Batman has become a superhero synonymous with blockbuster movies, but that wasn’t always the case. Michael Uslan, the producer of the modern-day Batman movies, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the road to creating the films was long and difficult. He also wrote a book about his story called The Boy Who Loved Batman.
Uslan said he grew up at the Jersey Shore with a father who was a mason and loved his job. “When you see somebody in your house every day who can’t wait to get to work, who just loved what he did so much, it just makes you want the same thing. So I had to figure out what my bricks and stones were. And I knew for me it was comic books and movies and Batman,” he said. “And I had to figure out a way to make that my life’s work and that was really the trick.”
Because people in his life told him that he should have something to fall back on, Uslan said he went to law school. The time in law school led to Uslan getting his first job in the Hollywood movie industry. He was a motion picture production attorney for United Artists when it was the only major motion picture studio based in New York at the time. He used his job to get into the creative side of the business.
“I was always a writer, a creative writer. But I couldn’t get my foot in the door. I didn’t know anyone in Hollywood. I didn’t have any relatives in Hollywood and I didn’t come from money so I couldn’t buy my way into Hollywood. So this was kind of my plan B. And by working at a studio, I networked like crazy, met a lot of people. I learned how you finance and produce movies,” Uslan said. “I did it for about three and a half years and then I said OK, now I’ve got the credentials, I’ve met a lot of people, now I want to buy the rights to Batman, which I did. It took some doing. I quit my job, went out to Hollywood and went to start pitching my idea for a dark and serious Batman movie.”
Uslan didn’t want to create a Batman movie like the television show, which he said turned the superhero into a joke. “I vowed somehow I will erase from the collective consciousness of the world culture those three awful words — pow, zap and wham,” he said. “And I set out on my mission to do this.”
The process to create the first Batman movie wasn’t easy. Uslan said every studio turned him down. “They told me I was crazy, that you can’t make serious comic book films. You can’t make dark super heroes. And nobody’s ever made a movie based on an old television series. That had never been done,” he said. “Turned down, door slammed in my face every single place that I looked. And from the time I bought the rights til the time we actually got the first movie made, it took 10 long years.”
When the first movie was finally made, Uslan said he was skeptical of having Michael Keaton as the leading man, but Tim Burton had a vision and believed in him for the role. Uslan said he was happy with the finished product.
Christopher Nolan’s trilogy has been one of the most successful at the box office. Uslan praised the director for his work. “Christopher Nolan is another genius. He deserves all the credit, all the accolades for what he’s done. He’s raised the bar for all comic book movies,” Uslan said. “When you walk out of one of his films, you don’t have to say that was a great comic book movie. You can say that was a great film.”
Uslan grew up very near Monmouth University, which recognized him for his accomplishments. “Recently they gave me the world’s first ever doctorate in comic books, in the fine arts of comic books,” he said. “It had never been done before and I’m proud of it because it’s a loud statement to the world that comic books are a legitimate American art form, as indigenous to this country as jazz, and deserve the recognition and respect.”
Comic appreciation runs in Uslan’s family. His son is involved in the digitization of the American comic book industry. “His company graphically has deals with all of the major comic book companies and the independents with somewhere north of 1,200 individual creators,” Uslan said. “They are bringing them into the digital world, digitizing them, creating new digital experiences that are very interactive and they’re putting them on apps all over the world, expanding the reach of American culture and American modern day mythology in our super heroes from one corner of the earth to the other.”
Uslan’s memoir, The Boy Who Loved Batman, chronicles his life and journey to making the Batman movies. “I sequestered myself away for three months. I wrote seven days a week, 18 hours a day. I had no TV or radio, just the soundtrack from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s and once I got my head back into my skin when I was 5 or 8 or 16 or 21, I just couldn’t stop writing,” he said. “It just flowed.”
While Uslan doesn’t know what’s next for the Batman series, he believes the character will be used in future movies. “Batman is an enduring character. He’s been around almost 75 years. Everyone loves him because he has no super powers,” he said. “His greatest super power is his humanity and people can really relate to Batman and always will.”