Batman begins

Story by Rebecca Lubecki

The Forum lecture series concluded its 69th season with a presentation from filmmaker Michael Uslan on Tuesday night.

Uslan, the originator and executive producer of the “Batman” movie series – starting with Tim Burton’s 1989 film “Batman” and working up to 2008’s record-breaking “The Dark Knight” – spoke to a crowd of 200 about his struggle, perseverance and ultimate Hollywood accomplishment. Over the course of his career, he told the audience he learned to “take what you love and make it your work.”

“I think he was a really good speaker,” said freshman Karen Dominguez, who attended the presentation.

Freshman Chelsea Taylor, who was present at the speech with Dominguez, agreed.

“(Uslan) kept my attention throughout the whole thing,” she said. “He didn’t just leave the podium like other speakers.”

Uslan’s childhood dream, he told the crowd, was to prove Batman was more than just a comic. By the time he graduated high school, he accumulated more than 30,000 comic books. He felt Batman was not meant to be depicted as a funny guy; he was a serious hero with a dark story, which Uslan emphasized. This dream was realized at a young age. Learning his life lessons from Archie comics, Uslan said he asked himself: “How far can your passion take you in life?”

During his junior year at Indiana University, Uslan decided he wanted to teach a class on comic books. He was refused at first but ultimately got the job by relating Superman to Moses to the dean during a meeting. Soon, he said, he was receiving calls from radio and TV talk shows, NBC and CBS. Never had he taught a class not filmed by cameras, he said. The class even made “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.”

Before Uslan knew it, Marvel and DC Comics were calling him with offers. As his career grew, he learned that achieving your dreams is “all about looking for that opening in the door,” when he came across someone who needed a script.

“He started out with nothing but a dream, which was encouraging for me,” said Dominguez.

“He was so far-fetched and people said he wouldn’t make it,” Taylor added.

Uslan gave more detail of the days where he proposed his ideas of making Batman into a movie and being denied by countless studios. He stressed to the audience to always have a plan B, C and maybe D, which is what prompted him to go to law school and marry his girlfriend of four years. The couple did not have much money, so he sold 20,000 comics, making enough to pay for their wedding, honeymoon and his entire room and board, as well as tuition for law school.

After a few years as an attorney, Uslan got back in touch with Sol Harrison of DC Comics to propose this idea he had of showing the dark side of Batman in a movie. Again, he said, he was turned down.

After 10 years, he eventually met with Tim Burton, who created a fantasy version of Gotham City and got Michael Keaton to play Batman. Skeptical of the actor at first, Burton taught Uslan that the film was not about Batman, but Bruce Wayne.

What made Batman his favorite superhero, he said, was his greatest power of all: humanity. There were no real superpowers, and if Uslan really tried, he could even be Batman, he said. This was conveyed in the first movie and it was an instant blockbuster.

Uslan personally guaranteed that everyone will get slammed in the face when they graduate college. He had to take calculated risks and build Batman with his bloody knuckles.
“What got to me the most is how he got that class and how many comics he had,” said Dominguez.

Uslan concluded with a Robert Frost poem, ending with the line: “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”