Another rare treat to celebrate Batman's 25th Anniversary! Much like the recently posted Video Press Kit, the 1988 Warner Brothers Batman Preview is a long-buried treasure created during the production of Batman. The origins of the special are a bit murky, and the few that have seen it over the years remain unclear on what purpose the film initially served.
Thankfully, the film's director Andrew Gillman was nice enough to sit down with us and share his memories from the making of the special. In this 1989Batman.com exclusive, Andrew provides answers to a few burning questions as an introduction to this seldom seen gem!
1989Batman- Thanks so much for taking the time to provide this "director's commentary" Andrew. We all really appreciate it! Can you start off by telling us how you became involved in this project?
Andrew- The film was done through Creative Partnership, a advertising and marketing agency founded in 1979. They specialized in creating advertising for films- movie posters, trailers, etc. I had a freelance relationship with them at the time they were approached by Warner Brothers to work on Batman. When their usual director Martin Campbell was unavailable due to work on a commercial, I was asked in to direct the project.
1989Batman- Do you have a rough timeframe for when that occurred?
Andrew- I invoiced the work on September 22, 1988. That date would have been either the end of the week that I finished or the week immediately after. I didn’t note on the invoice how long I worked on it, but the rate of pay is consistent with 4 weeks work at the time. So this was project was likely filmed in late August/ early September 1988.
1989Batman- That is very early in the film's production... Which makes sense given the content shown. Do you recall what the purpose of the special was?
Andrew- Warner Brothers had found themselves in a very difficult situation at the time. The marketing director at Warner told me that Adam West had been going to various media outlets stating that he should be Batman, that his Batman was the only true Batman, and that this dark thing that Warner was doing had nothing to do with Batman at all. This caused a problem for Warner Brothers because it created doubts in the minds of the film distributors and merchandisers around the world. Since the longer lead time involved in both merchandise production and film distribution requires a gamble on how a film will look in its finished form, Warner needed to create something to reassure these investors that Tim Burton’s vision for movie was going to work, that this movie was going to be successful. They needed to show them that Adam West’s statements were inaccurate, and that the film would present a version of Batman truer to the comic than the campy, comedic TV show of the 60’s. The opening sequence of the preview film has very specific references to clue-in these investors that the film was returning to Batman’s true heritage, with the West TV show being addressed as merely a footnote in the overall history. In fact, this film would be the vaccination of the Adam West Batman- returning to the character all the wonder of the original comics. So this whole opening statement is basically an assurance to the viewer that Warner is presenting you with the “real” Batman now.
1989Batman- Very interesting! Watching it without that knowledge, it just felt like a brief history of Batman... But after hearing that there was deliberate intent to downplay West's Batman as a silly one-off, I can totally see it. The stigma of the 60's show was one of the 2 main obstacles the producer's faced with the public on this film- The other undoubtedly being the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman. I notice that the film lacks interviews with Keaton (and Jack Nicholson for that matter). Instead, a few clips from previous films are inserted during the cast portion. Why is this?
Andrew- Nicholson wasn’t too interested in being interviewed at the time if I recall. I was told that he was busy driving a little white Porsche around in the south of France. Keaton was in the States, so was Bob Kane. In retrospect though, I am not sure it would have made it any better to have the actors in there. The clips I chose gave a better feel of what they would bring to the table instead of trying to explain too much. The clip of Nicholson gives a good feel of the overall force he’d bring to the Joker. For Keaton though, I wanted to show his range so I chose a "Beetlejuice" clip leading into one from “Clean & Sober”.
1989Batman- Yeah, the clip from "Clean & Sober" really stood out to me when watching the special. A perfect choice. You mention that Keaton was the same situation as Bob Kane. Were you not able to interview him? Were all of the interviews conducted in the special handled by you?
Andrew- I conducted all the interviews with the exception of Bob Kane. I pushed and pushed to do that one, both so that I could make a trip to the States and to meet Bob Kane, but the cost was too prohibitive.
1989Batman- Well, the interviews that are included are FANTASTIC! Were there any interesting off-screen tidbits you'd like to share?
Andrew- The main interview with Tim Burton was very interesting. He was a bit jittery the whole time. I felt that he really just wanted to go back and get on with the work. He just seemed as if he was a little uncomfortable being put into the situation. The interview questions were designed so that they could be removed and his answers would be used as stand-alone statements. My last question was “Okay… I’ve gone to the cinema and paid my $7 for a ticket- What am I going to get for it?”. He didn’t like that at all. He wasn’t discourteous by any means, but you could tell it made him uneasy. He stated “I’ve got to stop” , got out of his chair and walked away for a bit. A few moments later he called out “Okay, I’m ready… Let’s do it”. He then gave that perfect answer that appears at the end of the film. The absolute distillation of what he was doing. I was thrilled.
1989Batman- It really is a great description of the movie. It was even used in print by various outlets after. So we have covered the cast and the director... Let's move to a couple of the other elements of the film- Gotham City and the Batmobile. This preview offers some of the first footage ever captured of these 2 Batman mainstays. Can you share your memories on the Pinewood Gotham set and the Caped Crusader's favorite wheels?
Andrew- There was something really special about Pinewood's Gotham City. I remember walking around that set and there was just something in the air. I felt the energy… It was just phenomenal.
As for the car... They got the Batmobile out and drove it around for us, but it wasn’t quite ready yet. I remember that it struggled a bit to drive. The exhaust flames could only be done when the car was stationary, and they were afraid it would get stuck on the open ground because it was built so low. So we only managed to get various short runs of it that I had to make more imposing as best I could, adding smoke here and there for atmosphere.
1989Batman- You did a fine job. In fact, the atmosphere of the whole special matches pretty closely to the finished film. How did you go about doing that when nothing had even been filmed for the movie yet?
Andrew- I appreciate that! I was making a conscious effort to capture the feel of the movie in this preview film. In looking around for somewhere to film the main interview with Tim Burton. It was difficult – it needed to be somewhere where I could control the lighting – so it couldn’t be outside and somewhere quiet. It had to be interesting, but not so interesting that the background would be distracting – and keep in mind that it was fairly early days so the choices were very limited. I chose the polystyrene workshop – this is where they hot-wire sculpted some of the architectural features for the buildings. That’s the statue behind Tim during his interview. I also worked to use interesting camera movements, and these were also used in the rostrum filming of comics and movie artwork to bring out the action of the scene; Though the movie hadn’t started filming, I felt it was important to try and “match” the tone as best I could. I even asked Tim Burton about the music to try and make it harmonious to what he would do, but the score was pretty far from where he was at that point, so I took a best guess.
1989Batman- Did you get any feedback on the film? I suppose it was only an internal thing, right? Not something you'd be able to check in with audiences for a reaction on...
Andrew- It wasn’t widely released, no. It was taken around by Warner to large meetings to get business partners excited about the project. It worked really well for them. It gave the people who were watching it a feeling of being included – it was more than a preview, more than a sneak peek. It put them in an almost privileged position, which is just what Warner wanted them to feel. They wanted their investors to be as excited about the film as they were.
I do remember one specific thing I was told about it afterwards. In Japan, they were so excited that they stood on their chairs and cheered. This made me very happy as it meant it was a successful project. Oh- And I hadn't even realized that I was credited in the film until you contacted me! That is pretty unusual for a project like this, so it means I definitely did something right! :)
1989Batman- Indeed you did. It was a pleasure to watch! I can't thank you enough for your hard work on this and for taking the time to answer my questions here today.
Andrew- It was a pleasure James. Thank you for enjoying it. Many times, these projects are just another job. It is nice to hear when they mean more than that to someone else... When you contacted me I dug out my VHS copy of the film and watched it. I hadn’t seen it for maybe 25 years. I was pleased with what I’d achieved. It works nicely!
And now without further ado.... The 1988 Warner Brothers Batman Preview!
Many thanks once again to Andrew Gillman for taking the time out to help on this post! To check out Andrew's other work, head to his site here: AndrewGillman.com