‘Batman & Bill’ Producers Share Film Secrets

Hulu will be releasing Batman & Bill, the much-anticipated documentary on the journey to getting Batman co-creator Bill Finger the credit he deserves, on May 6th. Before the touching and enlightening story premieres on the streaming service, check out the trailer below.

If you like what you see there, you’re going to love the full-length feature. If you’d like to learn more before the premiere date, Batman & Bill producers Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott sat down with us to discuss their process as well as the many discoveries they made about Bill Finger’s life and work. Their unique connection and passion for film-making was on full display in all of their answers, which you can read below.

How did you two get started as a production team?
Sheena M. Joyce: [While he was working on his first project] I just wanted to support him in any way I could, so I started helping out at night and on weekends. Eventually got so involved in the project I quit my job, and then we started our company together and that turned out to be our first film, Rock School, which we were fortunate enough to go to Sundance with. So it fooled us into thinking that perhaps we could do this for a living.
Don Argott: Here we are, 15 years later.

So what brought you guys to the story of DC Comics, Batman and Bill Finger?
Don: We got introduced to Mark years ago when he was in the middle of the research of Bill Finger. On the surface, just a quick pitch is like, “Oh my God, yeah. The guy who’s on a crusade to tell Bill Finger’s story?” Just was a no-brainer and it sounded like a great story, and it’s Batman.
Sheena: We met Mark in 2009 right when we had a film called The Art of the Steal that was coming out, and really started filming him then. [We] would take breaks, and there were moments when we felt like, “Well, it doesn’t really have an ending.”

How often do you guys start projects that don’t end like that?
Sheena: A lot.
Don: Actually, most of the time. And that’s a scary thing as a filmmaker or a storyteller when you’re starting a journey, especially if you have someone’s money involved. Like, “Hey, how’s it gonna end and when is it gonna end?”
Sheena: “I don’t know, man. We’re trying to figure it out.”
Don: “Be patient, be patient. Life happens, always.”

I loved the comic panels of Bill Finger’s life, which made the documentary all that much more emotional. Who was artist behind them?
Don: We were fortunate. There’s a company in Philadelphia called Alkemy X, and we met with them early on because we wanted to keep it local. There was an animator there, Mike, who we hit it off with and he totally got our concept really early on. We didn’t want to do traditional animation, we wanted to do more of a 2D style.
Sheena: Right. It really felt like a comic book.
Don: Comic book coming to life but not fully alive, right? So we worked with him, and then they hired an artist out of Prague who was really great, and we told them the style that we wanted because we really loved the old-school…
Sheena: Style, to tell Bill’s version of the story. And then since [Mark] was the more present-day component to the story, it would be nicer to have a more present-day feel.
Don: We wanted to have that shift so the audience would feel like what was happening in the past felt like the past, and then once we were in the present, it would feel …
Sheena: One was Bill’s story, and one was Mark’s story.

At what point in the process did Hulu get involved?
Don: We were very very lucky. Mark emailed me with a Hollywood Reporter link… And it was Bill getting the credit. Two weeks later our manager said, “Hulu is looking for pop culture stories to pitch to them because they’re starting a new documentary initiative,” and I was like, “How about the Batman?” That was literally the way we shot it off to our manager. He sent it to Hulu, we were talking to them probably for a month or two. They really loved the idea…
Sheena: Yeah, we were off and running. I think officially we started February 23rd of 2016.
Don: February 27th.
Sheena: Really, it was that quick.
Don: We finished it in September. It was the fastest film. We work very fast, but we finished this like lightning speed.
Sheena: And not just because we’re here today with Hulu, but we cannot say enough good things about them. Could not have been more supportive, could not have been more encouraging and excited. We were very impressed with how committed they were to storytellers, and not wanting to get in anybody’s way, but just really want to serve the story and serve the narrative. I just hope people like the story, because it’s not just for comic book fans. I hope that this is a story that is just emotional and feels present and takes you on a journey and that it’s not just about Batman.

How often have you come across situations similar to Bill’s? Do you think this film can shed light on a larger problem?
Don: I think on the creative level, it’s funny because even though we’re talking about the comic book world, there’s no …
Sheena: Go back to Shakespeare, you know? Seriously.
Don: The film world, the literary world, it’s all the same. It comes down to the idea of who did what, and no one cares when no one cares, but once people care … It’s like bands, you know what I mean?
Sheena: They break up as soon as they get the record deal, right?
Don: Then it’s like, “Wait, I wrote that riff” or “No, I wrote that lyric” and it’s unfortunate but it’s a big part of the creative process which is.

Regarding Batman & Bill, Mr. Finger came up with a lot of the riffs.
Don: People say there’s a lot of fathers, and in this case there was two fathers. For a long time there was only allowed to be one father, and I think that’s the biggest injustice of this story. You’re talking about a guy that came up with… Mostly everything.
Sheena: Right, everything that’s iconic about that character, everything that endures about that character, everything that if you would ask your grandma that hasn’t seen every Batman movie… That’s Bill Finger.
Don: And that’s not to say that Bob did nothing. I hope that comes across in the film. I think that Bob came up with the name, no question. Bob had the contact with the company, no question. All those things. He wasn’t somebody that doesn’t deserve the credit, but…
Sheena: We probably wouldn’t be reading Batman today if he was, like, Red Dude. We’re not out to take down Bob Kane or to take anything away from him, but just by telling Bill’s story and his contribution, we kinda do that. That’s certainly not our intention, and we were very careful to use Bob’s own words in the film. We didn’t have to edit him for dramatic effect, and I think that he does speak for himself.

Don Argott, Sheena Joyce, and Demian Fenton at Sundance.

I love the concept that Mark is like Bill Finger’s real-life Batman. So who are your real-life Batmen?
Sheena: Who’s fighting for us behind the scenes?
Don: I don’t know, I hope someone’s fighting for me.
Sheena: It’s gonna sound like an easy answer, but I really mean it. We couldn’t do what we do without my mom, because she’s been incredibly supportive. Especially since we’ve had a kid, [she’s] helped us out and her participation in our lives helps us do what we do.
Don: Absolutely.
Sheena: Demian Fenton, our editor. He’s probably the best example, because he’s someone who works with us on everything but is largely behind the scenes and we would not make films that we have made without his support and his collaboration.
Don: Right, absolutely. Those are good ones.

Make sure to thank the behind-the-scenes Batman in your life, and enjoy Batman & Bill when it premieres on May 6th through Hulu’s streaming service!