11/8/1998 5:26:36 PM
PAUL JAY ANSWERS BAGPIPE
Sometimes a documentary filmmaker just gets bloody lucky, and sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.
Thanks for the review of our film, HITMAN HART, wrestling with shadows. I am the director of the film and would like to answer some of the questions you raise about whether Montreal was a "work" and thus, the film a "work" too.
I guess in a word, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I know that trying to find the line between reality and fantasy, between the truth of a behind the scenes story and the slight of hand of a promoter, is all part of the fun of following wrestling. In this case, I have no doubt we are dealing with a real story.
I am not a wrestling insider. I am executive-producer of counterSpin, the main nightly news debate show on CBC Newsworld in Canada. I have made many prize winning documentary films and am the founder of HOT DOCS!, Canada's national documentary film festival. I guess I could be conned, but everything I know about the business, tells me the story we captured in Montreal was the genuine article.
Your main question is how did we get such amazing behind the scenes footage after the fight in Montreal? The only answer is that we got lucky. We had been following Bret's matches for some time, but not in the weeks immediately preceding the Montreal match. We picked up again in Toronto just days before Montreal. I think Vince may have lost track of us, and didn't expect us to show up at Survivor Series.
Once there, they had no right to ask us to leave. We had a contractual right to be there. This contract included access to shows, wrestlers and stock footage.
On the day of the match, if any attempt had been made to stop us from filming, it clearly would have tipped Bret as to what was planned for him. Vince could not pretend to agree to a DQ, and then throw out our film crew without arousing Bret's suspicions.
Bret had often been "wired" for sound with a radio mike as we filmed, and that day in Montreal was no different. The mike is hidden underneath his clothing, so while it was no secret we were filming, during the meeting with Vince there was no camera present. In Canada, the law allows a conversation to be taped if one of the parties is aware of the process. Clearly, Bret was aware of what we were doing. Later, a full legal opinion was obtained from the law department of our co-producer, The National Film Board of Canada and their opinion was that for various reasons, both the taping and the use of the tape was legal.
I have no doubt the conversation we recorded between Bret and Vince was genuine, and that Bret had every reason to believe the match would end in a DQ. I simply spent far too much time with Bret and his family and friends, both before and after Montreal, to be fooled by this. This was a "shoot", it was not a "work".
After the match, there was a lot of confusion. I believe that most of the WWF officials were afraid that Bret would go ballistic, and stayed out of his way. There were a lot of security guards surrounding Bret, but they seem to have been told not to provoke him. There was one key moment, when we could not get through the crowd of people as Bret walked towards the dressing room. There were three or four WWF stills cameramen in our way. I yelled out to Bret that the WWF stills guys were blocking us (I can't say if it was done purposely or not). Bret stopped and yelled at the stills guys, telling them to get the hell out. Everyone was afraid that Bret was going to go nuts, so they scattered which allowed us to jump in front and film him entering the dressing room.
As Bret entered the dressing room, his gym bag had been put outside the door. This is likely the one remaining mystery of this tale - who put the bag outside the door? Perhaps, someone hoped he wouldn't enter the room, and would take the bag and leave the building. Don't really understand the logic of it myself. Bret picked up the bag and entered the dressing room, and we followed behind him. The room was full of wrestlers, the tension in the air was intense. Everyone was confused and angry. We quickly told the guys that we would not turn the camera on them, that we would only focus on Bret. There were several wrestlers there that were very uncomfortable with being seen out of character and we respected this.
Shawn was in the corner, sitting next to Hunter. I made a quick judgment call, telling Shawn we would not film him either. I didn't want him to use the presence of the camera to be an excuse to leave the room.
After Shawn declared his innocence in the plot, the other wrestlers clearly wanted to be able to talk, but wouldn't with the camera present. Then Vince showed up. That's when Bret asked us to leave.
The rest is history. Why didn't someone try to kick us out? I think it's as simple as no one in authority realized what we were doing until it was too late. We are also good at what we do, and sometimes it's not so obvious we are filming, even when we are.
After the match, the WWF cut off all cooperation with us. They demanded we turn over copies of our post match footage to them. We refused, as we had no such right in our agreement with Bret.
They refused to turn over stock footage and privacy releases to us, even though contractually they were bound to do so. For several months, there was quite a chill in our relations, although conversations were civil enough.
As time passed by, I think the WWF was less concerned about what the film would show. Vince was already playing a corporate bad guy, so there wasn't much of an issue about what would happen to his image. I think they realized, that although the film is presented from Bret's point of view, we were not out to "get" Vince, and tried to tell a fair story.
The biggest concern of the WWF, wasn't the exposure of the double cross at all. Vince had admitted publicly on TSN that he had lied to Bret, so there wasn't much to expose anyway. What they were concerned with was that the WCW would use the film to push Bret's career. The WWF didn't want the film to be used to make the WCW money. Given the level of competition between the two federations, I guess it's understandable.
We came within four hours of launching a law suit against the WWF to force them to give over the stock footage and releases. Our lawyers said we had an iron clad case, and we stood to make a large amount of money in damages. The down side, was that it could take more than two years to see any money and the film would be buried for all of that time. At the last minute, the WWF agreed to cooperate, but only if we signed an agreement that we would not sell the film to Turner Broadcasting or the WCW. This included even advertising our video release on Nitro. We thought this an unfair condition, but to avoid the delay of a law suit, we signed the agreement.
After this agreement, the WWF cooperated with stock footage and releases. They have now seen the film, and tell us they are surprised at how fair it is. We are told the WCW also likes the film, and we are pleased with all of this.
I'm told that the main source of the rumour that everything was a work, including the film, is in fact the WWF itself. They have been making fun of the Montreal events in their story lines ever since it took place. They would like people to not take it all very seriously.
All I can do is assure you, Montreal was not a work. Sometimes a documentary filmmaker just gets bloody lucky, and sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.
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