'Ultimate Christian Wrestling' directors discuss their documentary about the unusual sport
The new documentary will have its world premiere at the Korean American Film Festival New York.
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Chang: It’s about striking a balance. Our film can be serious and funny because people aren’t black or white. It’s about finding that grey area.Skip to next paragraph
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Autovino: They are flawed human beings like everyone else. So that’s what we wanted to portray: them as themselves. So when you first see Justin, he’s very slow-speaking and he’s very awkward. If that’s the only time you saw him, it might be difficult not to pass judgement on him, but he’s not the way he appears.
Chang: That was our strategy. We initially portray the characters as we first saw them, but then like an onion you begin to peel back layers and get to see how they really are. So that informed the order of the material. In life, you slowly get to know people, you don’t understand them immediately, so we kept it that way in the film.
TFPN: How do you capture your characters’ lives filmically? How do you create that balance between comedy and drama? Does it happen scene to scene, or is it more about the tone of the film overall?
Chang: To me it’s the overall rhythm of the film, and where a moment is placed and what comes after. So front-loaded we have a lot of offbeat funny stuff and then we try to balance it out later. That balance was something we tried to achieve, but it took a while.
Autovino: It took a long time to get that balance and get the structure right, much more than cutting an individual scene. If you move one scene that’s primarily comedic over a few scenes then it messes with the whole structure and mood of the film. It was really tricky.
Chang: Another technique we use is to let scenes play out dramatically and then end it on a funny note. So the drama brings out the comedy more.
Autovino: Yeah, they balance each other out.
TFPN: Maybe that’s just how it works in life too when there aren’t cameras around.
Autovino: Right, and I’ve had that complaint about my work before: is it funny or is it sad? Well, it can be both and it is both. Life is never just drama, it’s never one tone or one mood. A lot of films are one tone, but that’s boring to me. That doesn’t reflect my reality at all.
TFPN: Are there ways to capture a comedic or dramatic tone within an individual shot, as opposed to the overall rhythm of a film?
Autovino: Sure, a shot can indicate comedy or drama. Wide shots can be a bit awkward feeling.
Chang: Symmetry too.
Autovino: Getting very close during an emotional moment can obviously heighten the drama, but as far as shooting for documentary is concerned, you get it any way you can!
Chang: That’s the beauty of documentaries: you never know what you’re going to get.
Autovino: When you get that moment, if you were to put it in a narrative, no one would believe it. Like at one point Justin says “Failure is worse than death.” If you put that in a narrative, people would be like “Oh, come on!” But it fits! And then right after that, he’s talking about hot dogs. [laugh] So that’s life.
TFPN: Right, and I think there were moments in the film that contain both emotions in the same scene or the same shot. For example, at one point you ask Billy Jack where Kody’s mother is, not knowing that they’re divorced, while he’s in full costume and face-paint!
Chang: I come from a divorced family so I should have known, but I just asked the question. It was at the beginning of shooting and it was a scary moment [laughs].
TFPN: You capture some very emotional, intimate moments with your subjects like that one. How did your relationship with them develop? Was it difficult to get them to open up?