Movies / Fan Films

Batmania Revisited, Part 2: Robin Returns


By Philip Schweier
Jun 23, 2005 - 10:20

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With the return of the Batman to the silver screen, one might imagine that Robin is not far behind. Well, boy, wonder no more. The folks at Untamed Cinema have crafted a slick, professional short that stands cowl and shoulders above most internet films, recounting the return of now-grown Dick Grayson to the mantle of Robin.

Forecasting the future of our favorite heroes has long been a pasttime of fans, but such efforts often take us down somewhat predictable paths. In their action-packed trailer GRAYSON, the Dark Knight has fallen. As the former Boy Wonder struggles to come to terms with the death of Batman by picking up where the Dark Knight left off, he is possesed by a single-minded obsession that tears his life apart.

Starring as Dick Grayson is writer/director/producer John Fiorella. With partner Gabriel Sabloff as director of photography, the filmmakers have created an exciting vision of a possible future for the Boy Wonder.

“I think it's fair to say that comic book purists who cherish every detail of the DC Comic universe as undisputable truth will have issues with some of the liberties we have taken in this film,” says Sabloff on the Untamed Cinema website. “But all in all, I think we have created a very respectful depiction of these legendary characters that we all know and love.”

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The filmmakers chose to stray from the Nightwing role Dick Grayson has adopted in the current DC continuity. Since many people outside the comic book community are unfamiliar with Nightwing, Sabloff and Fiorella felt the need to appeal to a wider audience.

But for purists, Sabloff offers a caveat at their website. “I don't see any dire conflict between our story and Dick Grayson as Nightwing. It is conceivable that the two could co-exist. In our story, Dick Grayson has retired from crimefighting altogether, including presumably, his time as Nightwing.”

The project began almost four years ago when the Sabloff and Fiorella began searching for a suitable subject for a demo reel that would showcase their filmmaking abilities. When Fiorella raised the idea of a film based on Robin, Sabloff was skeptical at first, but that soon passed.

The plot called for a grittier portrayal of a more seasoned crime fighter. Doing away with the elf shoes and the campy dialogue, they wanted to show a side of Robin no one has ever seen before.

In the course of the story, Grayson risks his marriage, family, and all that he is fighting to protect. Now married to former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, corruption, betrayal, and old friends conspire against him as he resumes his war on crime.

The film features appearances by Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and a spectacular fight between Robin and the Last Son of Krypton.

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Their website clarifies that it was never their intention to portray the Man of Steel as a villain. Batman and Superman have always been philosophically at odds – boy scout vs. vigilante. Sabloff elaborates how the different approaches to crime fighting spills over into their story. “Clark comes to Gotham City to pay his last respects to Batman and quickly becomes embroiled in the web of intrigue surrounding his death. He sees Dick heading down a dangerous road and warns him that if he continues, he might be ordered to stop him. Which eventually happens.”

Using only a single hand-held camera, the filmmakers shot about three hours of footage over 10 months. Many common elements to shooting on film had to be re-engineered due to limited resources.

For instance, one shot required the camera to zoom in on a table full of pictures of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Normally this would be accomplished by laying dolly track and moving the camera. Instead, they placed the pictures on a small table on casters, built a mock wall, and moved the table toward the camera.

Working nights and weekends, cast and crew scaled fences in a daring display of guerilla film making. Locations generally included the homes of friends, as well as the underground garage of Fiorella’s apartment building. Much of the tiny budget – about $18,000 – went toward film stock, but investments were made in critical elements such as costumes.

Robin’s shirt and cape were handmade by a friend. Fiorella found the boots at a used clothing store on Melrose Avenue for $200. “I'm pretty sure the mask was just something from a halloween store that John just cut into the right shape,” explains Sabloff. “I was leery about it having the little rubber string that held it to his head – but John liked the idea, said it was more "real". Turns out, you can hardly see the string in the film anyway.” Padded leather motorcycle gloves completed the ensemble.

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Another area the producers seriously considered was casting. Fiorella filled the title role admirably, and Sabloff portrayed The Riddler. Playing an older Man of Steel was Paul Hasenyager, who lists The Phantom, Spawn, and Armageddon among his feature film roles. Brian Bethel, as The Joker, was cast after answering a casting call for a commercial directed by John Fiorella.

The film debuted on the web at www.theforce.net on July 20th, 2004 just prior to the San Diego Comics Convention. Intended to be screened at the con, such plans had to be shelved as DC Comics and its parent company, AOL/TimeWarner, prohibited the exhibition of fan-produced films due to copyright issues.

The company has no plans for issuing the film available on DVD or VHS. “We cannot make one penny off this short film, even to recoup the cost of making it,” says Sabloff at www.untamedcinema.com. Due to the cost of manufacturing DVDs, only a limited number were produced. “Unfortunately, our supply of must be reserved for promotional use. We just can't afford to distribute them to everyone.” As for VHS, the filmmaker suggests viewing the film via the internet. “You're better off watching it on the web... better quality. Some have pleaded their case that they only possess a dial-up connection and won't be able to get a good download. The best I can think to recommend is try a local internet cafe or library to download the film.”

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Also available on the web is GRAYSON: PIECES OF THE PUZZLE, a 30-minute presentation featuring previously unseen footage, alternate takes, bloopers, production stills, and commentary by John Fiorella.

Currently, there are no plans for a full-length feature film, though the producers hope otherwise. “We would not have made this trailer unless we believed that this story was worthy of the big screen,” tells Sabloff. “There is so much more to this story then appears on the surface.”

Sabloff says everyone will have to wait and see, as only Warner Brothers has the legal power produce a Grayson feature film. “However, if you really like what we do, please support our future films when they hit the big screen! Bring some friends, see it twice!”

Based in Los Angeles, Untamed Cinema is an independent production and development company writing, producing, directing, shooting, editing, storyboarding or composing for independent films, commercials, and music videos. It was formed in 1993 when the duo, in college at the time, pooled their talents in an effort to create “spectacular films that made you want to stand up and cheer.” To learn more, visit their website at www.untamedcinema.com. •

Praise and adulation? Scorn and ridicule? Email me at philip@comicbookbin.com.


Last Updated: Jun 26, 2018 - 9:28

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