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Uslan shows 'Batman,' describes path to movie-making

Feb. 8, 2017

There was not an empty red chair in the Franklin Hall commons when Michael Uslan, producer of the "Batman" movies, presented his 1989 film "Batman" on Jan. 31 in the Franklin Hall commons.

Michael Uslan speaking to the audience

Michael Uslan is a professor of practice in The Media School and is teaching two courses this semester. | PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES BROSHER, IU COMMUNICATIONS

Uslan, a professor of practice at the school who is teaching two courses this spring, answered questions and talked about the film and his career afterward.

“What you just saw changed my life, changed the movie industry, changed the comic book industry,” Uslan said when the movie ended. “To this very day, I maintain that virtually any comic book or genre movie, fantasy, sci-fi — whatever you see — was influenced by this movie.”

Uslan said he could not walk 50 steps in New York City in 1989 without seeing Batman apparel or a poster, and that was before the movie was released. As Uslan was watching live coverage of the Berlin Wall coming down Nov. 9, 1989, he saw a young boy on the screen wearing a Batman hat. He said that is when he realized the film’s impact around the world. The movie set the standard for superhero movies and brought a serious and human side to heroes on-screen for the first time, he said.

Media School freshman Sarah Sanders said the film’s impact drew her to the event to hear from the producer himself.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to listen to what he has to say, especially as freshman. I wanted to take advantage of it,” Sanders said.

As he talked about the film’s impact on the industry, Uslan wove in stories from his experience making the film. Uslan’s then four-year-old daughter Sarah was on set when they filmed the opening scene. She was right under actor and Batman star Michael Keaton’s elbow as he grasped the villain on the roof. Uslan said he still looks at the bottom corner of the screen every time he watches the movie to see if he can catch a glimpse of his daughter’ curls.

“It’s funny. With everything we do, the stories you remember best are the ones that never quite appear on the screen,” he said.

Uslan is a self-proclaimed comic book geek devoted to keeping the legacy of a dark and serious Batman intact. He said he wanted to show the world his childhood view of "Batman," one of a serious and rather dark hero rather than the campy version depicted in the "Batman" TV show of the 1960s. When he was in a position to do so, he bought the rights to "Batman" from DC Comics. He pitched his movie featuring a serious Batman to many people in the business, and all of them said no.

Above view of the Franklin Hall commons screening area

Students gathered in the Franklin Hall commons to watch a screening of Uslan's 1989 film "Batman." | PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES BROSHER, IU COMMUNICATIONS

“I call it a human endurance contest where the whole world tells you your ideas are bad,” Uslan said. “They don’t like you and don’t like what you’re saying and don’t like what you’re doing, and it’s rejection after rejection after rejection,” Uslan said. It took 10 years of “no’s” for Uslan to get one “yes.”

Today Uslan teaches seminars on film and the Hollywood industry at The Media School, where he preaches the importance of story and character to his students.

“I really long for innovation and boldness and thematic heft in what people are doing,” Uslan said of the commercial film of today.

Sydney Valde is a sophomore studying cinema studies who is in Uslan’s  MSCH-M435 Live from L.A.: Pros Make Movies class.

“A lot of the things he talked about he also mentioned in class, which I think just reiterates the importance of what he’s trying to tell all of us,” Valde said.

Uslan said he is happy to be back at his alma mater. A native of New Jersey, Uslan received his doctor of jurisprudence degree from the IU Maurer School of Law in 1976. He earned a master of science degree in urban education from the IU School of Education in 1975 and a bachelor’s degree in history from IU in 1973.

“This is the home that’s always calling to us no matter where we are, and I take every opportunity I have to come back and do something like this,” Uslan said.

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