Welcome to Barbedwirecity.com, home of the new independent documentary film Barbed Wire City. Our film studies the history of, and people who made, Extreme Championship Wrestling a cult sensation in the 1990s. We took an intimate look at the subculture of a subculture, and found a very human story about athletes who see themselves as entertainers, and were willing to take massive amounts of punishment for little money based on the promise of something more within their industry. This is a film about culture and human beings—who just happen to use tables and chairs and violent acts as part of their performance art. This documentary is not owned or supported by the WWE.
Barbed Wire City debuts with a premiere screening and DVD release Saturday April 20, 2013 in Philadelphia, PA (venue to be announced shortly). This website is your one stop shop for news about our documentary, pre-ordering the DVD, merchandise, the premiere, video clips, and a blog by the directors. Take a look around, explore, and get ready for a fascinating journey on April 20th.
Who We Are: Filmmakers Kevin Kiernan and John Philapavage have been friends since they were two years old. Both attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. They’ve made several short and long form films together, including two mockumentaries, with several being shown at east coast film festivals.
What Is The Documentary About: We like to call this the study of a subculture’s subculture. Pro Wrestling is a world that is an odd island to most people. In the 1990s, Extreme Championship Wrestling was the bizarre underground of that subculture. We wanted to bring the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of this promotion to the mainstream, its ups and its downs, from its beginning in the early 90s all the way into 2012. We’ve shot 50 hours of footage and conducted over 60 interviews to give context and accuracy to this oral history. This has been a labor of love, as the project began when both filmmakers were 19, in March of 2000.
Philapavage was a wrestling fan growing up, particularly captivated by Extreme Championship Wrestling as a teen. Kiernan, never a fan, brought a fresh perspective to the project. Much of the film was shot in 2001, before the film was put on hold the first time in 2002. Several times production of the film was resumed, but it was never completed, due to lack of funding. In January of this year the project was resurrected again with new eyes. 15 additional hours were shot, including three days at Extreme Reunion, a wrestling show in Philadelphia, where ECW alumni came together to reunite in front of roughly 2000 fans.
This film aims to take an honest, critical look at the history, legacy, and impact of ECW on the professional wrestling industry, as well as tell the stories of the men and women who helped build this small mom and pop promotion into a national force. We examine the violence and bloodshed, marketing and fan involvement, as well as the decisions of those in charge, through the company’s triumphs, glory years, controversies, and demise.
It also seeks to shed light on a group of people that came together with the goal of turning their industry on its head. The sacrifices they made trying to achieve it were often physically brutal, as they were chasing the dream of trying to create something innovative in professional wrestling. They succeeded by playing an often unheralded role in the creation of the cultural phenomenon that was the wrestling boom of the late 90’s, but failed to fully realize their dream of getting to the top of that swell of popular acceptance that they helped create. We want to tell their story.
Who Is In Our Film: We conducted over 60 different interviews, some with the same subjects twice, over a decade apart. Our approach to telling the story of Extreme Championship Wrestling and giving you proper context has been holistic in nature. We’ve interviewed journalists, wrestlers, referees, ring announcers, security staff, company staff and production, all the way to fans and fan organizers.
The wrestlers range from mainstays like Sandman, Raven, Shane Douglas, Balls Mahoney, Axl Rotten, New Jack, Mikey Whipwreck, The Blue Meanie, Stevie Richards, Nova, Ted Petty, and Johnny Grunge, to wrestlers from later years like Jerry Lynn, Angel and Devito of Da Baldies, Chris Chetti and Danny Doring, and Steve Corino.
We spoke with personalities like Joel Gertner, Sign Guy Dudley (Lou E.), and referee John Finagan. We interviewed the founder of Extreme Championship Wrestling, Tod Gordon, as well as early staff like Larry Winters, Bob Artese, Ed Zohn, Kathy Fitzpatrick, and longtime office workers like Gabe Sapolsky and Damien Farren, as well as later Extreme Championship Wrestling staffers like Dan Kowal. We also sat down with TV production man, Charlie Bruzzese. We sought out involved fans, like ECW Arena front row fan, John “Straw Hat Guy” Baily, and supporter/fan organizer, Tony Lewis. We have the head of Atlas Security, Ronnie Lang, as well as one of his trusted lieutenants, Joe Wilchak.
Finally, we have a wide array of context and analysis, as well as diverse opinions, from the journalists who covered Extreme Championship Wresting. Dave Meltzer from the Wrestling Observer, Wade Keller and Bruce Mitchell from the Pro Wrestling Torch, Jason Powell of Prowrestling.Net, as well as wrestling photographer and historian, Bill Apter. Rounding out this list are Mike Johnson and Dave Scherer of PWInsider.com, who have the unique distinction of being early fans who became journalists, and also worked for the companies official website. We also spoke with Michael “Mad Dog” Tearson (a local Philadelphia journalist), Rob Feinstein of RF Video (ECW’s video tape partner), and Frank Talent of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission.