November 15, 2013 started off as an ordinary day in San Francisco, complete with blue skies and a collective sense that all was well in our fair city. That serenity was shattered when SF Police Chief Greg Suhr interrupted ABC7’s morning newscast with a desperate plea for help. San Franciscans were in danger, and only one person could save them.
Who answered that call?
Batkid, of course.
Batkid, a.k.a. Miles Scott, stormed the city and social media that day dressed as a miniature version of DC Comic’s moody icon. With the help of his sidekick Batman, Batkid saved a distressed damsel who'd been tied to the cable car tracks in Russian Hill, defused a bomb that was set to detonate, and captured longtime rival the Riddler in the act of robbing a bank vault in the Financial District. After stopping for lunch in Union Square, the crime-fighting duo apprehended the Penguin, who'd attempted to kidnap the Giants mascot Lou Seal in a brazen getaway. Before thousands of cheering fans gathered at City Hall, Batkid was gratefully given a key to the city by Mayor Ed Lee and watched as a U.S. Department of Justice representative read conspiracy charges against vanquished villains.
The whole glorious affair unfurled thanks to the hard work of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Greater Bay Area Chapter and its army of volunteers; key partners Clever Girls Collective, Apple, and Twitter; and thousands of cheering fans who helped realize the wish of a child who had fought and defeated leukemia.
Debuting this week at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, the documentary film Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World recounts Miles’ triumphant day spent ridding San Francisco of crime, and the potential of social networking to enable our most humane qualities. When filmmaker Dana Nachman and her partners at KTF Films became aware of Miles’ story, they got in touch with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, who asked if a film could be produced and released to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the event. In spite of a dauntingly short turnaround schedule, Nachman said yes. KQED Arts caught up with the director as she prepared to leave for the festival and found out more about the film’s production and possible impact on audiences.
How did you hear about Miles Scott and his request to the Make-A-Wish Foundation?
I overheard some colleagues talking about Miles and wondered why this kid and his story made such a buzz. A fellow journalist also mentioned it in conversation and encouraged me to follow up with Make-A-Wish. We met with the Scott family, and found out that there was more than one production company that was interested in making a film. We got to know the family, and they agreed to work with us in making the film. I was amazed that so many people wanted to help, and we wanted to capture that spirit as well as Miles’ triumph.
Can you speak about the short turnaround time in producing the film? What was the urgency?
We met with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and they were really interested in releasing the film on the one-year anniversary of the day, which was November 15, 2014. I’ve never worked on any project that took less than three years to complete, so this was a huge challenge for us. Maybe without thinking too clearly about what we were committing to, we said yes. It was a very busy 12 months, and what we ended up showing the Foundation was a representative draft cut, but it conveys everything we hoped to capture about Miles, his family, and the event itself.
Can you speak about the social media component of promoting the event?
Make-A-Wish Foundation sent out an email to supporters one month before the day with the hope that a few hundred people would show up. The email went viral, and by the evening of November 14, there were 12,00 people signed up to volunteer. Some estimates suggest that as many as 25,000 people showed up to cheer Miles on at different points during the day. After reading about the upcoming event on SFist, Clever Girls Collective reached out to the Foundation and offered their social media services pro bono, and before we knew it, Apple and Twitter were also on board with offers to help. (More information and insight about the impact of responsive social media can be found in the Fast Company article released shortly after the event.)
What attracts to you a subject? Do you consider this a departure from other films - Witch Hunt (2008) and Love Hate Love (2011) - that KTF Films produces?
Honestly, Batkid was a departure from other subjects that KTF Films has produced. The subject is lighter, not nearly as heavy or serious, which offered an emotional break. What attracted me to the subject was a desire to work on something new, something that would possibly appeal to my kids and to others.
Why does Miles’ story resonate with audiences in San Francisco and elsewhere?
It’s an easy narrative to digest—a cute kid in costume who survived cancer and chemotherapy treatment in the first five years of his life. It celebrates his remission, and those stories are important to share. Eighty percent of the children who are helped by Make-A-Wish go on to lead healthy lives, which isn’t well known. The city of San Francisco seems to attract whimsy and bold action, and I think that audiences appreciate the “higher level” of what happened. We wanted to capture that in the film, and I think we succeeded.
Can you speak about your Indiegogo experience? Will you use crowd funding platforms as a means of financial support for future projects?
It was really hard! Raising large-scale sums of money—upwards of $100,000 is what we needed and asked for in the campaign—is much more difficult than tapping friends and family and extended professional network for smaller dollar amounts. Managing the campaign was a job unto itself. Would I do it again? Yes, for both large and small-scale projects.
Have you kept in touch with Miles and his family? Any updates on his progress and overall health?
Miles is in remission, and he’s happy and healthy and in school. He’s not a talkative kid, so the “man of action, not words” appeal of Batman makes sense. His mother said that while he was in treatment, Miles was really interested in and talked a lot about superheroes. That they win and always work hard appealed to him, and when the Make-A-Wish Foundation stepped in to support his dream, he said he wanted to be superhero. The family chose San Francisco over other locations, such as their hometown or an amusement park, to make this happen. They’re a private family, not at all interested in exposure, and living in a small town is a reflection of that. The money donated to the Batkid Fund will support five San Francisco-based charities, and the family fully supports that.
What's next for you and KTF Films?
I’m working on a fiction piece, and our next feature film The Human Experiment, which will debut on Earth Day 2015. At the moment, I’m focusing on representing Batkid Begins at Slamdance.
Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World screens at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Jan. 24 and 27. The festival runs through Jan. 29.