Dark Side of the Ring co-creators Evan Husney and Jason Eisener

Dark Side of the Ring airs on Vice and takes an in-depth look at some of the most memorable and controversial stories in the world of pro wrestling. Co-creators Evan Husney and Jason Eisener join Chris Van Vliet to talk about season 3 of the show. They discuss some of the most memorable episodes including Brian Pillman, Chris Benoit, The Montreal Screwjob, Owen Hart, and others, where they came up with the idea for the show, how they pitched it to Vice, how Covid changed their production plans, making their re-enactments look so good, the films they worked on before and much more!

On pitching the show to VICE:

Evan: “Oh man, it was actually a lot of fun. It was one of those pitch meeting where everything was clicking and everyone was having fun, In terms of looking back at 80’s wrestling. I remember that it went so well, I could have elbow dropped the table and went right through it. It would have totally fit the tone of the pitch meeting. I think that everyone was really excited about it. There was a world where a lot of it can be explored. It was right around the time that tails from the tour bus had come out. It was about the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle of the 60’s. This is like that but with wrestling. There’s the territory side, there’s the kayfabe side, it’s got all this stuff. I think that it seemed to click. That being said, there’s still the process of getting the budget approved and the money. It took some hurdles to get to that point eventually. But the original pitch meeting was a lot of fun.”

On TV executives not being receptive to wrestling:

Jason: “It’s funny that you say that. Originally Evan and I wanted to make a narrative, scripted series. Basically the wrestling territory days. We went to Hollywood with a pitch that’s like The Sopranos of the wrestling world. That just went over every studio executives head. Every time we mentioned wrestling, they would just tone out of it. We did all this research and we have all this energy, we really wanted to tell wrestling stories in a cinematic way. Then we applied that to Dark Side of The Ring. We get to tell these stories in a documentary format. Maybe someday we will get to take some of them to the big screen.”

On what they were know for before Dark Side of The Ring:

Jason: “I guess it was the first feature movie I made, Hobo With a Shotgun. It was this crazy genre action movie starring Rutger Hauer. That’s probably what I was most known for. I worked on a couple of films, made a couple of anthologies. I worked on Goon 2 and the Netflix Death Note movie. Me and Evan have also got a couple of projects we hope to develop in the future.”

Evan: “For me, I kind of bounced around a lot in the film industry. When Jason and I met 11 or 12 years ago, I was actually in film distribution. I worked at a lot of companies re-releasing cult movies. A lot of older, weirder bizzaro movies I have unearthed. From there I started Alamo Drafthouse, and we released a couple of awesome movies. From there I found myself on VICE. I started producing documentaries for the YouTube channel. I wanted to do something with wrestling so bad, because it was such a huge part of my childhood. We had this opportunity to make stuff at VICE, so lets do something with wrestling. It took a while, actually until VICE’s TV channel really started, where there would be a budget to do something.”

On how they retell stories already well known:

Evan: “Well specifically with The Montreal Screwjob one, back in the beginning of the show we didn’t have the name Dark Side of The Ring. We just knew it was going to be this wrestling documentary series. We wanted to cover all of the big stories and the controversies. But we really wanted to turn on broader audiences to this world. We wanted to bring them into the fold and have them just as riveted and excited about these stories as we are. At the time we were like The Montreal Screwjob is such a great entry point for a non-wrestling fan to get into understanding the inner workings of the company. Understand, kayfabe and backstage politics and all that stuff. But also it came from Jason and I just really wanting to see wrestling covered in a way that takes shoot interviews on YouTube and elevates it. We wanted to combine our documentary experiences with wrestling.”

On finding lookalikes for the wrestling re-enactments on the show:

Jason: “Well we shoot the show in Toronto, and luckily there’s a few independent wrestling crews there. We reach out to them and work closely with them and their roster. It’s also searching on Instagram ‘Toronto gyms’ and trying to match the silhouette. The effect of shooting it in slow motion and the noire vibe of it where everyone is back lit. In wrestling, once you see a character like a Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage, if you just saw the outline of them, you know who they are. It looks cool with the slow motion, but we are cheating a lot. If you turned on the light, we would be laughed out of the room.”

On Jason and Evan having to be lookalikes:

Jason: “I play Mick Foley in the Herb Abrams episode. Even you placyed Rick Mercer in the Gino Hernandez episode.”

Evan: “Well I played Jimmy Hart, lets not just breeze over that. I don’t look anything like Jimmy Hart, that is the best example of someone not looking like who they should be. When Jason said I was going to be Jimmy Hart, I had no choice in the matter. It was basically lets see how this works. When they put the wig on and drew all of the facial hair on me, then there’s the sunglasses. Then there’s the suit too, once you gimmick it up, you realize how iconic some of the wrestlers were. Now if it’s like we need a Randy Orton, you got to get really specific.”

On who helped them the most in getting the connections needed for the show:

Jason: “There’s so many people. From the very beginning when we did the Bruiser Brody episode as our pilot. Having Dutch Mantel, he was an incredible resource. He helped so much with that episode and other episodes in the season. He also narrated the first season. Also Barbara Goodish, Bruiser Brody’s wife, we have to thank her so much. When we wanted to tell that story, the very first episode, we knew we had to have Barbara on board. She was the first one to check us out and trust us. Then from there, people have so much respect today for both Brody and Barbara. We would contact wrestlers, they would be on the fence but then they would call Barbara. She would give the OK and then the wrestlers would say it’s cool. That happened a lot in the binning stages of the show. Barbara really batted for us, we owe her so much.”

Evan: “Even in season 2 we had to call Barbara a few times. I remember David Schultz, who is now a good friend of the show, but at the time didn’t know who we were. He got cold feet at one point, but the respect he has for Brody, especially Barbara, that runs so deep. She came to the rescue and made it all happen. She’s just the best. There have been others along the way. Jim Ross is a guy I think about in terms of Steve Austin coming on board. I think the Martha Hart inclusion in the Owen Hart episode has been a big calling card too.”

On a list of future episodes:

Evan: “Yeah we have kept a list over the seasons of the years. We always ask viewers what they want to see. We have to credit our viewers too. They have definitely shown the enthusiasm of what they really want to see. That has definitely forced us or motivated us to try and make those episodes happen. Also there’s a ton that for personal reasons we want to get in there. There’s definitely a few in this season. The Road Warriors was a personal one we wanted to get in for season 2. For season 3, I know during the lockdown my wrestling viewing was strictly FMW. It was something I had always passed over, so we are doing an FMW episode. But we all try and get together, hash it out and try to find those elements that will transcend the wrestling bubble and try to hook an audience outside of it. I think that wrestling is an oddly perfect setting for a lot of these stories. Because there is this blurred lines aspect, the fourth wall aspect. Wrestling becomes this microcosm of society. It’s an interesting way to look at politics or human dynamics or entertainment through that lens. We always try to look at what stories can we look at through the lens of wrestling. That helps us weed out the other stories. Some don’t fit that bill, there isn’t the strong connection or first hand information. As soon as we get one, we are off and making it as quick as possible.”

On the impact of COVID during filming:

Evan: “When COVID broke out in a big way, it was during the filming of season 2. In March 2020, we were filming the last scenes of our re-enactments for season 2.”

Jason: “We were shooting in studio, and we were getting word that this was happening, this was on our last day. The next day, Toronto completely shut down. But we still had to go to the office to finish the episodes. It was a really weird experience. Evan and I are just walking in downtown Toronto to work with like no one around. It’s just us in the studio with a couple of editors. Eventually it shut down to the point of closing the studio and giving me a giant hard drive. We ended up having to finish the episodes remotely. It was like how do we make the show during this. It was weird when we released the show too. We were going to have a premiere and everything. That got shut down days before. Thankfully people watch it. We hear a lot people thanking us for creating content that people could watch during the lockdown. I felt bad that we didn’t get to celebrate this hard work. But at the same time people were being so appreciative. Then it’s time to make season 3, and this stuff is not over. How do we do this? But we started figuring out all of the COVID protocols. We got an RV, me, Evan and some camera operators criss-crossed America. The worst thing is that Evan and I are normally living together and producing the show together. But now he is handling the American side and I am handling the stuff here in Canada. But we do video calls with our team every day.”

Evan: “Yeah it was daunting because we’re going to make another season during this pandemic. There’s also the fact that it’s 14 episodes. I wasn’t anticipating that, it’s almost twice the amount of episodes that had already existed. We really had to figure out how we were going to do this. Other shows had been filming already, and the RV model was working. That was wild, we were travelling from LA to Charlotte, North Carolina. We were going around multiple times, but it was the safest way to do it. I think for us it was safety first. We definitely did not want to put anyone at risk. Secondly, we did not want to sacrifice the quality of the show in any way. If we could do both, then lets do this. We didn’t want to do zoom interviews, we wanted to do it like we did before. I’m grateful that we maintained safety and the show is still the same. That comes down to our team who has been amazing this year. Everyone has been firing on all cylinders.”

On a future interview that they want to get:

Evan: “So for this season, we are doing an episode about the steroid trials. That’s one of the more significant events outside the ring in the wrestling world of the 90’s. We were able to interview Vince’s long time attorney Jerry McDevitt. To us, that is a new threshold in terms of access. He still is a part of the company in some ways. I’m hoping that will allow us to interview more folks behind the scenes at WWE. Maybe stories that aren’t related to their time in WWE, but could appear on the show. For example, Michael Hayes works in WWE as The Freebirds. I could see a future episode on The Freebirds.”

On what they are grateful for:

Evan: “My parents, our team and the family members we talk to for the show.”

Jason: “My friends and family being healthy, our crew and everyone for staying safe.”

Jason Eisener can be found on Twitter here. Evan Husney can be found on Twitter here.

Featured image credit: Twitter

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