Vol­un­teers re­al­ize the power of a wish

For those in­volved in mak­ing one boy’s dream come true, the end re­sult is pure joy.

Los Angeles Times - - MOVIES - By Su­san King su­san. king@ latimes. com

It was the day for a dream to come true: On Nov. 15, 2013, with more than 20,000 com­ing out to sup­port him and more than 1 bil­lion cheer­ing online, 5- year- old leukemia sur­vivor and Bat­man fan Miles Scott hit the streets of San Fran­cisco as Batkid.

Even Pres­i­dent Obama took no­tice, telling the lit­tle boy in a video: “Way to go, Miles, way to save Gotham.”

The new doc­u­men­tary “Batkid Be­gins,” which opens in lim­ited re­lease Fri­day, chron­i­cles how Miles’ Make- A- Wish event be­came a so­cial media phe­nom­e­non. The film fea­tures in­ter­views with or­ga­niz­ers of the day as well as footage shot by the fam­ily, news crews and the pro­duc­tion com­pany that Make- A- Wish hired to doc­u­ment Miles’ ad­ven­tures. The f ilm pre­miered at Slam­dance in Park City, Utah, in Jan­uary and has made the rounds of fes­ti­vals.

Di­rec­tor and pro­ducer Dana Nach­man said the movie ul­ti­mately is not so much about Miles as it is about the vol­un­teers who made the day. Make- A- Wish Greater Bay Area ful­fills 350 to 390 wishes for young peo­ple di­ag­nosed with a lifethreat­en­ing dis­eases each year. Pa­tri­cia Wil­son, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Make- A- Wish Greater Bay Area, said about 80% of the chil­dren go on to beat their dis­ease and sur­vive.

The chil­dren’s wishes fall into f ive main cat­e­gories: I wish to go ( the big­gest cat­e­gory), I wish to have, I wish to meet, I wish to help and I wish to be (“the most cre­ative and com­pli­cated,” Wil­son said).

Miles’ wish to be Bat­man turned out to be the most com­pli­cated wish that Wil­son, her staff and her vol­un­teers had ever ex­pe­ri­enced.

“All of those vol­un­teers gave up their time to say, ‘ I want to make it bet­ter for this one child,’ and the rip­ple ef­fect is ex­tra­or­di­nary,” Wil­son said. “The film cap­tures that in such a beau­ti­ful way. In short of giv­ing birth to my two chil­dren, this is the most pro­found ex­pe­ri­ence of my life.”

Miles, who has been in re­mis­sion and just f in­ished first grade, lives with his par­ents and younger brother on a farm in Tule­lake, Calif., near the Ore­gon bor­der. His fa­ther, Nick, is a farmer and vol­un­teer fire­man. His mother, Natalie, is a nurse. The sweetly shy Miles fell in love with the 1960s “Bat­man” TV se­ries while re­cov­er­ing from tests and chemo­ther­apy treat­ments for lym­phoblas­tic leukemia that was di­ag­nosed when he was 18 months old.

When the fam­ily learned that Miles qual­i­fied for Make- A- Wish, Miles knew ex­actly what he wanted.

Wil­son worked on the var­i­ous sce­nar­ios for the day and came up with three capers in­volv­ing the Rid­dler and the Pen­guin, help­ing a woman in dis­tress and res­cu­ing the San Fran­cisco Gi­ant’s mas­cot, Lou Seal. San Fran­cisco Po­lice Chief Greg Suhr is­sued the plea for Bat­man’s help, and at the end of the day Miles got the key to the city from Mayor Ed Lee.

Wil­son also got help from in­ven­tor and ac­ro­bat Eric “EJ” John­ston, who has worked with Make- A- Wish for a decade. Be­cause Miles is so shy, Wil­son came up with the idea of hav­ing John­ston play Bat­man with Miles as his mini- me Batkid. John­ston’s wife, Sue Graham John­ston, was cast as the dam­sel in dis­tress whom the dy­namic duo were to res­cue from a ca­ble car track.

“The woman who did the f lash mob is my cousin,” Wil­son said. “The guy who played the Rid­dler is one of our other staff mem­ber’s cousin.”

Mike Ju­tan, a crea­ture an­i­ma­tion engi­neer at In­dus­trial Light & Magic and John­ston’s friend, was in­vited to play the Pen­guin. ( Ju­tan later would be cred­ited for help­ing the so­cial media ex­plo­sion by post­ing about the vol­un­teer op­por­tu­nity on Face­book and Twit­ter.)

“Our goal was al­ways that Miles have an amaz­ing time and that we ful­filled his wish of be­com­ing the real Bat­man,” Ju­tan said. “The goal was never to please the crowds. There was this feel- ing to do a good job be­cause peo­ple are watch­ing and to say some­thing very, very strong about volunteering in your com­mu­nity.”

Iron­i­cally, di­rec­tor Nach­man, who is based near San Jose, missed the Batkid event.

“I was edit­ing that week and I wasn’t on so­cial media for what­ever rea­son,” she said. “I heard about it the next day.”

Af­ter check­ing out the event on the In­ter­net, Nach­man re­al­ized the po­ten­tial for a film. She de­vel­oped the idea of a doc­u­men­tary with a jour­nal­ist friend, Liza Meak, who is a pro­ducer on the f ilm. The two then met with Make- A- Wish.

Nach­man said she and her whole crew are do­nat­ing their pro­ceeds to the BatKid Fund char­ity cre­ated by the Scotts to sup­port other char­i­ties.

“There was no one on this pro­ject who sought the lime­light,” Wil­son said. “I think that ev­ery­one did it out of love for Miles, not for any no­to­ri­ety. That is what makes it so pure.”

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

“BATKID BE­GINS” united Pa­tri­cia Wil­son, left, CEO of Make- A- Wish Greater Bay Area, Mike Ju­tan ( the Pen­guin) and di­rec­tor- pro­ducer Dana Nach­man.

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