MeekinOnMovies’ Indie Wrestling Odyssey: Part 2


Part II
MeekinOnMovies jobs to WCW, a  tripod, an audio recorder, and a laptop.

One
of the better ways to look like a bumbling fool is to trip over a
replica of the WCW Hardcore Championship in front of Spike Dudley and
The Full Blooded Italians. While the Fall River PAL is an awesome venue,
The gorilla position area backstage is crowded with audio equipment,
lighting rigs, TRP personnel, cables, and to the determent of my
balance, the aforementioned replica of the WCW Hardcore Championship
belt on the floor.

Not
that the floor is a bad place for such a…bizarre item. Despite it’s
treasured lineage – it’s the only championship in pro wrestling history
to be held by Terry Funk, Lance Storm, and Eric Bischoff –  I somehow
doubt there’s a high demand for the illustrious title amongst fans.

So
down I went, instinctively grabbing hold of the red velvet curtain that
was there to separate the Dorothys and Totos of the audience from
machinations of the great and powerful Wizards of Oz backstage. I saw
the curtain collapsing from the unexpected ballast in slow-mo. Falling
forward, it wafted over the audience like a blanket, confusing the
elderly, delighting the kids, stopping the competitors in the ring in
their tracks – in an instant I’d become most infamous figure in the
history of TRP, including zonked-out Scott Hall. Man, WCW really ruins everything.


Thankfully
the catastrophe was my overactive imagination acting up again, and
while the curtain wavered under my weight, it stayed up-right. I turned
back to see if anyone had noticed the narrowly avoided calamity I
caused. Only one person made eye contact. Guest commissioner Spike
Dudley – who shot me a glare the likes of which he probably hadn’t used
since he taught 3rd grade. I half expected to be kept in from recess.

Heck,
I only came down from my happy little perch in the Balcony to grab a
tape. Naturally the first tape started running low right in the middle
of Sarge’s big match, which is a problem – Cause the guys seemed afraid
to hit him. Which is fine in theory. Sarge is 64 years old after all.
But I needed the wide angle to make the match work (weak offense + wide
angle = okay match) – as it stood I would be losing that angle for at
least 45 seconds as I switched out tapes.

The
match itself is a tag bout between Sarge, indie wrestler Jeff Star (who
looks to be the real deal, btw), and TRP’s World Champion Biff Busick and his manager / partner “The Ladies Man” Gregory Edwards.

Biff
and Edwards are my personal favorites (though I like pretty much
everyone). Biff because he looks like the unholy love child of what
would happen if Kane and Daniel Bryan ever had a baby – and he does a
nasty top rope neck breaker I’ve taken to calling the Biff Blockbuster.
Edwards is great because he’s a dick who loves to piss off the crowd –
and you can tell he loves every second of it, too. He’ll call out folks
in the audience, rile them up, and generally be a grade-A tool bag in
the way the best heels in the biz typically are. They occasionally do
the whole Mr. Fuji powder thing, and it’s nice to see someone is keeping
the classics alive. Plus they don’t really seem to like hitting Sargent
Slaughter, so you know they’re probably nice guys, to boot.

It’s
kind of a testament to the talent of Sarge, Jeff, Biff, and Edwards
that they can all have a match that really excites the crowd despite
Sarge’s supposed limitations. The crowd was hot, the action was
exciting, and once you add the commentary in, it’d make for some really
exciting television.

Oh
yeah…. The commentary. There won’t be much of that. The way TRP
records commentary is into a Tascam / Zoom that’s typically used for
dual system audio on movie sets. You plug a Mic into it, and then the
commentators share the mic. I’ve used one….twice in my life. Once
during an interview with Vidal Sassoon and once during this video of me complaining about the CGI-ization of the beloved Thomas The Tank Engine.
The audio was met with mixed results. So when the commentator for TRP
found me during the first match of the night – which was a strong style
bout between the members of The Whaling City Wrecking Crew – I was a
little bummed.

I shimmied past the people in the balcony, down the narrow steps, across the Gorilla position curtain, and was greeted with the Tascam Zoom.
This was my Slumdog Millionaire moment. I could prove myself a capable
production person to this commentator, save the show, and be welcome
with open arms into the world of independent pro-wrestling after
literally hours of trying.

And
I sorta fucked it up. A note to aspiring filmmakers. Always. Check.
Levels. Always. Always. Always. Always. Always. It was dark and I missed
the mic input button, so the first…half of the show is likely without
commentary – a fact I didn’t figure out until the intermission *after*
Sarge’s big match.

Now
would probably be a good time to pause and explain that I actually
enjoy doing this sort of thing very much, and am not an incompetent
buffoon despite what my writing may suggest. Unfortunately, with
wrestling shows being as chaotic as they are – especially indie
pro-wrestling shows, the production people are largely an afterthought
and have to fly by the seat of their pants. There are simply more
important things to do.

It’s
also worth noting I am doing this for free.  While I was told I would
see some of the proceeds from the DVD sales, any money coming my way
would rightfully be split three ways. So if you sell 20 DVDs at 10
dollars a piece, split that 50/50 with TRP, the remaining 100 dollars
then needs to be split 3 ways, giving everyone a cool 33 dollars for
their time and effort. Safe to say, I’m not in it for the money.

Anyway,
the commentary…hiccup meant for the second show in a row I’d be
turning in a less-than-optimal product. It eventually was rectified in
time for the second half the show – including a super hot 6-man tag team
bout between the FBI and some guy under a hood, and the tag champs; the
Alden Brothers and their partner “The Devil’s Reject” who wears a
gas-mask out to the ring and sort of looks like what would happen if
Bane got heavy into ICP as a teen. The kids love him.

At
the first show I was at, there was a 12 year old kid sitting next to me
who was hamming it up the entire show. He’d call out “woos!” during
chops, kept (repeatedly) shouting that if “The Ladies Man” likes Biff
Busick so much they should kiss, and so on. He really brought an energy
to the show and it was cool to see someone mark out in such an
innocent(?) way. After every match though, he kept asking me if “The
Devil’s Reject” would be coming back out to sign autographs and sell
more merch. I told the kid I didn’t know. For some reason I felt
compelled to help the kid out, and went looking for the guy backstage,
but since he wore face paint it was kind of futile quest.  

Wrestling
actually needs more of that little kid then you would think. In a
figurative sense. While most fans are cynical and largely sick of the
kind of muddled and inconsequential bullshit we’re feed weekly by the
WWE and the like, there was a time in practically all our lives when
we’d mark out for anything. And a boisterous wide-eyed kid yelling at
wrestlers he hates has the kind of kinetic energy you can’t buy, or
edit, or post-produce into existence.

Which
brings me to the sweet spot. The sweet spot can occur in a variety of
media. For example during “The Avengers” when Captain America points to
The Incredible Hulk, says “Hulk…” then pauses, the audience my theater
collectively uttered “Smash” in unison, so caught up in the awesome
action we were of a sharing a single brain. These things happen during
concerts, sporting events, and of course in professional wrestling.

In
a pro-wrestling context, the sweet spot will pop the crowd and keep
them engaged throughout a sequence. My personal favorite example of this
is the last…10 minutes of the Wrestlemania 15 main event. With the
Stunner kick out, Vince hammering Austin, Foley running out, and Austin
winning the title back from Rock. The crowd was at a fever pitch for the
entirety of that sequence of events, caught between the knowledge the
match would soon be ending – and not wanting it too. Kind of like
quality love-making.

While I don’t know if  Vinny Marseglia
(Vinny from now on) is a quality love-maker, I do know he’s excellent
at finding the pro-wrestling sweet spot. I don’t know if this is because
he’s the most over, or because he brings the most friends to shows, but
It seems everyone knows the guy, and when he comes out to the ring he
gets the kind of pop that is typically reserved for Jeff Hardy is taking
his shirt off. He’s also kind of a lunatic; doing an insane springboard
somersault plancha to the outside during the previous show, as well as
taking a pretty innovative backdrop onto the ring apron too – both
sending the crowd into a fancy.

After
getting the tape situation…situated and fixing the commentary during
intermission, I actually got a chance to be a fan for a good majority of
the second half the show, and got a chance to chat with the wrestler
who trained Vinny (who also happened to be the guy who picked up the
first DVD), Ryan. He was shooting with a little flip cam from roughly
the same angle I was.

Then
it happened. Something I’d never seen before in a match. Vinny, on the
top rope, was pulled off by his leg, and his opponent turned it into a
back breaker. While the crowd’s pop on tape isn’t nearly as loud as it
sounded in the arena (though my high-pithced “OHHHH” made it through
loud and clear), it was one of the most innovative things I’d ever seen
in a match, and the look on Ryan’s face was a combination of proud
mentor and marking out fanboy geek. Vinny, was for real.

This
moment of exuberance was tempered a tad once I realized I should
probably be keeping tabs on my camera men, and didn’t see George – the
long haired, Metallica loving, wrestling fan who’d never operated a
camera before. Eddie was…directly opposite my camera angle, so I hoped
he nailed the shot, I wouldn’t know until days later.

Eventually
the show ended after another stellar contest involving Vinny and a
member of the Whaling City Wrecking Crew in the finals of the
tournament, where a suicide dive by the 350 pound strong-style grappler
popped the crowd into a “Holy Shit” chant that I intend to use in the
promo video for the DVD that I intend to set to “I Can Tell We’re Gonna
Be Friends” by the White Stripes. Vinny gave an emotional promo,
thanking Ryan, the fans, his family TRP in general…and then the
announcer came on and said Vinny would be doing photos in the ring for
10 dollars to commemorate this historic occasion.

Gotta love indie wrestling.
 
We
broke down the cameras, collected the footage, and prepared ourselves
for the two hours it would take to transfer Eddie’s awesome footage to
Top Rope’s hard drive. It was an awesome show, and one I looked forward
to watching again (and again, and again, and again thanks to the wonders
of non-linear editing).

“Did you bring a laptop?” Eddie asked me. It was my turn to answer in the negatory.
“No….” I responded.
“Well,
you can always come to set tomorrow and get the footage there” Eddie
said, referring to a commitment to a small independent film I committed
to helping out on earlier in the day.
“Where’s the set?” I asked.
“Oh, just Pawtucket Rhode Island”

Welp, they never said the business would be easy.

In Part III: post-mortem cigars, slatuting Sarge, a rainy day in a winnebago, absent minded promoters,

MeekinOnMovies’ Indie Wrestling Odyssey: Part 1

Part I
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.