It was his initial fear that evolved into admiration that would shape his future.
Michael Uslan, producer of the “Batman” trilogy, author of “The Boy Who Loved Batman” and the next speaker in the University Lecture Series, first came across the caped vigilante when his older brother first brought Batman comic books into the house. Then-5-year-old Uslan was scared at first.
“I felt a little bit more safe and secure with the light and bright and friendlier Superman,” he said. “But by the time I was a much more sophisticated and mature 8-year-old, I embraced Batman and fell in love with the character.”
Uslan said what really drew him in was that Batman had no superpowers. He said his 8-year-old self could identify with this and believed if he worked out, studied hard and his dad bought him a cool car, he could be Batman.
“I contend to this day that his greatest superpower is his humanity,” Uslan said.
This, paired with his culturally transcendent origin story and motivation, allows Batman to be as popular a character as he is, Uslan said. He also said Batman has the best supervillain in history: the Joker.
Uslan eventually worked for DC Comics as a writer, but said he wanted to go beyond that. He recalled making a vow as a child when he watched the Batman TV show first air and saw the world laughing at his hero, that he would show the world “the true Batman; the dark, mysterious creature of the night.”
When he got out of college, he said, he applied for jobs in film and TV. He got a job with a movie studio that taught him about financing films. After gaining that knowledge and networking with people in the business, he said he found it was time to pursue that old dream.
IMDb lists Uslan as the producer of five projects before the original 1989 film starring Michael Keaton as the reinvigorated mysterious vigilante.
Uslan said, in his 20s, he bought the rights to Batman from DC comics and set out to make darker, more serious Batman movies. But buying the rights was no easy task; Uslan said he had to do considerable personal fundraising before the purchase was possible.
To make matters worse, he said he was rejected by studio after studio for 10 years before Warner Bros. finally picked up the project that became the iconic 1989 “Batman.”
“It’s challenging when you’re so sure that you’re right, you believe in yourself, you believe in your work and what you’re doing and then the whole world is telling you ‘You’re crazy’ and ‘It’s terrible,’” Uslan said. “It really does test your mettle and you have to look deep inside yourself in order to just kind of hold on by your fingertips.”
After the first movie came out, Uslan said he received a call from a studio executive who had originally rejected his pitch. The executive congratulated him and said he always knew he was a visionary. Uslan said he learned that, in Hollywood, the trick is believe in yourself and your work.
His career journey solidified the values his parents taught him. His mother, he said, told him to stick with the commitments that he made and to always see them through, no matter how tough it got. His father, who dropped out of school at the age of 16 to work and help his family through the Great Depression, was always excited about the work that he did. Uslan said life is all about finding your passion.
“Get up off the couch, learn what your passion is and then figure out how you can pursue it, how you can incorporate it into your work,” Uslan said. “That was the greatest gift for me because it doesn’t matter if I’m working 18 or 20 hours a day, six or seven days a week. I absolutely love what I do.”
His next steps are to do “something bold,” and he said he is looking toward the booming film industry in China. The aim is to create global content with common ground that can bring the world together, he said.
The Hauce Group, a major Chinese film and media group, recently struck a four-film deal with Uslan to provide content that will appeal to an Eastern audience.
“The international demand for Chinese films is growing rapidly. It is a critical time for us to learn from Hollywood and make exceptional Chinese movies for global audiences,” CEO and Founder of Hauce, Yifang Zhao, said.
Uslan said his advice for students on how to follow your passions is to give up any sense of entitlement, find one’s passion and actively pursue it.
“The world owes you nothing,” Uslan said.
Uslan said he will speak at USF about his Batman journey and the new horizons in the film industry. His lecture will be held in the Marshall Student Center Oval Theatre today. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.