Little did I know a few weeks ago that meeting Michael Uslan, executive producer of all batman films, that I would find some of the greatest inspiration to pursue my passion for film. After finding my way into the right building at Harper College, I paid the seven dollar fee, saving myself a few bucks by handing the teller my college student ID that I unfortunately still seem to resemble. I grabbed a seat in the front middle section, not knowing what to expect.
But this post isn’t about me, it’s about Mr. Uslan, the 8-year-old son of a stone mason, who, through his love of batman and comic books, latched himself onto one of the greatest film series to have hit screens.
Michael Uslan’s Story, As He Told It
Michael grew up loving comic books. He said by the time he graduated high school, there were over 30,000 comic books stacked up, sitting in the garage. He knew he loved comics, especially about Batman. I don’t think he knew entirely what he wanted to do with his life, but I will never forget how much he spoke of his parents supporting him in whatever endeavors he wanted to pursue. His brother and he watched as his dad would get up early to work hard every day, staying out late working oftentimes, both of them desiring to have that same drive to spend their lives being passionate about their work.
One day in college, Michael said he decided he wanted to pitch the idea of teaching a comic books class at the university. He needed a department to back him before he could make the pitch. After having accomplished this, he stood before a group of professors and deans gathered to hear this idea–that comic books could be considered art–and that Michael was capable and qualified to teach this class. He described himself as having long hair and wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt. I can only imagine what the teachers must have thought of his appearance. About 2-3 minutes into his pitch, the head dean stopped him, telling him that he didn’t need to go any further. Whatever this silly idea was that Michael was pitching, the dean considered it irrelevant. Can you imagine taking a comics book class at college? At the time, that was unheard of. The dean dismissed Michael, telling him that he had read Superman comic books as a kid; they certainly weren’t art then. Why would they be now?
At this point in his story, Mr. Uslan slowed his story, looking at the audience. With a bit of frustration lingering in his voice, he said, “I wanted to walk right out. I wanted to turn around and leave. But I didn’t.”
Michael then respectfully (so I assume) asked the dean if he could ask him two questions. The dean hesitantly agreed. First, Michael asked, “Do you know the story of Moses?” When the dean replied yes, Michael then asked him if he could recall a summary of it for them. The dean then went on to tell the story of Moses, starting with how the Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians, and that in order to save baby Moses’ life, that his mother placed him in a basket which she put in a river. There, an Egyptian family raised him as their own. Later, Moses grew up to be a leader to save the Israelites from the Egyptians.
After the dean’s summary, Michael then reminded the dean that he was knowledgeable on Superman, given that he had read the comics as a kid. He then asked the dean if he could recount the story of Superman. So the dean gave in again, telling how the planet Krypton was about to be destroyed, so his parents put him in a ship in order to save him, sending him to earth. There, a family found him and raised him as their own. As Superman grew older, he eventually became a leader and savior to the people.
As soon as the dean had reached that point, he stopped mid-sentence, telling Michael, “Fine. I get it. You can teach your comics book class.”
And that’s how Michael Uslan became the first professor to teach a comic books class.
But as he was walking away, happy to have successfully convinced the board of deans and professors to accept his proposal, he said he recalled words of wisdom from his mother: he ought to market himself. From there, he said he went home and called a news station. When he was finally able to get a reporter on the phone, he changed his tone. He was angry, and he started shouting phrases regarding America’s youth, and how news people should not have let things get to such a bad place. The reporter on the end was thoroughly confused. The reporter then asked what Michael was so upset about. Michael started again with lines like, “You really don’t care about taxpayers’ dollars do you? Do you have any idea what’s going on? Our kids in school should be getting a proper education!” When the reporter failed to follow where Michael was going with all this, Michael responded, “Did you know that the university is allowing students to be taught about comic books? I heard they just hired someone to teach them a comic books class! This is ridiculous!”
Mr. Uslan said it took three days following that phone conversation for that reporter to make it to the university to find out what was going on. And from there on, Mr. Uslan said that there were multiple reporters, camera men, even celebrities who would pop in and sit through one of his classes. He made it in a large article in multiple newspapers across the country and even in Europe. His phone was constantly ringing with newsreporters and job offers. And one day soon following his overnight fame, Michael received a called from Marvel, offering him a job in New York City.
For the first few years, Mr. Uslan didn’t say that he did anything all too significant at Marvel. Then one night, when he was just about to leave for the evening, he heard yelling and screaming. He walked over towards the sound and found one of the editor’s furious. Apparently the editor had a script assignment for the Shadow comic due the next day, and he could think of nothing to write about. Fortunately for that editor, Michael said he had an idea. After some pulling and tugging away and random ideas that came to mind, Michael had convinced the editor to let him write the script. Michael pulled an all-nighter, and handed in the script the next morning.
A few weeks later, one of the major writers at Marvel walked by Michael. He stopped Michael, saying that he had read his Shadow comic. He commented that it wasn’t bad. Michael was about to keep walking, but the writer stopped him again. This time, he asked him a question: “Would you be interested in writing Batman comics?”
Clearly, Michael’s answer was “yes.” At this point, Mr. Uslan transitioned his story, remarking that he reached a point in his life–and at an early stage–where he had achieved his dream. The big question lingering in his head was, “What now?”
Michael wasn’t able to answer that question for himself until the first Batman show premiered on TV. Mr. Uslan mentioned how excited he had been, with all the anticipation leading up to this. Finally. Unfortunately, Michael didn’t totally dig the silly, light-hearted, slap stick humor of the show. He wished Batman would be taken a little more seriously. He wanted to see that human, realistic side to Batman. After all, Batman really was just a human. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive bug. He wasn’t an alien sent to Earth to save all of humanity. He was a human, who just happened to have a lot of money and desire to help other people.
Mr. Uslan said it was that moment that he vowed to himself that somehow, some way, he would bring Batman to the big screen in a big way. But not just in a big way–he wanted the world to see the raw and humanistic side of Batman. He wanted the superhero who had influenced and inspired him as a child to influence and inspire other people in a way where they weren’t just laughing at him. So he set out to do just that.
To shorten this seemingly long story, I’ll cut the final part of this short. Mr. Uslan described how he went about buying the rights to Batman. He got married. He went to school again and became a lawyer for four years. He quit his job, moved to California, pitched the idea of a Batman movie to every studio and was turned down by every single one of them. It was another ten years until someone by the name of Tim Burton thought a lot of Michael’s idea.
And according to Mr. Uslan, the rest was history.
After the Story
Following his story, there was a short question and answer time. I was lucky enough to have caught his eye, having him answer my question. I asked him about breaking into the film business, specifically screenwriting. He gave short, but thoughtful advice that I truly appreciated.
When the Q/A time came to a close, I stood in line and bought his memoir, getting one of the last three copies there. I then had him sign it. The batman symbol he drew was awesome! As he was drawing, I talked to him, telling him a little bit about how I grew up not being allowed to watch movies. He was encouraging and kind, and strangely answered that Wes Craven grew up the same way. I really wonder about that now.
From the post, you can also see that I got a picture with him. I have yet to think or imagine another moment in my life when I was as inspired to go after my passion like Michael Uslan did. With no connections to people, he still got to where he wanted to be. He kept his promise to himself to do what he wanted to, or to at least try, try, and try again, knowing he gave everything within himself to his dream. It’s neat to think that his life somewhat mirrors that of batman’s–he fell so many times, but he fought his demons. Now he’s rising.
So if you have yet to see The Dark Knight Rises, look for Michael Uslan’s name in the credits. And when you do, think about how I got to meet him up and close and personal, and get to talk to him about achieving dreams. It’s people like Michael Uslan rather than actors or celebrities, that I look at and call successful, because it wasn’t a name or connection or physical appearance that got him to where he wanted to be. His drive and determination and desire to fulfill his dreams were what got him to where he is now. And possibly the coolest part about it all? He said people were looking into the film rights for his memoir. Keep a look out for that one, folks.
I couldn’t help but find it most appropriate to be posting about the executive producer of the Batman films with The Dark Knight Rises opening this weekend. I’ll be leaving to see the film in less than four hours.
I can’t wait.