The White Knight of the Dark Knight
Interview with Hollywood Producer Michael Uslan
June 16, 2012
It started when he was a young boy. An obsession to right a terrible wrong. The Batman that played on television in his youth was a far cry from the original Batman comic books. It was joke. In his mind the real Batman was being dissed – comically. The young man made up his mind that someday he would avenge the Batman.
Years later, in 1977 this same young man bought the film rights to Batman. At that time no one wanted to make a Batman movie. No one. He toiled for nearly 10 years to get the first Batman movie made. Along the way he and his partner were rejected by nearly every studio in the world.
But the young man, Michael Uslan, and his partner Benjamin Meinicker, persevered.
Knocked on doors until their knuckles were bloody.
They finally righted the wrong. Batman is now one of the world’s most dependable film properties, having generated $2.6 billion in worldwide box-office grosses, countless millions in toy and merchandise sales and survived not one, but two battles with a homicidal maniac. The worst entry in the Batman franchise history charts $238 million in receipts.
I had the pleasure to interview Michael Uslan a while back on the radio show. And this I can tell you, The Dark Knight Rises will be in theaters July 20th and it may end up being the grandest in scope, story and success.
Steve Kayser: Take us back to 1977?
Michael Usland: When I bought the film rights to Batman in 1977, no one wanted to make a Batman movie. Well, not a good one, anyway. First, the president of DC Comics tried to convince me not to buy the film rights. He told me that no one wanted to make a Batman movie, but I made the deal, anyway. Who knew that he was actually on the money?
I was rejected by every studio in town, multiple times, before I was able to convince people that Batman would be viable as a serious interpretation and not as a comedy.
Steve Kayser: You’ve been the executive producer of films such as Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Constantine, The Spirit, Batman Begins, and the second highest grossing film of all time, The Dark Knight. You’re also one of the highest-grossing movie producers of all time, with The Dark Knight alone having already passed the $1 billion mark. With all that success – people might think it was easy. But I suspect it wasn’t … was it?
Michael Uslan: No. Most of the studio executives I pitched swore up and down that Batman could never work as a movie. One complained that it wouldn’t make money because Annie – the musical version of Little Orphan Annie – didn’t make money. I asked him what Annie had to do with Batman, and he replied, ‘Oh come on, Michael, they’re both from the funny pages.’
One guy even told me that Batman and Robin wouldn’t work because a Sean Connery movie about an aging Robin Hood and Maid Marian – called Robin and Marian – didn’t work. I didn’t bother to press him, but I’m assuming he felt that having the name ‘Robin’ in the title was somehow box office poison. At the end of the day, it was clear that the studio bosses in the 1970s and 1980s felt that comic books weren’t worthy of being translated into movies. Their view was that comic books were just cheap, disposable entertainment for kids.
Of course, since 1989’s Batman, comic books have been rich fodder for studios, with Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man and others bringing in billions of dollars in box office and licensing revenue.
What we showed with Batman was that you could make a good, dark and serious comic book movie.
What we proved with The Dark Knight was that we could use comic book-based material to transcend the genre and simply make a good movie, period.
The bottom line is that Batman changed the industry, and if I didn’t bloody my knuckles for close to ten years on doors that were repeatedly slammed in my face, comic book related films might not be enjoying the success they are having today.
Steve Kayser: Rejection. Perseverance. Bloody knuckles.
That’s what it takes to succeed when you believe in your vision – and yourself.