Martin Deer chats with Brett Culp, director of the Batman documentary Legends of the Knight, a not-for-profit documentary examining the power of stories on our lives, and in particular, how The Batman inspires us to be better…
Martin Deer: You’ve just held your own panel at San Diego Comic-Con. How was that experience and how was the reaction to the film?
Brett Culp: It was amazing to be out at San Diego Comic-Con and just to be around people who have such a love for these stories and these heroes. If there’s a common theme among all the people who come to Comic-Con it’s their great love for these heroic type stories. The heroes have changed over time but that’s the common thread of almost all these stories, the people who come to the Con love. And so it was great to be around that and it was great to have panel to show some clips from the film, we got great response from everyone in the room; they laughed when they were supposed to laugh and they cried when they were supposed to cry and they cheered when they were supposed to cheer, and then great feedback from people afterwards who came up and were just excited to see the film and about what we were doing. And that launched some great conversations and we had some great press interviews during the week so yeah, I loved being there, I had a great experience.
MD: The reaction to the first trailer, which premiered on Batman-On-Film, was incredible. Has the process of making this film got easier or more difficult as time has gone on and interest has grown – has the pressure of delivering affected you at all?
BC: As this project has gone along, it has gotten more and more awareness and, more and more excitement, and that has certainly opened doors. It’s much easier to share the project and get people excited about it when you have some credibility from some of the success which we have generated. Which is a fantastic blessing for Legends of the Knight. But absolutely, the fact that you feel like so many people are watching you know, and the Kickstarter campaign had over a thousand contributors, it just does raise the bar in terms of what you want to create and how you want to create it and what you want it to be, and my initial thought was that I would have this movie finished in time for Comic-Con, but my perfectionism level, my desire for it to be amazing, to really live up to the love and interest and support that people all over the world have shown for the film brought out another level of perfectionist in me that made me want it to be great, and made me want it to be more diverse and unique and so I did more filming and more stories that I had intended, and gave the movie a bit more depth than I had first thought I would. It’s been great to have all the support but yeah it has also made it more important to me for it to be great.
MD: The trailer really was quite moving – young Kye is an inspiration to us all (Kye is a young child who after being diagnosed with cancer, beat the disease using the power of The Batman). I’m sure the film will be filled with many inspiring stories but is there one which has particularly affected you and confirmed your belief in the importance of a character like The Batman?
BC: It’s so hard to pick one, because it’s like talking about your children and trying to pick your favourite. Each one of these stories are so different. Obviously I picked Kye’s story to be sort of the centre piece of the trailer because it was, emotionally such a raw story and it is the part of the film where, even though I’ve watched the finish film twenty five, thirty times all the way through, that’s the part that still makes me cry. And I can remember all the way back to doing that interview with his Mom and sitting there and almost having to stop the interview half way through because I was so emotional. This film evolved, as I did interviews with people they always went back to their childhood. There was not a person I talked to, no matter what their age was, they would always go back to childhood and say, ‘I remember being a little kid and first having this experience with Batman’, and so the way Legends of the Knight evolved is in a way to focus on The Batman that a five, six, seven, eight year old child experiences in their mind when they think of Batman. So people have asked me in this movie, Adam West Batman, or Frank Miller Batman, or Chris Nolan Batman; which Batman is this movie about, and I think the reality is that it’s about a Batman that only exists in the imagination, only in exists in the mind its how we perceive Batman and particularly how a character like Batman is perceived by children and how it affects their character as they grow with a heroic story like that. So I think Kye’s story really resonates with that because he is of that age where you can kind of see it in his face and the things he says, and the way he responds, the way his Mom describes his response to the very essence of what the film is. So I think Kye’s story is right at the emotional heart of this.
MD: Is there a defining moment in your own life where Batman really influenced you and solidified this obviously great impact he has had on your life?
BC: For me there’s not one single moment where Batman, or the influence of Batman really changed me. It has been an evolution for me. When I look back at my life and the photos of my life I can look back at a year old and having my first birthday party and, it was a Batman birthday party, with a Batman birthday cake and I got a Batman tricycle. Then I can look at being three years old and being there at the hospital for the birth of my sister, and I was wearing a Batman t-shirt. And looking back at all these Halloweens and different stages of my life and memories of being at my Grandmothers house and the Batmobile, super-powers Batmobile she had. Batman has been ever present in my life, for my whole life. At every stage of my life there was a Batman for me: when I was thirteen there was Tim Burton’s Batman and then when I was in my late twenties/early thirties Christopher Nolan’s Batman started, so there has always been a Batman present for me at the level I was, and the Batman I needed at that time to be a hero for me. So I think there’s not one defining moment it’s just this perpetual, it’s always been there and that’s powerful.
MD: Batman is open to so many interpretations, yet I’ve always felt that when the character is portrayed as, shall we say slightly more ‘crazy’ than heroic, a huge part of the character is lost. He takes the darker route, but it’s still the good path. Is that something you’d agree on?
BC: I think one of the challenges we have in our world is that our real life heroes are getting lost. We’re finding that the people we used to admire; the athletes, the politicians, the celebrities, all those things, we’re finding out that their using performances enhancing drugs and they’re cheating, and they don’t care about their families and, they’re just selfish and they can’t be trusted. And I think this affects the way we perceive fictional heroes. When real life heroes aren’t there for us I think we tend to move more towards our fictional heroes, and that in my opinion speaks to the rise in the whole geek culture and our obsession with these stories of heroes in the fictional world because our real life heroes are not there for us the way they used to be. I think as that happens over time, the more brighter, lighter heroic heroes become less believable to us, and we’ll only buy in to the darker, little crazier, little more grim type heroes because that’s a better reflection of the world. But to me, and at the heart of this movie is the idea of these heroes are not lost. This movie is filled with real world heroes that are in many ways live up to that light, bright heroic Batman and I think the more of those heroes we can find and share and embrace in our world, the more likely it becomes that we can embrace the lighter Batman and I look forward to a day when we get back to a bit more of that.
MD: When can we expect the film to be released?
BC: This is a small independent project so we’re taking it one step at a time. I’ve just finished [beginning of August] the final lock on the storyline so now it’s going to the colourist and the audio mixer, and they’re going to do their work and we’ll go through the collaborative process to get that right. Then we’ll have a few legal things we have to do and then we’ll go through the process of fulfilling the pledges for our Indigogo and Kickstarter campaigns, then screenings and seeing where that goes. So I don’t know exactly what date but stay tuned and we’ll have more updates on that.
MD: As this is a not for profit project, what’s the ultimate goal for the film and has that goal changed since the projects inception? What’s your hope for what people take from this film?
BC: This film for me is about the message, even more than it’s about the typical entertainment goal. You know typically a movie is created and funded and put through the process because there’s a level at which it’s a money making venture, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But this film, everyone who’s involved with it at every level, the bottom has never been the financial bottom line -the message has always been the bottom line. The why, about why are we making this film has always been the bottom line [the message]. I think the goal of that has always remained the same. The overall the message of the project is a bit different now that when we first started but that’s the nature of documentaries, you never exactly know what you’re going to get until you get in the middle of it, and after 18 months that changes and evolves. But the goal of this is still to be a vehicle for raising money for charities and it’s not just going to be one charity, it’s going to depend on the local needs of individual cities and different locations that we go in to for screenings and things. But the goal at the end of the day is exactly what I said in that opening to the trailer on Kickstarter, which is to inspire everyone who loves Batman to embody his spirit and engage with the world and make a difference. And that is the goal; for people to look at this movie and say, you know my love of Batman, my love of this character, it should translate in to more than just buying action figures and watching movies and buying every edition of the Blu-ray that ever comes out., it should inspire us to want to be more like Batman. In our personal lives as we encounter challenges in our communities, as they encounter challenges [us] being a force to help. We’re not billionaires like Bruce Wayne but you don’t have to be a billionaire to make a difference, sometimes what’s needed is just engagement and really going out and helping people. Maybe that’s people who are strangers to you, maybe it’s just your brother or sister or Mom or your Dad, or your Son or your Daughter, but engaging with the world, your world, the way Batman engages with Gotham, is what everyone of us has the potential to do. So my hope is people will see this movie and take a little less time, perhaps in their life for checking out just watching TV, reading books and playing video games and take some of that time to really help someone else and make a difference for someone else. I think we will all find that there’s much more reward in that. There’s much more joy in that, much more peace in that and we’ll find the world a better place in the process.
Many thanks to Brett Culp for taking the time for this interview.
Visit the official site for Legends of the Knight.