Josh Olson

The Oscar-nominated screenwriter talks about writing a part of this upcoming animated DVD

Josh Olson has been on the Hollywood radar ever since picking up an Oscar nomination for his screenplay, A History of Violence. He wrote one of the six chapters for the anticipated animated project, Batman: Gotham Knight, which arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray July 8. The writer recently talked about this new Batman project, and here's what he had to say.

You have arguably the most visually diverse chapter in the film. How did you communicate the direction in your script for your variety of Batman looks, and how detailed did you go?

Josh Olson: My feeling was that I'd never worked in animation before, so if I was going to write a cartoon, I wanted it to BE a cartoon. I tried to come up with something that would be as visually entertaining as possible. Having worked on film crews in the art departments and around the digital effects guys, I know the best people for creating those visuals are the people that actually do it. So I was specific in relation to the story - I described a creature that grows out of shadows, a creature that is more bat than man, things like that. But I didn't get into too much detail because I wanted the directors and designers to knock themselves out. The animators got the chance to go nuts - and with them, and for this, nothing is too wild.

Are they any particular moments in your segment that exceeded your vision?

Josh Olson: Honestly, I love them all, but there are some little flourishes that the director incorporated that really make me happy. In the robot batman segment, I love the way Batman hops off the building, and the way he sort of skids when he's turning around. There's a wonderful sense of whimsy in that direction that I really love.

Most folks leverage an Academy Award nomination into seven-figure deals, but you opted to draft one-sixth of an animated direct-to-DVD? What were you thinking?

Josh Olson: I'm a comics kid going way back, and we're talking about my favorite character. I got offered a lot of jobs after Violence, but I'm picky. I have to really love the subject to write it. You're supposed to take your big money-making job right after you get a nomination, but I took this Batman project because it was an absolute no-brainer. You don't buy a house off this, but I was absolutely thrilled to do it. I got the chance to write the cartoon I would have wanted to see as a kid, and would still be entertained by today as an adult. I always wanted to write Batman - and when Chris Nolan is done with them, I'm ready.

Did you take a different approach to writing for animation than you normally take to live-action?

Josh Olson: This is so much more about the visual, and you have to be keyed into that. You have to justify the medium you're working in - in other words, it's animated for a reason. It's not an arbitrary choice. So I had to do something that justified that medium, and this one definitely does.

Is there anything in your segment that we might not see if we weren't looking for it?

Josh Olson: There are all sorts of little in-jokes. When the girl is describing the fight sequence, and she's saying 'biff!!!" and 'pow!!' -- that's my little tribute to the on-screen sound effects from the old Batman television show. But one of the words they had on screen back then was 'flrbbbb!' - that drove me nuts as a kid. That's not a sound effect! So I had to throw that in.

As a nod to Chris Nolan and "Memento" I thought it would be fun to approach this by telling the story backwards. So you'll notice that each time the villain appears, he seems to be gaining weapons instead of losing them. That was an intentional nod to Chris Nolan's film, and I love playing with that type of structure.

Where did the inspiration for your segment initiate, and how did that play into your approach?

Josh Olson: The idea that was pitched reminded me of a great old 1970s Batman comic - Dick Giordano drew it, but it could have been Jim Aparo - that was a short story about three kids, each of whom saying what they thought Batman looked like. I remembered there was also an animated version that had three kids describing him in different iterations. Now you get a third story, so it becomes a legitimate genre. I always loved that story - kids sitting around a campfire talking about Batman, and he shows up. I thought it would be fun to make it more active.

How did you decide on the street slang the kids used in describing their brushes with Batman?

Josh Olson: That was tough because I didn't want it to be completely locked into contemporary slang. I used some writer's tricks to cover up the fact that I'm way too old to know how kids are talking today. I wanted it to be timeless and a little futuristic, so I used classic street kid slang tossed in with contemporary slang. I thought that was it would become clear that this was not set yesterday - it would be more likely take place tomorrow or the day after, at the latest.

Was there anything you definitely wanted to include that you're particularly proud made it into the final film?

Josh Olson: Just because it's a cartoon, and because of the nature of the story, I wanted to do the one thing you'd never see in a Batman segment: a decapitation. I was so happy they let me keep it. I thought, "I've gotta get it in there." The director did such a beautiful job. Batman never kills anyone. I wanted to have him do something really grotesquely inappropriate, and yet get the point across that Batman never kills. That was fun ... very dark fun.

So, ultimately, how did you feel about your segment and the overall film?

Josh Olson: It's fun - really visually pleasing. It was the best version I could possibly hope to see. I've never seen a movie that so honored the script - it's up there word-for-word, perfectly translated, and it's really exciting to see that it worked. I'm a huge fan of this film - the visions of Batman are amazing, and the visuals are incredible. I especially enjoyed Alan Burnett's segment - there's a visual of Deadshot on the Ferris wheel with these balloons and fireworks - it is really amazing. This project was an absolute blast.

Batman: Gotham Knight hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-Ray on July 8.