“Blood, Sweat and Teeth,” © 1999, One Horn Productions.
Executive Producer: Vic Feazell, Director: Adam Warren, Lead Shooter and Editor: Matt Kordelski.
“Vale Tudo.” Its a Brazillian word that means a fight where you use everything you’ve got, no matter how unconventional, to succeed. We found ourselves saying “Vale Tudo” a LOT while making this independent movie.
This video takes a look into the life of an ambitious young athlete, (David “Rhino” Rivera) training to become an “Ultimate Fighter” and his experiences at his debut fight in Macon, Georgia. It took about a month to shoot and just under five months to edit.
I was NOT the director, I was one of 3 creative forces at work here. Adam Warren (the director,) was still a local Austin celebrity because of the hype from his independent film Rhinos, and met Rivera while judging a “hardbody contest,” and convinced the Vic Feazell, (the Rhinos producer) to bankroll this documentary. Adam wanted a slick MTV type production, Vic wanted to concentrate on the fights, while I wanted an “introspective” PBS style documentary. Like any great compettition, I’d like to think we brought out the best in each other and the 3 way struggle helped the film.
We looked at the most acclaimed fighting documentary, “Choke,” as well as many other “Ultimate Fighting Championship” (UFC,) and “Extreme Challenge” tapes and came to the conclusion that what made the best of them work is when they focused on WHO was fighting and not just the violence. The “Rocky” movies, especially “Rocky III” get you involved in the characters and you WANT to see the hero win and get an emotional satisfaction from seeing the villain humbled (pro-wrestling mastered this decades ago). I think this is why pro boxers hold a pre-match press conference so that the fans can see them argue and boast.
While David Rivera was neither hero nor villain, we knew we had to capture his humanity so that the audience would be emotionally invested in seeing if he won or lost.
We shot most of the interviews and training scenes on a BetaCam UVW 100B wi th either natural location lighting or a basic Lowell light kit. Adam was also running a handheld mini-DV most of the time. We built up a stock pile of footage of Rivera at Jiu Jitsu class, a boxing gym, and interacting with his family.
While Adam Warren was an inexperienced director, he was an awesome “producer” in the sense that he knew how to pry open doors and get people to cooperate that we couldn’t otherwise. He made instant friends with a lot of the fighters and got them to relax and agree to in-depth interviews and got them to let us follow them into their dressing rooms and into the ring.
The Macon City Auditorium has a 360º balcony, so I set up the Betacam on a tripod to get a basic master shot. Adam had his mini-DV on a steadi-cam and Chad Nell was getting extra footage on a hand held Hi 8. We used the auditoriums normal lights, but afterwards I wished we had been more aggressive in getting the auditorium staff to shut off the house lights and use their spot light. At first I thought the hand held cameras were a bad idea, and we should just stick with theTripod bound BetaCam. However, when we got into editing I saw how Chad and Adam’s shots taken from right next to the ring gave the scenes an intimacy and immediacy that the wide shot lacked.
One potential problem became an asset that I have deliberately duplicated many times since. Chad left the “date and time” turned on while he shot, so some other best shots had amateurish numbers across the bottom and were theoretically un-usable. It broke my heart that the best close ups couldn’t be in the movie. I transferred ALL of the DV and HI-8 to big 90 minute Betas, brought them into the Avid (MC1000,) and started to delete footage I knew we’d never use. Before I dubbed the footage back to tape, I made a last ditch effort to save those golden Hi-8 shots. After several failed experiments, I came up with a way (okay, I’m sure lost of other editors were doing this way before me, but I did come up with it on my own) to reduce the color saturation to zero, increase the contrast, and use a 78% mask wipe on the horizontal edges, and VOILA! It looks almost identical to letterboxed, Black and White 16mm documentary film. The letter boxing hid the “date and time” and the B&W effect gave that footage a gritty film look. Its’ hilarious to me when I read reviews that rave about the “film” scenes, and how those parts are so much better than the BetaCam scenes. Its consumer grade tape thats had its picture quality reduced even further! I also rendered some of the scenes through Adobe After Effects to add radial blurs to draw attention to some of the best punches and kicks. I even tried to “film look” some of the BetaCam footage, but except for some rough hand held work, most of it was obviously doctored video tape.
It was extremely difficult find the right balance between story and action, and theres no real way to please everybody. I’ve gotten wildly mixed reactions from folks who have seen it. “Not enough fighting” “Too much fighting,” “Too much music,” “Not enough music.” I’ve learned what kind of criticisms to take to heart, and what to dismiss someones personal preference. A lot of the feed back was kept in mind when we shot and edited the follow up movie, “Rage in the Cage.