A documentary called The Flying Greek, set to premiere next Friday, December 10th in Springfield, Missouri, came together as filmmaker and subject unexpectedly crossed paths, and the partnership formed brought equally unexpected benefits to both as well.

Manoli Savvenas learned to wrestle in his homeland of Greece before making a name for himself in North America as “The Flying Greek” Mike Pappas, and he retired from the ring in 1978 to focus on, well, rings. As a young man, Savvenas had picked up skills as a jeweler and, after having hung up his boots, opened a store in Springfield with his wife Valerie.

Elsewhere in Springfield, Jason Brasier was working the camera for a show called The Mystery Hour, hosted by Jeff Houghton as he interviewed guests both famous and from out of town, and also local guests who, presumably, wouldn’t be known to anyone outside of Springfield.

Savvenas was booked on the show to talk about both his shop and his wrestling career, and Brasier felt right away that Savvenas’ story deserved a larger canvas. He recently spoke with Slam Wrestling about the creation of his documentary, its upcoming premiere, and what both he and Savvenas learned from the experience.

“I’m a storyteller, and I love documentary,” Brasier begins. “I tried to get into documentary filmmaking in college, had a bad experience, so I didn’t touch it for years. I was working on The Mystery Hour and Manoli Savvenas was one of the guests. I’d kept in touch with wrestling for a long time, mostly in college, so I called Manoli and said ‘I’d like to hear more about your stories’. We sat down and we talked and he was full of so many wonderful stories. I always kind of go with my gut on things, and I just thought this would be a really fun project.”

“It’s just been a crazy whirlwind.”

Going with his gut allowed Brasier to find pathways through both unexpected opportunities and stumbling blocks, the first being how to present Savvenas’ story visually. “I was determined to find footage of him wrestling,” he explains. He spent two years digging through video archives searching for content, discovering that everything he needed was the property of the WWE. Seeking permission to use that footage turned out to be a dead end. “Manoli had one of his lawyer friends contact (the WWE) for us, and they wouldn’t even respond to him.”

Brasier ended up using a Dark Side of the Ring-style recreation technique to provide some out of focus action shots just to have something beyond static imagery. “I feel that if I didn’t have had some type of wrestling (in the film), it would have felt a little slow to me personally,” he continues.  Another solution to keeping things from being visually static? He asked Savvenas if he would be willing to get in the ring. To his delight, The Flying Greek was happy to not only get between the ropes, but also knocked Braiser around a little bit — and the director was happy to take some bumps.

Brasier’s fandom, and his own moderate experience in the wrestling, turned out to be key to engaging Savvenas in the project. “As soon as I asked him (about making the movie) he was very excited about it, and once he realized that I knew wrestling, he was asking me questions and quizzing me about it,” Brasier recalls. “The film is about his career, but there’s more to that career and how it shaped him today, and that’s kind of what I tried to film and edit to really form that emotional stream.”

Brasier found another emotional component of his film by again going with his gut on a story that presented itself during the course of filming. He doesn’t want to give away details before the premiere, but talks about the decision to pursue the new element and whether to even include it in the final cut. “The person who came back into (Savvenas’) life was a thread that was given to me later,” he explains. “And there were times when we were in editing that, (with the film) at about 45 minutes, I was really feeling like I’m forcing the story. It was a big debate in the editing room, but what we did use was perfect to really hook you in. I really wanted it to feel like it kind of comes out of nowhere.”

Brasier continued to push the project along, through all of the intrinsic challenges that face documentary filmmakers, the COVID roadblocks that have forced modifications to so many projects, and also changes in his personal life. An adoption of a 10-year-old into his family understandably, in his words, “spread out the filming a little bit.” He offers high praise for Carbon Trace Productions, a company in Springfield that “were really integral in helping us finish the project. They’re a nonprofit documentary company, and they do a lot of great, great work with students. I’m really happy to have their name on the film and I hope that I can work with them in the future.”

Brasier also managed to bring in some big name power to the project with Madusa providing narration and other help, and wrestling historian Bill Apter appearing on screen to offer some historical perspective to Savvenas’ career. Brasier recalls how thrilled he was to have Madusa join the film production: “It made my day when she said she was going to do it, and I know the rest of the crew was excited as well. She’s just so funny and so knowledgeable.”

The excited feeling, by the way, is mutual, as Madusa told Slam Wrestling that, having always had an interest in film, “working with Brasier on The Flying Greek and all different aspects of it has been really eye-opening.” She says that she’s thrilled to have been a part of the process, with a hand in not only the narration but also the publicity.

The film has also been eye-opening for Savvenas, as Brasier tells it. “I think he thought he’d be forgotten about years later,” the filmmaker explains. “He was blown away by how much he had touched everybody’s lives, you know, and I think he didn’t realize how much of an impact he had on people.”

Savvenas in his wrestling prime as Mike Pappas, in one of the stills that Brasier had available for his fillm. Photo courtesy of Manoli Savvenas

The film is set to premiere on Friday, December 10th at the Historic Fox Theater in Springfield, MO. Tickets are available through this link, and Braiser has announced that 10% of ticket sales will go to funding cancer research, as Manoli recently revealed that he is currently battling colon cancer. Brasier doesn’t talk much about that terrible news, but does say that Savvenas is doing well and reveals that they are following all safety protocols when it comes to the premiere. “Some people are making (wearing masks at the premiere) a political issue but it’s not,” he says. “His immune system is weakened due to chemotherapy.” A note in the promotional material states that “If you do not wish to wear a mask, an online screening of The Flying Greek will take place in the new year.” 

At the end of our chat, Brasier talks about how the making of this movie brings all of his interests and aspirations around full circle. “As a kid I wanted to be a wrestler,” he concludes. “I even started choreographing, directing, and putting on my own matches, which led to me getting into live theater, which led to me getting into film. And now I’m coming back to documentary and it’s about wrestling. It’s a passion project, so I knew I was going to get it done.”

You can expect an emotional affair on December 10th at the premiere. If you’re in the area and able to attend, follow the links below to secure tickets.