Michael Keaton is shown in Batman Returns behind the scenes footage, struggling to figure out how Batman would pick up the phone.
The magic of movie-making is referred to as such because the most mundane, basic tasks can look dramatic and important. In an amazing behind-the-scenes video from the set of Batman Returns shared on Twitter by @ATRightMovies, Michael Keaton and Tim Burton try to figure out the best way for Batman to answer a phone call. Keaton tries multiple methods, from an arm on the desk to slouched, all for a seconds-long shot in the final product.
There’s an absurdity to seeing Batman do something as mundane and simple as picking up the phone. From the dramatic cape and cowl to the strange Batcave set around him, Keaton struggles to make it look natural. The video is clipped, and the reality is that the one very brief scene could have taken a few hours to get just right.
Performers talk about long hours on set and how certain scenes may take upwards of a week to shoot, with some actors like Willem Dafoe even going the extra mile to make every scene look perfect. It’s not always a death-defying stunt that Tom Cruise makes look easy; it could be a struggle to get the right angle or lighting. Or even in Keaton’s case, the right body movement for something done multiple times a day without even thinking about it, but now in character as The Dark Knight.
What other Batman actors have struggled with simple things? Did Robert Pattinson need to determine how his Bruce Wayne would exit a car door with Matt Reeves? How did Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale decide where Batman would put his hands on the steering wheel of the Batmobile?
Those may seem like silly questions, but the details matter when it comes to making movies and bringing the fantastical to life. From acts as simple as walking and talking, every aspect of the character must be settled upon and remain coherent with the film’s overall vision. Post-production effects and ADR of lines can only go so far in covering up an unnatural performance.
Big-budget superhero movies are even more complicated to film, with Batman Returns incredibly simple compared to modern spectacles (but according to Rotten Tomatoes, perhaps more successful), most of which involve filming on a giant greenscreen talking to a tennis ball on a rope. While performing, the actor doesn’t see the CGI monster or how they’re holding a conversation in the middle of a giant battle. There’s something to be said for practical effects, and Michael Keaton’s co-star in Batman, now starring in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, Michael Pfeffier, pulled off an amazing feat of her own as Catwoman.
The scene in which Selena Kyle is whipping the heads off of the mannequins may seem like one of those complicated shots that take forever to get right, but it didn’t. Pfeffier cleanly took all three heads off in one take while swinging the whip herself. Sometimes the real movie magic is in capturing amazing feats resulting from hours of training and focus on a camera.
And other times, it’s watching Michael Keaton struggle to pick up a phone.