By now, the name Brian Shields should be familiar to fans of WWE and its books. He’s half of the team that puts together the monumental WWE Encyclopedia and his name has appeared on a number of other books and projects too. Now, he’s got the 30 Years of WrestleMania out on shelves. Shields answered SLAM! Wrestling’s questions about his past projects, the current book and what’s next.
SLAM! WRESTLING: What was your background before starting to write books for the WWE?
BRIAN SHIELDS: I’ve been writing in notebooks since childhood. When I was a kid I would list matches that I thought would be good to see on WWE TV in the back of my school notebooks. I would also have a section called “Dream Matches” like in many of the magazines back then and put WWE Superstars vs. NWA, AWA, and WCCW stars. Conveniently, I thought these were all amazing match-ups and wondered why it wasn’t happening on television.
My career began in sports marketing in the video game business. I worked at Acclaim Entertainment, on licensed sports games with WWE (WWF at the time), NBA, NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball, and ECW. Some of the first games I worked on were WWF Warzone and Attitude, taking screenshots for ads and video footage for commercials. I’m also a Second City graduate in sketch comedy writing. They had a school in New York City. On a side note, the Second City Theatre in Toronto is a great place.
SLAM! WRESTLING: We mainly know you for your work on the WWE Encyclopedia. Did you write anything else for WWE?
BRIAN SHIELDS: I’ve enjoyed the privilege of working with WWE on a variety of special projects since the late 90’s. From the Warzone and Attitude video games, to writing talent introductions for events and copywriting for the Consumer Products Department, to books, to writing the Best of WWE 2013 Edition from Topps, and announcer dialogue for the WWE 2K14 and WWE 2K15 video games.
From a published books standpoint, my first book was Main Event: WWE In The Raging ’80s. It was released in 2006 from Simon & Schuster. In 2009, the WWE Encyclopedia was released by DK Publishing. That summer I wrote the John Cena and Triple H books for the DK Readers Series. In 2012, the WWE Encyclopedia: Updated and Expanded was published. Now, 30 Years of WrestleMania is in stores. It’s been an exciting time. I’m very grateful for the relationships with WWE and DK, and to have the opportunity to work with such talented people.
SLAM! WRESTLING: Being given, so to speak the key to the castle to put on paper the history of 30 Years of WrestleMania. How does it feel?
BRIAN SHIELDS: Each time I have the opportunity to work with WWE and DK Publishing it’s exciting. To have the opportunity to write about the history of WrestleMania, an event I’ve grown up watching, is an enormous honor. When you begin working on a project of this magnitude, similar to the other WWE projects I’ve worked on, you feel a strong sense of responsibility.
SLAM! WRESTLING: How many interviews did you conduct?
BRIAN SHIELDS: Over the course of the year-and-a-half I worked on 30 Years of WrestleMania, I conducted more than 75 interviews. This list consisted of WWE executives, office and production teams, Superstars, Divas, Hall of Famers, and Legends. It also included celebrities Joan Rivers, Larry King, Mike Tyson, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and Donald Trump, as well as former WWE employees. It was an incredible experience.
SLAM! WRESTLING: Did you used or were you influenced about The Official insider’s story of WrestleMania that came out in 2001 in your research?
BRIAN SHIELDS: I remember when The Official Insider’s Story to WrestleMania was released. It’s a great book. It was so cool that it included a DVD. I felt that book set a great standard and that it was important for 30 Years of WrestleMania to build on that standard, and in the spirit of WrestleMania, take it to another level.
I had the opportunity to interview long-time WWE executive, Basil DeVito, who wrote that book, many times. Those conversations provided an amazing context of WWE’s history, WrestleMania’s journey, and great behind-the-scenes stories from someone who has been so instrumental in establishing what we know today as WWE the organization, and WrestleMania, the annual global event.
SLAM! WRESTLING: What is the percentage of brand new material versus interviews that were already out there you used for the project?
BRIAN SHIELDS: Having the opportunity to speak with more than 75 people for the book was an amazing experience. I must thank Steve Pantaleo and Mark Carrano at WWE for making so many of them possible, which includes arranging backstage access for me to work at WWE live, Raw, and SmackDown events. A majority of the interviews are new.
As a reader, I love quotes. 30 Years of WrestleMania has an array of insights from across the WWE spectrum. When someone is speaking with you and you can feel their emotion by hearing the tone of their voice, or the words they use it brings a different type of element to your story.
As a writer, the interviews were just as crucial to gain a larger context in writing about specific subjects, happenings, or match. It may not result in a direct quote, but it’s just as valuable.
SLAM! WRESTLING: What was your editorial freedom to dig into lesser-known moments or to talk with any superstars past and present?
BRIAN SHIELDS: One of the great things about working with WWE and DK is if it’s right for the project we do it. You’re given the freedom to explore and talk about different approaches. I’ve never been told that a subject was off-limits. The more than 220 pages of 30 Years of WrestleMania are filled with compelling history, stories, and detail – as well as full match results, incredible photos, and memorabilia.
SLAM! WRESTLING: I love the cover, how did that came about? As a fan, I feel that it captures the complete experience of WWE with the biggest superstars of the past 30 years in one shot for the first time.
BRIAN SHIELDS: Thank you. I agree. The cover for 30 Years of WrestleMania is amazing – and I had nothing to do with it laughs. That is the phenomenal design team at WWE working with the talented team at DK.
SLAM! WRESTLING: How was the logistic work out for you to be able to write about WrestleMania 30 as the event was building up, were you almost done with the first 29? Did you already know the deadline to finish the book even if all the materials for it had yet to happen?
BRIAN SHIELDS: By the time WrestleMania XXX took place, most of the manuscript was completed. That was by design. It ensured each chapter had enough production time so fans could enjoy it for a September release date.
SLAM! WRESTLING: How did the sudden end of The Undertaker streak change the book?
BRIAN SHIELDS: As a fan I was in complete shock. While watching the match I couldn’t write thoughts down fast enough. The outcome of the Undertaker-Brock Lesnar match did not change the book dramatically. 30 Years of WrestleMania has special interstitial sections and one of them is The Streak. It’s an amazing section that shows each match and includes quotes from WWE luminaries on what the Streak and Undertaker have meant to WrestleMania and WWE. That section ends with the Undertaker-CM Punk match from WrestleMania 29.
The match against Brock Lesnar and its shocking end is covered in the WrestleMania XXX chapter. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think readers will love how the DK design team visually captured the enormity of that moment.
SLAM! WRESTLING: Were you able to go back and reflect the untimely passing of the Ultimate Warrior a few days after WrestleMania this year?
BRIAN SHIELDS: I knew Warrior since 2001 and we worked on different projects together. He was one of my favorite people to work with. 30 Years of WrestleMania includes a special dedication to him. Warrior is also celebrated in the Hall of Fame section, which includes a quote from his inspiring induction speech.
SLAM! WRESTLING: What did you learned that you never knew happened at WrestleMania while writing this book?
BRIAN SHIELDS: There are so many things I learned while conducting research and interviewing people for 30 Years of WrestleMania. One of the things that stand out for me is the enormous financial risk it was to the McMahon family personally and professionally to create and launch the first WrestleMania.
SLAM! WRESTLING: Is there a story that was more satisfying in bring to light or presenting in a certain way to do it justice?
BRIAN SHIELDS: There’s not one specific story I can highlight because when I think of one and say, “that’s the one,” something else comes to mind looking back over this 30 year period.
Readers will become immersed in learning what I learned – from the risks in getting the first WrestleMania off the ground, matches that were supposed to take place and didn’t, personal conflicts behind-the-scenes, how certain matches came about, the matches themselves from the people who competed in them, and more!
SLAM! WRESTLING: What did you leave out of the book because of space constraint that you regret the most having to cut?
BRIAN SHIELDS: As a writer, I’ve had a lifelong passion for sports entertainment. You always want to go further. But, at some point you need to stop writing so the book can be produced and released for fans to enjoy.
The team worked together so that the details in 30 Years of WrestleMania‘s more than 220 pages will take fans on an exciting journey through time.
SLAM! WRESTLING: How did this project compared to your previous work for WWE?
BRIAN SHIELDS: If there’s one thing that was confirmed from my interviews, research, and writing… the adage is true, there’s nothing like WrestleMania… from a writing standpoint, there are similar aspects to the WWE Encyclopedias and 30 Years of WrestleMania – the research, capturing the excitement of WWE, as well as the essence of the subject you’re writing about.
New aspects that make 30 Years of WrestleMania unique from past books I’ve written are the behind-the-scenes component, quotes from interviews conducted, and celebrating each match in some way.
SLAM! WRESTLING: Did you get unlimited access to the pictures archives of WWE? If so what is your favorite find? And How could you get any work done while researching it?
BRIAN SHIELDS: In a word, “Yes!” When you’re a writer working with WWE and DK and you need something – you get it. Thanks to the WWE Archivist, Ben Brown, I enjoyed several visits to the WWE Warehouse to search the incredible archives and artifacts there. As a writer, being there was like finding inspiration with every step and in every corner. It’s an amazing place. Between the WWE Warehouse and the exhibits Ben arranges for Fan Axxess during WrestleMania weekend, you definitely hope that one day WWE builds a physical Hall of Fame.
SLAM! WRESTLING: What is your favorite moment while writing this book? The moment when you had this internal wow at the chance, you had.
BRIAN SHIELDS: It’s impossible for me to pick one moment from writing 30 Years of WrestleMania. I often think back to the first week on the job. Thanks to Steve Pantaleo at WWE, I had the opportunity to interview Basil DeVito, Linda McMahon, Howard Finkel, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, and Pat Patterson. I feel that set the tone for the entire project. I remember hanging up the phone with “Mean” Gene that Friday afternoon and before I started writing I said to myself, “Wow, what a week.”
SLAM! WRESTLING: I saw your presentation in 2013 in Waterloo , Iowa, about WWE history. I know you will be starting a new presentation featuring this book on the history of WrestleMania. What can fans attending your conference expect?
BRIAN SHIELDS: It was a tremendous honor to speak about WWE history and the WWE Encyclopedia at the George Tragos and Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. The director, Kyle Klingman, and his team do a wonderful job putting together a great weekend of festivities. The Hall of Fame and Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, is a must visit for any wrestling fan.
There will be a new, multimedia presentation focused on the history of WrestleMania. These are free events where fans will enjoy an interactive trip through time with photo and video footage, trivia, a Q & A session, and a book sale/signing. I’ll be announcing event dates for that soon.
SLAM! WRESTLING: What will be your next your project?
BRIAN SHIELDS: Right now the priority is promoting the launch of 30 Years of WrestleMania. Discussions are under way regarding other projects. I look forward to being able to share them with you and the SLAM! Wrestling readers as soon as I can.