Brother, you best be saying your prayers and eating your vitamins. You best not be too scared to eat a turnbuckle or be subjected to a sleeper hold. Beat Down director Deanne Foley was one such person, as she dove head-first into the world of leg drops, suplexes and body slams.
Not literally, though, ‘cause those moves are something Foley takes very seriously.
“I already had a respect for it,” Foley says. “I wanted to make a film that satisfied the most die-hard wrestling fan, but that you didn’t need to be a fan in order to get into the story… I wanted the wrestling to feel authentic.”
Beat Down is the story of Fran (Marthe Bernard), a Newfoundlander who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a pro wrestler. Her father, Whitey (played by Robb Wells of Trailer Park Boys fame), has long-since abandoned his salad days as a gorgeous lad of wrestling and wants Fran to abandon her dreams. With persistence, and the aid of friends like Michael (Mark O’Brien, Bernard’s Republic of Doyle co-star) and Father Tyrone (prince among men, Andy Jones), Fran makes a name for herself in the wrestling scene. Before the end of the film, she may even manage to get Whitey back in the ring for one more match alongside his daughter.
“Even though it’s choreographed, those moves hurt,” Foley says. “Hitting a turnbuckle hurts. It’s not a stunt. They still take the bang.”
To research the sport, Foley went on tour with Newfoundland’s own Legend City Wrestling. Working closely with LCW founders Dan Bjorkdahl and Steve Clarke, Foley was able to translate all of the theatrics and staggering blows of live wrestling for several key matches in Beat Down.
“When wrestling is done well, it’s an unbelievable show,” Foley says. “I found myself getting involved in the matches, shouting ‘Oh my god! He just hurt his head. Is he okay? I think he broke his neck!’”
“My producer, Paul Pope, would just laugh at me,” Foley says.
Five years ago, Foley and co-writer Iain Macleod began working on a script about a family of wrestlers. The first draft focused on Whitey instead of his daughter, Fran, and was, in Foley’s words, “a poor man’s Million Dollar Baby.”
“I hope that draft never resurfaces,” she says with a sigh of relief.
Having decided that the world doesn’t need another training montage set to inspiring music, Foley and Macleod aimed to move away from films like Girlfight and Rocky, to give Beat Down its own identity. The pair turned out another eleven drafts before shooting the film last year. With Foley and Macleod working on other projects, such as Street Cents, Trailer Park Boys and CBC’s late, lamented Zed, Beat Down’s script would be set aside for long periods of time. Foley says this lengthy gestation period brought clarity to the creative process.
“The comedy was a bit broader than what you see on the screen,” Foley says about the initial Beat Down drafts. “Our intent was never to make fun of this world or these characters. Even though these characters may be extreme in nature, their fears, dreams and beliefs were real. The early drafts were a bit more sentimental, which didn’t work. The comedy and the drama needed to support each other for the film to work.”
Wrestling fans encompass people from all walks of life, which Foley witnessed first-hand during her time with the LCW.
“The sweetest little girl with blonde pigtails screaming ‘break his arm!’” Foley says. “She must’ve been seven. It’s great entertainment.”
As someone who’s researched wrestling as intently as she has, Foley understands the love and hate fans aim at the wrestlers.
“You don’t just casually think ‘oh, I’ll check out some wrestling tonight’,” she says. “The fans were amazing and their reactions were insane… They hated the bad guy and they loved the good guy.”
Beat Down earned a positive reception during its screening at the Women’s Film Festival last year, and the hope is that the film will connect with cinemagoers the way wrestling fans take to LCW or WWE action. With the film opening in eight theatres across all four Atlantic provinces this month, there’s a chance for the film to strike a chord with audiences who come for the comedy, the drama, or the headlocks.
Beat Down is showing at Empire Studio 12 in the Avalon Mall starting September 7th.