A wrestling fan, a cameraman, and a crazy person walk into an armory...
“Are you a wrestling fan?” I asked. I knew the answer, but hoped someone else on the production side of things would be able to geek out with me. And boy oh boy did I want to geek out. I was behind the curtain, man. The Gorilla position. If you pardon the pretension it was wrestling purgatory. Behind it were men dressed in funny costumes, beyond it they became larger than life superheroes; entertaining the kids, parents, and relatives that crowded the intimate Fall River PAL to watch a pro wrestling show. And literally, I was in the middle of it all.
(Note: I’m writing about this show without much in the way of permission from the kind folks at Top Rope Promotions, I don’t think they mind, but if this post goes away, just assume Spike Dudley kicked my ass and pulled the blog).
(Note two: What follows is a relatively detailed and possibly sort of boring account of what it’s like to produce, shoot, and edit an independent professional wrestling show. I’ve changed the names of my cohorts in case they don’t want to be talked about, but have left wrestler names the same because who doesn’t like free press, right? In a perfect world I’d love to write these every couple of weeks after shooting or editing a show, but if this is lame to you guys lemme know!)
“Not really,” came the response from Eddie. This could be a problem. Eddie, you see, had the good camera. The kind folks at Top Rope Promotions in Fall River, Massachusetts, had two cameras at their disposal, and Eddie kindly brought the third. A fancy, HD, three-chip, prosumer model that made good matches great and bad matches good. It also had the best mic - which was sort of a pain in the ass when it picked up wrestlers calling spots, but it was a small price to pay for the glorious footage he could obtain just by pointing it in the general direction of a wrestler.
The problem was that the general direction of the wrestlers tended to be close-ups that are kind of hard to get on the fly. One second there’d be an awesome facial expression of a guy locked in a Boston Crab, the next you’d get a viewfinder full of referee crotch.
One of the things that goes unnoticed during your typical wrestling show is that 90 percent of the time the camera will cut on action. Be it a chop, drop kick, neck breaker, or DDT, if you watch enough wrestling there’s almost a poetry to it - a rhythm. And that rhythm exists to prevent audiences from noticing how often wrestlers screw up. If a guy throws a weak kick and you cut to a wide angle - its much harder to tell. If a guy throws a shoulder block and you cut to the close up of the victim hitting the mat, the attacker looks like a monster. And the more of those shots I had, the better the DVD would be.
I explained to Eddie to keep the camera angles wide, and only go in for close ups during obvious rest holds (I then explained what a rest hold actually was). Eddie, a consumate pro, smiled and nodded and part of me kind of wondered what *exactly* he was doing shooting a pro-wrestling show considering how good he was.
My other camera man, George. George had long hair and, Metallica, and I think kind of didn’t want to be there. He was a wrestling fan but wasn’t a particularly adept technician - and this was his first show. With ten minutes to show time, I ran down everything I needed from him as my secondary camera. He could *never* be opposite of Eddie, or else everything would look terrible and jarring (For geeks this is called the 180 degree rule). I attempted to explain by likening it to a strap match. Pretend you guys are tethered. You can’t be opposite each other, keep it at a 90 degree angles. These are all important things that make a wrestling show look great on DVD.
With five minutes to go, the crowd had filed in. I had wanted to get footage of wrestlers working the gimmick table for a sort of “Fan Interaction” portion of the DVD, but gave up the ghost on that after realizing I’d have to explain what a gimmick table was, and wasn’t sure if special guest Sergeant Slaughter would be annoyed by being filmed without permission.
Plus I still had to set up the hardcam in the balcony. I’d opted to run the Hardcam because A) I’m a fat-ass and didn’t want to get in the way of the show, B) I’d never been inside a pro-wrestling ring before and didn’t want my first time to be in front of hundred(s?) of people, and C) The hard cam had the best seat in the house.
I am a fan, after all.
Top Rope Promotions itself was a really interesting promotion. I’ve never been one to follow Indie wrestling particularly closely, but after spending some time with TRP, I can see why people love it. This particular crowd isn’t filled with rabid fans out for blood. Instead it’s kids, mostly teens, moms, dads, the elderly, and some special needs kids (who are actually the biggest fans of them all). It’s actually sort of a family atmosphere. It’s blue collar thing. Most of the wrestlers are from Fall River, Rhode Island, and other parts of southern New England.
Through sheer force of will and schedule availability I was also sort of in charge of this whole shebang too; Where the cameramen went, making sure the commentators could use their commentary recorder properly, hopefully getting a one-on-one interview with Sergeant Slaughter (who was the big name brought in for that show) and then editing the whole thing into a hopefully saleable DVD.
Tonight’s card was the 7th annual Killer Kowalski cup. A King of The Ring style tournament named after the Malden, Massachusetts native who trained Chyna, Triple H, Kofi Kingston and Damien Sandow (if Wikipedia is to be believed) among other notables. It was a big night for the promotion - but a bigger one for me. I wanted this to go smoothly. The last show, had not.
It was mostly my fault. I had waited to long to capture the footage, and misjudged how long it would take to render (geek speak for encode) Eddie’s footage. As a result the DVD was delayed several times over and it was all on me. The DVD itself came out...Okay. I didn’t have much in the name of resources, and had to cobble together wrestler names and spellings from Facebook. There also seemed to be a few color correction issues, as well - namely everyone looked yellow.
Eventually I handed the DVD off to another wrestler and it was actually pretty cool to see fans clamouring to buy a DVD I edited and produced. I think the deal was that we’d split the proceeds 50/50 with the promotion, but as I later found out, only 4 DVDs sold, and I figured TRP could keep the 8 bucks they owed me.
Up on the balcony I set up the camera, cutting it dangerously close to showtime. The crowd was pumped, and rowdy - awesome. A “Feed me More!” chant broke out amongst everyone in the audience, which quickly turned into a “Goldberg” chant, then turned into a dueling chant. If the crowd was this hot during the show - and I had every reason to think they would be, the show could be something special.
Getting the show on video - well, that was a different story.
To be continued....
In Part Two (Lets shoot for...Tuesday?): A camera without power, an audio recorder without a mic, a man and his country, and I make an idiot of myself in front of Spike Dudley and Sarge on completely separate occasions.