Beyond the Mat embroiled in controversy
By JOHN MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling
Accusations fly back and forth between filmmaker and the WWF
A controversial new documentary on pro wrestling is setting up a potential real life grudge match between its
producers and World Wrestling Federation honcho Vincent K. McMahon.
After having allowed full backstage access to a film crew, the WWF abruptly
pulled its support for "Beyond the Mat", a behind-the-scenes look at
the pro wrestling world focusing on the exploits of WWF wrestler Mick
Foley. After viewing the Ron Howard produced film, McMahon pulled the
film's ads from all WWF broadcasts on the USA and UPN networks.
The documentary's distributor, Lions Gate Films, claims McMahon not only
pulled the ads from his own programs, but also strong-armed USA and UPN
to drop all advertising for the film off both networks entirely.
The film will be released in the United States March 17. Lions Gate is considering filing a restraint of trade lawsuit against the WWF.
"It's something we're looking into," admitted Tom Ortenberg, Co-President
of Lions Gate Films. "We're going to wait after the film has been
released for a bit so that we can better access any damages we may have
A spokesperson at USA who didn't want to be identified says McMahon and
the WWF made no such demands.
"That's absolutely not true," said the spokesperson. "(Lions Gate) is
not allowed to advertise the film on WWF programming on our network
because the WWF handles the sale of their own ad space. But they are
free to advertise on any other program on USA. They just haven't asked
to do so."
Paul Maguire, a Senior Vice President at UPN was contacted but declined
The WWF says they pulled the ads from their own shows because of a policy of not endorsing other wrestling ventures.
"We chose to pull the ads because we thought they would create
confusion in the marketplace," says Jim Byrne, WWF Senior Vice President of Marketing. "We have longstanding policy
of not promoting third party wrestling endeavors or any product that we
consider direct wrestling competition to our product."
"We have no financial or emotional attachment to the film," continued
Byrne. "We are not going to go of our way to help promote anything that
doesn't benefit us in the end."
Director Barry Blaustein, a lifelong wrestling fan who first approached
the WWF about the project in 1997, is troubled by the WWF's alleged
"The WWF have coerced both UPN and USA into not allowing our commercial
to air on both networks," charges Blaustein. "If they don't want to
advertise it on their own shows, that's fine. I don't have a problem
with that. What I have a problem with is the WWF strong arming two
major networks like USA and UPN into not running the ad."
"It's appalling that a single producer (McMahon) has been able to
dictate to USA and UPN what ads they can and can't run," claims Mark
Urman, Co-President of Lions Gate Films. "It's absolutely frightening."
The ads have run on a small, handful of local UPN and USA stations after
the producers bought local ad space in response to the alleged network
Lions Gate say they had a legal contract, printed on WWF letterhead, to
run the ads during WWF programming. He says that the WWF pulled the ads
right at the last minute and did not inform them, potentially hurting
how the film does at the box office.
"This was all done, we're talking not in the eleventh hour but the
twelfth hours," says Ortenberg. "(The WWF) didn't even inform us. We
were told through the ad agency that handles placement of our ads. This
really hurt us because we wanted to promote this film to those people
who would be watching the WWF and who we feel are the core audience for
While the WWF doesn't deny they had a legal contract with Lions Gate,
they claim they were well within their rights to pull the ads.
"After viewing the ads we deemed this a project we did not want to help
promote," says Byrne.
"There was a provision in the contract that allowed us to back out.
Lions Gate knew that."
The WWF's "Raw is War" and "Smackdown!" programs are the highest rated
programs on USA and UPN, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue for
both networks. Lions Gate claim the networks caved into McMahon for
"They know where their bread is buttered," states Urman. "Obviously
they're going to meet the demands of the WWF."
Blaustein says that McMahon has issued a gag order to his stable of
wrestlers, including Mick Foley, a close friend to Blaustein, forbidding
them from speaking about the film in public interviews.
"Vince called me up and said if you're such good friends with Foley as
you claim, that you should never allow him do any publicity for the
film. He's threatened other wrestlers' careers too."
Byrne characterizes McMahon's actions as a request, not a threat.
"Vince has requested that our wrestlers don't speak about the film in
public interviews for obvious reasons," said Byrne. "Vince sees it as
counter productive to promote a product we have no stake in."
Perhaps in response to Blaustein's charge, the WWF announced late Tuesday
that Foley will discuss the film Thursday when he tapes an appearance on
"Larry King Live" scheduled to air Friday. Foley will appear with
Blaustein and Hulk Hogan, Terry Funk and Roddy Piper, wrestlers with
World Championship Wrestling, a rival wrestling promotion owned by
Blaustein also contends that McMahon pulled the ads because he was angry
that he had no creative control over the final edit.
"Anybody who knows McMahon knows he's a control freak," states
Blaustein. "He has to be in charge of everything. That's how he runs
Blaustein also feels that McMahon pulled the ads because he was upset
with certain scenes, in particular one where Foley's kids are shown
crying after watching their father take a physical pummeling inside the
"On his television shows, McMahon portrays himself as a bad guy," says
Urman. "I think he's just living up to his on-air persona."
Urman also claims McMahon was angered when the producers turned him down
to buy the rights to the movie.
"I think he was put off by that," says Urman. "This was a documentary
and everybody involved in the film were adamant about keeping it
independent and not a WWF propaganda film."
"I find it incredulous that the filmmakers would feel some sort of
entitlement to use WWF trademarks, names and our marketing machine to
promote and publicize this film," says the WWF's Byrne. "And yet at the same time they want to cause a stir in the media to drum up attention for the film."
The producers have re-cut a new version of the ad, adding the tag line
that this is "the film Vince McMahon doesn't want you to see."
Despite the subject matter, Blaustein contends the film extends far
beyond pro wrestling.
"It is a wrestling film and it isn't," states Blaustein. "It's really
about family and what's really important in life, more than it is about
The film was named Best Documentary at the Cinequest Film Festival in
San Jose, California. It was also nominated by the Director's Guild
Association for best documentary and was among the final 12 nominations
for an Academy Award for best documentary.
Beyond the Mat in the SLAM! Wrestling Movie Database
Mar. 19: Hogan, Piper, Foley open up on Larry King
Mar. 15: Beyond the Mat embroiled in controversy
Mar. 9: WWF puts headlock on film