Trees came down for Batman movie scenes, more going up

By Joe Smydo
Pittsburgh, PA (August 22, 2011)- Pittsburgh’s urban greening program posed a dilemma for the Batman filmmakers, who wrapped up their work in town Sunday. Warner Bros. needed to film winter scenes with artificial snow. The city has leafy trees Downtown. In the end, the city agreed to the removal of about two dozen trees, while the Batman producers paid the city “tens of thousands of dollars” for replacements and donated $20,000 to the nonprofit Tree Pittsburgh.

“We set a precedent,” the city’s urban forester, Lisa Ceoffe, said, calling the arrangement a possible blueprint for future negotiations with filmmakers who want to alter the city’s “urban canopy.” Danielle Crumrine, executive director of Tree Pittsburgh, also was pleased. “We’re trying to set the standard pretty high because more movies are going to come to town,” she said. The donation will benefit the organization’s nursery, which provides trees for city parks and other locations.
A movie publicist didn’t respond to questions about the deal, which illuminates the back-and-forth between filmmakers and the officials who want to accommodate them without handing over the keys to the city. Concerned about the trees Downtown and in Oakland, the production company asked if it could pluck off the leaves, Ms. Ceoffe said. The city had agreed to a similar request during production of “The Next Three Days” in 2009. It was fall then, so the city gave its consent, and the filmmakers brought in cherry-pickers and people to do the plucking.
With Batman, however, Ms. Ceoffe declined, citing the time of the year and risk to the trees. “You can’t really defoliate a tree in the middle of a hot summer,” she said. “It just doesn’t work.” Instead, Ms. Ceoffe said, she agreed to a smaller-scale project — the removal of 20 to 25 trees that were damaged, diseased, posed a tripping hazard to pedestrians or had grown too close to intersections.
The production company paid a city-approved contractor to remove the trees, grind down the stumps and haul away the debris. It also paid the city the assessed value of each tree–amounts ranging from $1,200 to $5,000. Ms. Ceoffe said the city’s payment totals “tens of thousands of dollars.” “They paid everything up front. There are no loose ends here,” she said.
Replacements will be planted in the fall. In the meantime, Ms. Ceoffe said, the city will widen the tree pits, which aren’t large enough by current standards, and consider the varieties most likely to thrive in those locations. Ms. Ceoffe would not let filmmakers remove trees from Mellon Park, Downtown, but she allowed the production company to have the trees pruned, work the city at some point would have had to do at its own expense. The Pittsburgh Film Office says the movie-related pruning saved the city several thousand dollars.
Film Office Director Dawn Keezer said production companies are environmentally conscious but often require horticultural accommodations. When the 1999 filming of “Wonder Boys” ran over schedule and into the spring, she said, the movie’s “greensman” persuaded Friendship residents to pull out their tulips to preserve a wintry look. Often, Ms. Keezer said, the communities get a lasting benefit. Producers of “The Christmas Tree” built greenhouses during filming at Hartwood Acres in 1999 and left them behind.
Related Resources:
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette- Trees came down for Batman movie scenes, more going up
City of Pittsburgh Urban Forestry
Tree Pittsburgh