Why Batman? No one can disagree that out of all the fan films that incorporate characters and/or properties from either DC or Marvel comics Batman is the single most used character in these productions? I’m genuinely and sincerely curious as to why this is. Some can easily dismiss this question as simple economics. The Batman has no super powers nor is his costume all that elaborate hence using the character in said fan film is cheaper. But the same could be said for other comic book characters; Wolverine, Punisher, Captain America, The Spirit, Green Hornet and the list goes on. All the characters listed have fan films dedicated to them, but clearly not the literarily hundreds that are dedicated to Batman and his universe. In hope to answer my inquiry I turn to the fan film makers and fans themselves to perhaps get better clue into why Batman?
With the help of a great online resource for all that is Batman Fan Film related aptly called Batman Fan Films I was able to get a better incite into why Batman. I turned to the Batman Fan Film message boards where two gentlemen heeded the call to my inquiries.
Neil Rickatson is a filmmaker delving into the world of the Batman with his offering “The Return”, a 13 minute fan film released in the summer of 2008. The film takes place on the outskirts of Gotham where four small time crooks meet up for a poker night, but soon the game turns deadly when an uninvited guest makes an appearance.
Stephen Martinez is also a 23-year-old filmmaker with the goal to build a career directing films with hopes to direct an actual comic book film in Hollywood. His original film, “Re-Play,” can be viewed at his MySpace account.
Let’s ask them.
FAN FILM FOLLIES (through Christopher Moshier): Why Batman?
NEIL RICKATSOM: I know in terms of comic books, it’s hard to find a definitive superhero. There are quite a few top tier heroes, Spider-man, Superman, and Wolverine but in terms of the cinema, Tim Burton’s Batman still today stands out as the prototype superhero film. Its twenty years old and films are still borrowing its style, its palette, its structure.
The Spider-man movies may be the pretender to the throne but even those films bear the influence of Burton’s movie. Think of the Danny Elfman score, the way they turned the Green Goblin’s suit into more of an armor. It all links back to the Burton movie. You can argue that better superhero movies have come since but they all owe their look and style to the Burton movie.
Making fan films is like an amateur artist trying to paint Picasso’s Sunflowers painting. They might not have the skill to recreate it exactly but it can be a hell of a lot of fun seeing how close you can emulate something. Batman’s popularity certainly does come down to economics, there’s no flying characters or spectacular effects needed to make a good Batman fan film.
Coming back to my point about emulating the films we see at the cinema. We now also emulate the ‘fan’ films we see on the web. There are countless fans who decided to make a fan film after watching Sandy Collora’s Dead End (for me it was Aaron Schoenke’s Batman Beyond Year One). Dead End, regardless of what you think of the quality, was a huge landmark in fan film making. You had proper film-makers like Kevin Smith and even artists like Alex Ross watching it and giving their opinion on it. The whole creator/audience barrier was broken.
Basically, digital film-making as gotten to a point now where the audience doesn’t have to watch films over and over to enjoy them anymore. Its way more fun to make your own.
STEPHEN MARTINEZ: I believe the reason that Batman is chosen so much for fan films is because of the appeal of the character. He is a character that so many stories can be crafted from. Every character in the Batman mythology has been given a rich, detailed history and such amazing characteristics. So many other comic characters are very one dimensional and people stop trying to improve on the character once they found something that sticks to the fans. Characters from the Batman universe are constantly being evolved and developed like real people. And that is the key. The characters, good and bad, are treated as real people with real emotions. When you have characters like these, it is so much easier to develop your own stories for them as opposed to a character that is not so well developed.
FFF: Opinion and simple question. What’s your favorite Batman fan film and why?
NR: : For me Batman Beyond: Year One still holds a special place. I first came across Aaron’s website in 2002, just as he was finishing the film. It was an incredibly exciting time. This was before sites like Batmanfanfilms.com, you had to properly search Google for these kind of movies.
I’d literally just finished my first film The Unknown Soldier before I watched it so I kind of empathized with how hard it must have been to get something like that made. It has loads of effects, actors, and fight scenes. People forget how long filming can take. They see a scene with two characters talking outside a building and don’t think for another second. When I see that scene I think the director had to cast those two actors, get them to learn the script, shooting outside that building he probably didn’t have a permit, he was probably shooting on the fly, he had to make sure the sound was recorded right, no random background sound. He had to get the angle right; he had to think about the scene that came before it and the scene it was going to cut to next. He had to think about continuity. He had to think do these costumes work. Is there too much light, will the shot get over exposed. It’s quite a process going on in a director’s head.
Also I thought Batman Beyond: Year One had a really interesting look to it, a lot of filters and washed out effects. Aaron didn’t have the budget to do a proper futuristic Gotham so he had to imply it.
Anyway, I think the film isn’t online anymore, certainly not on Aaron’s official website. I don’t know maybe he’s embarrassed because it was such an early project and he’s moved on so much. But regardless, I thought it was very cool. What I liked about it was the way it actually had a story to it. It felt like a film that just happened to be set in the Batman universe. Those are the films I enjoy the most. Don’t get me wrong I still enjoy watching a short that is nothing but a couple of action scenes but a story; I give the creator kudos for going the extra mile.
SM: : Patient J has to probably be my favorite Batman fan film. I enjoyed it because Aaron Schoenke tried to capture a side of the Joker we have not seen in a fan film. He tried to get into the mind of the Joker. He explored the reasons why the Joker does what he does. Even though we may not understand why, it’s interesting to hear the Joker try to explain himself. The film also had some great production value. Was it perfect? No, but it was extremely well done.
FFF: What are your Batman fan film no no’s or pet peeves you see in a lot of Batman fan films? You don’t have to be specific which films, but what do you see a lot of that bothers you in regards to the mythology of the character. For example mine is that a lot of films have the Heath Ledger Joker impersonation in them.
NR: : Pet peeves? I’ve watched a hell of a lot of Batman fan films. I’ve seen it all – Batman jumping off the fridge indoors when he’s meant to be jumping off a building, a 12 year old Batman, scenes that should be taking place on the docks or creepy warehouse but instead take place in someone’s tastefully decorated living rooms.
I think it’s when people don’t have the budget to film something, so rather than think a way around it they just decide to shoot it anyway and hope the audience doesn’t recognize that they’ve cut corners. Hello! You’ve put your film on the internet; expect the audience to notice everything!
When I wrote The Return, I wrote with the locations I knew I could get. I set a scene in the back of a refrigerated lorry because I knew I could shoot there. Not enough fan films do this; they do stuff like write a scene of Jim Gordon and Batman conversing on a rooftop and then try to film it on top of their house. If you don’t have a good rooftop to film on, find one or rewrite.
A great deal of fan films just seem to be people playing “dress-up” first and making a movie second.
Other pet peeves. Certainly, the Heath Ledger joker impressions are getting a bit wearisome. I think people like to emulate what they’ve seen, so for instance, after Batman Begins, all these Scarecrow movies with guys in suits with a sack over their head turned up. You get all these fan films that seem nothing more than poorly re-enacted scenes from the latest Batman movie. Do something new!
For me, fan films should be about doing what Hollywood won’t or can’t. For instance, Hollywood will never make a Spiderman/Batman team-up but hey if you want to see one, go make it. Hollywood will never make an R rated black and white Batman film but if you want to see it, go make it. No one else will.
So yeah, as long as someone has thought outside the box, I give them kudos.
SM: : My biggest pet peeve in Batman fan films is depicting Batman in the day time. I understand as a film maker you can only shoot when your actors are available but a big part of what adds to Batman’s effect on criminals is how he appears and disappears into the night. The night is his weapon. If you have to have Batman appear in the day time in your film, at least give a reason for it.
FFF: The Batman “costume” itself. What materials do you use to put it together? How have you been creative in putting it together (mix and match different materials)? What would you prefer a Batsuit to consist of (be it rubber, spandex, cotton, etc)?
NR: : Before I switched to making The Return, a film that didn’t contain Batman, I was working on a project called The Fall of Bruce Wayne. The Batsuit was the hardest part of that project. I started off determined to make it from scratch (much like the suit in Batman Beyond: Year One) but man was it hard making it look in anyway decent.
I tried making the cowl, like the version in the comics. Made of cloth with ridged plastic inside but the glue would always soak through. In the end, I went for a store made suit. The Rubies animated suit, with a latex cowl bought off EBay that I had to make adjustments to. I looked kind of embarrassing but because I shot the film in a high contrast black and white and kept it mostly in shadows you could never really see it was really flimsy. Ditto for the cape, which was just a massive piece of black cloth I shoved down the back of the suit!
I would have loved a cool latex suit, like the Keaton version, but they were always so expensive. I knew I’d never be able to afford it and if I did I’d be left with a giant latex suit in my closet for the rest of my life, only digging it out at Halloween.
SM: : I have not had the chance to make my own Batman costume but I have seen many people who have. I believe it’s great to get creative with the suit as long as it looks professional and is made neatly. I’ve seen some that look like they were thrown together without care. Whatever you make the suit with, make it look neat. As a helpful tip, if you are having a hard time with the suit coming out right, focus on the cape and cowl and have the cape drape over Batman so it covers his body and we don’t have to see the whole suit. Sometimes what we don’t see makes a film better.
FFF: Where does he get those wonderful toys? What are some creative ways you throw in some of the BAT mythos and gadgets? I mean is anyone using a toaster for a Batarang? Using a Pinto for the Batmobile?
NR: : Hmm, never had to do any gadgets but I made the vat of acid the Joker falls into using a saucepan, some green liquid and a straw, does that count?
FFF: How much has the technology aspect helped? I’m talking better editing programs, green screen, visual/special effects, etc.
NR: : Without green screen I would have struggled to shoot the vat scene. I’d have had think more creatively.
I think the reason you didn’t really have many fan films back in the 80s and 90s is that; – all camcorders were VHS, poor quality, no really editing software and no internet, no way to share your movie with a wider audience beyond your friends and family.
Digital film allowed everyone to shoot clear, if not entirely filmic, footage. Premiere and Final Cut allowed people to do non-linear editing. Finally, programs like After Effects allowed people to do quick and easy effects work. And even if you didn’t know how to do the effects someone on a forum or website would show you.
FFF: Batman villains. What villain transfers best to fan films?
NR: : The Joker will always be popular. Simple villain, simple make-up, and you can chew scenery like there’s no tomorrow. As long as you can do a decent cackle (I can’t, had to get someone to dub me) you’ll be fine.
The more fantastical you get the harder it is to pull off. But then for some people that’s part of the challenge. Still never seen a Mr. Freeze in a fan film but then that may have something to do with [sarcasm] Arnold Schwarzenegger giving such a magnificent performance in Batman and Robin that no dares to stand up to him.[sarcasm ends]
SM: : I believe most of Batman’s villains can transfer well to film depending on the story you are telling. Characters like Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze can really work within a story that has more of a fantasy feel to it where as Black Mask and Penguin (depending on how you visualize them) are good for films that are meant to be realistic. The reason I believe the Joker is so popular in fan films is because he has the personality and characteristics to work in any type of story, realistic or fantasy.
FFF: On a broader scope Batman related and beyond. I’ve read articles a few years old saying how fan films would never make it as a viable web presence. But we well know these films are getting more impressive over the years. So I ask you to comment on the past and perhaps current negativity towards fan films from the perspective of people who don’t know that much about them.
NR: : I think it’s been a few years since the boom of Grayson and Dead End (2003/4). Things are still ticking along, you keep your ear to ground and get hear about a cool little fan flick coming up. I’ll give a shout out to the fan films Batman: Dark Tomorrow and Batman: Black and White. But the market is quite saturated and enthusiasm from non-fan film makers (i.e. the audience) was waned quite a lot. It’s definitely harder to get a fan film noticed nowadays. The novelty for some of “the audience” has worn off.
As I said, monkey see monkey do, as long as Hollywood keeps making Batman movies, we’ll keep making ours. The one thing I always wonder about is if the people making fan films now will still be making fan films in 10 years. I’d like to think so but I know for some people it’s just something they grow out of. They either discover filming isn’t for them, or they more on to original projects and leave fan film making behind.
I’d like to think the art of making fan film is passed to the next generation too. Maybe a father/son bonding exercise?
Also, hopefully in 5-10 years, digital camcorders will have even better quality, HD cameras will get cheaper, and people will be still making fan films. I think there are still so many fans out there with stories to tell.
SM: : I believe the reason some people have negative views towards fan films is because of how they view the character in their mind. For example Batman. Most people do not read Batman comics or watch the cartoons. But almost everyone has seen the films. Therefore the only interpretation of Batman to them is a $185 million dollar interpretation. So when they see a $2,000 version of him, it seems cheesy to them and they won’t give it a chance. In regards to where the genre is heading, I believe it’s heading into big places. As technology and the internet advance, people are making better quality films. For example, look at the two recent Lord of the Rings fan films “The Hunt for Gollum” and “Born of Hope.” Both of these were made for a few thousand dollars but look at the quality. Not only do they have great stories but the production value looks amazing. They look almost like real 35mm films. The more professional a film looks, the better reception it will get. In regards to fan films with smaller to no budgets, the same applies. Use what you have to the best of your abilities and treat it like a real film and people will be interested in it. Looking at recent fan films, things are looking up for the genre in the future.
FFF: I give you ten thousand dollars – NO! I’m not really giving you ten thousand dollars. Pretend I gave you ten thousand dollars. How you would turn that money into an instant Batman Fan Film success?
NR: : Ten thousand dollars. You know what, The Return cost me little more than £40 (if you don’t include editing software, camera, lights that I already own). So I would probably make a thousand little fan films, maybe pay some of the actors and crew to keep them happy. But generally yeah, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I’d scour the internet for great little fan film scripts and shoot them all!
SM: : If I were given $10,000 to make a fan film, the first thing I would do is make sure I have a story worth spending that money on. To many times, people brag about how much their film cost and they use it to make a story that could have been made for a hundred dollars. Second, I would use the funds to secure actors, locations, props, and wardrobe. Third, I would make sure to either buy or a rent a camera that would give the production a solid look. Finally, I would use some of the money for promotion. I would make postcards, and stickers, and flyers to promote the film. Even though we can’t make money off the fan film, we can promote it. After all, other than making the film for the love of the character, you do want to get attention from it to further yourself and your career. The only way that can happen is through promotion. The more people that know about your film, the more successful it will be.
So what makes Batman the biggest superhero fan film subject on the internet? Neil and Stephen answered my question. And it simply isn’t one answer, but a combination of elements. Batman is a cheap character to reproduce on a small budget, the characters are multi dimensional with a deep seeded back-story, and because of the constant rotation of animated series on television and films in the theater that exposure makes anyone with a camera from the amateur to the professional want to emulate The Dark Knight.
My advice for someone who wants to make a fan film with The Batman and separate themselves from the hundreds of fan films based on the same character. Know your limitations and work with them. Don’t write beyond your means. Do something original. Use a character who has never seen live action or put the character in a situation we’ve never see him in, but remember to be true to the character. And most importantly incorporate your own vision. Put your own slant on the characters in the Batman universe without blatantly copying what has come before.
A special thanks to Neil, Stephen, and the crew over at the Batman Fan Films site which will do more justice on the subject of Batman in Fan Film than this site will ever be able to do.
Make sure you check out Neil Rickatson’s fan film “The Return” right here at the Fan Film Follies by clicking HERE.
As an extra bonus you can see Neil’s Sympathy for the Devil: The Making of The Return by clicking HERE.
Join Stephen Martinez’s MySpace friends as well as checking out his non-fan film Re-Play. What if you could change the past? That is a question that a detective must answer to a killer that he has been chasing for over a year. Little does he know that his answer will lead him down a path he does not want to go.