NJ DISCOVER EXCLUSIVE: The World of Professional Wrestling. Meet 350 Days (Released April 2, 2019) Documentary Producers- Darren Antola and David Wilkins. By Calvin Schwartz And COMING SOON JUNE 18TH NJDISCOVER TV SHOW “WRESTLING COMES TO NJ DISCOVER TV”
As is customary with my NJ Discover interviews; a brief word on how it evolved. Three weeks ago, I’m ‘floating’ around LinkedIn, exploring, connecting, networking, as if in pursuit of a new career or company. But I’m not. There was a random profile of David Wilkins, Executive Producer, Rivalry Championship Wrestling, Producer 350 Days, Rutgers course on Landscape Design, etc. I sent off an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Next day, he accepted. There were a few messages back and forth, born out of my own history as a past professional wrestling fan and Rutgers alum. Two weeks later, David, and Creator/Co-Producer of 350 Days, Darren Antola, and my friend, wrestling aficionado, Ken Beckerman are sitting at my kitchen table, with lightly salted potato chips, onion dip and cashews, strategically placed. We’re immersed in professional wrestling, boxing, filmmaking and 350 Days.
Darren and David are charming devoted personalities with much wrestling passion for discourse; our conversations all over the spectrum, digressing, progressing, flying into tangents. Darren whispered, “Wrestlers are pure human interest. We didn’t want to make this just a wrestling movie. That was our universal goal.”
I asked how their wrestling journey began. Suddenly, Darren was talking about Riddick Bowe, who reigned as undisputed boxing heavyweight champion in 1992. “We were getting him to becoming a wrestler. Training, getting him to lose weight. He loved to wrestle. We were planning a pay per view event in Poland through Rivalry Championship Wrestling…. Then Hurricane Sandy and it was over.”
Darren always had an idea for a wrestling movie. He knew wrestlers basically worked 350 days a year which became the title of the film. He called Fulvio Cecere, a friend, who became director. It began in April, 2013. “Tito Santana was our first interviewee. We knew this would be all human interest. Michael Burlingame, nominated for an Emmy for Sting at Hollywood Bowl, became editor.” Last July, the 350 Days trailer got onto thousands of screens and now it’s on digital cable in 100 countries, X Box, Vimeo, iTunes, Amazon Prime (where I watched it). It did sell out initially in Walmart, Best Buy and played for one night at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
David added, “Evan Ginzburg was our Associate Producer. He also worked on the major motion picture with Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler.”
When Darren met film editor Michael Burlingame the first time at Starbucks in New York City, he knew right away this would be special. “It was like magic working with him. And Greg Valentine was passionate about this project…We also wanted little people wrestlers to see if they felt discriminated against. All part of the film’s human interest.”
I asked how David and Darren met. Darren’s chest seemed to swell, “We’ve been friends, like brothers for 24 years. We met when David was doing landscaping.”
“What about the wrestling fans? I saw some emotional comments by the wrestlers in the film.” “The fans believed it was so real, that they often would destroy the heels’ cars. Wrestlers made it look real and were sometimes attacked by overzealous fans.”
David interjected, “Our director, Fulvio Cecere is also an accomplished actor. He played the boxing referee in the Russell Crowe movie, Cinderella Man and had recurring roles on major tv series such as Stargate SG-1.”
“So why do this film?” Darren was quick to answer, “We thought it would be interesting. Telling the story when wrestling WAS wrestling. How cool it would be to bring back people’s childhood. It could be something for everyone.” I reminded them of my major affectation with wrestling, even emailing them my wrestling program from Laurel Gardens in Newark, New Jersey from September, 1957. Indeed, part of my youth, early imagination, and hero images.
“What about all the blood I saw in the film” Darren got serious. “It was the decade of the blade. They really cut themselves. And if you hated a wrestler, then he was really doing his job.”
My friend Ken told the story how he really wanted to become a professional wrestler. The idea was abruptly stopped by his mother.
What both Darren and David emphasized is that some of the last interviews with these special people/wrestlers are captured in 350 Days. Like Ox Baker, retired and in a clip making his recipe for Shepherd’s Pie. A very warm, touching scene. George ‘The Animal’ Steele is also gone now. He was touching and expressive. Hard reconciling he’s gone. I liked him. Actually, I liked every wrestler in the film. J. J Dillon told Darren and David that they’ve done much to preserve the history of wrestling.
Broadcaster and Associate Producer Evan Ginzburg said, “Anyone who is a true wrestling fan needs to see it and non-wrestling fans will love it as well. You don’t have to be a boxing or wrestling fan to enjoy Rocky or The Wrestler.”
I knew Darren Antola was flying to China the next day to work as a cutman in an IBF elimination fight for Light Heavyweight. I needed to know things. “Darren, how in the world did you ever become a cutman?” For what it’s worth, a cutman is responsible for preventing and treating physical damage to a fighter during breaks between rounds.
“My father was in the valet parking business in the late 1980’s. Around that time, I went to a Times Square boxing club. Learning to box. Sparring a lot, started getting hit and I knew boxing was not for me. Later, I hung around a gym in Jersey City. Then on the road in Youngstown, Ohio where I was learning the fundamentals to stop a cut. I kept doing more fights. Even worked with Lou Duva.”
Back to wrestling. David asked if I knew about gravity. “Huh?” my only reply. “Gravity is not fake. So, when you see a wrestler flying around a ring, sometimes off the top rope, you need to know they are not faking gravity. Their hip replacements aren’t fake. Their bad backs aren’t fake. Their three divorces aren’t fake either. They are athletes who have sacrificed for their Art.”
“What do you want people to see in your film?” Darren said proudly, “We want people to see what goes on behind the scenes. There is a lot pain. A lot of human interest.”
I loved wrestling growing-up. Met Ken nearly 40 years ago. Wrestling came back in my life with my son. I never ever suspected, expected these guys and gals (Wendi Richter is in the film also) worked 350 days a year, never being home Christmas, sacrificing their lives for this form of ‘sports entertainment.’
What a marvelous, wondrous few hours. What precious storytellers, producers, humanists, documentarians David and Darren are. How amazing this film is. Pure human interest. My message right now is if there is any microcosmic fiber of wrestling in your past, present or future (grandchildren) then 350 Days is a crystalized ball. If not, it still is pure human storytelling.
Our interview was over followed by a genuine hug. It means I did my job. As Darren was walking out, I yelled, “You’re going to China tomorrow…be safe.” And our new friendship bonds were sealed.
A REVIEW OF 350 Days. Calvin Schwartz
Wrestlers: wonderful human beings, caring, touching, emotional, sensitive. You don’t want this film to end. Glimpses next, hopefully to capture essence. Slam you down on the carpet in front of your TV so you want to watch.
Honesty, bonding, willingness to share. Wrestling is about providing for your family. Riding in cars endlessly was torture. Telling someone what wrestling is all about is like telling a kid there is no Santa Claus. Wendi, smiling with her horse just behind, “couldn’t have children, pets, but my time in the ring the highlight of the day.” This was so tender for me. For George Steele, 350 days working was a “living hell.” Tito Santana, “Missed kid’s birthdays.” A poignant introspection.
They talked sadness, love of the game, broken marriages, fan abuse, which was rampant, drugs, alcohol, pain, and injuring just about every body part. I’ve said enough about content. But know this, I don’t do movies twice. I did here. I love human beings, wrestlers, emotion, caring. What a beautiful film. Each one said they’d do it all over again.
Facebook handle: @350daysthemovie
COMING SOON JUNE 18TH NJDISCOVER TV SHOW “WRESTLING COMES TO NJ DISCOVER TV”