Documenting the Sacrifice of the Wrestling Superstar
My Conversation with Fulvio Cecere
By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor – Classic Wrestling
It warms my heart to see a good wrestling documentary, but when I get to see a great one, I get that Road Warrior Pop going for it. That’s how I felt when I saw the trailer for the new film, 350 Days, for the first time. Director Fulvio Cecere met the bar of wrestling docs, and then raised it three notches. As soon as I saw the buzz surrounding the film, and some of my friends in the business posting pictures from it’s East and West Coast premieres, I knew I had to reach out to Fulvio and work out a conversation about not only the film, but what inspired his vision for this unique, and candid look into the lives of some of the superstars that my generation grew up watching every week sitting in our living room floors, eyes fixated on our televisions.
Once I had Fulvio locked in for the interview, he gave me a call and we talked at length about the film, and the road from conception, to production, and everything that got him to opening night. While it was his passion, along with his partners and producers, Darren Antola and David Wilkins that breathed life into the project, it’s the roller coaster ride that these men lived that really exemplifies what the movie is about. Much like their stories of life on the road 350 days a year, the story of how this whole thing came together is a fascinating one. So let’s get going kids, take a trip with me, and Fulvio will be our guide into the making of 350 Days.
Growing up in Sixties Montreal, Canada, he enjoyed a carefree childhood with yearly trips to the Jersey Shore, near Wildwood. He eventually moved to New Jersey a few years later, when his father decided to be closer to family there. This was the beginnings of his love for the Garden State. He wrestled in High School and regularly wrestled in heavier classes than he was weighted to. This instilled an underdog mentality in the young Cecere that made him always work a littler harder than the next guy. He told me a story about his time growing up in Jersey that is too good not to share with you as well.
While working at a supermarket at age seventeen, Fulvio was shot trying to stop a robbery. This story was a little gold nugget we uncovered during our conversation. This is one of the main reason I prefer to do an unscripted interview, and just enjoy a conversation like two old friends. Anyway, I’ll let him tell this part of it, so I don’t leave anything out:
“I was a cashier in a supermarket in Glen Rock, New Jersey, and this guy came in and pulled a ski mask over his face as he came in the place. I don’t know what possessed me, I mean, I thought it was a joke. I ran outside to my car and pulled it up in front of the exit so the door was partially blocked, there were some handrails, so the door, it could open you know, even though my car was there. I ran to the next store over, which was a pharmacy, so I could call the cops. While I’m doing all that, the guy had jumped the counter and took the manager into the office to where the safe was at. He had cased out the joint. He started pistol whipping my boss. My manager is trying to open the safe, but he’s terrified, and he can’t open the safe because he keeps getting pistol whipped. Finally my manager grabbed the gun and got the fleshy part his hand in the hammer. The guy was trying to shoot him but the gun isn’t going off cause his hand is there. Then he tackled the guy into a display case as I’m running back into the store. I dove on the guy, and had him in a bear hug, his gun got free, and he shot four times. One of them hit me in the gut, and at first I thought it was just a fake gun. It happened so fast, then I felt the pain. I realized I was shot. They tried to keep the robber from leaving, but he ran out and scrambled over my car and he got away, never to be caught.”
This story left my jaw agape, as you see stories about this type of thing happening on reality shows, or crime-tv shows, but this was the first time I had talked to someone that had actually lived through it. He wrapped up the story by simply saying, “Yeah, yeah I wouldn’t recommend getting shot.” I had to chuckle, but the story is craziness.
The road to this chronicle of wrestling started out as many do, as a simple conversation between friends. Fulvio went to the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY to check things out and enjoy the afternoon. He met up with Angelo Dundee, who he had worked with on The Cinderella Man as well as having been one of Muhammad Ali’s trainer. Angelo was with another legendary boxing trainer, Lou Duva, as well as Darren Antola, his cut man. They discussed the movie business, and possible projects. After helping Darren with a pair of other projects, that ultimately, didn’t pan out, Darren suggested the idea for this documentary. He had been a lifelong fan and had access to many of the wrestling legends they were talking about. The light went off, and they decided that they were onto something. Fulvio remembered that initial meeting when he decided to come on-board:“ I offered to be the director, and set up a whole bunch of shoots. The first person we had was Tito Santana, and then we had Greg Valentine, and Superstar Billy Graham, and it was gold. I knew we had something special.”
The approach to the interviews were such that it really set the tone for the stories they were going to talk about. For instance, Greg Valentine was sitting alone in a chair in a wrestling ring, as he recounted the ups and downs of the business he had devoted his life to. They leave everything out on the table as they talk about how the life on the road gave them prosperity, but took a little piece of them every time they left out again.
Research for the film took Fulvio to the 49th Anniversary of Cauliflower Alley Club, and it’s 2014 gathering in Las Vegas. He spoke very highly of the organization, and from my own personal experiences, I can agree with everything he had to say about them. They welcomed him with open arms and he was able to conduct several interviews for the film while there. However, none of these hours of recordings made the final cut of the film and we talked about how hard it was to fit everything that he wanted to:
“Those guys at the CAC just treated me so well, and gave me so much access to everything. Unfortunately it’s just so hard to get everything into the documentary that you want to. We filmed twenty-two interviews at CAC alone , but because of some sound issues there, it made it difficult to hear it clearly. Not getting in more of the CAC footage has always bothered me, because I just love those guys. I plan on doing a Director’s Cut and release a lot more of that footage, and show how great they are about helping wrestlers, and it’s just a great organization. I really had a lot of fun. I wanna make sure they know that I appreciate it, and others should know about them.”
We talked about his vision for the film, and if the finished product came out the way it had initially been planned. He let me know that he really didn’t know about the business, and had only been exposed to wrestling when he was in high school and wrestled for their team. It was the characters, and the stories of the people that drew him to it. That is the essence of what makes these stories so interesting for me as a fan, and historian of the wrestling business. Once you are exposed to the real life dramas of their lives, the viewer begins to realize that these guys aren’t so different than me or someone that they may know in their everyday lives. The television and bright lights of an arena can make these men seem larger that life, but it the largeness of life that makes us all feel small from time to time. In this way we can relate a little bit easier and make a more personal connection to the superstars we grew up idolizing.
We also discussed some of the workers that he regretted not being able to finalize interviews with, and missed out on them getting onto the film. He mentioned that he had talked to Ric Flair at the same convention in Rhode Island where he met Ox Baker, but he was never able to get all the logistics lined out with his agent to be able to include him. Another man that he instantly mentioned was Roddy Piper. I could hear the somberness in his tone as he spoke about Hot Rod:
“The big one for me was Roddy Piper. I live in Western Canada now and it was a short drive down to Portland area where he was living. I was ready to get the crew together and the whole deal, and we were just waiting on some specifics., and that’s when we heard that he had passed away. It was so sad to hear, and he was just so iconic. We have Bret Hart in the movie, and he’s the star of our show, I think with Superstar(Graham), but having Roddy would have made it so much better.”
I redirected our conversation back to Ox Baker, who was one of my favorite heels as a kid, and he talked about how Ox told him that he used to cook for the boys on the road. This led to them coming up with the idea for him to cook for them on the movie, which they did. We laughed about it when he told me how it came to pass:
“I met Ox and he was such a character. So we started chatting and he said he was like the chef for the boys, and kept them fed on the roads, which gave me the idea for him to cook during our interview. He loved the idea, so that’s what we did. I’d say its a highlight of the film. It’s really, really funny.”
We also talked about other projects he had in mind and if he would consider releasing a sequel along with his Director’s cut, from the countless hours of unused footage he still has. He said he has several projects in the works, including a military drama, sit-coms, a western horror, an action adventure, and lots of other irons in the fire, like most successful people in the movie biz. He put it best and we finished our conversation with this:
“We’ll I’m never gonna say never to a sequel. I had such a great time doing what I did, and the people were just so interesting. But, that’s not my main focus. I’ve got projects that have been in the works for years….but, you never know. I’m open to everything.”
For my part, I can’t wait to see extended footage from those interviews. I wanna thank Fulvio for talking with me, and giving myself, and all of my Bruthas and Sistas out there, a better look into not only the making of the film, but what really inspired him to make it. We will talk more about the making of 350 Days when I bring my next part of this behind the scenes look into the movie to you next week, when I bring you my talk with Associate Producer, Evan Ginzberg. We will also talk about the tenth anniversary of the movie, The Wrestler.
Our motto here at the Gorilla Position is to “tell the story of wrestling’s storytellers.” Well this week I was able to tell the story of a storyteller, telling the stories of some of the lives of the men that helped make this business a little better than it would have been, had they just chose to sit on the sidelines. We love their stories because it is one of the ways we can make a more personal connection with the wrestlers we loved to watch. While so many naysayers love to critique the business and point out it’s scripted ebb and flow, there is nothing fake about the personal and physical sacrifices these men and women make to entertain us.
350 Days was released across the country on July 12th for one night only, in close to 400 theaters. Be on the lookout for when it comes to your city on Cable, Netflix or DVD so that you can get out and enjoy what, in my opinion, is one of the best wrestling films to date. When it comes to Denver, I will be there waiting. Catch me next week when I sit down with Evan, and once again, I’d like to thank Fulvio for taking the time out of a increasingly busy schedule to talk with us. Until next time, Bruthas and Sistas….Peace.