Exclusive: Legends of the Knight Director Brett Culp Interview, Talks Batman and the Human Potential to Do Great Things

Last year, a trailer came up on my newsfeed advertising a Kickstarter for what I thought was yet another Batman fan film, called Legends of the Knight. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that the character inspires people to create art, but I’ve never really seen a Batman fan film that really wowed me yet, so I clicked on the link with a little bias.

To say the least, I wasn’t expecting too much. The article explained that it was for a documentary about Batman. My interest was piqued, so I played the trailer. I never really expected that I would be sobbing like a baby by the end of it. I was so deeply moved by the trailer, but by some stroke of idiocy, I didn’t look more into it, simply hoping that I could see it someday. Last week, I discovered the movie was complete and that screenings had been announced.

Filmmaker_Brett_CulpFrom there, I didn’t think to look too much into it… but then it hit me (probably from storing up and neglecting any brilliance from not funding the project), I’m a writer for a Batman news site… that gives me more of an opportunity to provide press for a movie that looked like it needed to be viewed. Four days later, I am speaking with the director/producer/cinematographer of Legends of the Knight and finding that, like the movie and the character, this man, Brett Culp, is just as inspiring. I proceeded to have a wonderfully insightful conversation with a man who not only deeply loves the character, but also understands the power and impact this character can have on people, which is why he needed to share it with the world. And as soon as you see it, you’ll also understand why spreading it was a necessity. (Additional questions by Matthew Brisby and Damian Fasciani)

Dark Knight News:   How did you get into documentary filmmaking and what inspires you?

Brett Culp:     I’ve been a filmmaker my entire life. Some of my first films when I was young were little stop-motion animation movies with Batman action figures and they were just horrid. I’ve always loved Batman and I’ve always loved films and I’ve gotten to do that in my career for some celebrities and for some large organizations. I wanted to make a feature length documentary film and I wanted to make a film about the power of stories, how we’re affected by particularly the stories of heroes that we hear as we grow up. The story that I most resonated with throughout my life was the story of Batman, so I thought that would be a great lens to use for understanding how heroic stories work and affect us in our lives.

DKN: Why Batman? It seems like you got into the idea of heroes and you thought Batman was the perfect lens by which to tell that story?

BC:     Well, Batman is unique in that, first of all, he’s been around for so long. I mean, we’re celebrating 75 years of Batman this year. This character has been around for multiple generations of readers and TV viewers and moviegoers, but what’s interesting about the character is that he’s adapted and changed so much. He’s been embraced as dark and serious, he’s also been embraced, at times, as silly and campy, but still the core of the character, the heroic core of him is always the same. That never changes. So, I thought it was perfect to really be able to interview and talk to multiple generations of people who had been influenced by all these different versions of the Batman character throughout the years. So many other heroic characters have this very similar canon, where it’s the same all the time. Really, it was between Batman and Superman, but I loved that Batman has maintained his role in the core consciousness throughout the world by evolving, changing, and moving with the times.

DKN: How did this project come about? Where did you come up with the idea and how did you bring it all together?

BC:     Well, I had an initial concept in my head for what I wanted it to be and I knew we wanted to do it as an independent film. I didn’t want to pitch it to a large studio. The first thing we did was raise some money with IndieGogo. We had an IndieGogo campaign in April of 2012 and we raised about $27,000 to get the project going from supporters at that point. I, then, worked on it independently with my company for about 9 months and then in February of 2013, we launched the trailer online along with a Kickstarter campaign to finish the film. We spent the rest of the year finishing the movie and wrapping it up. Now, we’re moving towards theatrical release in February [of 2014].

DKN: What was your first exposure to Batman?

BC:     The first exposure I can remember is having my two-year-old birthday party and having it be a Batman birthday party where I was wearing a Batman shirt and had a Batman cape. We got a Batman cake and my present was a Batman little bicycle. I have no doubts that, even though that’s my first memory, the reason why we had that Batman birthday party was because I loved Batman before that even happened. I think that character’s been part of my consciousness for a long time. I’ve loved the comic books, the action figures, and the cartoons. I can remember watching the Superfriends as a kid and loving that show. There’s never a time where I can’t remember loving Batman. All throughout my childhood, whenever Batman was available, I would watch it.

DKN: Gauging your responses, it seems that Batman has been pretty important to you throughout your life. Can you really articulate why he’s that important to you?

BC:     I think we love Batman because he’s human. Because he’s real. Because there’s part of us that wants to believe that we have the ability to be heroes and do something great in the world. The fact that Batman is human and doesn’t have any superpowers gives us that strength, that confidence, that hope that we can do something great with our lives that’s as amazing as him. One of the big themes of Legends of the Knight is that we all in our lives go through difficult things. We go through struggles. I mean, for Bruce Wayne, what could be more horrible than watching his parents murdered in front of him at such a young age. How that could have just turned him to inwardness and resentment. [He could have] given up on the world.  Here’s a guy with infinite wealth that could have used that to essentially insulate himself and only do the pleasant things: enjoy sitting on his couch, playing video games, drinking beer, eating Cheetos with beautiful models. He could have done that for the rest of his life. Instead, he does the exact opposite. He chooses to believe that there is hope in the world, that he can make a difference, that he can do something good. Even though there are some extreme versions of Batman that make him out to be a Dirty Harry type, I think that at the deepest core of the character is a belief that the world can be better and that one individual can be part of the solution to making it better.

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DKN: You mentioned Superman, so I was going to ask if you thought any other superheroes or comic book characters can inspire people the way you’ve shown us that Batman can.

BC:     I think all superheroes have the power to inspire because they represent this sense we have in ourselves that we can be more than we currently are, that we have powers and abilities that are beyond the normal abilities. I think our love for these characters represents our desire and our longing, deep in our hearts to transcend the normal experience of being human and to get into a world that is supernatural, spiritual, transcendent, beyond who we seem to be on a physical level in our normal everyday lives. I think all of these characters have within them that spark of inspiration to pursue more. I think the uniqueness of Batman is that every superpower he has, essentially, he’s worked for it. It’s because of his discipline, his willpower, his desire, and his ability to endure pain and suffering and never give up. I think that makes him a bit unique. I think there are wonderful lessons about how each one of us can be more heroic in our lives. They come from nearly all of the superhero characters.

DKN: I guess in the very definition of the word, hero, it should be able to inspire us to do some good.

BC:     Absolutely. Yes.

DKN: You mentioned that Batman is so relatable and so unique because of his distinct lack of superpowers. Nowadays, with the sudden explosion of popularity due mostly to the Dark Knight trilogy and the Arkham games, Batman is often portrayed in an almost invincible light, often performing physical feats that no normal human should be able to do. I mean they just recently released The Dark Knight Returns, which brought into the consciousness of the mainstream the idea that he can defeat Superman given time and preparation. This has led many of his detractors to mockingly call him “Batgod.” How do you feel about that sort of portrayal? Considering all of this, would you consider him superhuman?

BC:     I don’t consider Batman superhuman at all. I think that he is a normal man, but I think that those portrayals of Batman are meant to show that human beings have great potential and power within them when they’re willing to give themselves to a cause that is larger and bigger than their own selfish ambitions. From that perspective, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to show that a human being has the power to defeat what seems to be impossible. Defeating Superman seems to be an impossible thing. It’s a David and Goliath type of competition. I think showing Batman in that light is not negative because it shows a David and Goliath story, that we have the power within us to topple giants, if we have the willpower to do it, the desire to do it, and the commitment and passion to do it.

DKN: How important was it for you and your crew to emotionally connect with the subjects and their stories?

BC:     That’s everything to this movie. Connecting with people emotionally is what this movie is all about. We weren’t trying to find people who had the largest collection of action figures or the most comic books. We were looking for people, who had been truly, deeply affected by this character in their life, felt that it altered the trajectory of their life from a very young age, and inspired them to be more than what they would have without these kinds of stories in their life. Absolutely every single one of the people that are in this movie feels like a personal friend of mine at this point, feels like someone I care about personally. I feel part of their stories and they feel like part of mine. I think people that view Legends of the Knight will walk away feeling a personal connection and fondness and care for all of these people as they finish the film.

DKN: It was pretty amazing to see that they were willing to open up to you so much. They have such great stories. How did you source and how did you find the stories in the documentary?

BC:     In the first phase of it, we did a lot of searching on Google and once we found some people that were involved in the Comic-Con scene, they led us in some good positive directions. I did a lot of research and a lot of reading. I read a lot of books that people had written about Batman and their perspectives about it. [I looked into] people that wrote about storytelling and comic books and that sort of thing. That was the first half. And then, once we released the trailer in February of 2013, a lot of stories got sent to us. That trailer went viral very quickly. People started sending us their stories and communicating with us. That was the second wave, which added about 4 more stories to the finished film.

DKN: In the process of searching, were there any stories or subjects that you wanted to feature in the documentary, but couldn’t for one reason or another?

BC:     The biggest challenge with this film, in choosing the stories, was that we wanted each of the stories to be unique. We didn’t want them to have overlap. Once we had chosen someone who visited children in hospitals dressed as Batman to cheer them up, once we had that story, we had to then say ‘no’ to all the other wonderful stories of people who were doing similar things. Each story in this film represents an entire world of people who have similar stories and are doing similar wonderful things that we weren’t able to feature just because we felt like we had already covered that angle. That was the hardest part: saying ‘no’ to some wonderful stories, because we felt like they would overlap with stories we already had.

DKN: For instance, I’m sure you did hear about that Make-a-Wish Batkid story?

BC:     Yes. The San Francisco Batkid story is a wonderful extension and is an event very similar to one that is featured in our film already that happened in Arlington, Texas over two years ago. I think that event in Arlington, Texas was one of the inspirations for the San Francisco event, although I don’t know that specifically, but I would suspect it was. And so, people have said that, ‘Well, aren’t you going to go out and cover the San Francisco Batkid?’ and my answer is ‘No, we have that story in the film.’ Additionally, that story doesn’t need any more press. Everybody’s heard that story. They don’t need a feature from us in this to film to understand it.

Brett Culp with Arlington Batkid, Kye Sapp
Brett Culp with Arlington Batkid, Kye Sapp

DKN: At DKN, we have an editor in the Great White North, Canada and a writer all the way in Australia, was there any intention of going for an international distribution?

BC:     We’re trying to figure out, at this moment, the balance of how to best do that. There’s no question that it will be available for people in those countries to view. In fact, right now, you can pre-order the film internationally, in any country in the world, and we’ll ship to you when it’s available for release. In terms of theatrical [release], I’m not sure what’s going to happen [with] that at the moment. We’ll see in the days ahead.

DKN: What are the future plans for this movie? I see that you have a list of screenings right now.

BC:     Many things are unknown with an independent film like ours. When you think about big films, they have huge budgets and studios and they can do exactly what they want, when they want. With smaller films like ours, you’re kind of always working to figure out what’s next. Right now, we’re pursuing theatrical [release]. Also, people can pre-order the movie and it’s going to be available on Blu-ray and DVD very soon. I think general release for [Blu-ray and DVD] is going to start in March, but pre-orders are going to ship in mid-February. People who pre-order are going to get the film early. We’re definitely doing those two things, that is on track. In terms of when our online release will be and where it will happen, those are still a little bit unknown at this point. We’re not ready to make big announcements about that.

DKN: I see. I just really want this movie to be viewed as much as possible. More than anything, I love the fact that it’s not just a movie about Batman; it’s more about, as you said, the human potential. People have the ability to do great things. I love the fact that you don’t have to be a Batman fan to appreciate this movie. I just would like for this movie to be distributed in as many places as possible.

By that token, you notice there’s a shift in the climate of pop culture, where there’s more geek influence than there has ever been before. Considering the struggle that Michael Uslan went through to create an earnest Batman movie back in ‘89, how difficult do you think would it have been to create this documentary in, say, the 80’s or the 90’s? How well do you think it would have been embraced?

BC:     Well, I think now it is easier to connect with people on the message of this documentary because the geek culture has become so mainstream. It used to be that wearing a Batman t-shirt wasn’t particularly cool, now, it’s very cool. I definitely think that you could have absolutely made this movie at any time because I think that people have been inspired by this character from the start and characters like him. I think now that people are starting to understand and investigate that these stories are more than just disposable entertainment and fluff to pass the time. There are impacts to these stories. They are affecting us in powerful ways. I think people on every level, whether it’s academic or research or psychology, I think that they’re starting to understand that. I think those concepts are becoming more embraced and understood.

From the beginning of time, storytelling has been our primary way of communicating ideas, particularly taking complex ideas and making them understandable and simple. Most holy texts, whether it’s the Bible or mythology are stories. That’s the basis of them. That’s the way we, as human beings, are programmed to be able to understand information. It’s the world we live in. To embrace stories as a way of understanding and revealing ideas. In many ways, stripping down our fears and our confusion about pure information [by] helping understand and embrace that more clearly, I think that’s right at the core of storytelling of who we are and how we best learn and how we function. Human beings are programmed to bring information into ourselves.

DKN: It’s not the fact that the climate is more geek-influenced; it’s more about the fact that we finally understand the core of these stories?

BC:     I think what people are understanding now is that these stories have as much value and significance, two people on a psychological emotional level, as literature that we have taken seriously for many generations. I think in the past, people have looked and said that there are disposable stories and then, there are valuable stories. Everybody’s always looked at literature that gets reviewed in the New Yorker and said, ‘This is valuable. This is good literature.’ And then, they’ve looked at other literature and have said, ‘This is not so important.’ I’m not going to say that every single Batman story or superhero story that’s ever been told is valuable, but I do think that, particularly as young people, when we read these stories, they often define what we perceive a hero to be. When you’re 3 years old, 4 years old, 5 years old, how do you even know what a hero is? How do you know what defines a hero, particularly if you’re living in a world where parental figures are not particularly heroic and not doing heroic things? How do you even know what it is to be a hero on that big level and risk your life to help other people and do daring things and be courageous? And when you can’t understand that many adults and parents are doing wonderful, courageous every day to help their kids and support them and you just don’t see them that way, when you’re a kid,  you need big bold visuals of saving the day and saving the city.

I think that many superhero stories and many Batman stories are not necessarily great literature, but I think you still look at them say, ‘There is value here. There is something more profound going on here,’ when a young person in particular reads one of these stories. So, understanding that and getting to the core of that is kind of what the movie is about.

DKN: I understand and I’m glad that this movie exists. I’m thankful that you were able to make it. I’m sure you’d like to thank all the people that helped the people at IndieGogo and Kickstarter as well.

BC:     Yes.

DKN: That about covers it. I really appreciate your time, sir.

BC:     Oh, my pleasure. I’m so glad we connected.

There you have it, folks. Mr. Culp is a passionate filmmaker who loves Batman, loves storytelling, and has an abundance of faith in humanity for the potential good they can do.

The very human stories allow this movie to be viewed by anyone, Batfan or not. So if you’re a big fan of people and the potential of us to do some great things, it’s a flick that you need to catch. Check the list of screenings to see if it’s coming to your town any time soon. If you so happen to be one of the lucky screenings that gets a Q&A with Brett Culp, let him know DKN sent ya.

For more information, check WeAreBatman.com.

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Adam Poncharoen​sub

Adam Poncharoensub is a blogger, movie critic, and Born-Again Batman fan. When he’s not chained to his desk writing, he likes to spend his days spreading the gospel of the Dark Knight in the treacherous suburbs of Miami or working under Dropping Loads Productions, where he co-hosts a comedy podcast and produces sketches.