The producers of a controversial new documentary on pro wrestling are involved in a real life feud with the World Wrestling Federation.
After allowing full backstage access to a film crew, the WWF abruptly pulled their support for film maker Barry Blaustein’s Beyond the Mat. The film will be released March 17 but its distributor is about to do battle with WWF kingpin Vince McMahon over a WWF advertising embargo.
McMahon axed the film’s ads from all WWF broadcasts. Now, the documentary’s distributor, Lions Gate Films, claims McMahon’s strong-armed 26 stations to drop all advertising for the film.
According to Blaustein, not only will McMahon not air the ads on WWF programs, but on all programs that air on the same network as the WWF’s TV shows.
“It’s a sad commentary on the state of these (networks) that they’re willing to be coerced by Vince McMahon,” Blaustein told 1wrestling.com’s Buck Woodward.
“If he doesn’t want to promote the film that’s fine. That’s within his right. What isn’t right is how he’s coerced these stations.”
Tom Ortenberg, President of Lions Gate Films, says McMahon is angry the movie didn’t come out the way he wanted and that he’s not making any money from it. The distributor is considering legal action against McMahon and the WWF.
“I think what it boils down to is Vince wants to be in control of everything. If you don’t play ball by Vince’s rules, he gets very upset,” says Blaustein.
WWF officials say they removed the ads because third parties have never been allowed to promote their wrestling products during WWF programming.
“The movie is filled with our characters and trademarks, and it’s incredulous that the film makers would feel entitled to the WWF marketing machine to promote and publicize it,” says Jim Byrne, senior vice president of marketing for the WWF.
Lions Gate is hoping to use McMahon’s “flip flop” stance to their advantage, re-editing its ads to tout “the film Vince McMahon doesn’t want you to see.”
Blaustein and the producers have said that when they approached the WWF with the idea of the documentary, McMahon was excited about the project. At the time, the WWF was on the losing end of a bitter, promotional war with rival World Championship Wrestling. McMahon felt that the WWF’s involvement in the movie would provide the company with invaluable exposure.
“Vince was a little more needy at the time,” said Blaustein. “I’m sure that’s why he co-operated with us.”
This isn’t the first time the WWF has taken exception to a documentary. In 1998, the WWF were embroiled in a legal battle over broadcast rights with the producers of Wrestling with Shadows, a documentary on former WWF wrestler Bret Hart.
Explore more articles in Slam Wrestling’s Beyond the Mat story archive.
- Slam Wrestling staff, with files from Associated Press