I’m going to make a bold claim and say that there is no single literary or mythic hero that evokes — nay, commands — a passionate, primal, and mysterious response in all humans quite the way that Gotham City’s Dark Knight Detective does. Obviously, I’m talking about Batman. In fact, I would make the argument that Batman is the single most complex, layered, and inherently intriguing heroic character of all time. That, however, is for another article. Or a book, with the way I can carry on about Batman.
Whether you agree with me or not, Batman’s universal appeal is undeniable and it is all around us. There has to be a reason that toddlers and senior citizens alike sport the bat-symbol on their clothing, or why just about anyone from New York City to the top of Mount Fuji can tell you how Commissioner Gordon publicly and proudly summons Batman for all of Gotham to see.
A quick story. At my fourth birthday party, I was the luckiest boy on the planet — even if just for an hour or so. Why? Batman was the guest of honor at my party. Though in hindsight it was probably just an 18 year old kid in a decent replica costume to the adults, to me, it was the Batman. Nothing will ever come close to the overwhelming feeling of excitement, reverence, and even fear that I experienced when I was identified as the birthday boy and he picked me up, looked me right in the eyes, and, doing his best Keaton, said, “Happy Birthday”.
It might sound ridiculous, and it’s even a little bit silly to write all these years later, but in that moment, I understood. I got it.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who knows of the inspiration that people find in Batman. There’s a whole population out there that has been inspired by the Caped Crusader to do some amazing things and overcome some extraordinary obstacles. The problem is, the greater majority of these truly outstanding stories of human courage, determination, and perseverance never see the light of day. Like Batman himself, they remain cloaked in shadows.
Enter Brett Culp, award-winning digital filmmaker, devoted bat-fan, and, above all, storyteller. Mr. Culp is the driving force behind the upcoming documentary Legends of the Knight, which, according to Brett, seeks to demonstrate that heroic stories — such as Batman’s origin and his many adventures — are essential to our growth as people and play a vital role in society. But the film isn’t actually about Batman. It’s about the people that he inspires with his legacy, awakening or further empowering the hero within us all. After all, as Brett says, “together, we are Batman”. This is not a ridiculous claim or a marketing slogan of some kind, but a frame of mind. This idea was validated when the project was brought to Kickstarter and reached its goal in just 48 hours. Think about that for a moment.
While the stories certainly look both incredible and inspiring, there are some interviews in Legends of the Knight that look amazing as well. For this project, approximately 46 interviews were conducted across 12 cities, totaling in over 120 hours of footage. Some of the most important figures in the evolution and continued appreciation of the Batman will appear in Legends of the Knight, including beloved writer and editor Denny O’Neil, as well as the reason we have serious Batman movies (and a personal hero of mine), Michael Uslan.
Brett Culp was kind enough to speak with me about Legends of the Knight, his vision, inspiration, and challenges in making the film. Of course, we even spoke about the hero we (and so many others) love so much.
Everything Action: It goes without saying that Batman is an inspirational character, mainly in that he’s self-made, human perfection. In that respect, it doesn’t surprise me that there are so many extraordinary cases of inspiration among Batman fans. How did you come across some of these stories that made their way into Legends of the Knight?
Brett Culp: There were a lot of different things involved. We spent about 3 months on pre-production before we even told anybody what we were doing. We looked on Twitter for stories and googled “inspired by Batman” and tried to get a sense of things. When we actually started this project, one of the things that helped us was “Wisdom from the Batcave” by Rabbi Cari Friedman (*who appears in Legends of the Knight). Essentially, what he did was share his life lessons having grown up with Batman comics. I reached out to him during pre-production and asked what the reaction he got to his book was—he told me stories of letters he received from readers about how the book had affected them—this was our starting point. We began reaching out to people via Twitter and stories started popping up organically. So many stories were sent to us that we couldn’t possibly tell them all. Over the past year of production, I’ve heard hundreds of stories of how Batman has changed the trajectory of peoples’ lives. Sorting, not finding the stories — a diverse range of stories — was the biggest challenge.
EA: What has been the single biggest obstacle this project has faced?
BC: I think, for us, as a relatively small production company, the biggest obstacle has been the logistics of such a large project and its scope. We filmed in 12 cities. Now that the Kickstarter campaign has been successful, we will film in 4 more cities. That’s an insane undertaking. I think that has been our biggest challenge. Now we have to go through 120 hours of footage.
EA: The response to the Kickstarter campaign for Legends of the Knight has been tremendous — the project reached its minimum goal in just 48 hours. Has this response given you an extra shot in the arm to impress with this documentary and the stories within it?
BC: No question. It has affirmed the vision that we had from the start. It was a wonderful experience to watch that happen and see people come together and be what this movie is all about — to share the Batman message with the world! When we first started this project, I had no idea whether anyone was going to care about this. I made this movie because I wanted to see it, because I wanted this message to come into the world and be seen. I was determined to make this movie because it was in my heart. You go through a year-long production process like this and it’s hard to sleep the night before the campaign kicks off. You don’t know if anyone else cares the way you do and wants it to come into the world the way you do. By 24 hours into the Kickstarter campaign, I had this moment where I just absolutely wept. To have something you dream about and have so much passion for come to pass in a way where people are cheering you on, it’s one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I recommend it to everyone who has a dream inside them!
EA: How has Batman inspired you?
BC: There is the Batman brand, the corporate brand and story that DC Comics has been in charge of for a long time. This film is about what happens when the myth leaves the page and goes out into the world and comes into our lives. That’s where the canon ends and the legend really begins. There are amazing Batman stories that have been told, but this movie is going to tell some of the greatest Batman stories never told. If you go through some of the most definitive moments of my life, Batman has been a part of them. He hasn’t been the thing happening, but he’s been there: on my shelves, on my clothes. He’s been involved with some of the most important moments of my life. After I saw the 1989 Batman movie, I took my dad’s camera and made my own Batman films. In the process of living out my own Batman stories, I was being inspired to dream about the very thing I am doing today. Batman still inspires me today.
EA: Of the industry folks that you interviewed for Legends of the Knight, who surprised you the most with their story in regards to the Dark Knight? Who do you feel you identified most with in terms of what Batman represents to you?
BC: I intentionally took a very limited approach to the Batman story tellers we interviewed. Michael Uslan has an amazing story, and Denny is the most important Batman storyteller of all time to me. As a writer, as an editor, as the father of Batman for so many years, and at a time when the Batman we know today was being formed, our generation’s Batman was in Denny’s hands. To me, Denny, as much as any person living today, was as formative in our Batman. His insights into the character and heroic characters in general, as modern folklore, were insightful in the 1970’s and 1980’s as anybody’s were. To have someone who understood Batman and the impact of the stories and what could be done with this character—for me, he had to be in Legends of the Knight. My favorite story of Denny’s is what he learned when they killed Jason Todd (*Robin 2.0). When Denny saw the overwhelming public reaction to Jason Todd’s death, the idea that Robin had been killed, it transformed his sense of the impact of these characters. Frankly, I feel like I’ve had a similar personal insight.
EA: Fan to fan, I have to ask you — what is your favorite Batman story?
BC: Current Brett Culp loves Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. That’s my favorite Batman story. 12 year old Brett? Batman #423, where 3 cops are sitting in a diner and each has a story about Batman with a different take on him. It is the most well-rounded portrayal of Batman ever. At an early age, it helped me understand how stories shape our experience and how Batman is more — though I didn’t understand it at the time — than a single story. He’s a legend. He’s a myth. He’s a symbol. And that’s what Chris Nolan understood.
EA: Now I’m pushing it, but speaking of Chris Nolan, how about the movies?
BC: The imagery of the 1989 Batman movie blew me away. From a storytelling perspective, The Dark Knight is the greatest action adventure movie ever made. It’s cinematic art at its finest.
Pretty great stuff, I’d say. When you look at the stories being told in this film, when you see the caliber of folks interviewed, and see the passion for storytelling that Brett Culp brings to this project, it’s hard not to support it. Luckily, this project reached its goal so quickly that it was never a question of if we were going to get Legends of the Knight, but rather when and with how much fan-support.
We are proud supporters of Mr. Culp’s film, though he may take offense to me referring to it as such. He would likely correct me and say that it is our film. Legends of the Knight belongs to the fans and lives touched by Batman’s mythology and character — we are Batman!
To support Legends of the Knight, please visit the Kickstarter page for the project.
Join the conversation on Twitter! #WeAreBatman