Batman is currently dominating the world of comic books, video games, and the big screen thanks in part to a reinvention of the character by Christopher Nolan. However, Batman has always reigned supreme in the realm of fan films. While a lot of projects and productions come and go, one company that's continuously giving fans one great Batman fan film after another, is Bat In The Sun. Recently, I had the chance to pick the brain of the man behind all of those films, Aaron Schoenke. Here's what he has to say about his latest project, Seeds of Arkham, the new 52, and Christopher Nolan.
Mark Julian: Batman: Seeds of Arkham premieres this Friday. What do you want to tell the fans about it?
Aaron Schoenke: Unlike City of Scars, it’s more action than story driven. It’s much shorter- it’s 7 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes. It definitely feels, I think, like a comic book because it picks up in a story that’s already started. It’s a sequel, so it plays off the events that occurred in City of Scars. The film doesn’t have a full resolution so we’re hoping fans will say, “we want to get the next issue!" We tried to keep it in the same spirit as Batman: TAS and I think a lot of fans will appreciate that aspect. There's a lot of elements I think fans will be glad to see - Poison Ivy and Killer Croc are the main villains for instance. We have of course, Batman and a brief appearance by Nightwing. We even have the ’89 Batmobile featured quite a bit. I think there are a lot of things that fans will appreciate in this one.
MJ: Are you portraying Nightwing again in this one?
AS: I am, yes. It’s sometimes difficult to act and direct but I’m excited for the chance to be in it. I do a lot of acting and stunt work on Spike TV, I was in the first 2 seasons of Spike TV’s Deadliest Warriors, I played the Pirate, Spartan, Apache and the Mongol. That was totally fun but in this case, it’s a totally different ball game when you’re acting and directing. You are on the outside looking at yourself, but I think it worked.
MJ: What's the process like producing one of these films?
AS: Well, with low budget, independent films you don’t have the luxury of saying “we’re going to blow this building up.” What happens is, you come across other people and different things that become available to you. Everyone wants to work on some type of artistic project so everyone freely offers their abilities, whether that’s fighting, music, or locations. So you basically get this buffet of all these different things you can sample from and you can start to make your story from that. At this point, you have the basis to say this is the type of story I’d like to tell, with this outcome, and these kind of themes but then you have to orchestrate your pieces to achieve that. Because of the popularity of City of Scars, we had so many people that came to us and wanted to contribute on the project. We had a lot to use and I think that shows in the film. Despite the budget being smaller and the length of the film being shorter, it’s a bigger production because of the number of people. Like I said, we have the ’89 Batmobile from gothamgarage.net, we had some helicopter cam shots in there, and just bigger sets. In terms of schedule, we were in pre-production for a couple of months. We shot for 7 days, they were not in a row but there were 7 days total. Then there was the long 3-4 months of post production and now we’re just getting it done.
MJ: Why Batman? Why not Green Arrow or Wildcat or The Question?
AS: I’m just a big Batman fan. I think the appeal of Batman is so much more universal than those other characters. There are so many facets of Batman that have yet to be explored because of the depth of his character. Plus, his look and the visual medium that he comes from is just so cinematic. Here you get the texture of the brick, and the smoke, and the shadows. Plus, it’s a great learning experience. Since it’s an established character, you have built-in popularity and because of that you have everyone looking at you; whether it’s good or bad. And obviously the fan community is going to be very honest in their reaction. I think that’s all-around positive because you can only learn from the mistakes you make. If you live in a sheltered bubble and you just keep thinking your work is good, you’re never going to get any better. By putting it online you get to see what people liked and what they didn’t like. It just helps you with your craft.
MJ: Where do you draw inspiration from, the comics, Bruce Timm's stuff, or do you try to put your own original spin on the story?
AS: I’ve drawn from a lot; there have been so many different interpretations of Batman over the years. I grew up with the Tim Burton movies, that’s what got me hooked. I was young when that came out and so that was the be-all, end- all right there. Then Batman: TAS came out and showed a different side of Batman and then I began reading the comic books. The real appeal for me is the psychology of Batman, I could care less about the goofy, space adventures. I want to know what makes him tick, so I tend to be drawn to more psychological stories; like how his parent’s death affected him and his relationships with other people instead of some big cross-world event with the Justice League. I think the key to any Batman story is the humanity of the character. Bruce had his humanity stripped away from him at such a young age and his whole life is about trying to get that back, but he can’t because he’s too damaged. But he turns that weakness into a strength and I think that right there is the basis of all superheroes and I think that’s why superheroes are so great for our culture.
MJ: Have you been reading any of the new 52?
AS: I have read a few, I’m enjoying Detective Comics. I’m waiting to see on Action Comics. It seems like Superman’s morals are being squelched out. DC has always been the characters you look up to and Marvel’s been characters you relate with. It seems to me, DC is trying to make their characters more relatable because they think it sells more. Superman is not a character we’re supposed to relate to, we “want” to and we “strive” to be as good as him. I’m a big fan of Superman having those morals whether people think they’re goofy or not, they’re timeless.
MJ: Yeah, I just said recently that in Action Comics #1, Clark Kent seemed a lot like Peter Parker.
AS: It’s true and I don’t like that, we already have Peter Parker, and he’s a great character but he’s already been established. We need Superman, we need a character we can look up to.
MJ:You played Nightwing in Batman Legends and I’m a huge Nightwing fan. Could we see you don the tights for a solo Nightwing film?
AS: Probably not, not a solo film. But this film ends in a cliffhanger and Nightwing is a big part of that. What we’re doing is a kickstarter account so if fans do want to see a sequel, they can donate and in the sequel Nightwing is a big part of the film’s development. This movie is like issue 3, where City of Scars is issue 1 and 2. If you want to see issue 4, 5, and 6 then you can donate and help make that happen. If the budget is there then the whole team will donate their time again. Nightwing will be in the sequel along with a few other surprise characters.
MJ: How do you feel about Nolan's take on Batman?
AS: I feel that it’s good and there are a lot of parts that were needed at the time that it came out, it has the seriousness that Batman should have. It brings a real-world grip to it, but I wish it had a little more of that dark fantasy comic book flair. For example, I would like more rain, more gargoyles, more of the visual medium and texture that Batman is known for. That’s not to downplay those movie, cause they’re great. I think if you took the seriousness of Nolan and the look of Burton’s movies, you’d have a pretty damn good Batman film.
MJ: What's the future for Bat in the Sun?
AS: The goal is to get a big feature produced which will hopefully be in the very near future. We have a few scripts but we’re just like any young film studio trying to get off the ground. We have met with Lionsgate a few times. We’re trying to get the right people attached, that’s the big thing, to go in and say I have these people attached. We’ll see how it all pans out.
I went on to talk with Aaron about a number of other topics and one thing that became clear to me is that he's an expert on all things Batman and really has a passion for the character. And as Aaron stated, Seeds of Arkham ends on a cliffhanger and if you want the story to continue, Bat In The Sun is calling on the fans to help fund the next chapter in the story via Kickstarter.Click the image below to donate, you'll get some cool rewards for your contribution.
Be sure to head to Twitter and thank @BatintheSun for all their hard work!
And in case you missed it the first time, here's Seeds of Arkham. Warning: Strong Language
Bat in the Sun Productions is a self-contained film and music production company. They are based in the Los Angeles area, 10 miles north of Hollywood California in the city of Calabasas. The company began in 2001 and was founded by Aaron Schoenke and Sean Schoenke. The work of BITS has collected many film festival awards, and has received notable attention from the film industry, as well as a loyal fan base.