James Chinlund has worked his way from an on-set carpenter to production design, collaborating frequently in the independent film scene on projects like Requiem for a Dream and 25th Hour in his early years in the film industry. Chinlund is now known throughout for his stunning and detailed work on recognizable films such as The Avengers, the two most recent Planet of the Apes films, The Lion King, and most recently Matt Reeves’ The Batman.
The Batman stars Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne and Paul Dano as the primary antagonist, The Riddler. The Batman is more of a psychological thriller than a typical superhero movie, free of the grasp of CGI that seems to have a hold on most movies in the genre and instead rooted in dark reality. The film explores Bruce Wayne’s earliest and most inexperienced years as Batman, diving into the character’s beginnings as the world’s greatest detective and drawing heavily from film noir.
One of our editors, Hannah, had the chance to sit down and chat with Chinlund about the process of designing The Batman.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Nerds & Beyond: Hello, James! I really appreciate you taking some time to sit and chat with me this afternoon, and I wanted to start by congratulating you on the success that The Batman has seen. What was it about this film that made you want to get involved in the project?
James Chinlund: Where to start? I was a huge Batman fan as a kid. I spent a lot of time walking around talking to myself in the role of the Batman. And then obviously, I’m a huge Matt Reeves fan, and we’ve had an amazing collaboration on the last two Planet of the Apes. As soon as he told me that he was in on this project, it was just like a dream come true. Terrifying dream, but a dream come true nonetheless.
Nerds & Beyond: This version of Batman is much more rooted in a modern reality and therefore has influences from a lot of real world societal issues and commentary than we’ve really seen in a lot of the previous versions. How did that affect your approach to designing Gotham?
James Chinlund: I think you’re touching on something that is really essential to Matt’s [Reeves] process, which is that I think he tries to create a world and tell a story in a world that is grounded in such a way that the audience can immerse themselves in the world and believe it, as opposed to perceiving it as an artifice. And in that way, I think it really does tie back to our world as a designer. I think I took that in — knowing that not only did we have to create this world that felt real, but we also had to deliver for the fans a world that felt exciting and felt like gossip. I’ve seen so many amazing iterations of the city before, and I just felt like it was my job to thread that needle and pull both sides of the ledger. And I hope we did that.
Nerds & Beyond: Personally, I certainly think you did. What would you say was the most challenging aspect of approaching the design for this film?
James Chinlund: I think managing my anxiety initially was probably the hardest thing. It was just a lot of pressure — mostly from a place of love and respect. I just have so much love for the material that I wanted to make sure that I didn’t let the fans down. I think in terms of the physical challenges, I think the Batmobile in and of itself was quite a challenge. One of the things I’m most proud of in the film is that the car actually performs. So not only do we have to design a car that was exciting and sort of hit all the notes on the narrative, but it had to actually do all these stunts. I think that’s one of the greatest achievements.
Nerds & Beyond: This Batmobile was really so intricately designed and executed that it really became like its own character in a way, which was special to see. That was definitely a favorite aspect of mine from the film.
James Chinlund: That’s cool to hear. Thank you.
Nerds & Beyond: You bet! Before we wrap up, were there any Easter eggs that you hid throughout the city or throughout any aspect of the film that you’re particularly proud of sneaking in?
James Chinlund: I think Selina Kyle’s apartment. We didn’t get to explore it very much, but we certainly were very inspired by some of the stuff in Batman: Year One. For example, there’s a Parthenon calendar on her refrigerator. I think it speaks to the fact that we were really trying to stay true to the material and give the fans those familiar buzzes that would make them recognize that they were home, and also push them into new space.
Nerds & Beyond: It definitely did exactly that. Again, thank you so much for your time and congratulations on the success of the movie.
James Chinlund: Thank you! Thank you so much.
The Batman is available to stream on HBOMax. The film will be available on 4k Ultra HD and Blu-Ray on May 24.