“WRESTLERS” is a Netflix documentary series produced by BBC Studios Los Angeles with One Potato Productions, created by Greg Whiteley, the brainchild behind Emmy winning series “CHEER” and “Last Chance U.” Greg Whiteley acted as Director and Executive Producer, with Jonathan B. Nicholas as Director of Photography and Clint Lealos as Co-DP.
“WRESTLERS” was shot in the summer of 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky and the surrounding Ohio Valley region. The focus of the documentary series follows the American professional wrestling promotion 'OVW Wrestling', that grew to become the main developmental program for the WWE, (World Wrestling Entertainment). Teaching and leading the way for celebrity wrestlers and actions stars like Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Randy Orton, The Miz and Dave Bautista. But the gym has since fallen on hard times, despite the efforts of their leader and former WWE star Al Snow. The gym has no choice but to sell majority of the ownership, and partner with some enthusiastic local businessmen who don’t always see eye to eye with Al’s business model. Drama ensues as OVW’s survival depends on the financial success of the summer tour. Will this once great temple of wrestling history and wisdom have to shut its doors forever? Or can the new partnership help bring back OVW to its glory days?
The TLS rehoused KOWA-R FF Primes were the primary lenses used for this project. Two camera crews each shot on Sony Venice 1 with a full KOWA-R set each. The original vision was to bring a gritty 16mm vibe to the project. But the lack of resolution shooting in 16mm mode on a digital chip wasn’t up to code for Netflix standards, plus the feeling of Full Frame lenses brought much more dimensionality to the image and sucked you into the character’s world and all their emotions. Staying close to the character on a wider lens makes it personal and intimate.
Jonathan states that he never liked the term “fly on the wall” because it sounds so backed off and still. I always want to be right there with the subject, and the more time you spent with them, the closer you can get. Sometimes I’ll be so locked into my onboard monitor, by the time I look up, I’m surprised how close I am. The KOWA-R FFs have INSANE close focus, but it’s the classic Kowa “flaws” that truly made these lenses the perfect choice for this project. Just like our characters, who constantly feel like the underdog and forgotten, yet on the verge of greatness. These lenses, also once forgotten, now have this beautiful resurgence thanks to Clint Lealos and Ancient Optics https://ancient-optics.com/. The vintage glass brought just the right amount of “patina” we were looking for. The flare characteristics are unlike anything I’ve seen, and I knew we needed something very expressionistic to portray these wrestlers as gods in the ring. All these wrestlers share the same mindset that no matter how big the stage, or how small the crown, they feel invincible when they are in the ring, and I wanted the audience to feel that too.
The KOWA-Rs are light and compact making them ideal for doc and handheld coverage. Unlike many heavy FF primes out there, the KOWA-Rs look and feel like you have a S35mm prime on your camera with the benefit of full frame coverage. Plus, the ACs love the robust build quality that TLS always delivers. With matching front diameters, and smooth gears, the “vintage” is only in the image. Although the primes vary in T-Stops, the Venice’s dual ISO was an ideal weapon to dig into this dark world.
Thanks, Jonathan, for sharing your production story with us. “WRESTLERS” is already out and is available to stream on Netflix.
You can see more of Jonathan's work on his website http://www.jonathannicholasdp.com/ and connect with both Jonathan and Clint on social media via @jonathanbnicholas, @clintleolos, @bandit_films_ and @ancientoptics
Thank you also to the following people who are starring in the photos above.
HollyHood Haley J - @hollyhoodhaley
Orion FKA Blanco Loco - @theeorionx
David Newton - @gimbal_dave
Hy Zaya - @hoodninjahy