"What would Batman be like if Bruce Wayne didn't have any money?" That's the question filmmaker Andy Schlachtenhaufen explores in his new film Wayne. Shot a year ago at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Madison, and starring his cousin Dave as the title character, the short offers an understated yet striking version of the iconic superhero origin story.
A lifelong filmmaker, Schlachtenhaufen is a graduate of the UW-Madison film program who moved to Los Angeles last summer. He was a prolific participant in the Wis-Kino short filmmaking group, his works regularly shining at its monthly screenings. His debut feature film, a comedy titled Loose Cannons that was set at a bizarro version of the university and co-starring his cousin Dave, premiered at the 2008 Wisconsin Film Festival.
"We shot Wayne in June 2008 just before I left for Los Angeles, wrapping the shoot literally days before I left," explains Andy Schlachtenhaufen. "I had just finished editing Loose Cannons, and really wanted to shoot a little 'poem' movie. This was also around the time that The Dark Knight was getting a fair amount of hype, and I started wondering what it would be like if Bruce Wayne wasn't a billionaire -- what would it take for someone to become a costumed vigilante."
Inspired by the concept, he drafted a few scenes for the short, started storyboarding, and asked his cousin if he would be interested in the starring role. Dave Schlachtenhaufen, in turn, contacted their friend Laura Schartner, and helped her with developing and creating the superhero costume, complete with the iconic ear points and flowing cape. "The costume is a whole story in and of itself," notes Andy, "you really can't see much of it in the movie but it's really fantastic."
Electing to shoot at the Orpheum, where Dave was working at the time, the cousins subsequently recruited the rest of the production team. Aaron Granat served as first assistant director, helping shuttle equipment between the theater and the UW-Madison Communication Arts Department, where Andy was working. Joey Cienian, another vet of Schlachtenhaufen's films, created the appropriately foreboding soundtrack in tune with the Batman mythos. And in addition to her work on the costume, Schartner was also responsible for make-up. Finally, local actor/director and MATC drama instructor Mike Lussenden was cast as the short's other primary character.
Once the production team was assembled, the shoot ran over two weekends at locations both inside and outside the Orpheum. Schlachtenhaufen took advantage of the Gotham-appropriate ambience of the decaying cinema palace, setting scenes both in its familiar public areas and lesser-seen interstitial spaces: the sun-flooded lobby, the steep balcony rows and crumbling box seats of the main auditorium, a smoky projection room, its narrow basement hallway leading away from the restrooms, its shadowy parking garage-enclosed back entrance and loading dock, and a gloomy fire escape. The visuals are the highlight of Wayne; moody, arresting, and using light in a manner that clearly evokes "Batman."
Running four-and-a-half minutes in length, the short film follows.
"It's a different take on one of the world's best known superheroes," declares Dave Schlachtenhaufen. "One thing that is so great about Batman as a superhero is that he has no actual superpowers. He is just a guy who has trained himself to become a real force for the 'bad guys' to reckon with. So there was this room to play with the story from a real world point of view. In real life, what kind of person would train himself into a killing machine, make himself a costume, and take the law into his own hands? That's what Wayne is about. It's a superhero movie, and that's part of the draw."
Wayne is also a potent execution of the Kino-style short film, a rewarding self-contained story that leaves the viewer looking for more. Are there any deleted scenes? "We actually shot a big fight scene too, but I decided against including it in the final movie because it didn't match the tone I had in mind from the beginning," notes Andy Schlachtenhaufen. Fans can only hope to see more should he explore this concept further in a follow-up, though.
The cousin are now living in Koreatown in downtown Los Angeles, where they have joined Andy's brother, Steffen, in pursuing careers in the entertainment industry. Andy works for Flight 33 Productions, where he is currently serving as the VFX Coordinator for Life After People, currently wrapping up its first season on the History Channel. Meanwhile, Dave is pursuing acting while managing a bar in the Los Feliz neighborhood, and is in the process of finding representation. Both remain focused on making their own films, though.
The cousins' longtime collaborators Eric Lim and Rob O'Brien -- director and star of the Wisconsin Film Festival selection kaiju homage movie Zero Trooper-F, respectively, and cast members of the new Madison-born sci-fi horror flick Here's to hoping the wait for more won't last too long.
Here's to hoping the wait for more won't last too long.