Among the amazing things Jennifer Chang does for Cat!Nation are the zingy captions in our weekly blogs. The multi-talented Jennifer just completed another of her fan films that get hits galore on YouTube — just after finishing her first feature film, Dead Inside, which she wrote and produced. We thought it was time for Jenn to write a bit more than just captions:

Like the pocket on a utility belt containing batarangs, the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet is what I reach for when I find myself (or my stories) in dire straits. And if you can forgive this bit of cheesiness and read on, I promise you the metaphor is relevant!

In late 2011, I wrapped production on my first feature: a horror film entitled Dead Inside that is set to hit the festival circuit in 2012, and that – I’m happy to report – has Save the Cat! paw prints all over it. It was beat out and put to the test by fellow writers in a beat sheet workshop with Jose Silero, and the movie’s 40+ scenes were boarded using the Save the Cat! software just months before the script was completed and investment secured for the production of the film.

But making a movie can be as rewarding as it can be soul-sucking, and as much as writing and producing a feature film was a dream of mine, the realization of that goal left me nostalgic for a purer, more innocent form of filmmaking.

This makes more sense if I explain that my previous claim to fame on the internet was with fan films. Long story short – in 2010, I produced a viral web series called Street Fighter High based on the popular Street Fighter video game franchise. And while that endeavor unexpectedly brought about media attention and put me in contact with entertainment professionals who would make my first feature film possible, what I loved most about the experience was working with a team that was united through fandom (after all, no one stood to make any money from the project). Nary was there a complaint on the set; we were all there for the love of Street Fighter, happy to be making new friends with common interests, excited to be gallivanting about in ridiculous costumes, and proud to be crafting a homage – no matter how the final product turned out.

So fast forward to 2011, at the wrap of principal photography on Dead Inside, when I was feeling accomplished, but hopelessly weary… the logical leap was to indulge in a little bit of geek therapy. I teamed up with director Matthew Hiscox and cinematographer Andrew Ceperley to make a Batman fan film.

The Dynamic Duo in "Batman: Death Wish"
The Dynamic Duo in “Batman: Death Wish”

Our time was limited, and our budget was less than modest, but I had a script I was proud of, and Matt – being a skilled costume and prop builder – had enough screen-accurate Batman suits and weapons to make Joel Schumacher blush. More important than either of those things, however, was that we had friends who also loved Batman and who – based on their fandom alone – were willing to donate their time to the project. The passion we shared for a franchise that colored our childhoods fueled us through weeks of sleepless work nights during pre-production.

Oh, the stories. Oh, the laughter. Oh, the bat-bloopers. There was the night our Catwoman (Birdemic’s Whitney Moore) jumped off of a barrel and ripped the entire bottom out of her latex catsuit. There was the comical nightly sight of Batman and Robin facing the camera and clapping to sync sound before each take. There was the occasional slip of the foot during action sequences that would leave our volunteer henchmen on the floor clutching their… loot sacks. And of course, there was sweat, exhaustion, and moments of panic – just like on any other professional set you’d find.

I’m ecstatic to report that Batman: Death Wish is doing gangbusters on the web. We released it less than a week ago, and are nearing the 25,000 mark in our view count with no signs of slowing. And once again, we’re finding that blogs, websites, and other media outlets are taking an interest and requesting interviews. We’ve even been invited to showcase the short in a few upcoming film festivals. I couldn’t be prouder of our team, and the humble little homage we made to the greatest detective in the world.

So riddle me this, fellow writers: if you find it difficult sustaining passion for the scripts you’re writing, or are tired of having your work go unproduced, what’s the real harm in trying your hand at a fan film? The passion and the audience are built-in, the stakes are low… and you might just walk away with a few fans of your own.

Pow! Blam!
Pow! Blam!

BONUS: Here’s my beat sheet for Batman: Death Wish. But promise to watch the short before you read it?

If you don’t, the Joker wins. And nobody wants that.

Beat Sheet for Batman: Death Wish

1. Opening Image: Batman and Robin arrive at an upscale apartment that’s littered with the bodies of the Riddler’s henchmen. It’s the scene of a robbery gone wrong, but the valuables in the apartment have been left untouched.

2. Theme Stated: Robin notes to Batman, “So this hit on the Riddler’s men wasn’t about the payload.” The game is afoot: the dynamic duo must determine the objective and the identity of the attacker before this happens again.

3. Set-Up: Upon further investigation, Batman pieces together the fight in his head and deduces that the attacker was shot in the scuffle. Looking deeper, he finds the Riddler himself convulsing in a closet, incapacitated by a deadly drug.

4. Catalyst: Back at the Batcave, Batman uses the Batcomputer to analyze the substance in the syringe. It’s a deadly neurotoxin found only on the Far Eastern black market. He contacts the Oracle – the research and intelligence arm of the Bat-team – to reach out to Batgirl, currently on assignment in Hong Kong, to look into any recent smuggling activities for the drug.

5. Debate: BATMAN DOESN’T DEBATE. HE JUST KICKS YOU IN THE FACE. But seriously, since we take for granted that solving crimes is what Batman does, there wasn’t much focus on the debate in this film.

This Cat doesn't need saving.
This Cat doesn’t need saving.

6. Break into Two: It happens again. Batman and Robin receive a tip from Catwoman and rendezvous with her in a darkened alley, where they find the Scarecrow’s henchmen in heaps on the asphalt. The Scarecrow is among them, writhing from the effects of the same neurotoxin that felled the Riddler.

7. B Story: Throughout the story, changes in the dynamic between Batman and Robin are showcased. Though Robin has been Batman’s student, he slips in occasional sarcastic comments that signal his readiness to step into a “partner” role.

8. Fun and Games: Batman’s prowess as a detective is showcased again as he walks among the bodies at the crime scene while Catwoman and Robin bicker behind him. As he examines the final positions of each henchman, he reconstructs the fight that took place here in his head. He can tell that the attacker has been shot in this encounter as well.

9. Midpoint: Batman recalls the experience of training Batgirl, and how reckless and unconcerned with personal safety she was during their first missions together. He realizes in horror who the attacker must be.

10. Bad Guys Close In: Batman puts in a call to Oracle, who confirms that Batgirl has been out of contact. The call is followed soon after by a call from Nightwing, who confirms that Batgirl is back in Gotham City.

When it comes to sanity for Harley Quinn, all is truly lost.
When it comes to sanity for Harley Quinn, all is truly lost.

11. All Is Lost: Batman and Robin meet up with Nightwing at an abandoned theater to find Harley Quinn handcuffed to a railing. However, all of the Joker’s other henchmen are scattered around her, dead. Nightwing tells Batman that he’s discovered through Harley that Batgirl is injured. Wherever she is, she doesn’t have much time left.

12. Dark Night of the Soul: On a rooftop, Batman shares with Robin his conclusion that Poison Ivy is behind the hits being ordered on male criminals in Gotham. Harley Quinn being spared is a dead giveaway. He also shares a disturbing detail: though Batgirl is clearly being controlled by Poison Ivy and doing her bidding, she’s fighting the mind control by getting shot on purpose, in an attempt to de-activate herself as a weapon. Batman blames himself for never breaking Batgirl of her death wish.

13. Break into Three: Batman and Robin track down Poison Ivy in a chemical processing plant and come face to face with a beaten and bloodied Batgirl. After a fierce bout of combat, Poison Ivy emerges.

14. Finale: By threatening to force Batgirl to self destruct, Poison Ivy gets Batman to reveal to her how he was able to unravel her plan. In a final spiteful move, Ivy fires a crossbow at Batman. Batgirl uses her remaining strength to try to shield her mentor from the arrow. Anticipating this, Batman brings his arm up to catch the arrow in his forearm. Unfortunately, it’s been poisoned with the deadly neurotoxin.

15. Final Image: Batman and Batgirl collapse to the floor together as Poison Ivy makes her escape. Nightwing arrives seconds later with the antidote as Batman urges Batgirl to stay. But it’s uncertain if either of them will pull out of this ordeal alive.

You can look, but you better not touch. Poison Ivy!
You can look, but you better not touch. Poison Ivy!

Tune in next time. Different bat-time, same bat (youtube) channel!

And holy self-promotion, Batman! Here’s a link to an interview that Nerd Reactor did with yours truly, and the director of the film:

And here’s a featurette the good folk at the Jace Hall Show did that showcases Batman: Death Wish, and explores the subject of fan films in general: