Documenting Sacrifice: My Conversations with Fulvio Cercere and Michael Burlingame of 350 Days

By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor


Jim

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.

17264488_10155791411758238_6386326254524177992_nWhile 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 hand rails, 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 of 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.

SuperStar GrahamThe 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.

interviewing JJ DillonResearch 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 talked about 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.

MV5BMWZkMDVhZDQtMWQwZS00MzkwLWEzOGUtNWNjMzE1MDEyY2NmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDAyMTY3Nw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_“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.”

10371456_10152053758027217_1116858337268948920_nWe 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.

West Coast premiere with Matt Barnett and members of GLOWOur 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 nay-sayers 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.


It’s been roughly a year since this interview and I wanted to contact Fulvio again about the distribution of the film, and also talk with Editor Michael Burlingame about the grueling process he went through to render a masterpiece from the nearly one hundred fifty hours of footage alongside the four hundred pages of notes he had compiled.

I can’t even imagine the undertaking of sitting through hours upon hours of footage and trying to find a concise way of making sense of it all. Michael Burlingame took the time to talk with me in detail about his process and the measures he took to bring the film to life from the mountain of material he began with. The producers of the film had to be sure he was their guy, though, before any of that could happen.

“Once the production team were satisfied with my qualifications, Darren Antola got around to what he thought was a key question and asked me what I knew about the wrestling business I replied, ‘Absolutely nothing.’, and he said that they thought had found their man.”

As someone who does his own editing of audio files into the printed word, I was particularly interested in his approach to the condensing of material and how he was able to go through it all without going crazy, while trying to keep it in some kind of referenceable format. He used a coded system to help ease the burden, and he told me a little about how it helped him wrangle the movie a little easier.

“I broke the movie into segments and gave each one it’s own color designation to make it easier for me. So I took a bunch of colored pencils and went through the transcripts saying that, ok steroids is going to be a purple triangle, ring rats may be a red heart, and injuries could be a blue lightning bolt. By the time I got done it was one the most colorful script anywhere. (chuckles) Once I did that, the hundred and fifty hours of footage became very manageable, because then you’re dealing with sets of smaller amounts of material.”

I would love to see that script and flip through the pages of work he put into its reduction to film. It was his this “coat of many colors” that bares the irony of the men that it encapsulated. Each one of their careers was made changed through trials and tribulations of this palate of emotions, that shines in the stories they tell, both good and bad.

When I asked Michael about moments in the film that stood out to him, and what be some of his own personal favorite stories, he answered quickly.

“The main thing I liked about the movie is that you’ve got thirty or more articulate, funny, well spoken, reflective and thoughtful people, and that was what I really didn’t know about wrestling, and after making the film it made perfect sense to me. That’s what wrestling is, you know.”

We talked more about the release of the film and how the sales were tracking, but it was when he went back to talking about Bret Hart and Superstar Billy Graham that possibly the best part of our conversation for me, revealed itself.

“I had worked on a project briefly in the Nineties that involved Brett Hart, so I did know a little about him. The level of gravitas he had about him…he’s got this equanimity while he’s reflecting back over his career. The second interview I worked on was Billy’s. He was just a delightful guy who’s talking about his career humor and mirth, roaring with laughter. So Evan (Ginzburg Asst. Producer), pointed out that these two guys were basically the yin and yang of this movie, and I see them as the backbone of the film. They are like the two famous theater masks of Comedy and Tragedy. Without them, it wouldn’t have been the same.”

It was poignant that Michael mentioned the gravitas of Brett Hart, because it would be the distribution company with that same name, who the team chose for the undertaking of the release of 350 Days.

I talked with Director Fulvio Cecere again as well to re-touch on his progress with that work and how their relationship with Gravitas was working out, as well as some of his thoughts about the Canadian side of the production that took place in Vancouver. Right after he called, he shared a cool piece of nostalgia about the timing of our conversation and old me that it was six years to the day that the movie really got it’s start. It seemed like a good omen, and we both agreed that it had to be as such.

Another little kismet touching of fate during the making of the film was when Fulvio found out that the studio where he conducted several interviews, was also the same studio where the old Canadian territory, All Star Wrestling had held many of it’s own television tapings. Ran by Gene Kiniski, All Star was something that Fulvio remembered from his childhood. Sometimes the connections back to the heartbeats of the business can be so rewarding, especially so for those of us who appreciate it’s lineage.

He also talked about the dedication of his Canadian team to the project and how that also came from a love of wrestling.

“I pulled in several favors, and got alot of crew to help out. But, what so nice was that so many of them were fans, so they either volunteered or worked for much less than they normally would have…because they loved wrestling too. It’s pretty incredible the amount of people that helped me make this happen. That’s why I had a screening in Vancouver. From writers to hair and make-up people and actors. So many of my friends from the industry turned out for that screening. We had some of the wrestlers from the old ASW promotion there as well. I owe alot of favors, and I wanted to thank them, and let them know I appreciate it.”

The early sales numbers for the film have been good and I hope all parties involved with it make a killing on the back end of their investment. I can see this being a film that is sought after as each new generation of wrestling fan comes along and it’s history is passed along. Fulvio spoke with aspirations of that as well when we discussed this.

“We’ll see where this goes. I’m pretty hopeful and excited at the early sales. we’re doing pretty well on Amazon, and ore-orders on I-Tunes were four times the normal amount they said they usually receive. We’ve even been tracking in fantasy and science fiction on Amazon. (chuckles) I have no idea how that happens, but we’ll take it.”

I hope all of you get out and add this one to your collections. It’s definitely one that you’ll wanna own, and not just watch when you get the chance. I’ve been called a historian of sorts, a biographical journalist as well, but one thing for sure is that I’m a wrestling fan to my core. I love this business, and do everything I can to preserve it’s history in my own work, which is why I LOVE IT when I see a quality documentary, such as this one, come to us. Relish it, and do more to learn about not only the history of the parts of the business you love, but of the area in which you live. I bet you’ll be surprised what you find.

In closing, I’d like to thank both Fulvio and Michael for giving me some of their fleetingly valuable time this week, as well as everyone that has been involved with the film that has been so gracious in my efforts to bring you the tales of the men that brought you the legacy of 350 Days. I wanna leave you with something Michael Burlingame said to me about his tireless hours of editing, and how that mirrored the lives of the men he was helping to document. Peace Bruthas and Sistas……OWN THIS FILM!!!!

“I can safely say that I worked on this movie seven days a week for almost seven months. These were full days. I started the work in mid-September, at my home in New York. Most of my family lives in Boston. I worked on Thanksgiving and didn’t go for Christmas either. I worked on Christmas day. I worked on New Year’s Day. I took it to heart, what I had learned from these wrestlers. They always had to work on Christmas. They never got to spend time with their families on holidays, so I decided that I wasn’t going to see my family either. I was going to do this for these guys and work on this movie. It was seven months of steady work, followed by three or four months of sporadic work to finish it up and add little extras, and that’s what it took to make this thing….350 Days.”—Michael Burlingame


350 Days

Documentary
1 Hour 48 Minutes (

In “350 Days, ” pro wrestling legends Bret Hart, Superstar Billy Graham and dozens more peel back the curtain on the severe toll working on the road 350 days a year took on their bodies, families, marriages and psyches. 

Rent $4.99
Buy $12.99

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