Yesterday, my colleague Sean Rueter and I had the pleasure of interviewing Nigel McGuinness about his latest Kickstarter project, LA Fights (the website's address is www.kickstarter.com/projects/nigelmcguinness/la-fights - lots more information can be found on there), in which he is hoping to earn funding of $370,000 for an innovative six-episode TV series that he believes would completely reinvent the pro wrestling genre.
We found him in very convivial spirits, opening up the proceedings with one of veteran British entertainer's Bruce Forsyth's old catchphrases, which was lost on the American half of the audience. This despite being up bright and early for a Reddit AMA earlier in the day.
Life is currently very busy for McGuinness, as he's focusing all his energy on promoting LA Fights to death, understanding that even in today's world, it can still be a struggle to get your message out there, due to the noise that pervades social media outlets like Twitter.
McGuinness is keen to face any concerns or criticisms with the project face on, understanding that wrestling fans have Kickstarter fatigue, but passionately argued that such crowd-funding campaigns are still the only way for independent artists like himself can get their vision out there without being beholden to a big production company who would inevitably come in with their own demands like adding snakes and vampires to the show.
So how will LA Fights be different from today's WWE programming? McGuinness is promising more sophisticated adult storylines in the style of critically acclaimed shows like Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones, moving away from stereotypical babyfaces and heels to more well-rounded and nuanced characters whose actions may sometimes surprise you.
Not only will the plots be more realistic, but so too will be the in-ring style, which will be heavily influenced by mixed martial arts fighting. McGuinness believes that a scripted product that draws liberally from both genres (pro wrestling and MMA) has the potential to appeal to the masses if done properly, and he's the man for the job, having worked on this concept extensively for over a year and thought about the idea several years earlier.
LA Fights synopsis pitch is that it will be about "a group of amateur fighters [who] struggle to coexist with their morally ambivalent promoter in an upstart LA based fight league". Here, fiction partially reflects reality, as the idea is partly inspired by many independent wrestlers currently being ambivalent about joining WWE, as their product hasn't evolved over the last 10 or 15 years, and people like CM Punk even quitting the company to go into MMA instead. In the universe McGuinness has imagined such characters will get together once a week and form their own promotion where they legitimately fight each other. As they're not seasoned amateur fighters and come from a pro wrestling background, they will fight less defensively and still attempt to entertain the crowd, but will find out that some of their old tactics like throwing dropkicks don't actually work in reality.
McGuinness thinks pro wrestling would benefit from moving to a more seasonal format, as it's simply impossible to write good TV for 52 weeks a year, nonstop. Moreover, it also doesn't fit the viewing habits of today's audience, who like to binge watch whole series in one go using services like Netflix or Hulu. However, WWE's current business model (or TNA's for that matter) wouldn't allow such a transition, but McGuinness's goal with his LA Fights series would be to influence the market leaders (like ECW did in the late 1990s) rather than compete with them directly.
Being explicit that LA Fights is designed to be complementary rather than competing makes McGuinness hopeful that he can use wrestlers from other groups to appear in his project, particularly performers from Ring Of Honor, who he believes has some of the best wrestlers in the world. He already has a cast in mind including a few actors for non-wrestling roles and a crew of wrestlers who would be able to work the MMA influenced ring style he has in mind and also be able to really emote on camera, so they can pull off the reality based storylines of the show, touching on gritty topics like the conflict of ambition vs. family and wellbeing, concussions, drug abuse and sexuality.
An interesting point in the discussion was when McGuinness claimed wrestlers were not actors. Asked to expand on that thought, Nigel clarified that wrestlers were "100% actors, but we are not good actors. We can't pretend to be people we're not and that is the definition of a good actor, someone that can play [a] character that is categorically different [to themselves] and I don't think there are many wrestlers that can do that, because we're not classically trained actors. What we are is passionate and what we are [able to do] is to emote and get out true selves out there, and that's why I think we all want to be wrestlers, we want to have that forum to do that."
Recognising this, McGuinness will allow room for his cast members to ad lib to a degree, as he doesn't believe he can put words in wrestlers' mouths and doesn't believe you should. What he's done when writing the script is to put in placeholders, which will be tweaked as necessary as the screening take place to suit the performers' skills and abilities. Nigel admits it will be a steep learning curve for a lot of the wrestlers to do something so different, including himself, as he will return to the ring for the project, but that's why he finds it so exciting.
The episodes will be 45 minutes long, so they could fit into a one hour window with advertisements, if the series was picked up at a later date by a TV company, and would feature character arcs that would progress as the season progresses.
McGuinness was blunt that his show wouldn't be for you if you wanted wrestling to go back to the days where the action took place almost completely in the ring, but argued that this was a necessary evil with people's shorter attention spans nowadays and desire for instant gratification. He stressed the need for realism, characters that people genuinely care about and making the outcomes of matches feel important, so these are qualities his project will focus on.
As Nigel wasn't involved with Jeff Katz's Wrestling Retribution Project (a 13 episode wrestling serial funded by Kickstarter in 2011, but although tapings were held, the project remains uncompleted), he obviously can't explain what went wrong there, but pointed to the successful completion of his first Kickstarter campaign for the Last Of McGuinness documentary and also his much more realistic budget as proof that he wouldn't let people down in a similar manner. McGuinness later revealed that he's currently working as an assistant editor on a Tru-TV hidden camera magic show, calling it the best job he's ever had, which should be the perfect preparation for his LA Fights project.
Regarding whether there would be any pushback within the industry for covering controversial subjects that are close to the wrestling profession's bone, McGuinness doesn't think so, because his aim isn't to reflect the industry negatively and the rabbit is already out of the bag that wrestlers sometimes use painkillers to cope with injuries suffered in the ring.
On the topic of whether he's worried the MMA influenced pitch will put off some people from backing the project (those who say that "if I wanted to watch MMA, I'd watch UFC"), McGuinness doesn't believe it will, pointing to people like Daniel Bryan, Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish who have successfully incorporated MMA moves into their repertoire in an exciting manner and are already evolving pro wrestling in that direction.
He also believes that such a style will also be far safer for the performers. Indeed, he now doesn't believe in wrestlers taking bumps, as it never happens in a professional fight. Fighters do get knocked down, but rarely are they back on their feet in a flash unless they slip. McGuinness is specifically trying to target the people who can't watch modern wrestling because it looks far too unbelievable and unrealistic to them.
This is my synopsis of our discussion together, but I'd advise everyone to listen to the whole 40 minute interview (barring a jump cut five minutes in due to technical difficulties where our recording equipment failed briefly) below:
If you have any issues with the embedded player, you can also listen on YouTube here.
We'd like to thank Nigel McGuinness for speaking with us and if you like what you heard, Cagesiders, then we'd encourage you to go to LAFights.com and support his project.