When did you first see Pumping Iron?
When I was in high school. I’d heard about it before, but I’d never sat down and seen the whole thing. But when I finally got around to watching it from start to finish, I was riveted. There were so many cool elements to it. Just the characters themselves were so unique. The way they talked about bodybuilding was entertaining. I’m an outsider to the sport, and in a way that’s good, because this film needs someone who isn’t involved in it. Looking at it from an outsider’s point of view is a good way to bring in others, because it’ll help others relate to it.
After that movie, I became a fan of bodybuilding because it’s so different from other sports. I was never a bodybuilder—though I’m training now—but that film stuck with me through the years. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve with Generation Iron. We want to make something that bodybuilders will appreciate. It’s very important that we keep true to the essence of the sport so bodybuilders will see that it’s treated with the respect it deserves. At the same time—and this was a key challenge—we wanted to take something that’s so unique and present it in a way that people who are new to the sport can identify with and appreciate it.
Once the business side of making the movie was done, what was the next step?
To be perfectly honest, filming was quite a challenge. It was a very involved process, because I wanted to be as prepared as possible. My goal was to get full access to the athletes. You can imagine that when you’re training for the biggest contest of your life, you don’t want to be bothered with all these cameras in your face, following you around all day. The tough part was to get them to know me. It took a lot of conversations and meetings.
One thing I know from previous work is that you need a level of trust between the filmmaker and the subject being filmed. If the person isn’t comfortable, you won’t get the best footage. It’s important to spend time with them so they’re relaxed and natural on camera. Once they know you, they trust you and let down the wall, so to speak—it’s easier with some than with others. You also have to be mindful of the circumstances when you’re shooting. Filming these guys during the off-season, when they’re a long way from the contest, is different from when they’re just weeks away from competing. Then they’re extremely focused on this one show where they have to look their absolute best to those who’ll determine who’s the greatest in the world. That’s very stressful. Imagine all that preparation to look the best you’ve ever looked for just two days—out of the entire year! So many things have to go right.