Talking with Filmmaker Don Argott About BATMAN AND BILL

I recently got a chance to speak with filmmaker Don Argott about his upcoming Hulu documentary BATMAN AND BILL. The story about Batman co-creator, Bill Finger. FANBOY FACTOR: Hello Don. […]

I recently got a chance to speak with filmmaker Don Argott about his upcoming Hulu documentary BATMAN AND BILL. The story about Batman co-creator, Bill Finger.

FANBOY FACTOR: Hello Don. How are you?

DON ARGOTT: Good. I’m on location for a new project in Vegas

FF: Batman and Bill. I saw the documentary. I have to say it was very excellent. I really enjoyed it a lot. I realize you kind of followed around you know the author who originally did the book, Marc Tyler Nobleman. How did you come about getting involved in doing this as a documentary because his book came out in 2012 and it’s 2017.

DA: We actually started this film in 2011. And I don’t really exactly remember when we started it but at that point you know we were kind of introduced to Mac through a mutual acquaintance and you know we just finished a film called The Art of the Steal and we were looking for you know we’re always on the hunt for good stories and great subjects and this kind of came across our art desk through a mutual friend who put us in touch him you know the original idea before Marc had published his book at the time when we were actually we began talking with Marc. He didn’t have a book deal yet. He had done a large part of his you know kind of like investigation but by no means was he complete. And you know there is a scene in the film where Marc’s meets with Athena (Bill Finger’s Grand-daughter) and that was from years ago. That was one of the first things that we shot with Marc. And so we had been on the story for a little while the original idea how it was kind of where we picked up with Marc in I want to say like you know in 2010 – 2011 was that he was urging Athena to go through the litigation process. He tried to you know get to rectify the situation. And I think at that point we thought as a great through line follow of course what ended up happening was that never did transpire. And because of that, we felt like we really had kind of two-thirds of assuming got a story with incredible maturity was great. But you know we all know because of precedent with some of these copyright claims you know you know people the Superman one comes to mind. You know that’s still being litigated. You know so the last thing you want to do is start a film and then go out and find a way that you can’t initiate a ten to twenty plus years. At that point, we have plans for us to say like yeah you know what. You know we love this story we think it’s great that we think there’s so much there and Marc was obviously very passionate about it and never really gave up on it. You know his book can come out and you know he continued He was you know he was just relentless you know he never gave up. And you know kind of kudos to him. And it wasn’t until you know the announcement that bill you know is finally getting the credit that we were like well there’s a third thing kind of waiting for. So yeah I was going kind of at that point you know we were our manager was that they had asked us if we had any film because Hulu was looking for original content and they wanted it to kind of pop culture stories are like “we got the best of pop-culture story ever”. So that’s really all things that have reanimated. Basically from that point. It was like totally it was like new life with that shot in the arm. And that’s true frankly. Like many really compelling documentaries as they just sometimes they just take some time. You know what you start out what you think something is going to be and if it’s been true with every film that we’ve done you know the original idea is you know always changes from what you originally conceived to something much better because life happens and you know you have to kind of continue to wait for things to transpire even though. So nothing on your schedule. You know what. You know whatever is going to happen and so you have that kind of breath a number of years before we’re able to pick back up and really at that point feel like we were in a good spot to really tell the whole story.

You know so the last thing you want to do is start a film and then go out and find a way that you can’t initiate a ten to twenty plus years. At that point, we have plans for us to say like yeah you know what. You know we love this story we think it’s great that we think there’s so much there and Marc was obviously very passionate about it and never really gave up on it. You know his book can come out and you know he continued He was you know he was just relentless you know he never gave up. And you know kind of kudos to him. And it wasn’t until you know the announcement that bill you know is finally getting the credit that we were like well there’s a third thing kind of waiting for. So yeah I was going kind of at that point you know we were our manager was that they had asked us if we had any film because Hulu was looking for original content and they wanted it to kind of pop culture stories are like “we got the best of pop-culture story ever”. So that’s really all things that have reanimated. Basically from that point. It was like totally it was like new life with that shot in the arm. And that’s true frankly. Like many really compelling documentaries as they just sometimes they just take some time. You know what you start out what you think something is going to be and if it’s been true with every film that we’ve done you know the original idea is you know always changes from what you originally conceived to something much better because life happens and you know you have to kind of continue to wait for things to transpire even though. So nothing on your schedule. You know what. You know whatever is going to happen and so you have that kind of breath a number of years before we’re able to pick back up and really at that point feel like we were in a good spot to really tell the whole story.

FF: You know now other than you know the story being compelling I mean are you are you like a comic saying yourself I mean was there anything like you know you that really drew you to this.

DA: Yeah. I mean I grew up I grew up like a lot of kids you know re-incarnate books that you know I wasn’t I would not put myself in the category of like you know Batman uber fan I find that you know I feel like I had it I actually loved toys. I had Justice League playset that you know I remember like I loved all that stuff and you know I think you know like in the late 80s you know they put those like you or action figures like Super Power action figures for what they were movable. And I got into that like I was going to get into the toys. You know I wouldn’t say I was like crazy but I wasn’t like a voracious comic book reader. But somebody like you know crazy but what I love what we were in a special place in my youth. But you know for me it was never like you know I have to tell the story because I’m a fan it was I thought this was a great story. I think to know a lot of things a lot of us in that we like we try not to make them from that perspective. From that vantage point, you have to be a fan of this to love it. You know like we always like show and tell great compelling stories human drama stuff that those things that can really be responsible.

FF: In terms of the pop culture world. I mean you couldn’t have picked a better hot topic these days. Because it’s creator’s rights just there is I mean I’ve written articles myself. Obviously, I’m only doing it from a viewer standpoint. You know what I see and I just personally you know your documentary spoke volumes to me because it’s I can’t speak about the contracts and I can’t you know say about like finances but I think you know if someone creates something they should get you know their name up their credit where it’s due. It’s also nice that you know you having this documentary you’re opening this entire thing to this is a pop culture field is still kind of a little bit on the narrow side. Yeah, it’s growing more but you know people you know I think this is really going to open a lot of people’s eyes.

DA: I hope so. Yeah because there is a lot of things that people don’t think about. I mean you know we don’t we should like you know we value artists we value. You know we know somebody loves my song. You know a lot of times in value the performer maybe more than the people behind the performance. You know that’s the nature of our culture to agree and you know that’s not so difficult to reconcile because right now a lot of times, not every time and sometimes somebody who like you know does a song or a band song they’re not necessarily the ones that are 100 percent responsible for that aspect. And I’ve known them with painters. Obviously, that’s like a singular art form where you know somebody that you put your name on it you know usually the person that you know is responsible for the are. And I think when you start getting into interesting territory and in our world which is like the storytelling world never a lot of fathers a lot of time there’s a lot of people that are involved but ultimately it comes down to kind of the main people that are involved. I think this was the instance where you know it wasn’t and this is probably you know the best example only because of how enormous the character is to our culture.

I mean there’s not many people that you can say Batman or like you know like when really it permeates into decadence in every part. Like you can’t really you can’t really go out and most people anywhere that have electricity and be like you know you don’t you know Batman like everybody else.I mean I think like one for when that when you have something that’s been created on that level and then you know there is another story that even like the fact that the guy who is credited for it you know should Bob Kane get you know no credit. No, I absolutely don’t think he should get credit for. I mean I think it’s appropriate that their names are together now but I think like the fact is that he didn’t just come up with the bat to where he didn’t just come up with the like. You know one or two little things which he created kind of the whole thing. You know we’re really when you take a giant step back like all the things that you can say hey name four things about Batman. You know that you can think of probably those four things I would say. Ninety-seven percent would be Bill Finger contributions. So the fact that there is life that you know that level kind of like you know input that what had gone kind of suppressed for so long you know is really obviously why the film itself.

FF: But definitely I mean from a visual standpoint I really loved how you guys added the animation to it and it made it look like a comic panel and it was just. That was to me was very cool. I mean I’ve seen a lot of documentaries in my time you know a lot of them you know some of them different from others a lot of them are just like talking heads and gets a little boring and stale. That animation is just it really you know it really sucked me in. And it was just like it a great addition to it.

DA: Oh thank you. Well I mean I think that was Sheena. You know we were trying to figure out how to you know how to tell this story. I mean this is the you know for the most part with a lot of you know documentaries are going you’re not doing like true parenting project or following that we’ve done that before we’ve done something for four years the character going through a particular journey and I wait to see what happens. But this was these types of films that were kind of telling the story from the past. You know you basically you know because we’ve done we’ve been doing this for a long time we’re always trying to challenge ourselves about how we can you know make it more exciting for the viewer and for us to  make it fresh and not feel like we’re just relying on talking heads and archival photographs and radio. So I think the most important thing for us realizing going into this that we’re working with a main character in Bill Finger that there was you know you know a very small amount of photographic evidence. So we were we were and knowing that one of the things that we really want now is have people like you don’t forget and understand and get to know him a little bit and that’s really hard to do when you don’t have any footage or very little photos to work with.

So we thought that the best way to kind of bring it to life was to use it you know use the medium in which he kind of started creating him and that the comic book you know the panels and I kind of the 2-D animation. Not make it like full blown animation. Make it subtle. So I think you get this you know it’s important when you’re trying to like you know get emotion from a character who is no longer you know like we can sit down and interview though we only had very limited amount of photos and we had a couple of audio snippets from him. How do we bring in the life. And I thought that we felt that that was the best way to kind of bring in the life. And I do think like there are moments when people say like man like I really felt for Bill there and it’s just like just being like you know a drawing of them you know.  And so you know for us now that that was really like you know that made us feel really good that you know that one that that worked that that device worked because we knew we were telling a story that happened in the past and a lot of things happened behind closed doors which we obviously even if they were happening in the present we didn’t have access to. So it’s really just a way to like you know kind of recreate that world and bring the viewer into that space and they can you know still experience that era.

FF: I mean but from my standpoint like a comic perspective I also I also like the fact that the kind of art style that you did use was almost like Golden Age looking.

DA: Cleaned up cleaned up a little but it still it was flat. That was really cool.  We really wanted to get it right you know like not like that or anything like that you know. You know just getting the paper texture and getting you know the dots with that kind of color popping with man made me like no no no that color didn’t exist that way. You have to like go you know use this limited palette. That’s how every and every angle I get if they couldn’t do it then we shouldn’t be able to do it. I like that kind of that kind of level because I think that you know we haven’t had that kind of level of detail you know. And when something that really important you know to maintain that. And I appreciate that you responded to that. I hope people do as well

FF: I really think they will. I mean it’s it was very like I said you know unfortunately you know we already knew that a lot of us knew the outcome also but it was still nice to see. The entire process how it came about. It was great to see. So it’s always nice to see a victory like this.

DA: Well that’s the other thing. It’s like a film like this you know. And again for certain you know certain groups of people that have you know I know that you know when we entered into this world obviously as like amateur you know and to understand you know knowing how much information was already out there you know like a lot of people we talked to it was like the worst kept secret in comics. Like everybody in comics knows this Bill Finger. You know the rightful creator but all that being said you know the journey is still the journey and like we could know all you want but changing it is a totally different thing. Obviously, you guys in the community know that that did happen but hopefully, regardless of that it’s still rewarding because you know you see how almost impossible the journey is. I mean you’ve made a lot of films that you know when you’re taking on big corporations or you know big industry. Nine times out of 10 you know usually the little guy doesn’t come out on top. Usually a corporation that can outspend you or the government or whatever it is these forces that are so large and you know kind of impossible to take on and win this is one of those instances where it’s almost more rewarding because of the fact that it was so it was so pure and what it was it was you know my name and what it was what was being asked to happen it was really seemed like yeah I mean that’s the right thing to do right. I mean shouldn’t we all as a comic book people that love these stories you know kind of adhere to you know kind of principles of you know. But you know what these stories represent when you like good over evil and doing the right thing and all that stuff and you know if you think that that would have been you know just what happened a long time ago. But you know we all know from experience that some people need to be forced into doing the right a lot of times it’s not. And yet I think hopefully even people that know the ending and the outcome will still feel like it was a rewarding experience knowing you’re watching it.
 
FF: I mean definitely that’s how I felt. I mean overanalyze things. And I really hope that one of these people you know I go to the superhero movie and I understand that I’m not the target audience. I’m not guaranteed tickets. I don’t get upset when I get change. So you guys made this comic documentary. But it’s so open for the people who are not familiar with it that I really think it will strike a chord with a lot more people out there.

DA: I hope so. And even if it doesn’t you know if it’s just the feeling that Batman fans that’s you know that’s a pretty big audience right.

FF: Yeah. Really enjoyed it, man.

DA: Thank you so much. And I really appreciate it. Hopefully, you know hopefully with you spreading the word and getting it out there you know people see it and respond to it. So at the heart of it, I think you know for us it was great. It’s a great story. You know first and foremost and the fact that I think you know there’s a lot to like you don’t know going into it.The twist is that I think they’re really kind of rewarding and you know all that stuff I feel like it’s hopefully you know people who get well will see it and respond to it. All we can hope for is you know filmmakers I really think they will be honest with him.

FF: I definitely got a reaction from it I had my wife watch with me and she knows little to nothing about this world and she says she got upset with the way Bill was treated.

DA: It’s a big injustice and it’s a really big job. And at the level of what it was because it wasn’t you know, I think if it was just the guy who like you know had gone on long and didn’t speak up for him. And so he’s kind of like you know what. It wasn’t that big a deal and we carried it like I think for us like the hook for his one, Charles, his writing partner we asked them like you know do you remember that one Batman episode that you wrote you know and it was like the fact that he remembers vividly sitting watching that episode and he got emotional just seeing his name on the screen on the screen as the writer the creator is a writer and to me I think the argument was always building in stand up for himself. Bill didn’t care that it didn’t matter to him. He was just like he was just happy for the work and it’s like yeah. I mean if you paint a picture of him like What is the injustice but like to know that it mattered to him that he did take pride in it and that he  not only was you know kind of caught out of it altogether but the guy on the other side wasn’t even given him and you know an inch for any of his contributions that you know in that letter and that maybe it comes out like well you know he created paper at that point you know he did every you know there wasn’t any. It wasn’t anything that anybody else did except you know. And I think Bob was with him just like going insane like you know this is my time.I know his character now and the show is going to be at the next level and this is my time to really you know put you know put my flag in the ground. And that’s what he did. And I think at that moment that kind of the old state answer both of their lives played out.
 
FF: You know that’s just you know help is from the word I really liked it a lot and it drops on May 6. They said you know I wish you luck with it. It was great talking to you.

DA: Likewise. Thank you, Brian. Appreciate your help. Thanks a lot. 

BATMAN AND BILL premiers exclusive on Hulu on Saturday, May 6th.

Brian Isaacs - Executive Editor / Publisher

About Brian Isaacs - Executive Editor / Publisher

An avid comic collector/reader for over 40 years and self-proclaimed professor of comicology, Brian original started up the site Pendragon’s Post to share his voice. Well that voice has been shared, and evolved into The Fanboy Factor. Brian is an advocate for remembering comic roots, and that we don’t forget what was created in the past, and encourage everyone to read it as well. When not swimming in geek culture, he can be seen corrupting..introducing his young son to comics, much to his wife’s chagrin.