Comic-Con 2011: Producer Bruce Timm Talks BATMAN: YEAR ONE, The Flaming C, and How YEAR ONE Is More Realistic than Christopher Nolan’s Batman

     July 23, 2011


While you may or may not recognize his face, if you have any sort of affinity for Batman: The Animated Series and/or animated DC Comics films in general, then you are definitely familiar with the work of artist/producer Bruce Timm. A longtime staple in the animated DC world, Timm has worked as a producer and character designer for numerous projects including the aforementioned Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm, the Justice League television series, and more.

As part of Batman: Year One‘s Comic-Con press day, I had the opportunity to participate in a small roundtable interview with Timm where he discussed a range of topics including the possibility of an R-Rated animated Batman film, The Flaming C (the superhero persona he drew up for Conan O’Brien), and the ways in which Year One is more realistic than Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Check out the full interview after the jump. Batman: Year One gets released to Blu-ray/DVD on October 18th and, as I mentioned in my interview with Ben McKenzie, is certainly worth your time.

bruce-timm-imageQuestion: With the darker tone of this material, is this a sign that we may be able to expect something more than a PG-13 rating on some of Warner’s direct-to-video animated films in the future?

BRUCE TIMM: It has come up in discussion in the past and we actually came really, really close to doing an R-rated Batman movie and then at the last minute we said, “We don’t think the world is ready for it yet,” but it could happen.

What was the source material for that?

TIMM: I’m not allowed to say because it could still happen someday and I don’t want to jinx it.

It felt like you pushed the envelope of the PG-13 rating with Under the Red Hood. Is there anything about Batman: Year One that works similarly?

TIMM: You know, it’s not like we tried to push the envelope just to be pushing the envelope, a lot of times it really just has to do with whatever the story requirements are. Sometimes the stories just go down a certain path and we kind of have to take it to its logical extension, and that leads us into the dark side sometimes and we have to go with it.

Was there any discussion about going with a different project given that a lot of Year One has been cannibalized in the motion pictures that Christopher Nolan has made?

TIMM: My argument has always been that even though Batman: Year One has had a huge influence on Batman in general, specifically on Batman Begins a lot, he still changed a lot of things and there are a lot of things in Year One that they just didn’t do. They just went a different way and that’s great, you know. I’ve always felt that there’s enough stuff still in the original comic that they didn’t do that allows us to make the film faithful to the comic without adding or changing anything so that’s what we did.

Specifically for the Catwoman stuff in Year One, has anyone from The Dark Knight Rises come to you for advice in bringing that to their film?

TIMM: Dude, I’m not even on their radar.

Has anyone at the studio come to you or Lauren (Year One co-director) with questions regarding Wonder Woman, because the two of you put out what was probably the best Wonder Woman story I’ve seen in your animated film, so have they asked for any advice with regards to the character?

TIMM: Well, thank you, but no, they have not. And, believe it or not, I’m good with that.

Moving forward, are we going to see anything beyond the “Big 5?” Are there any hopes of maybe a Teen Titans movie or a short of any kind?

TIMM: Really, I don’t know. I would love to explore other characters besides Superman, Batman, and the Justice League, but unfortunately those are our best sellers in this line. Some of the other characters haven’t sold quite to that level so you’re going to see a lot more Superman, Batman, Justice League just because it makes economical sense. With Green Lantern, with the movie coming out, when that was announced that gave us the market cred to go ahead with our Green Lantern film so we’ll probably be doing more of those as well. I guarantee you that if they get a Flash movie up and running we’ll be doing a Flash direct-to-video or maybe a series. So, every time one of those characters reaches a higher profile it makes it a lot more economically feasible to go down that path.

the-flaming-c-imageHow much more can we expect to see from The Flaming C?

TIMM: I don’t know at this point. We’re, you know, we kind of need to see if we can kind of build the interest in the character to a little bit higher level and see if we can get somebody interested in actually financing an actual series or a pilot and then we’d actually have to sit down and figure what the hell that character really is.

Are we going to see the shorts again when Young Justice starts back up?

TIMM: I don’t know. Probably. If I had to guess, I would say possibly.

In the future, should audiences expect to see more original scripts getting made like Wonder Woman or more classic titles like All-Star Superman and Year One going direct-to-video?

TIMM: I think there’s always going to be kind of a mix of original stories and things that are based, to one degree or another, on comic book source material.

Are there plans to release any more classic titles in the near future?

TIMM: Yes, in fact, we’re going to be doing, no I can’t say…

When talking previously about Year One you said that this film would be even more realistic than the Nolan films. Can you talk a little about that?

TIMM: I said that? Well, it’s realistic in this sense, because I think the Nolan movies are kind of a deliberate stab at grounding the movies in a kind of more believable reality than say the Schumacher or the Tim Burton movies. For instance, in Nolan’s films, Gotham city looks like a real city. However, there is still a kind of larger than life element to his movies even just in terms of what the Batmobile does or some of the gadgetry or even the sequence in Batman Begins where Batman goes to Tibet to learn, you know, the skills to become Batman. To me, that’s like already a step removed from the gritty, down to earth realism of Batman: Year One because Year One takes place entirely in an urban environment, there’s very little gadgetry, there’s no Batmobile, there’s no larger than life villains, the villains are just mob guys, you know, like crooked cops. So, that’s what I mean by saying it is even more realistic than the Nolan movies. When I say that, it’s not a slam at those movies. I’m in awe of them. But again, it’s the difference between a medium budget animated feature and a mega budget summer tentpole movie. For years people were saying, “Oh, Batman: Year One, they should just turn that into the Batman movie for live-action,” and I thought it really wouldn’t work because people expect more from a superhero movie in a theater. For a summer tentpole movie they expect bigger, crazier action sequences. They expect bigger explosions and larger than life superheroes and super bad guys. So, I totally understand that, for a live-action movie, the source material is kind of commonplace, it’s more like a cop movie than a superhero movie which is perfect for us because it’s a lower profile, it’s a lower budget movie, it’s not as big of a gamble. I think it’s awesome in its own way, but it’s not a big, spectacular superhero adventure.

batman-year-one-blu-ray-cover-imageIs there any chance of pushing the direct-to-video stuff beyond the sixty or seventy minute runtime and into more feature length territory?

TIMM: Realistically, probably not, no. Again, it’s all budgetary. They have people over at Warner Home Videos whose job it is to crunch all of the numbers, to compare projected sales to the projected budget of the film and to look at all of the different outlets to see where the DVD and Blu-ray industries are at now and how much money they can make off of VOD and all of that crap. So, we have kind of a set limit on how much we can spend and that dictates how long the movies are. We’ve actually talked to them about it and they’ve looked at it and went, “Well, you know if we spend an extra ‘X’ amount of dollars to up the screen length, we don’t think that’s going to translate into more sales.” So, to them it doesn’t really make any sense. The numbers don’t make any sense.

What about showcase shorts? Sometimes, when there’s a gap in films, you release those. Do you have any plans to release more of those?

TIMM: Again, it’s economics. We’re not doing any more of those. There’s no way to monetize them. I give all of the credit in the world to Warner Home Video for even taking a gamble on those things because they really had no reason to do so. Just putting them as an extra on a DVD doesn’t increase the sales of that DVD. It just doesn’t. Looking at all of the numbers, the math just doesn’t make any sense. So, the only way we can justify going back and making more of them is, if we put together a compilation with the new shorts on it, that has to make money because that would underwrite the cost of making the films. But, you know, people were not interested in that format in long form so, like I said, I’m really grateful that they even allowed us to make the shorts you’re talking about because they didn’t have to. I wish we could make more of them, but I understand.

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