In the past year, wrestling and film fans have had the luxury of watching a plethora of pro wrestling-focused documentaries. Whether it was WWE's A&E specials, Dark Side of the Ring season 3, and the DDP Yoga produced, Relentless. Fans will remember the captivating documentary The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, which shows Diamond Dallas Page guiding Jake ‘The Snake' Roberts out of his drug addiction and helping him get a second chance in life. In Relentless, the focus shifts strictly to Dallas Page and his unreal journey from former professional wrestling World Champion to World Champion fitness entrepreneur, who has changed and continues to change the life of so many.
Relentless is directed by Nathan Mowery, a filmmaker who, as his Twitter bio says, is “submerged within the worlds of pro wrestling and rock n' roll.” Some fans may know, and others may not, but Mowery has been behind countless popular projects involving wrestlers. Be it Fozzy's “Judas” video, which recently surpassed 50 million views, Islander's “Crazy Crazy Crazy World” featuring Sting, and various bits of content for All Elite Wrestling. However, Mowery's journey to becoming wrestling's favourite indie filmmaker started in 2013 when he joined DDP Yoga and spent seven years under Diamond Dallas Page's tutelage. So appropriately, he was the man responsible for constructing the story of Relentless.
Earlier this year, SteelChair Magazine had the good fortune of sitting down with Nathan Mowery (virtually) to discuss creating Relentless. In part one of our chat with Mowery, we discuss how he got the nod to direct Relentless, cutting the film into a one-hour documentary, DDP's AEW match, and his experience filming The Resurrection of Jake the Snake. Enjoy!
Because Steve Yu directed The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, people may have automatically assumed he directed Relentless. Of course, you directed Relentless, and knowing your journey, it makes perfect sense. When did you find out you were going to lead this project?
“I started editing on this at the very end of 2016. So it's been a minute since we've been editing this. I've been a filmmaker and working with Dallas, and the thing is, and this is something we've done since The Resurrection of Jake the Snake – we just film everything at DDP Yoga. That's kind of how it is. Dallas is just sitting on crazy amounts of footage that we just have to thumb through, so the process of cutting that down is nuts. I don't know how close you follow DDP Yoga or that community or world, but so many crazy transformations happen, and people's lives get radically changed. It's crazy, and I can tell you firsthand just working at DDP Yoga and seeing all of these once in a lifetime changes, but it's not once in a lifetime because you see all of these people making these unbelievable changes.
“It's hard to go through all of that and narrow it down to pick the best of the best of which is worth talking about in Relentless. But yeah, first we just had that, and originally it was just going to be like a ten-minute video of – almost like a highlight of this is the quick, to the point thing of Dallas. But as we were filming, we were like, “It would probably be cool if we include this little segment,” and before we knew it, we had a whole feature documentary on our hands. It was supposed to be this small project, but yeah, Steve and Dallas let me kind of take the reins with the direction, especially with the edit and everything, they kind of let me run free. Of course, then I would have to get their approval. But yeah, it was really cool, and it showed they trusted me as a filmmaker because I worked there most of my adult life. For about eight years, from about 2013 to this past summer, so slowly over time, I guess I gained their trust, and they let me do more and more projects.”
You talk about cutting it down. One thing that struck me is that it's just over an hour-long, and I was afraid it might cram too much in, but it certainly doesn't feel like that. You mentioned there was a lot of material, so how did you cut it down to just over an hour?
“Well, that's the thing we were always joking about is Relentless could easily be an eight-hour movie if we wanted it to be. It's just all the accolades of DDP Yoga and Dallas himself. I mean, the fact that DDP went into the WWE Hall of Fame, and we didn't even mention that because there are so many other things. So if that doesn't make the cut, that shows you the kind of crazy stuff that we've experienced. I'm just thankful to be a part of it, and just my time at DDP Yoga, and my time making Relentless and also helping with The Resurrection of Jake the Snake and DDP Yoga, in general, is some of the most impactful and life-shaping kind of experiences of my life. Learning from Dallas, he just shows what it is to show unconditional love as a friend and to show work ethic, and how much just working harder and trying to carve out your own niche can really benefit you if you really bet on yourself, and you just put it all in. He's probably the best example of that in my life.
“That's the thing about Dallas, and I might be jumping ahead here, even with Dallas doing that match at AEW last January – it goes to show you that, okay, here's Dallas talking the talk of believing in yourself or the power you can give someone by believing in them. Then, he's presented with this opportunity by AEW to have a match. Now here's Dallas saying all of this stuff, but now he has the opportunity to walk his talk, and he just goes, “I'm going to kill it,” and there was never a moment of doubt. Even though he understood the risk of being in his sixties and doing that dive, he was thinking he could get hurt. But he had to change what he told himself, and then he went out there and killed it like he always does. It's proof that his way of thinking and his perspective on life is very life-giving. I think a lot of people have picked that up from him, whether they've been close friends or just people who have worked with Dallas over the years. I know I can definitely say that I've picked up a lot of positivity and healthy ways of handling problems, or good ways of having perspective on life because of Dallas and DDP Yoga.”
I've had the pleasure of interviewing him [DDP] before, and the last time I spoke with him was a little over two years ago during the promotion of his book Positively Unstoppable. Even reading that I was thinking there needs to be a documentary about Dallas, not knowing you guys were making one (laughs). How much did the book help push things along?
“I think a little bit because I think the book, and I could be wrong with my timeline here, but I believe the book kind of came after we had started Relentless. It ended up being one of those things that came out quicker because, with Relentless, we kept thinking of stuff to add. Like I said, it originally being like a ten-minute video, and then it ended up being like, “Alright, let's make it an even thirty. Oh, you know what? We could probably get this to an hour if we add this.” So Relentless kept getting reshaped. I feel like Dallas was like, “Man, it was meant to happen. Me doing this thing at AEW. Me having this match,” so I'm glad the documentary went on that long to where we could include that story.”
Yeah, I believe Dallas said on a recent Talk is Jericho podcast that the film was technically complete sixteen months ago, but you didn't have an ending. Then, of course, in comes AEW…
“Definitely. So we had an ending, and it was just kind of okay, but it wasn't really the kind of big moment that we were looking to end on. The first seventy-five, eighty percent of the movie is retrospective, and then we all of a sudden; the last act is in real-time, where Dallas does this match. So it kind of changes the mood, and it's like, “Okay, now we get to watch Dallas put everything he says into practise.” It's a cool example of the first seventy-five, eighty percent being what needed to happen in order for me to learn this very important lesson, and now here's an example of me walking this out in real life for people to see how this mentality works and, of course, it did. I remember it was wild how everything happened.
“I'm a really big fan of music, and I do a lot of music videos and stuff. One of my favourite bands of all time, maybe my favourite band of all time, is the band called Every Time I Die. So, huge fan of this band, and Andy Williams is the guitarist of Every Time I Die, but he is also in AEW with Butcher and Blade. So being a big Every Time I Die fan, Andy came through Atlanta, doing a show with Every Time I Die. One of my friends, Stephen Harrison from Fever 333, texted me and said: “Hey, Andy's coming through. It would be cool if you could hook him up with Dallas.” I was like, “Oh, great, I'm a huge fan of his anyway.” So I took him over to Dallas' house, and Dallas was talking to Andy, and Andy was a little older and got into wrestling later than most people. So Dallas is giving some inspiration to Andy.
“Fast forward like a year or two later, I'm filming Dallas, we're backstage at AEW, and I'm like, “Man, it's crazy I brought Andy over to your house like two years ago.” Then I said something along the lines of, “That's cool, one of my favourite guitarists and my boss are wrestling each other,” and Dallas was just like, “What?” Then he realised that was the same guy who came over to his house like two years ago. He didn't even realise it until he was about to have the match, and he was like, “This is crazy.” It was just one of those things, man. It just felt like it was meant to happen. It got postponed, but I think for a good reason, and I think it really helped the movie in the long run.”
No, it's wonderful. The slow-motion dive off the top rope. It reminded me of the ending of The Wrestler, where he dives off the top rope for the splash, but obviously, this is a much more positive story than The Wrestler (laughs).
“Yeah, that was something where we were like, it should end similar to that, where it's just kind of like a freeze-frame dive kind of thing. I love that kind of stuff, so I was definitely influenced by that type of thing for sure.”
Going back to the style, Relentless is more of an expository documentary, and you started with The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, which was more observational and a spontaneous style of filmmaking. The Jake the Snake doc felt more in line with your style as an indie/punk filmmaker. Did you have a preference in terms of style because they're two very different films?
“Definitely, and I like both. I mean, sometimes you don't know what a good story is until, unfortunately, after it's happened. With Dallas, it was like, this is an amazing story. DDP being a household name in the late nineties at the peak of wrestling, one of the top guys, and Macho Man Randy Savage and him had the match of the year in '97. '97 wrestling is maybe the best, and the fact he was a main eventer in '97 WCW – that's like being on the '97 Chicago Bulls team.
“He was at the peak, and then you talk about how he has all of this money, and he literally puts all of that money into trying DDP Yoga, and then it doesn't work out, and he has to short sell his house. All of these crazy things happen, and he loses his safety blanket because he believes in this. It's just a crazy thing. So, of course, all of this has already happened, and we have to show that in retrospective and find footage that emphasises these points, which luckily, like I said, Dallas has filmed everything for as long as he has had a camera. So we had a lot to tell, which was great.
“But if I had to choose between the two styles, I love doing more in the moment, but it's harder to kind of predict some of those things are happening. But with this case, with Jake, I started working with Dallas in the summer of 2013. I remember my first day was wild, especially as a wrestling fan. Basically, what happened, there was an Arthur Boorman video that came out, and that video just launched DDP Yoga into success. So I got hired basically off of that video because with the business growing after that, they had room to hire more employees, so I was one of the people they brought in. This was 2013.
“I remember my first day, walking in, and this was back where we worked out of DDP's house, way before the DDP Yoga Performance Center. I remember just knocking on the door as this nervous young guy, really quiet, and Scott Hall opening the door, and he was like, “Hey, I'm Scott,” and I introduced myself. It was crazy. And this was when Jake was really struggling, so I came in when Jake was struggling with relapsing, which is not a really good time to start a job (laughs), but I just hung in there. But I had these guys' action figures as a kid, so I kind of wanted to see it through and see them get better because I could tell Dallas had them on the right path. It was a really beautiful thing to be a part of. I remember walking in on my first day and introducing myself to Jake, and he was sat on the kitchen table, and Dallas was out of town. I was like, “Hey Jake, it's good to meet you. My name's Nathan. I'm going to be working here now.” He was just like, “F*** off, kid. Your haircut's pissing me off.” That's the first sentence Jake ever said to me.”
Was this before or after you tried to prank him with the fire?
“(Laughs). Oh, nice. It's funny you saw that. Yeah, this was way before. Me and Jake are good now. Now he's just like a crazy uncle of mine. I love seeing him, and the fact that he is at AEW, I'll hang out with him. All the boys at DDP Yoga, we're all real close with Jake, and we'll go and get sushi with him or whatever. I can't say enough good things about Jake. He has such a big heart. He really cares about people, but he was dealt a real unfortunate hand as a child, and that kind of stuff affects you in the long run, and he, unfortunately, struggled with a lot of those demons. He had this level of, there is no way anyone can overcome this magnitude of addiction, but he was able to. That's one of the most beautiful things I was able to experience in my whole life.
“I remember the day Dallas was going to be on Old School RAW, and he had a little watch party at his house. So I remember he said everybody from work should go hang out at the house and watch him on his TV. We were watching, and I had no idea Jake was going to be on RAW. He was supposed to be at the Old School RAW party, but he said he didn't go. Then we see Jake randomly come out at the end, and if you see The Resurrection, I like stand up because I'm so excited. I remember getting in my car and just weeping tears of joy. It was a beautiful thing, and I even have a tattoo on my arm of a snake, razor blade, and a diamond in the snake's mouth. Representing Razor Ramon, Jake the Snake, and Diamond Dallas Page because The Resurrection of Jake the Snake and that whole experience was something I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. How unconditional friendship and believing in other people and what that can really do, and even helping them get out of the darkest places of their life, which is something I saw in Jake and Scott and them being able to get out of that.
“The thing is with how raw that [Resurrection of Jake] was, we would come in every morning and Dallas would be like, “Get the cameras ready” because you never know what's about to go down. So before we would start editing DDP Yoga stuff, we would have a camera ready, with a mic already on. We would hear an argument, and we would just hit record and run downstairs and point it at whatever. There is even a moment where we run outside, where Jake hits the garage door and he's upset. The white balance on the camera is way off because we had it set for indoors. We weren't anticipating running outside. That's how raw it is. There is nothing fake about The Resurrection of Jake the Snake or Relentless or these movies because, unlike a lot of reality TV, which is still quite fake and showy, this was as raw as it could literally be. It was just like; turn it on even if the shot is not the prettiest thing in the world because we had to get it or we missed it. So it's more real than reality TV, and it's a very raw look at all that stuff we went through.”
No, I can attest to that a little coming from a film background. The adjustments you guys had to make on the fly are challenging, and even though you can see a shot is a little weak compared to others, it clears up, and that's a hell of an adjustment you had to make.
“For sure. I've always leaned towards doing more guerrilla-style, punk/indie style filmmaking because that's how I grew up doing film. From being a teenager, that's the way I've always captured it, and I think there is something that is super authentic and human about having the raw element of that. I feel like people can emotionally connect with the way that The Resurrection of Jake the Snake is shot, as opposed to like how Transformers is shot because of how polished and huge it feels. But having something that feels more human and more raw – it kind of pulls you in more, like, “This is a real thing.” It's the unadulterated, here's life as it is kind of presentation of things, and that's the way that I like to go about it. Of course, you want to make your stuff look as good as possible. You want it to look clean, slick, and as polished as possible, but I love keeping it raw. You can tell there is a lot of times where it looks like I was running handheld with a camera, and that's because I was (laughs).”
Stay tuned for part two of this exclusive interview.
Relentless can now be watched in its entirety on DDP Yoga's Facebook.