In the sixth episode of new NBC sitcom “Young Rock,” based on the real life of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, his father, Rocky Johnson (Joseph Lee Anderson), prepares for and then wrestles in a Battle Royal. The way the match was written, there were 18 performers who would take each other out one, or a few, at a time, leaving Rocky to become the Polynesian Pacific champion. It’s a stunt-heavy sequence that includes performers hitting each other with chairs. Meanwhile Lia (Ana Tuisila) thinks Rocky is going to cross her and leave for a rival wrestling company. So, unbeknownst to Rocky, she changes the outcome at the last minute so that the Iron Sheik (Brett Azar) wins. This results in an emotional realization within the ring for Rocky, as well as an impromptu compromise from both men as to how exactly he will lose.
“As far as scripting the scene, we started off on the page with the basic skeleton of the wrestling sequence, which described which wrestler would eliminate whom and with what move. [Co-creator Nahnatchka Khan] and I then chatted with Dwayne, and he gave us feedback on how we could ratchet up the entertainment value of this sequence, building up the drama and energy of the match. We also chatted with Brian Gewirtz, who, before joining Dwayne’s Seven Bucks Productions, was a long-time head writer for the WWE. With Dwayne and Brian’s feedback, we then rewrote the sequence, adding in more details, new moves, and a layer of authenticity you can only get when you work with wrestling insiders.”
Joseph Lee Anderson
“The physical transformation started before shooting. I put on 30 pounds in about two months in order to gain muscle and get into Rocky’s physical shape before we got to set. As we were in production, I would watch Rocky’s matches the night before shooting to help mentally prepare and study his style in the ring. [This production] day was split: the wrestling scenes were captured in the first half prior to lunch, and we had the second half of the day to focus entirely on shooting the big plot twist reveal.”
Chavo Guerrero Jr.
“Right before we shot, I had about an hour-and-a-half. I got in the ring by myself and started looking at the camera directions and started to place things in order. I broke everything down into small, little pieces. The way they had it written was Andre the Giant would get hit by a chair and he’d fall down, and I was like, ‘Hold on a second, Andre the Giant was a giant; one man couldn’t take him out.’ So, we hit him with one chair, had him not register that and grab the guy by the throat. Then his partner hit him with a chair, and he grabbed him by the throat, and then he got hit by another chair and started to register it. Because of the quarantine, we couldn’t bring people in and Brisbane is not a very big wrestling community, so all of those stunts are [performed by] the actors themselves.”
“I was obsessed with WWF growing up; British Bulldog and Ultimate Warrior were my era. I was experimenting to see if I could capture the way that I felt, watching those matches as a kid in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Authenticity was key across the board. Two of our cameras were the exact models used to cover sport at that time, complete with star filters. Then, when we weren’t in that style of coverage, I wanted our footage to be very beautiful and cinematic. I really wanted to capture wrestling of that era in a way no one had seen before. It’s easy when filming an action sequence to get lost in the complexity and visual elements, but without a clear focus on story, character and performance, no one will care about your scene. So much of ‘Young Rock’ anchors itself in the point of view of young Dwayne, which informed a lot of the close-up coverage.”
Martin McGrath, ACS
Director of photography
“I had two camera operators throughout the show, but for this scene we added another four cam era operators plus ACs to cover. Our lighting crew were seven in all and about the same for gripping. There were some moments where we had to just hold everything so we could get up close and personal with Joseph Lee Anderson in the ring. We tried to move as efficiently as possible to keep the action bubbling and then we jumped back for the closing shots. The overhead shot was from the crane and hothead, but done as a separate set up. Our biggest challenge was staying out of each other’s shots; 138 setups in under 10 hours! Our director Jeff was moving so fast I swear all he needed was a cape to complete the image.”