by Dick Ward
Michael Uslan may not be a household name, but it appears in the credits of one of the biggest movie franchises around. Uslan has been the executive producer of every Batman movie and animated series since 1989. He's also the man responsible for getting the 1989 movie 'Batman' into theaters in the first place.
We got a chance to pick Uslan's mind a bit and learn a little more about what he had to go through to get the first film made, his personal love of Batman, and what the role of an executive producer is in projects.
HDD - Dick Ward: You've been an executive producer for, as far as I can tell, every Batman movie or TV show since 1989. The first question is something that a lot of people wonder - what is it that an executive producer does exactly?
Michael Uslan: There are different kinds of executive producers. Generally, I find or create properties I believe can become great branded franchises, put a new creative topspin on them, often writing my own concept pieces and treatments. I then try to pull together the right creative package of writer, director and sometimes star to make it attractive to financiers and distributors. But the real answer about how to define my job is: Every day I get to report to a sandbox and play with my favorite toys.
HDD: You clearly have a love for Batman. What is it about the caped crusader that captures your interest?
Michael Uslan: He’s a super-hero who has no super-powers. His greatest super-power is his humanity. I could strongly identify with him and believe in him. Also, he has the most primal origin story that anyone can relate to on a deeply emotional level. And… he has the world’s best super-villains!
HDD: In 1979 you bought the film rights to Batman when no one wanted to get involved in the franchise. What is it that made you believe that Batman would work as a film?
Michael Uslan: Same answer as the question above. Plus, no one ever really saw him on the screen as “The” Batman… a creature of the night stalking criminals from the shadows as he was originally created in 1939.
HDD: Did you face a lot of rejection when trying to get the 1989 'Batman' film made? Tell us about some of what you went through.
Michael Uslan: I was told I was crazy, that it was the worst idea they ever heard, and every studio turned me down. Favorite rejections:
"Michael, 'Batman' will never succeed as a movie because 'Annie' didn’t do well."
"Michael, 'Batman and Robin' won’t work as a movie because the movie 'Robin And Marian' didn’t do well."
"Michael, nobody’s ever made a movie out of some old television show!"
"Michael, audiences will only remember and love that Pow! Zap! Wham! funny guy with the pot belly."
"Michael, Superman is the only super-hero from the funny papers who is big enough to be made into a motion picture feature."
HDD: How did you finally get the first movie picked up and made? Were you happy with the result?
Michael Uslan: All the credit and accolades go to the geniuses Tim Burton and our production designer Anton Furst. That vision and their ability to execute it was astounding! It was the first of my Batman dreams to come true, along with Mask of the Phantasm, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises.
HDD: How did it feel to have years of hard work finally pay off?
Michael Uslan: The dreams that you dare to dream really do come true! I always believed in it and in myself and never doubted it would be hugely successful.
HDD: After 'Batman Returns' the franchise went in what many consider to be a very unpleasant direction, culminating in 'Batman & Robin,' which upset fans and scored poorly with critics. How did you feel about the film?
Michael Uslan: It was the TV series Redux.
HDD: After 1997 Batman went into a bit of a hiatus. 'Batman: The Animated Series' was off the air and there were no more movies on the way. How long did it take for talks of rebooting the franchise to begin?
Michael Uslan: It isn’t important when the talks began, only when the other genius came aboard, Christopher Nolan… the first director of the 21st Century who should be studied in every film school… and the director who has raised the bar for all comic book based films.
HDD: 'Batman Begins' breathed new life into the series - how did the reboot finally happen? Did it take a lot of convincing or were people receptive to the idea?
Michael Uslan: How great that the management at Warner Bros. brought in Christopher Nolan and everyone trusted in his vision and his ability to execute that vision.
HDD: Which of the Batman films is your favorite and why?
Michael Uslan: 'Batman' because it was my dream-come-true after well over ten years, 'Mask of the Phantasm' because some of the best stories about Batman ever made came from the brilliant folks on the animation side, and the Christopher Nolan trilogy.
HDD: Tell us about what your involvement in 'The Dark Knight Rises.'
Michael Uslan: I love to describe myself as Christopher Nolan’s biggest cheerleader.
HDD: What can we expect from the new film? Is there a worry about living up to Heath Ledger's much praised portrayal of The Joker in 'The Dark Knight?'
July 20, 2012. Fasten your seat belt!
HDD: You pushed to get Batman into theaters and a comic book movie boom followed. Do you feel that your efforts influenced the movie landscape as it is today?
Michael Uslan: The first Batman film in 1989 was revolutionary. To this day, Burton’s vision, Furst’s designs, and Elfman’s music seem to reverberate through all genre pictures. Their influence has been enormous and pervasive. Nolan taught Hollywood the art of the successful reboot and Bond, Star Trek, Superman, Spider-Man, et al owe what they are doing to his influence. I’m happy to let history answer this question over the years.
HDD: Tell us a little bit about your book, 'The Boy Who Loved Batman.'
Michael Uslan: It’s intended to motivate young people so that if they burn with a passion for something in life, my story will prove to them that if they get up off the couch, forfeiting their sense of entitlement that the world owes them something, and instead make a commitment to knock on doors till their knuckles bleed, maintaining a high threshold for frustration, they, too, can make their own dreams come true.
HDD: What's next for you? Are you sticking with Batman or do you intend to keep branching out like you did with 'Constantine' and 'The Spirit?'
Michael Uslan: I have many fun and favorite projects in the works from the pages of some famous and historic comic books and comic strips and now there’s strong interest in my turning my book into a feature film a la “A Christmas Story.”