Exec producer shares how his vision helped the Dark Knight take wing.
It’s been more than two decades since Batman was resurrected –rebranded – to the mainstream world, and it’s largely due to a boy and his dream.
“I wasn’t just rejected from every studio in Hollywood; I was emphatically rejected because Batman was known only as a punch line to a joke,” says Michael Uslan, who became one of the highest-grossing movie executive producers of all time with the Batman film franchise. He writes about his personal journey in rebranding his hero to the world in his memoir, The Boy Who Loved Batman (
“When I watched the sitcom in 1966, I was both thrilled and horrified – the former because my idol was on TV with a cool car, and the latter because people were laughing at Batman and that just killed me. I knew then that my purpose in life was to show everyone who the Dark Knight really was.”
Uslan reviews some of the reasons the Batman franchise became one of the most successful in film history:
• A talented team: Thanks to genius filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton, super producers, daring execs, amazing casts, and incredible crews, the rebranding of the character became so strong that the word “Batman” wasn’t even included in the titles of the last two films, “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”
• Branding – a built-in narrative: A cool symbol, check; tall, dark and handsome, check; a relatable origin story (no superpowers) check; great technology for the character to use against villains, check.… You know a brand has hit the mark when a logo conveys all of the key points. But rebranding can be tricky. Uslan knew about the innate potential, but Hollywood couldn’t see Batman as the Dark Knight after the 1960s sitcom, which is why it took a decade after acquiring the rights to Batman to actually start production.
Rebranding is often the art of uncovering a product’s past, he says.
• Branding – a safer investment: Other successful movies this year – Marvel’s “The Avengers” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Hunger Games” – all carry strong brands. Most successful products, in and out of Hollywood, have successful brands behind them, Uslan notes. When a brand has been established, it becomes a safer risk for investors and opens multiple revenue streams across many platforms.
• Unwavering conviction: How does a middle-class kid in his 20s, the son of a stonemason and a bookkeeper, buy the film rights to Batman? How does that same guy create the comic-to-film craze that society has witnessed in the past two decades when no one believed in his vision? Every time his resolve was questioned, it came down to the same answer, “I had 100 percent confidence it would work,” Uslan says.
“Branding is absolutely the most important aspect to marketing any product these days,” Uslan says. “We succeeded. I believed 100 percent in a vision that involved my favorite super-hero of all time, a character the world recognized and responded to across borders and even cultures. Batman needed to be presented in a way he’d only been seen in the comic books – as the Dark Knight.”
Michael Uslan, (www.theuslancompany.com), is the Originator and Executive Producer, along with his partner Benjamin Melniker, of the Batman franchise of motion pictures. In his 36 years in the film and television industry, he has been involved with such projects as “National Treasure,” “Constantine,” and countless animated projects. His projects have won Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmy Awards. He is the author of “The Boy Who Loved Batman,” his autobiography, now in bookstores and at amazon.com.