Evan Ginzburg, Pro Wrestling Stories writer and associate producer of the movies The Wrestler and 350 Days, gives a first-hand account of what it was like to be a part of the upcoming film starring Bret Hart and Superstar Billy Graham.
As a boxing cutman working with such champions as Yuri Foreman and Kendall Holt, and as an indie wrestling promoter, Darren Antola had seen the not always glamorous sides of both boxing and professional wrestling.
He had an idea for a movie. “What if the 1980’s legends of the professional wrestling business told the tales of what it was like to live a sex, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle 350 days a year on the road and the toll it took on them?”
And thus, the simple but powerful title, “350 Days.”
Bringing on board his best friend and financial partner David Wilkins, and longtime actor and director Fulvio Cecere (Cinderella Man), they approached me several years back to come on board the project which is now finally reaching fruition. I had pretty much sworn to myself that after The Wrestler I wouldn’t attach myself to another wrestling film. I mean, Mickey Rourke’s performance was iconic, there were Oscar nominations, critical acclaim and a standing ovation at a sold-out New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. How could anything top THAT?
Yet at the same time, I sensed their passion, dedication and love of professional wrestling, and most importantly their desire to make a truly great film.
When they gave me the laundry list of childhood heroes and wrestling legends onboard for 350 Days– Superstar Billy Graham, Bret Hart, Greg Valentine, Tito Santana, Ted Dibiase, Paul Orndorff, Marty Jannetty, Butcher Paul Vachon, Stan Hansen, Nikolai Volkoff, Lanny Poffo- 38 in total- I was “sold.”
As Associate Producer on the project, I’d serve a similar role to what I did on The Wrestler. I’d help in any and every way I could to get them what they need to not only make this the best movie possible but also publicize the hell out of it, so people come out and see this one night only special screening on July 12th nationwide.
Editor Michael Burlingame also “got it.” He had worked with Paul McCartney, musical icon Sting, HBO and was Emmy nominated. He was going to somehow edit down 80 or so hours of footage that Fulvio, Darren, and crew had painstakingly shot around the country and Canada, and cherry-pick the most poignant and moving parts. This was not going to be another shoot interview in a dingy hotel chronicling who the booker was back in ’72. This would be about the toll this business took on your mind, body, marriage, family, and living that exhilarating yet grueling and sometimes insane lifestyle.
And one by one the wrestlers opened up in their interviews. Wendi Richter talked about not being able to have kids as she was on the road so much. Billy Graham powerfully talked about being saved by a 17-year old accident victim who was his organ donor. And there were endless tales about coming back from injuries so numerous and devastating that lesser mortals would have quit.
Finding rare photos and footage became the ongoing challenge. At first, odd requests became a holy grail. “We need pictures of wrestlers with their cars. Carrying luggage. In bars.” I “got it.” Such shots told their stories about being on that endless road. But finding them was a different story.
Yet somehow, we did. Calling on favors and contacting every wrestling photographer and fan we knew, we got what we needed. And amazingly, there I was in the background of a long-lost shot that one photographer had, waiting in a hotel near Madison Square Garden for the then-WWF stars’ autographs. Things had amazingly come full circle some thirty plus years later.
Sadly, as we continued our five-year journey with the film, many of the stars passed away. Ox Baker hit particularly hard as he was so charismatic, colorful and funny in the film. We realized that in several cases, we probably had the last interviews ever conducted with some of these legends.
Fathom Events, the distributor requested that we do something special beyond the movie and with deadline pressures, it was decided quickly to interview the universally beloved and respected JJ Dillon as part of the festivities. Upon entering the theater there will be trivia, followed by JJ introducing the film. Then the 350 Days documentary will screen, followed by my interview with JJ, which is powerful as it occurred mere days after the death of his dear friend and my childhood hero, Bruno Sammartino. We talk about the Horsemen, Piper, and even compare wrestling then and now. JJ also chronicles his own half-century in the business and doesn’t hold back whatsoever.
In short, five years have been spent to make a film that will not only entertain, but touch you as well, and to not just make a movie, but create an event worth marking down on your calendar. Come out and support wrestling history and true independent cinema on July 12th.
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