On Monday, June 8th at 22:00 on VICE TV, VICE Studios’ Dark Side of the Ring season 2 will premiere in the UK. The critically acclaimed series, which documents some of the most controversial stories, has a jam-packed season 2 that kicks off with the tragic Chris Benoit murder/suicide tragedy. The ten-episode long season will air weekly starting Monday, June 8th, and following each episode, a special after-show hosted by comedian Chris Gethard will air.
In an interview promoting the UK season 2 premiere, the series’ director Jason Eisener spoke to SteelChair Magazine to discuss the inspiration behind the Road Warriors episode, Chris Jericho as the show’s narrator, what question he would open with if he interviewed Vince McMahon for an episode, and much more!
Now that Dark Side of the Ring is gearing up for its UK premiere, is there still a sense of pressure to see how a brand new audience will react to the series?
“Um, I’m not sure if there’s necessarily any more pressure. Even in like the film world, when I have a film I’m releasing, there is a lot of anxieties and stresses leading up to the moment when you first premiere it. Usually in film, in the past, I’ve always been able to have that experience with an audience, like, in person. So it’s different with this. Especially with the times we’re living in, I haven’t ever been able to watch these episodes with a live audience. So, me and my producing partner, the night’s that they premiere; we’re watching on Twitter and online. I even tune in to people’s live streams of watching the shows on YouTube (laughs). I just like seeing people’s reaction to the stories and the things that I can create. So, if anything, I’m excited. It will, hopefully, invigorate another moment of excitement to see another audience from another part of the world get to react to it. But, yeah, I hope the reactions are similar to what they’ve been like here, which has been awesome.”
I’m confident they will be if I’m honest. One of the big things that’s different in season 2 is Chris Jericho takes over as narrator because Dutch Mantel and Mick Foley had that role in season 1. What was the difference having Jericho in that slot, and what did he bring that was different?
“They all bring different qualities to it. It’s interesting. Working with all of them is great because, in some ways, they all have connections to the stories. Working with Chris Jericho is awesome, especially with this season because there are more stories within the recent times, and so he has intel about some of the stories. So when we do our voiceovers with him in the booth, it’s cool because he’ll give kind of a running commentary in between takes of his perspective on some of the stories, things he has heard, and that’s really cool. But they’ve all been amazing. They’ve all been super collaborative and have a genuine passion for wrestling, and still have a curiosity for it as well, and I love that aspect of it.”
Of course, the Benoit episodes, Jericho was very close to the subject matter, and his quote when he talks about the one thing Chris loved, he almost killed with his actions. That was such a powerful and accurate take on it, and it really was a standout moment across the two episodes.
“Oh, wow, yeah. It’s interesting because when you watch Chris Benoit’s career, and the level of passion and dedication he put into wrestling. You could just tell he was obsessed with it since he was a kid, and it was probably something he worked on twenty-four-seven, and it probably occupied his mind so much. It’s powerful to hear Chris Jericho say that because had Chris Benoit known the ramifications of what he did and how that would affect the industry that he loved so much, it just makes it even more tragic in a way.”
I’m curious, what was your reaction to that?
“I think that was kind of what I was thinking in a way when Chris said it. You know, there was a lot of powerful things he was saying in the interview. It’s just kind of living in the moment. I had done so much research on the topic, and when you hear that, it just kind of gives you a little bit more perspective, I don’t know. We just knew how much Chris Benoit loved wrestling, and how much of his life he put into it. I think it’s a powerful thing for anybody to hear, but yeah, if you were a fan of wrestling, especially during that time period – I just know so many people, and I’ve heard so many times from people that when that tragedy happened, it turned them away from wrestling.
I have friends and people I know that had stopped watching wrestling after that moment. Recently, some of them have come back to it, and that’s kind of one thing we wanted to do with the episode. Not only the families and the people who are the closest to the story and for them to tell their perspective and truth, but for fans of wrestling, especially of that time period, it’s something we’ve all lived with and it’s haunted the art form that we love so much. And there hasn’t been a lot of room for an open conversation about it, and that’s something we hoped to do with that episode. Give people an avenue to speak their truth. The people who were closely involved, but also hopefully in some ways, it could give some closure to the fan base and the audience as well.”
In my opinion, you guys achieved that. Another episode you had this season is the Road Warriors episode. When I spoke to Evan (Husney), he joked that you only did the episode to get the costume department to make some shoulder pads.
“(Laughs) That’s funny.”
But it feels like going off your social media pages and your fandom, it felt like that episode had extra significance for you guys.
“Yeah, I gotta be honest, when I was a kid, I was obsessed with very high concept, larger than life characters. I loved Batman, He-Man, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved all that stuff so much, but they weren’t real. But the Road Warriors were just as high concept, and they were real. I could watch them on television. I could go to an arena and actually see them, and they were when I was a kid, the coolest toys in my toy box (laughs). So they have just always haunted my mind and always stuck in my mind as an incredible image. You know, back in the 80s, when you would see them come out to the Black Sabbath song “We are Iron Men.” The sound of that theme song and the visual of what they looked like and the energy that they brought into an arena, there’s just nothing cooler than that. I cannot think of anything more striking in pop culture (laughs) through the dawn of time that is as striking and as cool as the Road Warriors in the 80s.
So we’ve always wanted to dive into the story behind the Road Warriors, and obviously, Dark Side of the Ring became a perfect avenue to do that. But yeah, they’ve always been a huge influence. I learned as I got older that wrestling had such an impact on my artistic aesthetic growing up. It shaped a lot of the things that I became attracted to as I grew up, and I realised as I got older that when I was kind of tracking down my roots as to “why do I like certain things?” or “why do I like certain colours that go together?” I would realise that back when I was a kid, the colour combinations they would put on wrestlers because they were designing these action figures for kids, they were putting colour combinations together that would attract kid’s minds and imaginations. So I realised that I’ve applied that thinking to like my own feature film work in a lot of ways. Sorry, I went on a bit of a tangent there.”
No, it’s fine. Like I said, you can tell there’s a fandom for the Road Warriors.
“Yeah, they’ve just always been so inspiring.”
And I agree, from a visual standpoint, there’s almost been nobody like them.
“Oh my god, yeah.”
Evan also mentioned a lot of non-wrestling fans have gravitated towards the show. Are there any comments or bits of feedback you’ve received from someone who wasn’t a wrestling fan that stands out?
“Well, it’s one of our favourite comments to get. Hearing from people who are wrestling fans that have showed it to their friends or loved ones that are not wrestling fans, and that they loved the show. Like, their loved ones and friends became addicted to it as well, even though they were not wrestling fans. And that’s awesome because we definitely wanted to gear the show towards a non-wrestling fan base, but we also wanted to please the wrestling fan base. Evan and I have been massive wrestling fans our whole life, so (laughs) we didn’t want to let the wrestling fan base down. But we really wanted to introduce the show and wrestling to people who were not fans. I really wanted them to kind of see wrestling through our POV because we like hold it in such a high regard, you know. I consider it to be the greatest art form that the planet earth has ever created, and I always wanted to put it up on that pedestal because I always felt like it deserved it.
Evan and I love shoot interviews. A lot of them took place in Ramada Inn’s (laughs), where people film these interviews with wrestlers telling these stories. We just knew that these stories are so captivating, and an audience outside of the wrestling fan base will be able to connect with these stories and relate to them. The wrestling world creates this really fantastical backdrop for these really real issues that I think anyone can connect with.”
Agreed. You kind of touched on it there, but one of the things you guys do very differently is creating that theatrical/cinematic feel to your documentaries. What do you think the biggest shift has been in wrestling films, specifically wrestling documentaries from say, Wrestling with Shadows to now?
“That’s a good question. I hold Wrestling with Shadows as one of the greatest documentaries of all time. I love that film. When that documentary was made, I believe, it was in part with some Canadian government financing through the National Film Board of Canada, which is an awesome way to have gotten that story told. We had a lot of problems. Originally with this show, before it was a documentary series, Evan and I had this dream of doing like a scripted narrative show that’s like The Sopranos meets Boogie Nights, but all within the territory world of wrestling. Especially that era of World Class Championship Wrestling. But when we would pitch that to studios in Hollywood, there, wrestling still has this stigma of being this lowbrow form of entertainment. So they never took it seriously.
We thought, “We wanna tell these stories in such an epic way.” Doing it in a documentary form allowed us to just get these stories told, but we really wanted to bring a cinematic quality to it. We wanted to hold these stories up in such a high regard. We were really inspired by documentary films by Herzog and Errol Morris’ Thin Blue Line, and just that level of attention to the stories, and the way, especially Errol Morris goes about pulling the stories out of his subjects. That’s been a major influence.”
My last question Jason, and I’m not gonna ask about a season 3. Hypothetical scenario, it’s season 3, you get the long sought after Vince McMahon episode, and you’re in the room with Vince. What’s the first question you ask Vince McMahon to get the interview process started?
“Oh my god, you know, I’ve actually never even thought about that (laughs). I’ve just never ever thought that that could be in the realm of possibility, so I would never have thought about that. But, I don’t know, maybe I would like to know what Vince McMahon dreams about. Like, what are his nightmares? I’d probably want to know a lot of things about his childhood as well, too. He comes from such a rich family history in wrestling, from his father and grandfather. There’s a lot of history there that I would be so fascinated to know. Gosh, I could sit here for a week thinking of questions I could ask him.”
I hope, one day, you guys get to do that because I think it would be awesome.
“It would be awesome too to know (laughs) when he was a kid watching his dad work this business, was he a fan of it too, and did he, as a kid, do any make-believe booking with toys or anything. Just his own progression into telling stories through wrestling. We came up with this incredible – especially the era I grew up in, in the 80s, I have so much nostalgia for it because it was filled with so much great, over the top, high concept gimmicks, that had such a lasting impression on me. All that stuff has got to come from a mind that you could put on par with a Walt Disney or something. He does have an incredible history of creative storytelling, too, that I find fascinating.”
Just on a side note, I asked Evan about if you guys ever did a Hulk Hogan documentary, how would it go, and he said if he could have Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan in one room, that’s all he would include.
“(Laughs) That’s amazing. Yeah, I could see that.”
He kind of said we wouldn’t need anything else. We would just need those two.
“Well, you could. You could do a whole season with the two of those guys. The history between them and what they did in the business at that time together is remarkable. You know, when we did the Macho Man Randy Savage/Miss Elizabeth story, we interviewed Linda Bollea (Hulk Hogan’s ex-wife), and her stories of just watching Hulk Hogan navigate that world with Vince McMahon, and the two of them together was really fascinating. She had such amazing stories and perspective on it. You know there’s so much history there between the two. It’s an epic story.”
Yeah, and you talk about the fascination with the 80s. I think you could kind of encapsulate that whole 80s era with just those two.
“Oh, you could (laughs). Absolutely. Yeah, you definitely could. I don’t know if you’ve been watching the Michael Jordan The Last Dance series, which has been great. But one thing I love about it is it encapsulates that era like you were saying. It gives you nostalgia for that 90s era of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. It’s cool, and I could definitely see doing something like that.”
Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us, Jason. Again, a big congratulations for all the success you guys have had with Dark Side of the Ring, and I know we’re all rooting for a season 3.
“Thank you so much. I appreciate it.”
For details on Dark Side’s UK season premiere on VICE TV, click here.
Stay tuned for SteelChair’s weekly episode reviews of Dark Side of the Ring season 2.