Interview with Brett Culp, director of Batman documentary ‘Legends of the Knight’

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Brett Culp is a documentary filmmaker who is working on something great for Batman fans everywhere. He’s spearheading a documentary project that shows you how Batman has affected everyday fans from around the world in an emotional and inspirational way. The documentary, Legends of the Knight, has already filmed in 12 cities, interviewed over 40 interviews, and has reached its Kickstarter goal to help finish the film. Some notable interviews include Michael Uslan (executive producer of the Dark Knight trilogy), Denny O’Neil (Batman writer), Lenny B. Robinson (visits children’s hospitals as Batman) and more.

We had the opportunity to chat with director Brett Culp about his project and how Batman has influenced him and the world.

John “Spartan” Nguyen: How are you doing?

Brett Culp: I’m doing well; I’m having a very good day. We got picked up by the Hollywood Reporter. The reposts and the re-articles are just going everywhere right now so. It’s been an exciting time for us. I’m trying just to keep my head together.

You met the minimum requirement for the Kickstarter goal.

Yeah, in 48 hours we did it, which was beyond my wildest dreams. So it’s been an amazing few days here.

Can you give us a little summary of the project Legends of the Knight that you’re working on?

The film is based on the idea that modern myths, you know mythology, the folklore, is working today just like it’s always been working. These stories, these heroic stories that we process and love and use as entertainment are in many ways filling the same role that mythological tales from days gone by have always filled. We were looking for a character to express that truth, and Batman is the perfect character to express how that is working today. This character has been around since 1939. He has gone through transformation after transformation, he has never left the public consciousness, he has been re-invented for multiple generations of people and yet his core always remains the same of what he represents as a hero and a heroic story.

So what we wanted to do, we didn’t want to just have experts say “Yes, it’s modern myth.” We wanted to actually show that, really allow people to see it working in action so we spent three months in the early part of last year (January, February, March) really doing the research to find stories where you could see mythology and the legacy of Batman working in people’s lives in real ways. Once we found those stories, we went out to capture them, so people can really see from five-year-old boys to 65-year-old men that this legacy had permeated and it has inspired and influenced people to overcome adversity, to overcome their own personal challenges and difficulties, to overcome weakness, to make a difference in the world. But always what it seems to show, and inspire people to do, is fully engage with their life rather than being afraid or victims or intimidated.

The Batman story inspires us to say “I’m not going to be weak; I’m not going to be afraid. I’m going to move to the frontline; I’m going to find a new identity for myself that is powerful and that is strong and people take that on themselves.” It’s that same persona that allows them to get up every morning and go through some really difficult tough stuff, but do it with the same kind of spirit that Batman does. Batman has become a symbol for that for people. Not just for die-hard fans but for people that have never even read a comic book. It’s still… that Batman symbol, when they see that emblem, they know what it means and it drives them.

I want ask is this your first feature length documentary?

Yes, it is my first feature length documentary.

What’s it like trying to tackle that compared to your other projects?

The scope has been unbelievable for me and the timeline on it. Most of my projects are shorter form documentary projects that have been for corporations and not-for-profits, so thinking in terms of an 80 or 90-minute feature is different in terms of mind set. The scope of this project, we filmed in 12 cities all over the country and all over the United States and so even though the logistics of that has been extremely challenging, it was very rewarding at the same time because our goal is to show that diversity.

Going to different cities, the main reason is for the diversity, and not for the different experts you interview?

Well, we did interview some experts in the process. In fact, that’s one of the last things on our list. We wanted to capture the stories first. But the only real Batman creators and storytellers that we have interviewed at this point are Michael Uslan, executive producer of all the Batman films and Denny O’Neil, who to me was a Batman storyteller whether he’s a writer or an editor at a time when Batman was first being perceived. These superhero characters were being perceived in general on a mythological folklore type level. They were understanding that it wasn’t just disposable entertainment, so he was important to me to express that, but once we start researching the stories and really finding the great stories even though we kind of hoped they would lead us into different places around the country, it just naturally did anyway. It just naturally led us all over the place.

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What other areas or cities would you like to go to help finish up with the project?

Yes well, you know I think at this point I’d rather keep to myself exactly what we have in mind because I want there to be some surprises for the fans about some things we have planned. The success that we have had with the Kickstarter campaign and the viral nature of this YouTube trailer, I think is already opening some doors to worlds I didn’t think were going to be opened necessarily. So that’s very exciting to me, and I think there are going to be some stories in the finished film that are beyond what’s in this trailer and people are going to be very excited about.

Cool. I’ve been checking out some of your documentaries. The way you research it, you try to find a story within each project and once you find it, it would probably come naturally to you. So for the Batman documentary, was there a challenge to that or was it “Oh this is Batman, I love him, it’s going to be easy for me”?

I think as we have done the research and as we had the opportunity to start interacting, at first by phone, with the different people that we were considering to be involved in the documentary, most of these stories came naturally. I was amazed at how many stories, how many inspirational stories there are, even now that we’ve launched this thing. We’re getting probably 25 emails a day at this moment from people who are sharing their personal stories with us. It’s overwhelming frankly how many people there are out there that have been impacted, so I think that’s what makes this project resonate with people and why they’re excited about it.

How do you choose which of these stories you want to tell from the many fans out there?

Yeah, that’s difficult. It is certainly not about the value or the power of the stories because there are so many people, with powerful, wonderful, noble stories that we’ve just not chosen to capture. But what we’re trying to do is create a diversity of stories from different people, different ages, different backgrounds, different parts of the country, so that people can understand that it’s not just a niche thing. It’s not just about the huge Comic-Con fans. This is a broad spectrum thing and so that we’ve strategically chosen stories and people who represent a variety so that people can see, and each one of these stories also kind of highlight a different area of inspiration of Batman. You know, some people are using Batman’s stories as a tool to help others; some people are using the Batman story as a personal device to create motivation and inspiration for themselves. You know, some people are using it with young people, with old people. It’s just a variety of ways he’s being used and we wanted to show that diversity.

That’s cool. One of the main reasons this project is taking off the ground is that it’s the way you tell the stories and just the way you handle things. It’s very inspirational. Before I was watching the trailer I was like “What is this? Another Batman documentary?” I wasn’t really into it until I saw the stories that people were telling and how it affected them and I was like, “Wow, that really got me.”

Thank you for saying that. I’ve had this belief in me from the start of my career as a filmmaker that we live in stories, we are story, whether it’s every person, you, me, it doesn’t matter. The idea that has driven me is that anybody I sit down with at any time, I could make a riveting five-minute film about them. It doesn’t matter who they are. Everyone has that within them and so when you take that approach to the world and you take that approach to people, in every single person that you see in front of you every day, whether it’s a stranger, you look at them and say there’s a powerful story in that person. It changes the way you see people and the way you see things. So for me, it’s been a joy for me throughout my career to do that with all kinds of people and all kinds of scenarios and all kinds of organizations. To do it in regards to Batman, who is my favorite fictional character of all time, that has just been a delight.

How did it all start? When was that moment where you went, “I’ve been doing all these different projects so why not do one for Batman”?

You know, I had this idea to make this documentary. It just popped into my head one day because it was this perfect blend of my love for the power of story and also for the power of Batman, which are two things I’m particularly passionate about. This idea just wouldn’t go away. It was just in my mind and it started to dominate my thinking and I really wanted to do it. I’ve just learned in my life that when something like this dominates my mind, I should just do it. We’ve gone the route of doing a crowd funding campaign last April where we raised $27,000 on Indiegogo, and now we’re doing this Kickstarter campaign for funds to finish. I was interested in just going for it and just making this happen and not waiting, so we took action and went for it. What’s been so validating for me over the past four days is it seems pretty clear the world wants this story to be told too and that’s very validating for the vision that we had from the start because it just means the world wants to see this story told as much as we want to see it told, which is exciting.

Now Brett, I have to ask you a really important question. Who do you like better, Poison Ivy or Harley Quinn?

Oh, I think I got to say Harley Quinn. I love the energy of her character and I love the playfulness of her character and I love that, even though she’s crazy, she’s clearly enjoying her life.

That is true. Ok, last question would be for those aspiring documentary filmmakers out there, any tips on how to capture that moment? Just how to start about things, finding that initial drive to do it?

I think it’s about nurturing dreams and I have been blessed in my life to have people around me who have constantly nurtured my dreams. So I think starting a project as big as this one is and getting to the point we’ve gotten to now, where you’re as close as we are to being able to share this with the world, I think it’s about having the dream, being around people who will encourage and nurture that dream and then letting that dream live in a very positive and solid way and cultivating it and letting it drive you.

In some ways the inspiration to make this movie is the same inspiration that drives Batman every night. It’s this desire not to sit on the backline or back row and not engage and not be known and not make a difference. It is this core belief in your gut that you were born to go into the world and do something great and make a difference and be known and be a symbol to others of being great, being more than you thought you could be. That legacy, that power that drives Batman to do what he does because Batman has the ultimate excuse to just sit at home and watch TV with beautiful women, right. Whatever he wants but he doesn’t do that, he chooses to engage with his life and engage with the world. I think when we nurture a dream in our hearts that makes us want to be the same way then we want to get up every morning and go do something great, and I think that’s the motivation every creative person needs.

End of Interview

Legends of the Knight will be released in Summer 2013.

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John Nguyen
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