Hitman Hart director explains choices
By GREG OLIVER --
You'd figure that to spend a year of your life following Bret 'The
Hitman' Hart around to film a documentary that you'd be a wrestling fan,
Not Paul Jay, who directed Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows, an
almost two-hour look at The Hitman's life with the WWF up until the
Survivor Series in Montreal where he lost the World Title to Shawn
"I was not a big wrestling fan," said Jay, 47, from his office at High
Road Productions in Toronto.
"I knew Bret Hart vaguely. I knew he was a Canadian, I knew he was a
big star, but I can't say that it had really ever clicked for me as a
story or something to pursue."
It wasn't until Jay saw Hart give an interview from Germany, after he
had lost the title on a previous occasion, and was publicly
contemplating whether he would come back or not that he thought there
was a potential story.
"That interview impressed me," he said, and within days, he started
trying to get hold of Hart.
However, the initial plan for the story was quite different than the
way it ended up.
"Originally, we had no idea any of these events were going to happen,"
said Jay, who also works as an executive producer on CBC Newsworld's
debate show counterSpin. "The original framing of the story was more
about the Hart Family, and just behind the scenes of this weird
The events to which he is referring should be common knowledge to any
contemporary wrestling fan: Bret plays off WCW vs WWF to land a 20-year
deal with the WWF; Bret re-forms the Hart Foundation and wins gold
again; A Canada vs U.S.A. feud is established, leading up to a Bret vs
Shawn Michaels showdown in Montreal at the Survivor Series; WWF owner
Vince McMahon asks out of his contract with Bret, which leads Bret to
calling, and signing, with WCW; Michaels wins the belt when referee Earl
Hebner calls for the bell without Hart submitting; Hart knocks out
McMahon backstage for the double-cross, and leaves the WWF on bad terms.
Jay continued. "We always thought a general audience was in mind. We
always figured the access we had, and the behind the scenes, was
something that wrestling fans had never seen."
"We were always trying to walk this line of not insulting wrestling
fans with being superficial or stupid about wrestling. At the same time,
open it up to people who don't know anything about wrestling."
Jay still doesn't think that he'll watch wrestling much more, but sure
knows the jargon now. During the interview, he frequently used insider
terms like 'mark' (a fan), 'work' (a fixed outcome, usually for a
match), but admitted that he knew little of the history of the mat game.
Jay also came out of the experience with a much greater appreciation for
wrestling and its fans.
"Through making the film, I started to understand how smart wrestling
fans are. People who don't get wrestling think it's all ... a mindless
entertainment. And it's not. It's very classic, great theatre. That, I
think, most of the audience is very in on the fact that they're not only
watching theatre, but that they're part of the theatre."
Working with the World Wrestling Federation was a slighty different
matter. High Road Productions had a "very strong, iron-clad contract
with WWF, where they owed us access, and they owed us footage, and they
owed us privacy releases for the wrestlers", according to Jay. After
Montreal, "they would not give us footage, and they were not
co-operating on releases and the other issues. Nor would they give us
access to film again. That went on for some time, and negotiations went
back and forth. It was quite at the verge, I would say, of the eleventh
hour before it was going to go into court, when finally we found some
terms of agreement that both sides could live with to some extent.
"I can't say they were never unpleasant us, but clearly their business
interests changed. Their problem was that this is a film, in their view,
is going to push and promote a guy who is working for the competition.
It's as simple as that."
Vince McMahon had agreed to be interviewed, but after the Survivor
Series, he refused, even going so far as to request that TSN not release
his interview from Off The Record to the filmmaker.
"I actually would have liked to humanize Vince more," he said. "I would
have liked him to be a more complex, real person because that makes a
better story, a better drama, more true to real life."
Jay believes that he was coming at the issue from McMahon and the WWF.
"Our interest in the film wasn't to make Bret's case. Our interest in
the film was to have a dramatic film that tells a great story. And
there's no question it would have been a better story if the villain of
the piece -- and I say that with quotes and half a joke, because we
didn't go out to get Vince. But if he'd been bigger in the film, and had
more of a presence, it would have made a better film."
The documentary does have clips of McMahon's interviews on RAW, but
that's all from the owner of the WWF.
Jay knows that there were many more paths that could have been followed
in both the making and putting together of the product.
There was an interview with Owen Hart that never made the final cut.
Brothers-in-laws Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart are barely heard from.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley gave an interview that "in terms of wrestling,
maybe the smartest interview in the film," yet is only on-screen for a
"They're just choices you make when focus a story," he said.
The subject of Brian Pillman's death was also an issue.
Jay explained: "Two things happened. One, we never focused on Pillman
while he was alive. So in terms of actually having material with
Pillman, we didn't have anything. How to deal with the death was a big
debate in the editing room. Again, it's just one of these question, how
many trails can you go down in a film? It certainly was an important
event in how things unfolded for Bret. It's true. The way that Pillman's
death got treated on television by Vince, it was one of the things that
upset Bret. I can't say it was decisive, but it one of the things."
With The Hitman currently in WCW, the release of the documentary could
really push his character into the media mainstream and into
"I think the film does as much for WWF as it does for Bret and the WCW.
All the characters, the WWF characters, it's the whole world of the WWF.
And after watching the film, I think, you'll be as intrigued -- you'll
want to know what happened to Bret, and you'll go watch WCW to find
Bret, but you'll be every bit as interested in what's going on in WWF."
Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows is scheduled to be shown by some
pretty big players.
A&E in the States will be showing it as a two-hour Sunday night
special. Said Jay: "The A&E special is a nice venue, but of course it's
going to be all sliced up for commercials."
The film will also be shown across Canada, but it's kind of a mixed bag
[Editor's note: We don't know exact days and times yet, but keep surfing
in and we'll let you know. Or use our great National TV Listings
TVO will show it in Ontario, the A-Channel in Alberta, CTV/Baton will
broadcast it in the Maritimes and British Columbia. Quebec isn't settled
yet, but Jay expects that it will be picked up by an English
broadcastor, and has been talking to Radio Canada about a French
It will also air overseas on the BBC and in France, Norway, Finland,
Bigger than all the TV exposure for Jay, however, is being chosen to
open this year's Sheffield Documentary Film Festival in England.
"[It's] kind of a coup," said Jay, the founding chair of Hot Docs,
Canada's national documentary film festival.. "Sheffield is one of the
major documentary film festivals in the world ... the fact that they
selected our film to open the festival is a kick!"
The documentary is also being pre-sold on their web site at
and over the phone at 1-800-900-6952. Cost
is $24.95 Canadian, and they have both versions for both North American
VCRs, and those overseas. Videos won't be available until November 1.
Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows in the SLAM! Wrestling Movie Database
More on Bret Hart