Danny Mac (writer/director/producer) answers your Qs. The most F A of your Qs, to be precise.
Why a wrestling film?
In a lot of ways, HEEL KICK! isn’t about wrestling. It’s a film about what you’ll need to leave behind in the process of chasing your dreams, and if it’s even worth it in the end. It’s easy to picture yourself as the World Champion, but you don’t consider that you probably won’t be able to spend time with loved ones, or enjoy your current regimen along the way. Of course, it is a film about two guys that try to become pro-wrestlers, so there’s a ton of wrestling in the movie. It’s easily accessible to a non-wrestling fan, with some deeply-woven winks for any die-hards. But really, the film could have been about two procrastinators that say they’re gonna be world-class divers one day. I actually explored that option for these characters early in the writing process, but found that all the chair-shots felt unmotivated.
What was your inspiration for the script?
I liked wrestling for a few years when I was growing up. But as I grew out of watching it, the backstage world still fascinated me. I absorbed every autobiography and documentary I could find, and continued learning about the inner-workings of the industry, even as I completely cut out the actual product.
My cousin, however, never grew out of it. Two years older and infinitely more athletic than me, he was dead-set on becoming a real professional wrestler. So I wasn’t surprised when he moved away to join a prestigious wrestling academy- but I was shocked when he quit after a week and never looked back. So I wondered, if this well-spoken, natural born athlete couldn’t do it, just imagine watching two guys with no hope give it a shot… And that’s what I did.
Did the actors do all their own stunts? Did anyone get hurt?
Yes, the actors did 100% of their own stunts. The film’s leads, Danny Mac (that’s me) and Chris Wilcox, were placed in a 6-month training program with an established pro-wrestling company. It was important to show an actual progression of skill, both for the sake of believability, and to be respectful to the pro-wrestling community. Professional wrestlers (and most fans) can spot a greenhorn in a heartbeat, and HEEL KICK! strived to be something they wouldn’t find unrealistic. Aside from the leads, every other stunt you see in the movie is done by a working professional wrestler with a minimum 10 years’ experience.
As for getting hurt: yes! Almost everything you see hurts to some degree. Sometimes to a very large degree. What was important is that no one was seriously injured- that’s where the training was so important. But hey, I’m finding new muscles creaking and cracking every day, so ya never know!
Why didn't you put The Rock in your movie?
I actually get questions like this a lot. Short answer is that our budget is just so micro, I couldn’t have paid Dwayne Johnson’s body double to hand-model an elbow pad. Okay, that was kind of wordy for a short answer.
Long answer: this story simply doesn’t require a name wrestler (well, in any major capacity) to tell properly. It’s an intimate movie about two guys who have been saying for years that they’re going to do something, and they’ve never made an attempt at it. The first step for a budding pro wrestler is to find local wrestling promotions, sign up for basic training, and take it from there. There are a thousand flights of stairs to get to the roof that is the WWE. So having our guys train under Stone Cold Steve Austin while he barks commands at them would take the audience out of the world we tried to create, which is very grounded.
That said, just typing that Stone Cold thing makes me want to see it in a movie.
Would you work with the fine folks from ECCW again?
For those who don’t know, ECCW is the wrestling promotion featured in HEEL KICK!. Many of them are active members of the film and television industry as actors, stunt coordinators and filmmakers themselves. They were extremely helpful in our long journey to making this film and I would absolutely work with them again. Preferably in a role where they aren’t callously beating me.
What was it like being on set and really having no experience in the ring?
This is a pretty unique part of our mockumentary because the progression that you see is in the film is real. When the cameras started rolling, we had been training for roughly 3 months, then we broke production to train for another 3 months. So I guess I always had some degree of training, but not compared to anyone else you see in the film. It was pretty difficult at first. Physically, I felt like I was getting hurt too easily and needed to gain a few pounds if I was gonna do this thing. And you never knew when one of the trainers was going to be in a “mood” and really put you through it that day. But it’s what I signed up for. We weren’t in some crash-course wrestling school for actors, we were in a group of determined hopefuls, doing everything a trainee with aspirations of making the roster would do. Actually, we kept the fact that we were training for a movie to a very select few as not to be treated differently in the ring. It was only after a few months that everyone found out. You tend to get pretty honest with the people who are dropping you on your spine 3 hours a day.
What was the most difficult part of the movie to film?
The final match in the film was logistically difficult. But we planned it out, beat-for-beat, weeks in advance. It’s just that so many things could have gone wrong. It was a live match at an actual ECCW show. No extras. Just real, die-hard wrestling fans. If something were to go wrong in the ring, we couldn’t simply call cut and start off from the last move. We would’ve been booed to oblivion (coupled with some verbally abusive group-chants that would’ve plagued the audio track). We were cutting into an actual show that ECCW fans look forward to every month, so I certainly didn’t want to put on a match that wasn’t worthy of their time. Especially because they were essentially my extras. It was like getting one chance to film the opening night of a ballet, with leads who can’t dance. And the crowd is drunk and hates you, no matter how good you look in your tights.
Why the title?
Most of the time we aren’t striving towards our goals, it’s our own fault. We’re procrastinating, making excuses… we’re the bad guy in our own story. In the world of wrestling, a “Heel” is a bad guy. This movie focuses on kicking those bad habits in order to reach your goals. And so, HEEL KICK!.
A bit of a walk, but we got there.
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