Dana Nachman is the director of the heartwarming documentary “Batkid Begins.” She talked to me about how one five-year-old cancer survivor’s Make a Wish story captivated the entire world.
At the screening I attended there was audible weeping.
I also hear there is a lot of laughter also and cheering sometimes when people see the film. So I hope that was all there too.
It definitely was, especially when the families is asked if this is what they expected and the parents are stunned and the kid casually says yes.
I love that.
Me, too. So tell me how you got involved.
I had heard about it actually after the fact and I was lucky enough to get a meeting with the Make A Wish Foundation and we actually meet for two and a half hours. We totally hit it off. But my main question I had for them was what they intended to happen.
They said they wanted about 200 people to show up. I thought that that was such an amazing thing that like something could balloon really out of nowhere. They wanted 200 people to come support a child and then 25,000 people showed up and 2 billion people followed it online. So I really wanted to tell that story of how that happened, basically a memento forever for San Francisco and everybody else.
Do you think that this story is very specific to San Francisco?
Certainly I consider San Francisco one of the main characters of the movie because I think there is something about the whimsicality of San Francisco that enables this to happen. But I think it’s a very human story that any community can relate to. I think there is something a little different about San Francisco, but I think it’s a universal story for sure.
San Francisco does seem to be the kind of city where if you need a superhero costume it would be easy to find.
The people I interviewed from the San Francisco Chronicles said Halloween is kind of a city-wide holiday. So if you ask people to dress up in costume, they’re there.
Those thousands of people — were they showing up for Miles or for themselves?
I’m speaking from my own personal perspective. Whether I work at a food bank and whatever else we do and you think you’re going into benefit others but really when you leave there usually you feel better about yourself you know. And so I think that this day was very emblematic of that concept of that volunteerism and community service really does end up helping you as much as if not more than the person you’re trying to help. There are many people that said it was the best day of their lives, like bar none the best day of their lives. I think just the concept of going out there for no other reason than just trying to cheer a little boy on was enough for people to just feel good.
What is the fascination with superheroes?
The concept of a superhero is something that everybody relates to. Most of us wanted to be some kind of superhero when we were little. At some point you lose track of those fantasies that you had as a young person. This enabled adults to come out and experience that childlike wonder and excitement for Miles but then also for themselves.
How is Miles doing?
He’s great. He’s in remission. He just got through with Little League and he’s a great kid. He’s home for the summer. He’s going to have a nice relaxing summer. His family just bought their first house. He’s awesome.
You had some amazing characters in this movie and I wanted to ask you about Eric, who plays Batman and organized the feats. He is really extraordinary.
You know I had a list of people to call to see if they wanted to participate in the film and I actually called him last because I was a little intimidated by him which is funny because he is actually the most amazing person and you never should be intimidated by him. But he does do everything. You know my son was talking to him about trying to, my son wanted to invent a hovercraft or something and he was like you can invent anything you want, anytime you want you just have to say you want to do it. And that’s I think the way that he goes about the world. He’s this magnetic personality that just wants to do good, live life to the fullest. He an amazing person, really. I think you could relate to Nick, Miles’ dad as a father what he went through and Natalie as a mother and what she went through. And then you can relate to Eric, who is like an older brother to Miles now. And I think it’s probably his human connections we can make as the audience that draws us into the story more. And he’s so infatuated with his wife. It’s so cute.
How do you as a filmmaker tell the story in a way that is going to still surprise people and not repeat what they already know?
I definitely thought about that. But I also realized that what people had in terms of information on the day was really like 140 characters on Twitter or a Facebook post or a photo here and there. Or you know something on the news that was probably 90 seconds. As I came to it I realized that not one of the people that participated in the day of knew everything else that was happening at the same time they were so busy making this happen. For instance nobody had ever met the couple that flew from Akron Ohio or LA for the day. Nobody met them, nobody had, we unearthed the Uber driver that saved Lou Seal before he even got kidnapped by the Penguin. The circus center scene which I think is one of the funniest scenes of the film — there were no cameras there except for the family shot home video of it and that was when he trained to become a superhero. I think also the 25,000 people who were there was such a mob scene. Most people only went to one or maybe two of the capers. So nobody really saw the whole thing. So you have to realize and kind of put it together what exactly happened on that day. I realized that there wasn’t anybody except EJ and Miles who had been at everything. So I thought that it actually is good whenever the people in the film watch and say oh I didn’t know that person, I didn’t know that happened. I’m really like pleased about that.
How did the Make a Wish people feel when it got world attention?
Their goal is just to make the wish the best it could possibly be. So all the hoopla that was around that kid that day wasn’t what they were intending. They just wanted to make sure it was a good day for Miles. They kind of figured that 200 people really was the same in terms of Miles’ eyes and his perspective. So they just wanted it to be a great day for Miles. You know I’ve heard a lot of Interviewers ask Patricia at Make A Wish if this has changed what kids want. And she said not really because most of the kids, a vast majority of the wishers are private wishes. They don’t ask for things that are public at all. They do more than 370 wishes a year. So I think when there is one that kind of lends itself to creativity they kind of jump on it because they are just those kind of people who make it cooler. They have these amazing volunteers just like EJ and all the rest of them who go in there just wanting you know literally to be the wish of a lifetime for every kid.
Why did it go viral?
My opinion on it is there was kind of this perfect storm and the main element of it was that it was so authentic. They weren’t trying to make it go viral. I think so many people try to make things go viral and that doesn’t really work. It has to hit a nerve and that’s what really happened with this. They weren’t asking for donations. They weren’t really asking for anything other than come cheer on this little boy either virtually or in person, and just experience the wonder of his wish.