Meet the 'Batman v Superman' Shutterbug Who's Staked Out the Movie's Set

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Some of the biggest movies of the past decade — including Oz the Great and Powerful, and the third and fourth Transformers films — have been shot in Detroit, where producers can take advantage of Michigan’s generous film incentives, not to mention the city’s abundant empty lots.

Along with the movie boom, Motor City has seen the rise of another, more covert industry: amateur photography by people who stake out sets and share their pictures online. When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice filmed in Detroit this summer, newspapers and websites combed social media sites, looking for the latest on-set photos — many of which came from a Twitter user named @bananadoc.

Since 2010, the mysterious Banana Doctor has been running the website Michigan Movies and More, where fans can find exclusive behind-the-scenes shots from Scream 4, Ides of March, The Five-Year Engagement, and Transformers: Age of Extinction, among others. This summer, Banandoc maintained an interactive map of Batman v. Superman filming locations, and captured such coveted set photos as Henry Cavill in his Superman costume. At times, it seemed that Bananadoc was everywhere. But there’s still one shot that has eluded the intrepid tweeter: an on-set photo of Ben Affleck in full Batman regalia.

Under the condition that no identifying details be revealed, Bananadoc spoke to Yahoo Movies about going undercover as a set photographer, the legal rights of citizen paparazzi, the ethics of spoilers, and whether there’s any money to be made in the stealth photo business.

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Bananadoc’s shot of Henry Cavill in his Superman suit

I guess the obvious question is: How do you find time to take all these pictures? Do you have a day job?

I do have a real job. I work flexible hours, but it’s still a pretty all-consuming job. And I have a family. The photography is an after-work thing, a vacation thing. It’s a day-off thing. I’m not running around every day doing this. So it is a hobby, and I try and schedule things around it. I did take a week off in the summer because I knew they were filming in downtown Detroit.

When did you begin photographing movie shoots?

It was 2010, and one of my friends told me that some people from Scream 4 wanted to film in her house. And I thought, “Wow, that would be really, really cool.” And then Scream 4 came and filmed in my town, in some of my friends’ houses, and I took a couple of pictures and I put them up on Twitter. I’d never even used Twitter before. And before I knew it, my pictures were up all over the Web. It took me by surprise — suddenly my pictures are in Rolling Stone, people are emailing me and wanting to interview me, and I’m like, “Excuse me?” [Laughs] And I got the bug, I guess. When Scream left, it was kind of, “Oh, what do I do now until the next movie comes along?”

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Courteney Cox on the set of ‘Scream 4’

Do you have a background in photography?

Not at all.

What kind of camera do you use?

It depends where I am and what I think I can get away with. If I’m in full view of everybody, I sometimes have my tiny little point-and-shoot, because people don’t really think you can take pictures that great with a point-and-shoot, so I can hide that way. I also have a digital SLR with a pretty nice lens, but it’s not one of the big fancy professional-grade lenses or anything. Because unless you’re hidden, as soon as you pull [a bigger camera] out, then everything closes down for you, basically. You have a target on your back.

Are there a lot of other people in Detroit doing what you’re doing?

I’ve been doing this a long time. [But for] all the other people chasing Batman v Superman in town, this is a new thing. I know a lot of the tricks of the trade, and I think people have been picking up tips from me. And I’ve been giving people advice. Maybe I’ve been a little bit too free with my advice — I’ve created some monsters along the way. But obviously, it’s big news, and so a lot of people want to share their tips. With every movie, I’ve kind of gathered a group of people — you meet them on Twitter or Instagram — who are looking for the same movie, or who live nearby. So somebody will tweet and say, “Hey, I saw Ben Affleck this morning.” And you say, “Oh, did you? Where did you see him?” And then you start a conversation with that person. Sometimes, they just disappear, [but] if they’re really interested, you kind of build up a relationship, and sometimes those develop into friendships. So now, if I hear something’s happening downtown, I’ve got about five or six people that I can text or message and say, “Hey, I’ve heard that so-and-so’s downtown. Can you check it out?”

Have you met these people offline as well?

Some of them. Not many. I’m very careful as to who I introduce myself to, because I don’t want to give too much away.

How do movie crews usually react to you?

It really depends on the individual crew person. Last week in Detroit, one crew guy came over to me and accused me of being paparazzi. And I said, “Don’t be ridiculous.” He said, “But you have a camera… we’d rather you didn’t take pictures.” I said, “I know you would! I understand that you have to tell me that.” You know, I’m polite, I’m pleasant, I’m courteous. And as soon as they see that you know the rules, they back off a little bit. But he said, “I am going to have to try and stop you taking that picture. I’m going to throw myself in front of the camera, or wave, put my arms in front.” I’m like, “If that’s what you feel you have to do, then OK.” But he was nice about it, [and] I was nice about it.

Have you had any encounters that were less diplomatic?

If it’s the crew, it’s generally easier than the security. Once, on [2014’s] Need for Speed, I was taking a picture of a car across the street in downtown Detroit. The security guard for that movie was, excuse me, bats—- insane. I mean, I had my children with me, and he was just screaming and yelling at me, and did everything but physically touch me to stop me taking pictures. Then he said, “I’m gonna get the police.” I said, “Please get the police.” And there just happened to be a Detroit police officer on the corner who came over and asked me who was bothering me, and basically put this little upstart guy in his place. You cannot harass public citizens on a public street. You just can’t do that! So I understand that they want to keep all this stuff secret, blah blah blah. Then don’t film it in my city! [Laughs] Do it in the studio. Do it somewhere where no one can see.

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George Clooney on the set of ‘The Ides of March’

What have you learned about your legal rights in terms of taking photos, trespassing on a set, and so forth?

There’s a document flying around called “The Photographer’s Rights.” Basically, if you’re on a public street, you can take a picture of anything you can see. It’s pretty much black and white. This is America. You can take a picture of anything you can see, unless an individual has a reasonable right to privacy. And if you’re on a public street, you simply don’t have that. So as objectionable as it may seem under some circumstances, you can take a picture of anything. And the crew knows that. So once they realize that you know your rights, and the only way they can stop you is by being a physical barrier. They will walk up and down in front of you, you know, they’ll stretch at the right moment. It’s their job, and I don’t begrudge them their jobs. But it’s my job to get the picture.

And they will tell you crazy stories. The first guy I encountered on this crew said, “You cannot take pictures and you cannot put them on social media, because Warner Bros. will sue you.“I was like, "For what?”

I’d heard that some people got cease-and-desist letters for posting videos and photos from the Transformers set.

It’s ridiculous. I mean, I can’t even imagine that would stand up in any court of law. But I don’t push it. If somebody’s getting really angry with me, I’ll just walk away. But Transformers hired a lot of local people as kind of security, and they were giving away stickers and tattoos to the kids. They were being very friendly, and photographs were completely allowed. When [2011’s] The Double filmed in our neighborhoods here, there was a liaison officer, everyone was charming, they brought cookies, they kept everybody happy. And I think they should. You’re filming in [our] city, and we’re giving you money. It’s our taxpayer money after all. You should be nice to people.

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Mark Wahlberg on the set of ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’

You took one of the first on-set photos of Henry Cavill as Superman.

I had the first picture of Superman in his suit, although he had his robe on. I earned it. I worked very hard to get that shot. But then, once that shot was out, Splash News flew in somebody in from Los Angeles or somewhere, and then he basically staked the set out all day and got THE big picture.

Don’t you also sell your photos to Splash News, though? I’ve seen a shared credit on some of them.

I’ve done this now for four years, and until this year, I never made a cent out of it. I just put these pictures on Twitter. I put them on my silly little blog that honestly, if I haven’t got a big scoop, nobody goes to. But I’ve met quite a few real paparazzi and real photographers, and last summer, a guy gave me his business card and said, “Hey, if you ever get some good shots, send them to me.” So I signed up with Splash and use the service. I thought, you know, if I get a really good shot, I’ll send it in and see what happens. So I did send in my picture of Superman. That’s the first time I’ve done it. And I can tell you: I am not going to give up my day job.

You didn’t get a payday out of that? I’m surprised.

[Laughs] This is not a way to make money! But you know, I don’t have the big fancy lens, it’s not the big, beautiful clear shot — people don’t pay a lot of money for this stuff anymore. If it was Batman, then I could maybe think about giving up my day job for a day or two. But no. And I’m not the paparazzi. I’m not going to be hiding in a parking lot all night or whatever. So I’ve sold about six shots, I think, this summer, and that’s it. I don’t even think it was worth it in some ways. It didn’t cover the cost of gas or my broken camera.

How worried are you about spoilers?

I’m quite careful, although I’ve kind of messed up a couple of times. But I don’t think any one picture is going to give away a two-hour movie. I think it just adds to the build-up. If it was something really huge, I don’t know, I’d think about it. There were two things that I worried about this time. One was Scoot McNairy’s green legs. When I shared the picture, someone said, “This is huge.” And I’m like, “What do you mean? He has strange green socks on.” And they said, “No, it means he doesn’t have any legs in the movie. And this is huge for the plot.” So I shared that before I even thought about what I was doing. And then I managed to share what might be a picture of [a major character’s death], without realizing what I was doing. But then when I talked to people about it, they said, “You know, everybody knows that’s what happening in this movie anyway, because it’s all based on the comic books.”

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An intriguing image from the set of ‘Batman v Superman’

What measures is Warner Bros. taking to stop people from getting spoiler-y shots? Most of the superhero actors haven’t been photographed in costume.

Well, I think a lot of the filming is being done in the studio, so that’s the No.1 thing they do: They just do it behind the walls of the studio. All of the crew, production, everybody, they’re told not to tweet or Instagram anything — which is one of the best ways of tracking them. And you know, they’ll close the streets for miles away so you just can’t get close. They put up green netting. They plant that Metropolis bus in front of everything. And that’s clever, because they just take that bus with them, and when they’re not using it, they park it across the road so you can’t take pictures around it. They’re closing buildings.

And they’re filming in awful places, too, like the area around the Industrial Center. It’s really not a very safe place to be at night. So if you film at night in these scary downtown Detroit places — honestly, there aren’t a lot of people watching. I got some pictures a couple weeks ago of Henry Cavill going into an old building, and there was literally nobody there watching, because it’s an area of Detroit where nobody goes at night. I was only there because there was a police car [nearby]. I’m not saying all of Detroit is like that, but they were in rough areas at night.

So what’s the next big movie, now that this one is winding down? The Beverly Hills Cop remake is coming up soon, right?

That’s the only big one I know of. We still have our fingers crossed for Justice League, but the state only has a $50 million budget. I heard some rumors, but they’re not official rumors yet. No one tells me that stuff.

What do your friends and family think of your hobby?

My friends think it’s just the coolest thing ever. My kids are bored with it. They used to come around with me and hang with me on sets and things, and I could sneak in a lot of places with them too — “Yes, we came to see Superman! That’s why we’re hiding in the bushes!” But I’m still having fun. Last night I was driving around, in the dark, at like 11:30, because someone saw a filming sign somewhere in [the Detroit suburb] Birmingham. And I’m like, “Really? I have to go out now?” But I can’t stay home. Once I know that they might be filming somewhere, I have to get in my car and go.

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Photo credits: Bananadoc / Splash News (Cavill), @Bananadoc