This story begins in the subterranean. Not very deep down, but in the basement of the multi-unit building I live in. I was doing laundry with my dog, Gizmo (yes, I am a child of the 80s.) As I was folding a pair of jeans we heard a noise off in the distance. It sounded like grunting. Gizmo’s bat-like ears stood up and her face wrinkled in curiosity. Before I could command her to stay she was off. She raced through the corridors of sub divided storage units. I followed her, past metal cages with stacked boxes, unused bicycles and dusty furniture locked inside.
We rounded a corner and there he was, standing in front of an open cage,
out of breath. I had seen him in the building before. On occasion I had shared an elevator with him. He had never looked me in the eye when I had greeted him. He was odd. His storage space was equal to his personality. My eyes darted around the cage, taking in as much as I could. It was filled with twisted steel, boxes and boxes of it. Plastic bins overflowing with bent nails and spikes littered the floor. Phone books were stacked in towering piles and lengths of chain hung from the ceiling.
This was insane. I had never seen anything like this. I felt like one of those characters in a horror film that turns on a light in a dark house only to find the lamp made of stretched human flesh and the walls coated in blood. I think it was the hammers that were bent in half that sealed the deal. I picked up Gizmo who was deep in the cage sniffing a twisted horseshoe. I slowly backed away, quickly apologizing for the intrusion. “It’s ok,” he said in a high pitch, creepy voice “she is just curious.” In a horror movie that sentence is the kiss of death. The next step would normally be an axe to the head! That was more then enough for me. I turned and hurried away.
I saw him again a few weeks later, again, in the basement. This time I witnessed him wedge a sizeable length of steel bar between his legs and wrap it around till the ends touched. I was impressed, but still convinced he was a man who was taking all his stress and anger out on the steel in some sadomasochistic manner. Over the following ten months I learned that was only partially true. His name is Chris Schoeck and he was just beginning to enter a world that I was completely unfamiliar with. A community, on the fringe of weightlifting culture, also known as the Iron Game, who call themselves Oldetime Strongmen. For me, the word strongman conjured up a black and white image of a guy in a leopard skin Tarzan suit lifting trapezoidal weights. Again, at that time I had no idea how close I was to the truth.
It just so happened that a month before meeting Chris I gathered with a group of co-workers and friends who wanted to start a production company focusing on original content, mainly short form ideas that could be filmed in the New York City area. We were actively combing newspapers and magazines for stories that could spark a potential idea. Then Chris came along. Once all the initial weirdness passed I brought up the possibility of a documentary which he immediately responded to. I spent half a day with him and conducted an unofficial pre-interview, which I then used to pitch to the group. I called it Bending Steel.
Chris is such a unique character. He is incredibly anti-social and completely awkward. Yet, to my surprise he agreed to go ahead with filming. He has a very innocent and unaware quality to him, which makes him compelling to watch. He lacked the kind of self-concerned vanity that make people unnatural on camera. Like most principle subjects in a documentary Chris became more comfortable with us being around. He eventually opened up to us with plot driving revelations. Up until this film I had always been more interested in fictional work then documentary. But what we were capturing was truly amazing. Sharing someone’s intimate moments is very exposing and self-revealing. At times I felt introspect while watching Chris, seeing pieces of myself. The story that we were telling was universal and wonderfully human.
Over the first few months of production it became clear that Bending Steel should be a feature length documentary, eighty plus minutes. This was no longer a day or two day a week project. It was a full time job. Understandably, with that realization came peoples’ inability to commit to the project. We lost one person after another. Even the strongmen were taken by surprise with the level of time and dedication that was needed. This was to become our first feature length film. Ryan Scafuro, the film’s co-producer and director of photography and I moved forward for the remainder of principle photography. It was a two-man operation. He was shooting and I was directing and running audio.
Many years prior I had been taught in film school to never use your own money to finance a project. But this project was different for us. We developed an emotional investment in Chris and we were confident in the film’s message. Because of this we continued to self-fund principle photography. Since Ryan and I are both cameramen by profession, we own a small amount of gear and supplemented the rest as the need arose. Technically we kept it simple. Natural light and fast lenses became standard operating procedure. We infrequently lit, but when we did it was for a more dramatic effect or specific artistic reason.
Eventually we ran out of money but wanted to maintain our standards and keep Bending Steel independent. It was important for us to maintain the DIY nature of the film by opening the project up to people who would care about it as much as we did. That is why we turned to Kickstarter and launched our fundraising campaign to help finish the film. Crowd funding is a fantastic idea that connects people to get behind a creative project and feel good about where their money goes and for filmmakers where the funds came from. It’s a place where well-intentioned donors meet well-intentioned creators.
180+ hours of footage later, we have partnered with John Hoyt, an incredible editor, who is painstakingly sifting through material and Fernando Martinez, an amazing composer, who is creating original music for the film. We have a great group of talented technicians, artists, and craftsmen who are going to help finish the film and prepare it for an international festival premier. Bending Steel has been a life-changing project for us and we can’t wait to share the experience. After all, this is what filmmaking is all about.
To help fund Bending Steel go to Kickstarter and watch the video below.
Dave Carroll has been working in the film, television and commercial industry for sixteen years, as an award-winning Director of Photography for the past ten. Bending Steel is his first feature length directorial debut.