Interview: Producer & Director of Omega Man: A Wrestling Love Story
Kenny Omega is one of the most influence wrestlers in the business today. His style will continue to inspire and stand out for future generations to come.
Omega’s style is not just strong style but a mix of different styles that can only come from experience and cultural perceptive. Kenny Omega is known by several names. Common ones are The Best Bout Machine and the Cleaner. It is no secret that Omega can put on the most physical demanding matches that also contain in ring psychology.
Omega Man: A Wrestling Love Story has been one of the most anticipated documentary releases for the fans of The Best Bout Machine.
I was able to speak to both the producer and director of Omega Man.
Here’s what they had to say about one of the most exciting pro-wrestling documentaries of the year or maybe the decade.
Omega Man: A Wrestling Love Story
- Yung Chang is the Director of the film
- Dale Burshtein Executive Producer and Producer
- The Production Company is Jocumentary Productions Inc.
(background: TSN’s Engraved on a Nation series are independently produced cinematic documentaries that celebrate Canadian sports stories or sports figures. They were looking for unique and positive stories to portray for this prestigious award-winning series which previously had covered football. Now, with these new 6 documentaries debuting in 2019, they opened it up to cover any sport subject.)
Q&A with Dale Burshtein Executive Producer and Producer
AR: What inspired you to make this documentary?
DB: “When I was exploring topics for TSN’s Engraved on a Nation series, the last topic I thought we would land on was wrestling. I certainly and admittedly had preconceived notions of what pro-wrestling is and really wasn’t interested in it. I have covered Olympic-style wrestling for TV and I have heard people say pro-wrestling was so much different than a real sport or even real wrestling! – hyper-macho, full of bravado and fake. In the past, it really wasn’t a subject I cared to learn more about. But when I learned about Kenny Omega, I felt very interested to explore it. Firstly, he was from my home city, Winnipeg, Canada and given his success internationally, I wondered why I had never heard about him or it seemed, no one I knew had heard of him – even people I knew who worked in sports media and sports fanatics. Secondly, I was impressed upon learning that Kenny as a young man had the courage and gumption to move across the world and embrace a new culture that was really foreign to him (though I learned later that he, even as a kid, was drawn to Japanese culture and consumed what he could through Japanese movies, video games, animation and of course, Japanese wrestling. His mom told us she could hear him watching Japanese films in their home when he was young.) I was so impressed that he learned the Japanese language and went there on his own, to give his dream a shot. He seemed to be a visionary. And thirdly and, for me, most profoundly in choosing him as a subject for this series, I was very interested in the Golden Lovers storyline he and Kota Ibushi created. It was the pushing boundaries of a stereotypical macho combat sport and when we started exploring Kenny as a subject, we saw the profound effect his story was having on his fans. It also seemed to be inviting new fans, who might not have felt like they belonged in this world before. Now I am one of them, much to my surprise. I see myself following the careers of Kenny and Kota long past the making of this film. And it is because of the charisma and thoughtfulness of Kenny and the wonderful people in his world that we got to meet in making this documentary.”
AR: Why do you feel Kenny Omega is so beloved?
DB:”I think Kenny and the messages he gives through his performance and story-telling touches his fans in different ways. I can only observe what I saw and heard in making the documentary. On one level, I would say, and people in the film say, he has an “it factor” – whatever the special ingredients are that gives someone a star presence. Charisma, performance style, talent and I think with Kenny, a sense of mystery. I have witnessed fans saying that they find him to be pure and vulnerable and that is relatable and loveable in life. In our interviews with him, he seemed very real and forth-coming and admitted to emotions maybe other superstar athletes tend to hide. We witnessed how that touches people in making the film. Some of his most dedicated fans appear in the documentary and they say wonderful things about Kenny. For some, he really helped them or inspired them when they were feeling really low. Some appreciate what a spectacular athlete he is and get a thrill watching him perform because he is an unbelievable athlete. I was really moved by the people we interviewed who finally felt welcome into this world of Pro-Wrestling because the Golden Lovers storyline spoke to them and the story was genuine, emotional, beautiful and respectful. I also think it had a big impact on members of the LGBTQ community, who in the film said, wrestling had a history of homophobia and the Golden Lovers story really shifted that. The film demonstrates that Kenny genuinely cares about his fans. We asked for names of people/fans we could speak with and he knew them by name and seemed to really appreciate those who follow and support his career.
The production team met Kenny’s close friends and family in Winnipeg, and I think it may reveal a bit about Kenny and his appeal to fans who watch the film – he comes from a world that is very down to earth. Kenny is still very connected to his roots and his fans can sense that he is a real and humble person. His family and friends are really lovely people and they are a big part of this film and the making of it too. Everyone in Winnipeg helped a lot. Everyone in Kenny’s world helped in making this documentary. Kota Ibushi, Chris Jericho, Don Callis, Dave Meltzer, the people at NJPW and TV ASAHI, DDT, Andrew Shallcross, Dana Massie and the Young Bucks and Kenny’s followers. There is always a lot of work that goes into submerging yourself into someone’s world in a documentary. I don’t think we would have been able to make the film we wanted to without their help. For example, the other day, I had to get in touch with Wrestler Adam Page for something to do with the film. He got back to me right away and just cleared a path instantly. Chris Jericho was helpful and supportive to us too along the way. He’s amazing. Don Callis and Dave Meltzer- extremely helpful and insightful – So many people we met through Kenny were like this in producing this film. It made it possible.
AR: A Canadian release of the documentary was announced, when can we get an estimated time frame on an international release?
DB:We will continue to update Kenny’s fans and followers on upcoming debuts in other countries and hope this film will be seen around the world. We will inform through social media and hopefully, you will share a US date in the near future. There are so many Kenny fans interested to see it and I want them all to watch it on a channel or theatre in their country.
AR: What do you feel people will take back from viewing Omega Man?
DB: New viewers will learn that Kenny is one of the most compelling figures in sports entertainment. I think his existing fans will get to see Kenny up-close and personal. We will hear his own thoughts of his career thus far and his feelings about what he hopes to achieve as a wrestler. Kenny’s thoughts he shared with us on wrestling are complex and he demonstrates that there is so much more to this world than some people understand or give it credit for. We also hear from some other key people in this field what Kenny’s contributions have meant to the world of pro wrestling including Kota Ibushi, Kazuchika Okada, Harold Meij, Chris Jericho, Don Callis, Dave Meltzer and so many more.
I can mention that for our production team, in choosing this film, Kenny and his story had a big impact on us. The initial team that was developing the documentary all were moved by Kenny in different ways. Corey Erdman, a wrestling journalist who has covered Kenny for years, really had a sympatico connection to the kind of wrestling Kenny has created and informed our team how he was impacting fans in new ways; the director, Yung Chang was brought to tears when he watched the reunion of the Golden Lovers for the first time; Our story editor, Charlotte Odele went to her first wrestling match for this project and quickly became engrossed and immersed in Kenny’s story and his world; and a seasoned sports producer, Richard Garner who I have worked in sports TV with for 20 years was shocked that Kenny’s story had never been told to a general audience given his success and stature in wrestling. And for me, I was moved and surprised when I finally met Kenny, how he could draw parallels to my own beloved sport of figure skating – I was so surprised that I could see the beauty, artistry, synchronicity and story-telling that I always found unique to the sport of figure skating also exists in Wrestling! I never would have thought this without talking to Kenny and seeing what he does. At least the kind of wrestling Kenny and Kota do! There was so much beauty and creativity in watching matches at this level. And watching his matches with Okada and Jericho. Incredible athleticism. And of course, for the newbies like myself and some of the team, we saw parallels to silent films – Kenny’s talents show skills that a silent film star has – both comedic (We saw a lot of that in his work with DDT, which had so much creativity and innovation); and then performances containing heart-wrenching drama without words like the expressions Kenny and Kota have in the Golden Lovers reunion. There are just so many layers to Kenny as a person and performer.
AR: Do you feel Kenny Omega speaks for a new generation of wrestling and sports?
In my opinion, yes! I am so new to this world and really can’t speak about wrestling history in detail. But we spoke to the fans, the experts and people with so much knowledge and passion about this world and they describe Kenny as a revolutionary, a visionary and that he has had a profound and beyond positive impact in the world of wrestling and will continue to inspire fans and participants in the sport. I was always surprised and intrigued about the comparisons that were drawn about Kenny in our interviews with people very seasoned in this field – he was called the Muhammed Ali of wrestling for his social impact; Elvis, for his charisma and talent, Prince for his unique and individual artistry (and that he would without fanfare show up for a local, on-the-down-lo event at a bar in Winnipeg to reconnect with his old friends and have fun just after performing in front of tens of thousands in giants venues.). It seemed so many people were describing him using these interesting comparisons to show he is having a huge impact and pushing wrestling forward in so many ways. I really hope both new and familiar viewers to wrestling enjoy it and appreciate that Kenny and some of the important people in his life let us into his world.
Q&A with Director Yung Chang (transcribed from phone interview)
AR: Can you tell me a little about the title selected Omega Man: Wrestling Love Story?
YC: I think the title has a little bit of a double play that Kenny Omega is an extortionary athlete has been so passionate about wrestling since he was a kid. My feeling and I don’t know the true answers but he’s been into wrestling since he got exposed to it and always knew in a way where he wanted to be. That would the number 1 pro wrestler in the world currently. So, the title comes from that since of, the wrestling love story part comes from a play on 2 parts. One-part Kenny’s love for wrestling and second being the most remarkable kind of love story he kind of played out, that was so real and touching. Regardless if it was a gay love story it was just the idea of this very human and emotional story. That was in my option and my experience with attitude area wrestling from my youth, this was so different from and in our film, we have this quote from Don Callis.
“Since when do you have people crying women, men…crying at wrestling matches.”
That’s how powerful the golden lovers story was. The title refers to in part of that the golden lovers story. I like the title.
AR: What do you think makes Kenny Omega stand out compared to others in the pro-wrestling industry?
YC: You know I got to know him over the past few months. In my opinion, He’s an odd ball and I mean it in the most gracious way. He’s very private. He takes his work and the work he does very seriously. My only wrestling point could be as a film director and through the film culture that I’m familiar with. He’s almost what we called an autor in that way he’s like an artist. He treats his work like an art or an art form. I haven’t heard that in some of the research I’ve done on pro wrestlers and watching other films about pro wrestlers. This is the first time I got a feel of this guy is the real deal in the way he treats his canvas. He’s down to the detail every nuance. I would walk up to the word genius. Just across the board when u encounter someone who has a photographic memory of matches and doesn’t repeat himself. Trying to push and regardless of the walls set up against him. His entire story is about pushing the boundaries. That is what makes him remarkable as a wrestler that has kind of broken through with LGBT Community and even in a main stream people that didn’t know about wrestling labeled it that big F-word (fake). Which is such bullshit, when you look at it through Kenny’s eyes you see it is an art form. You understand that it takes effort and creativity, skill, a bit of a magician’s hand-sleight of hand (magicians) that’s beautiful. I love learning the origins of wrestling and its connections to magic. I really think that’s so cool and the history of wrestling.
I think Kenny as an artist understands that from the beginning, he knows the history he knows what he can do to add to the sport. That’s what I love about him. That’s what I love about him as a wrestler. That’s what drew me to him.
He bleeds for his work and his art of wrestling. There is truth regardless how u interrupt the golden lovers story. To him that was emotional and that was real thing.
AR: What did you find interesting about him after following him for some time? Am I correct in saying a year or around a year?
YC: For yeah about a year or under a year.
What I found interesting he’s such an elevated performer. Athletically and even in the way he creates and thinks about his moves. They are special and he’s really worked them through and creatively trying to reinvent. I also released that he’s also a human and he’s not invincible. Seeing him get injured, he endured the pain that he endured after a match behind the scenes. You know he’s hurting that’s real hurt and he’s gone through the laundry list with me on all the different things he’s broken. Its interesting to see him up close cause you know he can turn it on, and he tells me once he knows he’s in a match everything disappears. He channels it, its kind of remarkable how he can just focus, and everything disappears. But after the match and in-between matches it’s a flog. He’s 35 now there are real injuries in his body, and I worry about him. I know Jericho worries about him and all those guys that are the elite. Jericho is kind of a mentor in a way to these guys by helping them and advising them. Telling them, you guys don’t need to go all the way like in japan you can dial it back a bit and do enough, don’t kill yourself out there. He is genuinely worried about them.
AR: What do you want Non-Wrestling fans to take from this film?
YC:I want non-wrestling fans to see what I saw in the story as a newbie to the world of pro wrestling or someone that has rediscovered it since the hulk Hogan days. That’s such great story telling in pro wrestling. You have the best of both worlds. You have amazing like stunt level entertainment that is live, its even more riveting in person and when your good like Kenny and sell a move its genius. Understand there is a lot more work involved then it meets the eye. The beauty of it is to stick to these long stories. They evolve and they have new ones. You wouldn’t believe. You would like how I would get in binging Breaking Bad. You get that that same kind of story when you follow Kenny and the Golden Lovers all that stuff. I would say we are in a new era where you have independent wrestlers like Kenny and the Elite. Where they are doing things that are nuance where they are playing story lines that are kind of complicated. It sort of this when you really get into it the business of wrestling mixed with the story lines and blurring Kayfabe kind of world. Its so fun and exciting and I get a lot of it, its real fun to nerd out a bit. That’s where id say through Kenny he has the ability to reach a broader audience because of his dedication to pushing boundaries to this sport.
AR: I absolutely agree with you, I’ve been watching him I want to say since ROH Before NJPW?
YC: WOW, cool yeah. While making the film we lucked out on gathering some footage. Footage back in the day from his home town promotion.
I can even throw a bone out there. We have footage with AJ styles and Kenny in Winnipeg. Its really good stuff and can’t wait to see what the reaction is out there. This documentary we had to reach a broader audience, so we had to carve out the biography and arc of Kenny Omega. I hope we can also tap into the fans that know his work and they will see another side of Kenny that they would not have seen elsewhere. I hope it delivers in all fronts.
AR: I’m confident it will.
AR: Do you feel he will be considered timeless as a performer? Say 10 years from now 20 years from now.
YC: Yeah I think so. The way I gage it through all the interviews I do with all the great wrestlers and experts from Dan Callis and Metlzer. Everyone in-between and fans. I think he’s going to be one of those faces along with all the other greats. I consider him one of the top 10 down the line. I think people are going to remember him. I feel like the general feeling is that he’s not as apex right now, he’s at his peak he’s the best of the best. He maybe that type of wrestler that have had those crazy stars rated matches that no body will ever forget. That’s what’s going to stay in the cannon of pro wrestling. That’s what’s going to stick. I’m curious to see where he will go now but I think he’s thinking about it. He’s a smart guy and he’s looking down the road like what’s next.
The cool thing he would do in my opinion that he would do is just disappear. Go home to his cottage in Winnipeg and hang up his wrestling boots and lay low right now. Which I think he’s doing right now as we speak.
AR: He’s taking a break.
YC: Taking a break, he can almost walk away knowing he’s done everything he could do for wrestling. That would put him in legendary status, but he’s obviously not done yet.
You can follow social media accounts for Omega Man: A Wrestling Love Story
Special thanks to both Dale and Yung for taking the time to talk to me about the new Kenny Omega Documentary.
I am Ashley Rose on BodySlam.net signing out.