Hello Interwebs! Five years ago, Justin and I produced a low-budget homage to Adam West’s Batman. Today I’m sharing behind-the-scenes stories from that shoot and breaking down our film-making choices. Sing it with me: “Na na na na na na na na na na na…”
Thought I was gonna leave you hanging?
NOTE: This video has been geo-blocked for most countries outside of North America (by YouTube, not us). So, for any international readers, you have my apologies.
Batman 1966 Behind-the-scenes Stories
2016 was a big year for Batman. As I said above: Adam West’s Batman TV show had its 50th anniversary. This was also the spring Batman v Superman released in theatres. Gotta love that coincidence: Batman’s brightest and darkest adaptations sharing news around the same time!
Perhaps our team’s choice to adapt the goofier version Batman we grew up with was a subconscious reaction to the grim-dark icon he’s become in recent years. I’m not going to say that for certain, because I honestly don’t remember, but it would make a lot of sense. What I do recall is that the relatively cheap-looking production values for Batman (1966) were a big factor in our choice to homage Adam West’s Batman specifically. It still wasn’t in our budget, but it was closer than all the others.
Justin, Jake, and myself planned this video around the same time as our Back to the Future 2.5 video. For the record, both videos were class assignments for our high school communications technology course. And both had to be done within a month of each other. We’d actually planned to do this Batman video first, but sidelined the project at our teacher’s suggestion. The way she figured it: our more complicated story ought to be saved for the assignment she would actually mark (the first was just for practice). Fair point.
B66 was a month in the making. First step was the script. Justin and I came up with the rough story together and, for once in our lives, we kept the plot relatively simple: Batman must track down and apprehend The Penguin after he performs a bird-themed robbery. To my recollection, we picked The Penguin for our villain because our assignment partner (Jake) resembled the character more than other rogues from the show, and he did a good impression of Burgess Meredith’s iconic iteration. In case you’re curious (I hope you would be, otherwise why are you reading this?)– I wrote the dialogue, as per usual. Fun fact: I made sure to add one “Holy __!” joke per script page.
Much to our chagrin, the assignment parameters necessitated the use of storyboards (for those unfamiliar with the terminology– little pictures of all the movie’s shots, often hand drawn, which illustrate how the camera ought to be set up during production). I’ve mentioned this in past articles but Justin and I detested these things. They took a lot of time to draw, and we were impatient young filmmakers unwilling to put in the work. Now, of course, I’m glad our teacher forced us to do them. Without that grounding in proper production planning, we would not be able to produce quality films today. Anyway– I drew the storyboards and they turned out about as well as I can draw (which isn’t amazing).
Meanwhile (at Wayne Manor!), Justin photo-shopped the original series’ title sequence. We wanted to personalize the video as much as possible, so we opted to put our names in the opening credits. Justin, not being overly familiar with photo-shop had some trouble blending in the new text and taking out the old, but I think the final product turned out great!
My Batman and Robin costume tests
Before production, I had to build all our costumes. I wish I could say there was some big effort here but, truthfully, I pieced most everything together with clothes around my house (including my Dad’s tool belt, a yellow bath towel for Robin’s cape, and some cardboard ears I custom-built for Batman’s cowl). Justin’s mother donated the leggings and the cowl. Justin and I then printed off Batman and Robin’s logos from Google and taped them onto our shirts!
Seeing ourselves in costume on Production Day 1 brought immense joy to the team. I think I smiled the entire time. Drama kids are never too old for dress-up!
Day 1 was filmed in the comfort of our communications tech classroom. Thankfully they had a massive green screen and lighting rig we could use! Here we filmed the introductory sequence (of us punching out the cartoon villains) and the scene where Batman and Robin scale the building with the bat-rope.
That second part was particularly fun. To create the effect, Justin and I tied a long rope to a door handle on the room’s far wall and stretched it across the green screen (thankfully the door and the screen were parallel). Too bad for us we didn’t tie the rope properly… Our rig came undone the moment Justin and I leaned on the rope, causing us to fly backward! A few adjustments later and the stunt was good to go. Oh yeah– to film the scene, Jake shot us regularly (horizontal) and Justin flipped the shot vertically in post-production.
Day 1 was one of the smoothest production days in Thought Plane Media history. There were no problems to speak of (wall-scaling stunt aside)!
Production Day 2 wasn’t for another few weeks. The plan: Justin would pick me up sometime after school and we would meet Jake and Derek at the local pavilion to film the climactic duel (we hired Derek to be a henchman). Unfortunately, Justin and I encountered multiple setbacks which caused us to run late. First I forgot a bunch of props at my house, then we had to get gas and, to top it all off, Justin’s car had no power steering…
It was an exceptionally chilly day too, much to our chagrin. The location we used was still covered in snow! Justin –the poor boy– only had on tights and a t-shirt, so he suffered the most. Holy skimpy outfits! He’s known for being intolerant of cold when fully dressed, so it came as no surprise when he complained all day about his comfort. I could hardly blame him though. I was better off, but I wasn’t exactly wearing winter clothes either. Rushing is never advised on a film-shoot, but our intolerance for the cold begged that we finished quickly and returned to warmth. I’m glad we didn’t make Mr. Freeze the villain, or else we might have been outside all day!
Justin moaned about the cold to an annoying degree that afternoon, but I annoyed Justin a good deal in return. My cheap Batman costume kept falling apart (notably the cowl, taped together with cardboard and loose fabric) and I whined about my wardrobe malfunctions most of the evening. I don’t remember Jake saying anything, but Justin was evidently none too pleased. I also didn’t wear my glasses for much of the shoot, so I also complained how little I could see while in costume (my sight is extremely poor).
After the fight scene –WHAM!–, Justin drove Derek home while Jake and I walked to the local museum (we needed some exterior shots of the building). While I’m talking about him, I want to note that Jake was a great partner for this project! Justin and I are strong creative voices, and I’m afraid we overpowered Jake’s voice throughout the assignment. But, whether or not he had any ideas, he kindly let Justin and I do our thing. I feel badly about that in retrospect (he was an equal partner and we should have been better collaborators) but, at the time, I appreciated him giving us space. And he played a solid Penguin as well!
When Justin rejoined the group, we drove up to his mother’s house for the next phase of our shoot. Those plans fell through, so we had to go to his father’s instead. That wouldn’t have been so bad, except I had to re-tool our story-boards to better fit the new location. We hoped our teacher wasn’t comparing every shot in the film with the storyboards but we didn’t want to take the chance…
Here we shot the “museum” robbery/ investigation scene. Penguin tends to like Penguin-themed things, but all I had was a dog statue… The best we could do was use the dog and make a joke (“it always looked more like a dog to me”).
Next, we strolled over to a local school and filmed the grappling scene (the part where I throw up the rope). Justin all but froze to death here… Somehow the weather became even colder by this point! Oh yeah– and I nearly knocked him out (as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze would probably pun: “out cold”). Our rope had this heavy metal end-piece which is what allowed me to throw the rope so high. But, when the thing came back down, the piece almost cracked over Justin’s head. Luckily he’s got fast reflexes! If I’m not mistaken, that blooper occurs right after the take we used in the film.
Jake left us for the day soon after this. He was a big help! Justin and I didn’t often trust other people to work with us back in 2016 (we were kinda elitist that way) but we really underestimated him.
Justin and I decided to keep going. Our final scene of the day was the Bat-cave sequence (filmed in Justin’s father’s basement). Fun fact: we also filmed Planet of the Beavers: Reloaded here! With this, we wrapped up at 9:00 PM.
The assignment due date was one week from that day. I remember worrying about whether we would get the assignment done on time! Back in those days, our post-production process was relatively slow because we weren’t so familiar with Adobe Premiere. And there was a lot to accomplish in one week. We didn’t even have all our footage yet!
If the tension of a time-crunch wasn’t bad enough, the editing caused many arguments between Justin and myself. In essence: I felt he wasn’t willing to work hard enough to make our best possible product, and he felt I was being too much of a perfectionist and demanding too much from him. When it comes to post-production work, he and I still have this argument almost every time we make something… It’s a little better nowadays though. Back then he used to edit everything. And it’s easy for me to make demands when I don’t have to put the time in. But now I know enough about the programs to meet my own lofty standards when Justin has had enough.
Speaking of editing– I think Justin’s edit saved our final fight scene! The footage wasn’t particularly good until we put the music and special effects on it (a consequence of our rushing things, probably). Post-production really is magic!
The next weekend Justin and I returned to his father’s house to finish up our shoot. Justin’s dad graciously agreed to play our version of Alfred (fake moustache and all). His understated performance is one of my favourite aspects of the whole video! I also loved the gag with the “poles” where Justin and I walked up to them and ducked off camera. One final thought: I think I rocked the “rich guy from the 60s” look…
Justin and I then drove over to my house and performed the Bat-mobile scenes (using my father’s old black car). For the record: It was still freaking cold! Thankfully we didn’t have a lot of outdoor clips to shoot on that day.
Finally, we went to Justin’s mother’s home to shoot the final scene– the birdcage bit. She happened to have some pet birds and a cage we could use for the gag, so that worked out well. As soon as we’d gathered our final take, I gleefully destroyed our costumes! Mine had pissed me off enough…
A few days later, our video premiered in class to universal acclaim! At 7 minutes, it was over double the length of everyone else’s, but nobody seemed to mind. I was surprised it went over so well considering most of our classmates had never seen the show we were parodying. Actually, many people requested Justin and I make a sequel! We refused at the time, feeling the homage would grow stale (Batman‘s first episodes with the cliffhangers were often better than the companion half with the resolution). But now that we’re 5 years on, maybe it’s time to dig out the old costumes again. Who knows?
B66 Narrative/ Film-making Analysis
Our film fades in to a sign: Gotham Museum. The year: 1966. Anyone who’s a fan of silver-age comics can guess what’s happening next: a robbery. But what fiend would dare attempt such a devilish heist? The music (a classic theme from the old show) clues us in before we even see our conniving criminal. Walking through the snow– a well-dressed man carrying an umbrella. Any guesses yet? The man shatters a display case, stealing a Penguin statue and waddles off in to the night, cackling with an instantly iconic laugh! All signs point to that fine-feathered foe of the law himself: The Penguin!
One of the show’s classic scene changes –a rotating bat symbol– takes us to Wayne Manor, where Bruce (Batman) Wayne and Dick (Robin) Grayson impart some ham-fisted morality about eating vegetables. The original series was famous for these little morality plays. Batman, after all, is supposed to be a role model for children!
For any Dark Knight fans put off by my interpretation: Adam West’s Batman was a more well-rounded human being than modern versions of the character. He didn’t brood (much), he fought crime in broad daylight, and he occasionally looked ridiculous. But he combated injustice with such conviction and seriousness that it was funny. Meanwhile– Justin’s Robin mimics the “aw shucks!” overtly-earnest take on Dick Grayson popularized by Burt Ward.
Anyway– Bruce and Dick’s conversation is interrupted by the iconic Bat-phone, promptly answered by Bruce’s loyal manservant, Alfred. Commissioner Gordon, flustered as ever by the vile deeds of costumed villains, seeks Batman’s help. Bruce, genius that he is, instantly suspects that the Penguin must be to blame! Oh yes– for those unfamiliar with Adam West’s show: Batman and Robin are official deputies of the Gotham Police Department, called in to handle strange threats too dangerous or puzzling for regular police.
And so begins a new adventure for the Caped Crusaders! Bruce activates a secret panel hidden in their wall (activated by a vase, in lieu of a Shakespeare bust). Sliding down neatly labeled poles into the Bat-cave, Bruce and Dick transform in to the Dynamic Duo as we transition into the title sequence (a digitally altered opening where Justin and I replace the cartoon drawings of Batman and Robin).
Batman and Robin activate the Batmobile and blast off from their underground base towards Gotham City. For this sequence, Justin incorporated multiple clips from the show to give our story more production value.
Normally the series would feature a scene where Batman and Robin pay a visit to police headquarters, confer with Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara, and then begin their investigation. But for budgetary/ time reasons, we skipped straight to the investigation.
Before getting into the detective work, The Dynamic Duo pause to consider the moral depravity they face (“couldn’t any thief see the value of taking such a piece? I mean, if crime actually paid…”) A brief canvasing of the crime scene quickly confirms Batman’s suspicions: the Penguin is to blame.
Batman and Robin making giant leaps in deduction with little evidence was another staple of the show, by the way. Overly convenient “Bat-technology” often aided in their findings. In this case, the Bat-Computer analyses a scrap of dirt and instantaneously provides an exact match. This show parodied Batman’s over-preparation and magical technologies decades before it was cool.
With Penguin’s location in hand, Batman and Robin choose to enter his lair from behind to maintain the element of surprise. Of course this was the perfect opportunity to include a scene where they scaled the side of a building! This stunt featured in most episodes, and often acted as moments of downtime for humorous conversations and moral lessons. In this case: Robin is being impatient and Batman must teach him restraint/ tactful thinking (also give him a reminder that heroes never take the “easy way” because, once again, moral role-modeling is a must with this version).
What would ya know? Penguin left this obvious trail intentionally! Batman and Robin just fell into a trap. But these juggernauts of justice aren’t so easily scared. This brings us to the classic Batman 1966 fight style– incorporating rousing music and giant comic-book text which fills the screen.
In honor of Batman’s 2-part episode style, our video ends with a cliffhanger. The Caped Crusaders are captured and left in a death-trap with seemingly no hope of escape! Oh my! As always, the narrator asks viewers to tune in again for the next episode: “Same Bat-time; Same Bat-channel.” Will they survive?? Take your best guess. How will they survive? Now that was always the more fun question.
As someone who grew up with Batman (1966), I think we nailed this homage! The most iconic elements were there, the tone was on point, and the plot structure was ripped straight from the show’s own formula. This video was a blast to film and remains one of my favourite projects to this day!
Should we do a sequel to this story? Who’s the best live-action Batman? If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,