Following a group of independent pro wrestlers from Lincolnton, North Carolina over the course of a week leading up to a show, Fake It So Real offers a genuine insight into “the greatest American art form.” Light-hearted and comical in places, the film nonetheless seeks to shed a new perspective on a sport which is all too often mocked and written off as fake. By showing the strain these guys go through not only physically but emotionally, it shows that the world of indie wrestling is in fact very real. Rooftop’s Sheila Maria Lobo spoke to director Robert Greene about his experience of making the film and what he feels the WMF wrestlers can teach us about our own lives.
Rooftop Films: Describe your film for someone who hasn’t seen it.
Robert Greene: Fake It So Real follows a group of independent pro wrestlers in North Carolina over one week leading up to a single show. What emerges over this week is the sense of purpose that wrestling gives these guys and the camaraderie and real family that they create around their passion for performing and competing for a small but very vocal fanbase. The film is really about doing something that matters to you at all costs.
RF: How did you come to know about the Millennium Wrestling Federation, and what inspired you to make a film about it?
RG: One of the main characters is a guy named Chris Baldwin. His stage name is Chris Solar and he’s my cousin. I’ve long been inspired by his pretty remarkable transformation from a kid, who nearly died at birth and was always fragile and afraid, to this risk-taking showman in the wrestling ring. Chris and I didn’t talk that much growing up, but when we did we always talked wrestling. It’s a lifelong love of mine. I take pro wrestling very seriously, consider it an underappreciated, legitimate American art form, etc. etc. Making this movie was an extension of this passion and my interest in Chris’s story.
RF: Talk a little about the structure of the documentary. How did you decide what was the best way to tell this story?
RG: Well, my last film (Kati With An I) was shot over only three days leading up to a big event (a graduation and the end of high school) and I very much fell in love with the idea of limiting the scope of a project so that you can concentrate on different kinds of behavioral observations and insights. The limitations also focused the story and made the film feel less like a traditional documentary. When it came time to make Fake It So Real, it seemed perfectly obvious to follow the same basic structure. The narrative had a built-in climax (the show) and what I was interested in exploring was how the wrestlers prepared for the show and what insights about the business/art would come out of these rituals of preparation. What I could have never expected was how pivotal the week would become for the leader of the group, Outlaw (who suffered a major injury), and the rookie of the group, Gabe (who needed a great match to help settle a lot of the chaos in his life). Meanwhile, the storylines the guys were running for that particular show had their own narrative interest, including a spectacular beard vs. career match.
RF: The perception that pro-wrestling is ‘fake’ likely comes about from comparison to other sports to which the events are subject. And yet pro-wrestling requires just as much physical preparation as other sports, and probably an even greater chance of getting hurt. How then should we look at pro-wrestling: a performance that likens itself to a sport, a sport that lends itself to a performance, or something else entirely?
RG: Pro wrestling is a theatrical presentation of a sporting event, a fight, a feud. The signs and symbols of the “sport” (the ring, the quest for victory, championships, etc.) are there only to frame the narrative of good vs. evil or of a settling of an unfixable break between two would-be friends. The athleticism is real. These guys can be as athletic as any traditional sporting figure. But in my mind, the athleticism is only there to serve the purpose of the play. If you are out of shape (as many of these guys are), yet you can tell a story in the ring, you can become a star (at least in the independent wrestling world). So for me it’s a genre of theater, with its own codes and history, which uses athletic sport to draw its viewers into the stories being told.
RF: How do you want your film to affect the viewer’s perception of professional wrestling? Did making the movie change your perception?
RG: The biggest compliment I’ve received from people who’ve seen the movie is that they “understand” wrestling a little better and could even imagine watching it without sneering! We didn’t set out to “teach” wrestling to our viewers; we wanted to tell a compelling story and to explore the lives of these characters. But I can’t help feel a little excited when people say they finally “get” it. In terms of my own perception, I don’t think anything was changed. I wanted to explore the art form and tell a good story and that’s what we did, I think. I hope the audience feels the same way.
RF: What lessons do you think we can all learn from the guys in the MWF?
RG: I think the lesson is to do something real with yourself. Paint or write. Make a movie. Spin yarn. Just find a dream and pursue it because you can never overestimate the happiness that comes from doing something, especially something creative that you really love and have an aptitude for. That’s what these guys showed me: imagine yourself to be the hero in your own story. Don’t be afraid to look foolish.
RF: You filmed Fake It So Real over a single week. Making an independent documentary under such time constraints can be challenging. Can you tell us about that process?
RG: It was challenging in terms of nailing the story and following the narrative well enough to give us some ability to create something in the editing room. But that’s just a matter of knowing what you’re after and going for it and putting the characters in situations (or observing the situations that they’re in) well enough to make it work. There’s something athletic in the creation of a story from nothing. It very much becomes a game or a puzzle that you create yourself and then have to solve yourself. It’s difficult but exhilarating. And in terms of finances and actually getting the film made, shooting for one week is a very smart decision. If you can pull it off, if you can limit yourself and succeed, I think you get rewarded with the thing actually making it to the screen.
RF: What excites you about screening at Rooftop Films?
RG: I had a short film play at Rooftop in 2003 and another short play in 2006. To bring a feature to the Rooftop audience is an incredible honor and sort of feels like the next chapter of something that started with those tiny films. But most importantly, Rooftop lets the film come alive in a totally unique way. Eight to ten of the guys from the movie are coming all the way to Brooklyn to perform for a huge crowd. That’s totally, mind-bogglingly cool and promises to be the best fucking night of the year. You can only really do this kind of amazing thing at Rooftop Films.
RF: What is your next project?
RG: I was lucky enough to direct three feature films in three years with the production company 4th Row Films, so now I’m concentrating on producing and editing a couple of documentaries with the team, including the final version of our Cinevegas-winning All-In: The Poker Movie and a film about the iconic magazine-movie-comedy empire the National Lampoon. Once these films are done, I’ll jump into another personal project. I have a film I want to make about the life of a former actress who wants to get back in the business and a potential project about the town Bisbee, Arizona. We’ll see.