspecified territory across an ambiguous border. Lucas also made even more abstract student films like Look at Life, which was an assignment for an animation class and is made entirely out of still photos. Then there’s Herbie, a three-minute black and white short composed only of lights streaking across the bodies of cars set to a lilting jazz piece by Herbie Hancock.

When Lucas graduated in 1967, he immediately re-enrolled as a USC grad student and eventually made a film called Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which won first prize at the 1967/68 National Student Film Festival, and was adapted into Lucas’ first full-length film, THX 1138.

2. Steven Spielberg // Amblin

Contrary to popular belief, Spielberg did not attend USC with his buddy George Lucas. Instead, Spielberg enrolled at California State University, Long Beach, but he soon focused his attention on becoming a full-time, unpaid intern at nearby Universal Studios. He eventually made a short film called Amblin that led to him dropping out of school. The forlorn love story is a silent short that depicts a free-spirited hippie couple who hitchhike through Southern California to the Pacific Ocean. Sid Sheinberg, then-vice president of production for Universal Television, saw the film and signed the young Spielberg to a seven-year contract for the studio—the youngest person ever at the time to receive such a long-term contract. Spielberg would eventually name his production company Amblin Entertainment, after the film. Much later, he went on to graduate from Cal State Long Beach in 2002 after re-enrolling in the department of Film and Electronic Arts.

3. Martin Scorsese // What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?

Before movie brats like Lucas, Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola went to school and made films on the West Coast, Martin Scorsese stuck around in his hometown of New York and enrolled at NYU in 1960 under the tutelage of film professor Haig P. Manoogian (to whom Scorsese would eventually dedicate his 1980 film Raging Bull).

Scorsese’s earliest student film is What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? about a writer who becomes unexpectedly drawn to a photo on his wall. The film features nascent forms of the director’s eventual stylistic trademarks such as staccato editing, direct voiceover, and fluid camera movements. Scorsese went on to make other student films like It's Not Just You, Murray! (it seems he had an early preoccupation with grammatical titles) in 1964 about a middle-aged mobster reflecting on his rise to fame and fortune. His most notable student effort was the anti-Vietnam parable The Big Shave in 1967.

4. Robert Zemeckis // A Field of Honor

For his application to USC’s film school—the only college program he applied to—the eventual Back to the Future and Forrest Gump director pooled together all the money he made while working as a gopher at a local Chicago production company and shot a short film set to a Beatles song (something he later alluded to as a precursor to music videos). Zemeckis wasn’t accepted, but he called up the department to plead his way in, saying that he’d do anything to get his grades up to join the program. His emotional appeal worked.

During his time at USC, Zemeckis directed shorts like The Lift, a dialogue-free black and white film about a man’s mundane struggle with an elevator (it also included eventual Back to the Future producer and fellow student Bob Gale as a production assistant). But it wasn’t until Zemeckis’ final student film, a 14-minute absurdist Vietnam War comedy called A Field of Honor, that he was given real recognition. It took home a Special Jury Award at the Second Annual Student Film Awards held by the AMPAS—the same organization that gives out the Oscars. It was there that A Field of Honor caught the attention of Steven Spielberg, who would go on to executive produce Zemeckis’ first two feature films, I Wanna Hold Your Hand (a film that expanded the Beatles-inspired theme of his USC application film) and Used Cars, as well as later efforts like the Back to the Future trilogy and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Zemeckis and Gale would, in turn, go on to write the screenplay of Spielberg’s big-budget World War II flick 1941.   

5. Brian De Palma // The Wedding Party

Filmmaker Brian De Palma has the distinction of making a student film that includes the first on-screen appearance of Robert DeNiro. The film, titled The Wedding Party, was a joint effort between De Palma, his Sarah Lawrence College film professor Wilford Leach, and fellow student Cynthia Monroe. It was shot in 1963 but not released theatrically until 1969 (which explains why it’s normally listed as De Palma’s third feature, chronologically). In the film, a groom interacts with his fiance’s family and friends (one of whom is played by DeNiro, improperly credited as “Robert Denero”) two days before he’s supposed to get married. Aside from the young DeNiro, the film is most notable for its jump cuts—which were a nod to De Palma’s infatuation with the Nouvelle Vague—and silent film homages like title cards and sped up comedic gags. You can stream the entire film on Amazon.

6. James Cameron // Xenogenesis

George Lucas’ Star Wars inspired the then 22-year-old James Cameron to make movies. In 1977, Cameron was making a living as a truck driver delivering lunches to schools in Orange County, but in his free time he also wrote sci-fi stories and built models like the ones he saw in Lucas’ movie. To emulate—and potentially one-up— Star Wars, he got a group of Southern California dentists to invest $20,000 in a sci-fi short called Xenogenesis about a man and a woman who are sent to a sentient starship to search for new life and wind up battling a gigantic robot. While not technically a student film in the strict sense, Cameron essentially taught himself how to make the movie by buying cheap film equipment and spending days on end scouring the USC library to read about film production and special effects.

Cameron set up the shoot in his living room, using bright lights and a little track to roll his camera along for dolly shots. The climactic battle between the woman operating her spider-like exoskeleton and the robot was meticulously created by Cameron himself using stop-motion models. If you look past the low budget cheesiness and bad acting, Cameron’s brilliant and intuitive inclusion of special effects—the kind that anticipated his later films like The Terminator, Aliens, and Avatar—really shine through.

7. David Lynch // Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times)

Nobody makes movies quite like David Lynch, and that’s evident from his very first student film, Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times). It's a plotless, four-minute short depicting a one-minute loop of macabre animation created by Lynch that is repeated over and over again. The film was made while Lynch was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Lynch purchased a 16mm camera at a photo shop in downtown Philly and had the staff teach him how to use it, and then rented out a hotel room owned by the Academy to shoot his unorthodox short. With the help of friend and collaborator Jack Fisk (who would help Lynch with his debut full-length film Eraserhead), Lynch animated single frame shots which would then be projected onto a screen that included plaster casts of heads (including one taken from Lynch’s own face). Lynch has since claimed the entire budget for Six Men Getting Sick came to $200.

He would go on to make his first live-action student film, The Alphabet, starring his then-wife Peggy, and later The Grandmother, a 33-minute short funded by a grant from the American Film Institute.

8. David Cronenberg // From the Drain

Like filmmaker David Lynch, Canadian director David Cronenberg has always marched to the beat of his own very weird drum, with psycho-sexual thriller classics like Videodrome, Naked Lunch, and Scanners. But for Cronenberg, it all began with science. In 1963, he enrolled at the University of Toronto in an honors science program, but within a year he grew restless and transferred to the university’s English literature program. There he saw the film Winter Kept Us Warm by former U of Toronto student David Secter, which was the first English-language Canadian film to screen at the Cannes Film Festival.

Cronenberg was inspired to learn everything he could about filmmaking and founded the Toronto Film Co-Op with eventual Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman (Reitman also went on to produce two of Cronenberg’s films, Shivers and Rabid). Cronenberg soon made two 16mm student shorts. One, entitled Transfer, was a surrealist film about a patient who follows and harasses his psychiatrist, and the other, Under the Drain, was about two men sitting in a mental institution bathtub who are later terrorized by a tentacle coming from the drain. Both would anticipate the assured creepiness of his most well-known films.

9. Ridley Scott // Boy and Bicycle

Ridley Scott has had a varied career. From his early sci-fi masterpieces like Alien and Blade Runner, to his big-budget epics like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, he’s carved out a remarkable body of work. It all began when he was a student at the Royal College of Art in 1962 with his film Boy and Bicycle, a nearly half-hour short that featured his brother Tony Scott (who went on to become an accomplished director in his own right) as the main character. Though his student film was successful and was completed using generous financing from the British Film Institute, Scott wouldn’t go on to direct another film until his debut feature The Duellists in 1977.

10. Christopher Nolan // Doodlebug

Way before he gave us the Dark Knight Trilogy and thrillingly confused us with Inception, Christopher Nolan was a young literature student at University College London. But it wasn’t just books that Nolan had on his mind. Nolan, who was also the president of UCL’s film society, had chosen to attend the school because of its filmmaking facilities and eventually used the society’s equipment to film his shorts Larceny and Tarantella. The most widely available short film of his during this period is Doodlebug, a three-minute mind-bender that anticipated the way he would play with reality and time in his later works. He would go on to personally fund his debut feature Following in 1998, and then spark worldwide recognition with Memento in 2000.

11. Sam Raimi // Within the Woods

Like many a budding filmmaker, Sam Raimi and his pal Bruce Campbell made handfuls of cheap 8mm movies growing up. The practice continued when Raimi enrolled at Michigan State University. Raimi’s first stab at directing was a comedic detective film about a family’s murdered uncle that co-starred Campbell and eventual screenwriter Scott Spiegel called It’s Murder!

He followed that with a horror film called Clockwork about a killer stalking a wealthy woman alone in her house. He then directed Within the Woods, a low-budget precursor to his debut feature—the equally low budget cult classic The Evil Dead. Those schlocky early pictures would unexpectedly lead Raimi to cinematic success, and he went on to direct three Spider-Man movies and, most recently, Oz the Great and Powerful.

12. Tim Burton // Stalk of the Celery Monster

Tim Burton has made a career out of being an outsider with films like Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, and it all started when he enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts in 1975. He was among a storied group of animators who first cut their teeth at CalArts that would eventually include such names as John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Henry Selick, Genndy Tartakovsky, Brenda Chapman, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter (As a bonus, you can view Lasseter and Docter’s own CalArts student films here and here).

It was there that Burton created his first animated short called Stalk of the Celery Monster, about an evil dentist and his goofy monster sidekick. The complete film is lost and it’s only available now in fragments as seen above. Another one of his animated shorts—also only presently available in fragments—called King and Octopus is available here. Burton’s films were so popular among his classmates that it led to Disney Animation Studios approaching him for an apprenticeship.

13. Seth MacFarlane // Life of Larry

Love him or hate him, Seth MacFarlane is now a force to be reckoned with. He’s primarily known for his animated shows Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show, but let’s not forget that his directorial debut Ted grossed over half a billion dollars at the box office worldwide. His senior thesis film at the Rhode Island School of Design, called The Life of Larry, is remarkably similar to Family Guy—it features a middle-aged slob husband, a talking dog, a pudgy son, and a wife named Lois, and it's interspliced with MacFarlane’s trademark cutaways imbued with pop culture-based gags.

During his time at RISD, MacFarlane also appeared in a film by fellow students Syd Butler and Tim Harrington called Comedians. Butler and Harrington would later go on to form the popular indie-rock band Les Savy Fav.

14. Trey Parker and Matt Stone // Cannibal! The Musical

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone met while they were film students at the University of Colorado at Boulder. With $125,000 of their own money, they and their friends made a feature length movie called Cannibal! The Musical, a comedy farce loosely inspired by the true story of noted cannibal Alferd Packer’s trip from Utah to Colorado.

Shot on weekends and during their 1993 Spring Break, Parker and Stone allegedly failed their Intro to Film History class because they were too busy with their movie. Prior to Cannibal and during their time at UC Boulder, the two created a four-minute short film called The Spirit of Christmas: Jesus vs. Frosty, the animated precursor to South Park.

15. John Carpenter // The Resurrection of Broncho Billy / Captain Voyeur

Carpenter has become known as the “Master of Horror” and is credited for essentially creating the modern horror film. Before all that, in 1969, he wrote and directed a film while at USC called Captain Voyeur about a masked man who follows a woman home and attempts to kill her—a plot eerily similar to his seminal 1978 classic Halloween. The film was lost until a print was discovered in USC’s archives in 2011, and it’s slated to be preserved by the National Film Preservation Foundation. Unfortunately, until they release it on home video someday, the film remains unavailable to the public.

At the same time Carpenter was creating Captain Voyeur, he was tasked with writing, editing, and scoring a short film called The Resurrection of Broncho Billy, a senior project for fellow student John Longenecker, who produced the film. Their friend Nick Castle—who later became a director himself, originally played Michael Myers in Halloween, and also co-wrote Carpenter’s Escape From New York—co-wrote the film as well. The Resurrection of Broncho Billy went on to win the 1970 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

16. Paul Thomas Anderson // The Dirk Diggler Story

When he was a 17-year-old student at Montclair College Preparatory School in Van Nuys, California, Paul Thomas Anderson decided he wanted to make a mockumentary about a porn star called The Dirk Diggler Story (which would eventually grow into his second feature film, Boogie Nights). He gathered his friend Michael Stein (who has an appearance in Boogie Nights as a customer who decides not to buy a stereo from Don Cheadle’s character) to be Dirk, his father Ernie Anderson as the narrator, and his father’s friend, actor Robert Ridgely (who would go on to play “The Colonel” in Boogie Nights).

Anderson eventually got into NYU film school, but he dropped out after only two days. Instead, he took his girlfriend’s credit card, money he made from gambling, and $10,000 from his father originally meant for college, and used it all to fund a short film that he envisioned as his own sort of film school. That film, called Cigarettes & Coffeeabout the interconnected stories of five people who are all in possession at some point of the same $20 bill—earned him a spot at the Sundance Director’s Lab after being shown at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. The story was workshopped into a feature length film, which eventually became his debut, Hard Eight.

17. Spike Lee // Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads

Spectrum Culture

Before he kickstarted his new film and before he Did the Right Thing, Spike Lee was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. During his time there, he made his first film, called Last Hustle in Brooklyn, about the Black and Puerto Rican communities in his native borough. After graduation, he came back to NYC and enrolled at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for his Masters in film production. His senior thesis film, called Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, is an hour-long, neo-realist meditation about a man who takes over a barbershop after the owner is murdered. Lee’s movie went on to be the first student film ever showcased at Lincoln Center’s “New Directors, New Films” series, and it also garnered Lee the Dramatic Merit award at AMPAS’ Student Academy Awards in 1983.

18. Darren Aronofsky // No Time

Brooklyn native and Noah director Darren Aronofsky first enrolled at Harvard University as an anthropology student in 1987, but he soon switched his major to general studies and began focusing on filmmaking. His 1991 student film Supermarket Sweep (unavailable to the public) was a finalist for a Student Academy Award and motivated him to enroll at the AFI Conservatory a year after graduating.

He directed a trio of short films there. The first, called Fortune Cookie, is only available in fragments and is an adaptation of a Hubert Selby Jr. story (Aronofsky would go on to adapt another Selby book for his film Requiem for a Dream in 2000). The second, called Protozoa, starred a young Lucy Liu and marked the first time Aronofsky would work with his longtime director of photography Matthew Libatique. The last student short he completed at AFI was a bizarre ensemble comedy called No Time.

19. Roman Polanski // The Fat and the Lean

After being a refugee during World War II—a time during which his mother died in Auschwitz—Polanski entered the prestigious National Film School in Łódź, Poland, quickly becoming the school’s rising star. He directed student films at a constant pace, making the voyeuristic Teeth Smile, the anarchic Break Up the Dance (both in 1957), the absurdist short Two Men and a Wardrobe (in 1958), The Lamp (in 1959), and the surreal tragedy When Angels Fall (also in 1959).

The last film he made before his break-out debut Knife in the Water was 1961’s The Fat and the Lean, which features Polanski himself as a lowly slave doing his master’s bidding, which is seen by many as an homage to playwright Samuel Beckett.

20. Andrei Tarkovsky // The Steamroller and the Violin

Tarkovsky's placid meditations on memory and time took different forms from the ruminative sci-fi classics Solaris and Stalker to his semi-autobiographical film The Mirror. After high school he worked as a geologist, but soon enrolled at the State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow for directing. He adapted his first student film, The Killers, from the Ernest Hemingway short story, marking the first time the school allowed a student to make a film based off a foreign work.

His second student film, a collaboration called There Will Be No Leave Todayabout a military unit disposing of unexploded bombs found in a small town—was a propaganda film that was eventually shown on Soviet Central Television. His senior thesis film, The Steamroller and the Violin, which focused on the unlikely friendship between a boy and a steamroller operator, was his first solo directorial effort. Tarkovsky received the highest possible passing grade for the film and was able to get his diploma to graduate. You can view the entire film here.

© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
19 Surprising Facts About The Dark Knight
© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Christopher Nolan didn’t set out to make sequels. As the director of hit thrillers like Memento and Insomnia, his personal style never seemed to mesh with the idea of helming a mega-franchise. After reenvisioning the Caped Crusader with 2005’s Batman Begins, though, Nolan couldn’t stop thinking about how his version of Batman would respond to the introduction of The Joker. The result was The Dark Knight, a hyper-real exploration of how chaos shakes up the mission of the righteous, complete with huge stars, incredible stunts, and an Oscar-winning performance by the late Heath Ledger. To revisit this landmark movie, which was released 10 years ago, here are 19 fascinating facts about The Dark Knight.


While it doesn’t adapt any one specific story to the screen, The Dark Knight did draw inspiration from several specific Batman stories in the pages of DC Comics. When researching and writing the film, director Christopher Nolan and his brother, co-writer Jonathan Nolan, specifically went back to The Joker’s very first appearance in 1940’s Batman #1 in search of how best to introduce the character. Co-writer David S. Goyer, himself a DC Comics contributor, also cites the classic stories The Long Halloween, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Killing Joke as keys to his research, with elements from each making their way into the film.


Heath Ledger in 'The Dark Knight' (2008)
© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

In addition to classic Joker stories like The Killing Joke, Nolan and star Heath Ledger drew on a diverse array of influences both in and out of comics to craft the film’s version of the Clown Prince of Crime. Before attempting to write the character, the Nolan brothers revisited Fritz Lang’s classic film The Testament of Dr. Mabuse as a study in how to write supervillains. Visually, Nolan also specifically cited the work of painter Francis Bacon as a touchstone for Joker’s distorted view of the world.

As for Ledger, he famously locked himself away in a hotel room for weeks, experimenting with voices and mannerisms until he developed something he was satisfied with. Among his inspirations: Sex Pistols icons Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious and the anarchist character Alex from Stanley Kubrick’s classic film A Clockwork Orange.


The Dark Knight is the first Christopher Nolan film to be a sequel, and though Batman Begins ends with Gordon handing Batman the Joker card as a kind of setup for the next film, the director wasn't exactly determined to return to Gotham City. Nolan and Goyer had ideas for how a trilogy of films would happen, of course, but after Batman Begins hit big, Nolan instead went off to make magician drama The Prestige. Ultimately, the lure of telling a Joker story proved too enticing for Nolan to pass up, and he eventually re-teamed with Goyer to begin mapping out the story that would become The Dark Knight

“I didn’t have any intention of making a sequel to Batman Begins and I was quite surprised to find myself wanting to do it,” Nolan told Empire Magazine. “I just got caught up in the process of imagining how you would see a character like The Joker through the prism of what we did in the first film.”


Though other stars like Adrien Brody expressed an interest in playing the film’s key villain, Heath Ledger was the only name on Nolan’s wish list.

“When I heard he was interested in the Joker, there was never any doubt. You could just see it in his eyes,” Nolan told Newsweek. “People were a little baffled by the choice, it's true, but I've never had such a simple decision as a director.” 


Because of the actor’s untimely death in January 2008, at the age of just 28, Ledger's performance as The Joker has been somewhat mythologized by fans, so the idea that he kept a secret “Joker diary” while getting into character might sound apocryphal. In fact, Ledger really did make a diary while preparing to play the character. It included various clipped art (Alex from A Clockwork Orange figures heavily), stylized notes, and even lines from the script recopied in his own handwriting. In 2013, Ledger’s father Kim revealed the diary in a documentary, and noted that his son did immersive work like this for every role but “really took it up a notch” for The Joker.


For the role of Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend and current Gotham City assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes, Nolan had to look for a replacement. Katie Holmes played the role in 2005’s Batman Begins, but opted out of the sequel ostensibly so she could act in the comedy Mad Money. So Nolan went in search of other actresses and ultimately decided on Maggie Gyllenhaal for the role. Gyllenhaal was the final choice, but she wasn’t the only one. Other actresses up for the role included Rachel McAdams and Emily Blunt.


For many actors, the prospect of starring in a sequel to a hit film is a major draw. For others, the prospect of finally being a part of a Batman film would do the trick. For Gyllenhaal, who stepped in as Rachel Dawes, there was only one key reason to say yes: Christopher Nolan.

“When Chris approached me about the film, it was almost incidental that it was about Batman,” Gyllenhaal said. “I was lured into becoming intrigued by the character through the process of making the movie. From the very beginning, Chris was so interesting and engaging—and so interested in me and my ideas about Rachel—that I wanted to be a part of it.”


Though The Dark Knight is unquestionably a Batman movie, Nolan and company didn’t consider the Caped Crusader to be the film’s main character.

“Bruce Wayne was the protagonist of the first film,” Goyer said, “but we decided early on that he would not be the protagonist of the second film—that, in fact, Harvey Dent would be.”

To that end, finding the right actor to play Gotham’s district attorney was crucial. Nolan ultimately chose Aaron Eckhart, who reminded him of Robert Redford, to play the part, but Eckhart wasn’t the only star considered. Other potential Harvey Dents included Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, and Ryan Phillippe.


Batman fans weren’t the only skeptics when it came to Nolan’s decision to deliver a new cinematic Joker. Michael Caine, who played Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred, was very apprehensive when  Nolan told him The Dark Knight’s villain would indeed be the Clown Prince of Crime, namely because Jack Nicholson’s performance as the character in 1989’s Batman still cast a very large shadow.

“You don’t try and top Jack,” Caine said.

When Nolan informed Caine that Ledger had been cast in the role, though, the film legend came around.

“I thought: ‘Now that’s the one guy that could do it!’ [laughs] My confidence came back. And then when I did this sequence with Heath, I knew we were in for some really good stuff.


Nolan deliberately resisted the idea of giving The Joker an origin story in the film, opting instead to portray him as a force of pure anarchy with no discernible motivation other than chaos. For this reason, the character’s scarred face—as opposed to the chemically-induced frozen grin given to the character’s previous movie incarnation—had no clear source. In fact, the character deliberately tells different stories to different characters to explain where the scars came from. As a result, prosthetics supervisor Conor O’Sullivan was driven to take inspiration for the scars from real life. So, he used an actual man on the street as a reference.

“I immediately thought of the punk and skinhead era and some unsavory characters I had come across during this time,” O'Sullivan recalled. “The terminology for this type of wound is a ‘Glasgow’ or ‘Chelsea smile.’ My references had to be real. A delivery of fruit machines was made to the estate near my workshop and the man delivering them had a ‘Chelsea smile.' I plucked up the courage to ask him for a photo and he told me the story of how he had got his scars while being involved with “a dog fight”; needless to say I didn't pursue the matter, but the photos proved to be very useful reference.”


One of the most identifiable characteristics of Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker is the way he almost constantly licks his lips inside and out, probing his scars with his tongue over and over again. It adds energy to the character as well as a certain menacing quality, but it apparently was not planned. According to dialect coach Gerry Grennell, who worked with Ledger on the film, that tic arose because the scar prosthetics—which extended into Ledger’s mouth—would loosen as he performed. So, he licked his lips repeatedly in an effort to keep them in place.

"The last thing that Heath wanted to do was go back and spend another 20 minutes or half hour trying to get the lips glued back again, so he licked his lips. A lot,” Grennell recalled. “And then slowly, that became a part of the character.


Though IMAX cameras are now on the verge of being used to shoot entire feature films, at the time The Dark Knight was made, the format was primarily used for documentary films to showcase things like the wondrous detail of nature. Nolan had longed for years to bring the format to features, and opted to use the ultra-heavy, ultra-expensive cameras to film several major sequences in The Dark Knight. Most famously, the film’s prologue—featuring The Joker’s bank robbery—was filmed on IMAX and released early, in its entirety, as a teaser.


For the scene in which Bruce Wayne is hosting a fundraiser for Harvey Dent in his elegant Gotham City townhouse, Ledger and a group of Joker goons were meant to burst into the party via the elevator. Caine, as Alfred, was supposed to be there waiting to greet guests as the elevator doors opened, only to be frightened by the appearance of The Joker. Caine was there waiting, the elevator doors opened, and he was apparently so frightened by what he saw that any lines he was meant to deliver during the scene completely left his mind.

"I was waiting for Batman's guests, but (the Joker) had taken over the elevator with—he has seven dwarfs and ... oh! wait until you see them,” he said while promoting the film. “So, I'd never seen any of it and the elevator door opened and they came out and I forgot every bloody line. They frightened the bloody life out of me.”


Embracing the hyperrealism of his version of Batman, Nolan opted to do many of The Dark Knight’s biggest stunts practically rather than relying on CGI. That includes arguably the biggest and most visually staggering stunt in the film: When Batman uses steel cables to flip The Joker’s 18-wheeler trailer over cab in the middle of a Gotham street. While another filmmaker might have opted to recreate the moment with computers or models, Nolan wanted to do it for real, on a real Chicago street. The task of pulling it off fell to special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, who ran tests in a more isolated area to ensure the flip wouldn’t harm any member of the crew or any neighboring buildings. With the tests successful, the production was primed to film the stunt … though Corbould still tried to talk Nolan into scaling it down.

“It was a funny thing—and this is always the way working with Chris—where he kept trying to talk me into a smaller vehicle,” Nolan said. “He said, ‘Can't it be one of those SWAT vans, not an articulated truck?!’ I kind of went along with that for a while and we storyboarded it that way and kept talking about it. And I finally just went to him and said, ‘Chris, you can do this, you're fine. It's gotta be a huge truck, it's gotta be a big 18-wheeler,’ and he went ‘Oh, all right,’ in that way he does, and he figured out a way to do it. Nobody had ever done it before and it was really a pretty amazing thing to watch."


One of the most beautiful shots in the film finds Batman, cape billowing around him, perched atop Chicago’s Sears Tower as he surveys his city. It’s a gorgeous image, but also one that easily could have been carried out by a stuntman so Bale didn’t have to take the risk. The star was having none of that. When he found out his stuntman Buster Reeves was preparing to perform the perch, Bale rushed to convince Nolan that he should be the one to stand 110 stories above Chicago for the helicopter shot. 

“It was important for me to do that shot,” Bale explained, “because I wanted to be able to say I did it. 

Bale also opted to perform a similar stunt in which Batman stands on a ledge of the IFC2 building in Hong Kong. By then, he was quite comfortable with the height. 


One of the great visual hallmarks of Nolan’s Batman films is the introduction of the Batpod, The Dark Knight’s sleek motorcycle. While it may look like an oversized version of any other bike, the pod didn’t handle the same way, so a specially trained stunt driver was required. Jean-Pierre Goy was the man. He took to the vehicle immediately and trained for months to master the high-speed sequences required for the film. Bale, who was more than willing to volunteer to drive the Batpod, was ultimately only able to ride it when it was attached to camera rigs.

“Jean-Pierre was the only one who could master it,” Bale admitted. “Everybody else just fell off instantly.”


For the scene in which The Joker sneaks into a panicked Gotham hospital to see Harvey Dent, Ledger dressed up in a nurse’s uniform. If you look closely, you’ll see that the nurse’s name tag reads “Matilda.” Matilda is Ledger’s daughter, who was born in 2005.


When The Joker and his goons crash Bruce Wayne’s fundraising party, almost everyone in the room is intimidated into silence. One man, though, is not. He tells The Joker “we’re not intimidated by thugs,” and The Joker then grabs him and holds a knife to his mouth. That man is Patrick Leahy, the Democratic U.S. Senator from Vermont. A lifelong comic book fan, Leahy has appeared in five Batman films to date, including 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where he sat alongside actress Holly Hunter in a congressional hearing.


Weird lawsuits surrounding major motion pictures are nothing new, but The Dark Knight inspired a particularly strange one. In late 2008, after the film had opened to rapturous critical acclaim and enormous box office success, Huseyin Kalkan—the mayor of Batman, Turkey—sued Nolan and Warner Brothers for what he deemed a negative impact the film had caused on his city.

"There is only one Batman in the world. The American producers used the name of our city without informing us."

Needless to say, given that Batman is still as popular as ever, the suit didn’t go anywhere.

Additional Source:
The Art and Making of The Dark Knight Trilogy, by Jody Duncan Jesser and Janine Pourroy

10 Things That Went Disastrously Wrong on Disneyland’s Opening Day

Disneyland is commonly known as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” but when the park opened on July 17, 1955, it didn’t live up to its now-ubiquitous nickname. In fact, Disney employees who survived the day refer to it as “Black Sunday.” Here are 10 of the most disastrous things that went wrong.


Disneyland’s opening day was “invite only” and not for public consumption. Tickets were mailed out and only reserved for special guests, including friends and family of employees, the press, and celebrities, such as Jerry Lewis, Debbie Reynolds, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra. However, scores of counterfeit tickets were widespread on opening day. Disneyland was only expecting about 15,000 guests in total, but more than 28,000 people entered the park.

In addition, there were two sets of tickets with designated times: one for the morning and one for the afternoon. The time to leave Disneyland was printed on each ticket, so if it read 2:30 p.m., you were supposed to leave the park at that time to make way for the afternoon ticket holders to come in. Unfortunately, the morning ticket crowd didn’t leave, so attendance ballooned when the afternoon attendees were admitted.

There was even some money to be made from Disney's woes: one man set up a ladder outside one of the park's fences and charged $5 per person to climb it and sneak in.


Sukarno riding mini car with Walt Disney
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Since Disneyland and the city of Anaheim were not prepared for the amount of people that showed up, California's Santa Ana Freeway that led into the park was backed up for seven miles. The traffic essentially shut down the freeway for hours. In fact, people were in their cars for so long that when they finally made it to Disneyland, there were reports of families taking restroom breaks in the parking lot and on the side of the freeway.


Completing Disneyland was a race to the finish. Walt Disney wanted a quick turnaround, and it took exactly one year and one day from announcement to opening day, with construction crews working around-the-clock to meet their deadlines. 

However, once the doors opened, guests could easily see that it was not completely finished. Workers were still painting structures and planting trees all over the park. Along the Canal Boats of the World (now the Storybook Land Canal Boats), weeds had yet to be removed from the riverbanks. And instead of landscaping the area, Walt Disney simply added signs with Latin plant names printed on them to make it look like they were meant to be there.

In addition, a number of rides were still under construction like Tomorrowland’s Rocket to the Moon, which showed a glimpse of what routine space travel would look like in the distant future of ... 1986.


For the lucky people who made it into Disneyland on opening day, they experienced a shortage of food and beverages in every restaurant and concession stand in the park. Because of the unexpected influx of guests, virtually all food and drink inventory was wiped out within hours.


Entrance to Disneyland circa 1957
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

While there were plenty of water fountains on site, many of them were not working because of a plumbers’ strike during construction. Walt Disney had to choose between working water fountains or working restrooms for Disneyland on opening day, so he picked the latter because he felt the toilets were more important.

“A few weeks before the opening, there was a major meeting,” Dick Nunis, chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, explained to WIRED. “There was a plumbing strike. I’ll never forget this. I happened to be in the meeting. So the contractor was telling Walt, ‘Walt, there aren’t enough hours in the day to finish the restrooms and to finish all the drinking fountains.’ And this is classic Walt. He said, ‘Well, you know they could drink Coke and Pepsi, but they can’t pee in the streets. Finish the restrooms.’”


Although Walt Disney had no control over the weather, it contributed to the disastrous opening day experience at Disneyland. Temperatures reached an intense 100 degrees, which must have been unbearable in a park without working water fountains. The day was so hot that the fresh asphalt became like a sticky tar, with guests complaining that they were getting their shoes and high heels stuck in the pavement of Main Street, U.S.A.


Like so many of the other workers toiling to make Walt Disney's one-year deadline, both Disney Imagineers and construction workers rushed to complete the theme park. As a result, a number of rides—including Peter Pan’s Flight, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant in Fantasyland—broke down or were closed altogether because they simply were not finished yet.

The growing pains didn’t stop on opening day. During the first few weeks after opening, the stagecoach ride in Frontierland permanently closed when it was discovered it would flip over if it was too top-heavy; 36 cars in Autopia crashed due to aggressive driving (ironically the ride was designed to help children learn respectful rules of the road); and a tiger and a panther escaped from the circus attraction, which resulted in a “furious death struggle” between the animals on Main Street, U.S.A.


The iconic Mark Twain Riverboat in Frontierland was filled way over capacity on opening day, with about 500 people cramming into the attraction. This caused the boat to go off its track and sink in the mud, but the ordeal was far from over.

"It took about 20 to 30 minutes to get it fixed and back on the rail and it came chugging in," Terry O'Brien, who was working the ride on opening day, later recalled in an interview. "As soon as it pulled up to the landing, all the people rushed to the side to get off, and the boat tipped into the water again, so they all had to wade off through the water, and some of them were pretty mad."


A gas leak in the park prompted the closing of Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland for a few hours, while flames from the leak were seen trying to engulf Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Walt Disney was so busy during opening day that he didn’t learn about the fire until the following day.


Walt Disney had a partnership with the broadcast network ABC, which helped finance Disneyland with an investment of $5 million of the park’s $17 million price tag. In return, Walt Disney would host a weekly TV show about what people could expect to see in Disneyland, a full year before it was set to open its doors.

On opening day, Walt Disney hosted a 90-minute live TV special with co-hosts Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and future president Ronald Reagan. Over 90 million viewers tuned in to see the “Happiest Place on Earth.” And while the cameras showed the fun and excitement of Disneyland, the TV special obscured the numerous disasters described above.

However, the live broadcast itself was riddled with technical difficulties, such as guests tripping over camera cables all over the park, faulty miscues, on-air flubs, hot mics, and unexpected moments that were caught on camera—namely Bob Cummings caught making out with a dancer just before going on air.

“This is not so much a show, as it is a special event,” Art Linklater said during the live broadcast from Disneyland. “The rehearsal went about the way you'd expect a rehearsal to go if you were covering three volcanoes all erupting at the same time, and you didn't expect any of them. So, from time to time, if I say, ‘We take you now by camera to the snapping crocodiles in Adventureland,’ and instead, somebody pushes the wrong button, and we catch Irene Dunne adjusting her bustle on the Mark Twain, don't be too surprised.”

The live broadcast also featured the debut of the original Mouseketeers from The Mickey Mouse Club TV show, which premiered a few months later in 1955 on ABC. So at least something positive came out of all of it.


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