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Bryn Mooser, the Oscar-nominated producer of Lifeboat and Body Team 12, launched non-fiction studio XTR last year. He was set to premiere You Cannot Kill David Arquette, a feature documentary exploring how the Scream actor’s pursuit of a professional wrestling belt impacted his career, at the SXSW festival before it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
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Mooser talks about the disappointment around missing that launch for the David Darg- and Price James-directed story and how he got involved with Arquette, while the actor, and his wife, producer Christina McLarty, tell Deadline why he wanted to make a film that charts the highs and lows of both careers, including a near-death experience in the ring.
DEADLINE: What was your reaction to SXSW being canceled and how did it impact plans for You Cannot Kill David Arquette?
BRYN MOOSER: SXSW was the dream festival for that film, it was the only festival we wanted so when we got it, there was a celebration. SXSW has the most incredible audiences, they’re wild and loud, it’s the perfect audience for the film that we have, which is a stand up and cheer movie, so when it was cancelled it was painful but when you put it into context, it wasn’t really the time to feel sorry for ourselves about it. We were sad about not connecting with audiences in that way but in terms of the marketplace, there’s really just a handful of buyers who buy documentaries and it’s a small community and everybody knows everybody so we’re able to get the film to the right people. It wasn’t so much disappointing that we missed a market opportunity, it was really for missing an opportunity to bow the film to a really rambunctious audience.
DAVID ARQUETTE: I was super bummed. I love Austin, it’s an incredible town with tons of incredible filmmakers. I’ve always wanted to go to SXSW. That was sad, sad for the city and sad for our film to be shutdown by a virus, because it’s an independent film and we hustled our asses off for two years. I was ready to go, I’m ready for anything… the irony of [Coronavirus] taking me down would have been the most hilarious [ending].
CHRISTINA McLARTY: For SXSW, we had the wrestling community coming, we had Ric Flair coming and the Nasty Boys. We’d put together an afterparty with a whole wrestling show… my whole career we’ve worked to be at a festival like SXSW but it’s an act of god and our hearts go out to Austin and pray for everyone to be safe and healthy.
DEADLINE: Instead, you moved the premiere to your house, where David has his own wrestling ring. How was that?
McLARTY: We had to adapt really quickly and we did a grassroots event at our house. True to David’s spirit, I thought it was going to be around 20 of our closest friends and family – and David hadn’t seen the film, he was kicked out of the edit room – and we had about 60 people show up, it was wild.
ARQUETTE: I bought some professional, commercial strength Febreeze that they use in casinos and I sprayed down all of the furniture.
MOOSER: A film festival is a chance for everybody to celebrate the film being finished and for the filmmakers there’s nothing more exciting than seeing your film in a packed screening for the first time. You find moments that are funny that you didn’t think were funny, you find moments that are touching or sad, audiences react in a different way, it’s a real thrill. We were able to bring everybody together at David’s house and do a big screening and have a moment where everybody got to laugh and cry. It was a really emotional screening, David’s whole family was there. He also has a wrestling ring in his back garden.
DEADLINE: The film follows your career from winning the WCW belt to your work on the independent circuit including a nasty accident in a deathmatch with Nick Gage and how it’s impacted your career. Why did you want to do this documentary in the first place?
ARQUETTE: I almost had a heart attack and I had two stents put in and right before I went under, I kept thinking about wrestling. I could possibly be dying and wrestling was still on my mind, that was the last straw. I wanted to stop being bullied, I wanted to change the ending of the story, I didn’t want to be the standing low-bar joke of wrestling. That’s why I did it. I’ve been a bit of an open book my whole life, I overshare.
McLARTY: Everybody was asking ‘why would you let him do this’ but if he wasn’t doing this, he’d be doing something else crazy because that’s part of his fear that he has to be creative. There’s a lot of Andy Kaufman undertones, wrestling is like theater on steroids. It’s a ridiculous profession but also amazing so I supported him doing but there were some really tough moments.
MOOSER: It came together in an unlikely way after the earthquake in Haiti. I worked with and met Patricia Arquette. One time, David was there, he came down to volunteer. We stayed in touch over the years and about two and a half year ago, he said ‘I’ve got this crazy part of my life that is unresolved, which is I became the world wrestling champion and became one of the most hated people in wrestling and it’s something I love and want to rebuild my name and I think there’s a documentary there’. I called my friend David Darg, who is a huge wrestling fan, and he jumped right on. David loves wrestling and he has a long history with it and the film chronicles the last couple of years of him training to take on a life of professional wrestling. In the course of it, he loses 50lbs, he gets in amazing shape, he almost dies, it’s quite a journey.
DEADLINE: XTR was also set to premiere Miracle Fishing, a film about a kidnapping in Colombia at Tribeca? Was that a similarly gutting experience?
MOOSER: I love Tribeca Film Festival; the first documentary that I ever made screened at Tribeca in 2011. That is a festival that was borne out of the ashes of 9/11 as a way to bring business and life back to Lower Manhattan. It was borne of tragedy and is the ultimate picture of entertainment as resilience so I have no doubt that Tribeca will be back better than ever. Tribeca was disappointing to not be able to bring Miracle Fishing there. That was another one that we wanted to watch in front of audiences and see their reactions. After SXSW we were prepared that it was probably going to happen. The thought of a film festival right now seems crazy, the thought of going to a corner store seems crazy.
DEADLINE: How has the coronavirus impacted the wider plans for these films?
MOOSER: The documentary community and the buyers have been supportive and collaborative so we’re still able to get the films to the right people. We never rely of just taking a film to a film festival and then it’s sold, you have to work for it and we’re working overtime so those films get the wide audiences that they deserve. It’s an incredibly dynamic moment that’s happening for the entertainment industry overall but finished films that are in the can are a pretty good product to have right now. People are sitting home and consuming content so to be able to bring these films [to market], that business doesn’t end.
DEADLINE: How has the pandemic impacted XTR as a whole?
MOOSER: We’re in production on 10 docs right now, none of them has stopped. Docs are really different business than big film and TV projects that had to close up. A lot of our films are in the edit room and docs can be a solitary thing to make anyway. A couple of our films are being finished in the editing room and some have some small pieces to finish here or there and we’re still planning to finish shooting those, just really carefully as we chart what the new normal is. I think this moment is going to see a real boom for documentaries and non-fiction overall. These are things that can continue being made either using social distancing or in quarantine.
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