I was raised in a very peaceful household. We are Unitarian Universalists who practice pacifism, respect for one another and solving problems through rational discourse. I don’t know why, with my upbringing, I’m such a fan of combat sports. I’ve filmed MMA champs, Oscar de la Hoya and now, the latest addition to American bloodsport - Bareknuckle fighting (it can’t be officially called “boxing.”).
The producer behind this story was Andrew Muscato, a friend who I’d already worked with on the Red Cards series. He came to Vice with all access to the very first ever state-sanctioned bareknuckle fight in American history. I won’t get into the details of the story - you can watch the film for that - but it meant that we’d be flying to Cheyenne, Wyoming and spending a few days embedding with some of the favorite fighters on the ticket. James Burns came aboard to help with field production and run the second camera. What ensued was a week of serendipity that gave us all that euphoria of filmmaking when a project is really tough, but coming together.
We knew going into the shoot that the pay-per-view footage would be available to us, which meant that I would not be responsible for filming the blow-by-blow story. Great. That freed up my camera to be a purely textural view of the matches, knowing that we’d always be covered to get the footage and sound of the official announcers. The organizers couldn’t have been more accommodating.
This was one of the first films that I’d really deployed the Canon 17-55mm IS lens as my main workhorse. We brought a C300mk2 and a C300mk1 - both APS-C sensors which meant that a standard zoom range would leave us just a bit too close for comfort. The wider end of the zoom range allowed for a more standard range look when paired with the 1.6x crop factor of the sensor. Thought its an older camera, I love the C300mk1 - its basically bulletproof and weighs less than 10lbs with battery while capturing an 8-bit 1080 frame. Perfect for documentary applications.
The shoot itself was spread out over three days. We had time to dig into our three characters’ stories - setting up shadow-boxing scenes with them and pretty much rolling for 8-10 hours of every day. It was hard work but yielded a wealth of footage that allowed us to arrive at this extremely compelling 35 minute edit.
I also grew up in Colorado and we used to drive to Cheyenne to buy our illegal fireworks. It was great to be back as an adult and rediscover the city. The railroad is still a huge part of the culture there - the city is built around it and the railyard is visually amazing. Wyoming itself is a symbol of American freedom to this day - they were the first to give women the vote and even in modern times a vote in Wyoming is about 2.6% weightier in the electoral college than one in California. The Union Pacific is an enduring symbol of freedom - the connecting artery from East Coast to West Coast. Its also a conflicted symbol of displacement - Manifest Destiny and the injustices we’re responsible for. So it was important to include the landscape and the trains. Plus, Sam Shewmaker’s punch is reportedly like getting hit with a locomotive.
This was a very small crew working very hard and I’m proud of the way this turned out. I have to mention James Burns again and the editor Diego Siragna for putting a ton of amazing work, energy and dedication into realizing this story in this form. There was a huge amount of information and incredible moments and they really made it shine. You can be the best camera person on earth but if the editor doesn’t create a compelling story, its really all for naught. Unlike bareknuckle boxing, film making is truly a team sport.
Canon C300mk2, Canon C300mk1, Canon 17-55mm IS f2.8, Canon L 24-105mm f4, Canon L 70-200mm f2.8