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What I Learned from Batman's Batman

When Michael Uslan was in his 20s, he walked into the office of the CEO of DC Comics and, without any money, experience, connections, etc he bought the rights to "Batman" to make a movie out of it. Nobody else was interested! This was in the late 70s.

It took him ten years and rejections from the entire industry before the Batman movie was made. He was broke and frustrated and almost gave up but finally started working with Tim Burton, who was excited about the movie, and they made the 1989 classic.

Since then, he's been the producer of all the Batman movies including the one that came out last weekend. And he's produced many other movies and has been involved in many other projects.

Here's what I learned by talking to him on my podcast.

    1. Passion

    Michael built up a 30,000 issue comic book collection as a kid. He actually taught a course on comic books at Indiana University when he was a junior in college (the first comic book course at a college), and he loved Batman most of all.

    What did you love as a kid? Are there ways to pursue it as an adult. Michael wasn't going to become a superhero but because he knew specifically what he loved about Batman (the darkness of the original stories) he had a vision of how this could be a great movie franchise when everyone thought the Batman character was dead after the 1960s campy TV series.

    In almost anything in life, you will have some competition. And the one with passion will beat the one without it. Additionally, passion gives you that extra energy that makes you stick with it rather than giving up when all seems lost.

    2. People don't know anything. (aka Perseverance)

    When he was trying to get Batman made, one head of production at a major studio told him there was no chance it work, "Because our movie, Annie, failed".

    Michael wondered what Annie had to do with Batman. The guy said, "You know, they're both from the funny pages."

    "That guy called me in 1989 after the huge success of the Batman movie and told me 'I always told everyone you were great' ."

    If you're passionate about a particular vision, don't trust the opinions of everyone who says "you can't do this". This alone can fuel Perseverance. BUT...

    3. Plan B, Plan C, Plan D - Always have these

    When he was about to give up, his father in law told him, "How long until you have a six figure check in your hand?" And Michael said, "5 months". So his father in law said, "I'll pay your bills for five months but then if you don't have a six figure check in your hand then you have to go be a lawyer and support your family."

    Michael agreed and 5 months, to the minute, he had his check (for producing a series called, "Dinosaucers' - Dinosaurs in space.

    But he had his plan B because he went to Law School.

    I always used to think if you have a Plan B, that's probably where you will end up. But if passion is fueling you, it's a lot harder to give up completely than it might appear, particularly if you have a Plan B to keep the cash flow going.

    4. How to Take Calculated Risks

    So many people are being laid off now. It's important to always reinvent yourself so if you find yourself laid off in the middle of your career, you still have things you can try and pursue.

    "Take more calculated risks," Michael said, "If something is 51/49 then go for it."

    In my book, "Skip the LIne", I encourage people (aka me) to take more risks by trying life "experiments". If something has little downside, huge upside, and is cheap to do, go for it.

    I constantly say yes to experiments because you never know if that huge upside could kick in.

    5. "This is the best thing that ever happened to me because _____"

    When Michael got that last rejection from a studio to make Batman, he felt like giving up. His business partner, who was an older, very successful guy from Hollywood told him to say out loud, "This is the best thing that ever happened to me because ____" and fill in the blank.

    This is great advice. It helps you adjust your mindset at the worst times in order to keep going.

    Everything is about finding the energy to keep going onn the things you love.

    6. When you do the things you love there is always a price.

    This is the reason many go for more traditional career paths and I don't blame them. To try and do what you love doing it's usually - very competitive and very difficult and painful.

    So acknowledging that there is always a price and remembering that when the pain hits, can help get through the pain to the other side.

    7. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.

    When Michael did his course on comic books in the early 70s, he wanted to create buzz for it. He did a very Ryan Holiday-esque idea:

    He called the UPI (similar to AP), the biggest news syndicate in the world. He said, "I can't believe they are teaching this shameful course at Indiana University on comic books, subverting our nation's youth." And then he hung up without saying who he was.

    UPI then came to campus and wrote about it and appeared in newspapers all around the world. Buzz created.

    8. Say "Yes"

    He was at DC comics and heard one of the editors yelling. It was the editor of the comic "The Shadow."

    He told Michael, "I have to hand in a script for the next "Shadow" tomorrow but I have nothing. Zero. Do you have any ideas for The Shadow?"

    Michael said, "Yes!!" But he had no clue. But within the next day he wrote a script for "The Shadow" and ended up writing many issues of it.

    9. Another reminder that most things don't work out

    In his book, "Batman's Batman" he describes dozens of projects he pitched that were rejected. He figured he had about a 10% success rate and even that he thought was better than the average.

    It's hard for me sometimes if I have a string of what I feel are "losses" in my life. I start thinking I've lost my mojo and nothing is working out anymore. But it's good for me to remind myself that most things don't work out and I just have to keep trying.
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