“Bleed for This” may look like any number of boxing movies that chronicle the career of a prize fighter, but the film is more about what legendary boxer Vinny Paz did outside the ring than inside. Based on the true story of Paz’s remarkable recovery after a car accident that left him with a broken neck, the movie stars Miles Teller as Paz and Aaron Eckhart as his trainer Kevin Rooney.
During an interview with IndieWire at the Toronto Film Festival, writer-director Ben Younger (“Boiler Room”) explained that rather than telling the story of Paz’s entire boxing career, as a traditional boxing biopic might, he focused instead on the period that best revealed what kind of person Paz was: the year and a half immediately following his neck injury, when doctors and family members told him he would never fight again.
“If you want to appeal to people who don’t care about boxing, it’s all about the fact that this guy made a choice to try again when everyone said if he did, there was a good chance he’d never walk again,” Younger said. “Anyone can relate to that, and very few people have something they care that much about.”
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Though Paz’s return to the ring in 1992 was widely reported in the news, Younger admitted he had never heard of Paz before being hired to write and direct “Bleed for This.” Neither had Martin Scorsese, who came on board as an executive producer and convinced fellow executive producer Joshua Sason to help finance the $6 million movie. “We put [Scorsese] in a room with Joshua, and he wrote us a check,” Younger said. “I had been in that same room with him 10 minutes earlier and I got nothing.”
Younger eventually put his entire salary back into the movie in order to fund two additional days of shooting.
“No one was doing it for the money,” said producer Bruce Cohen, whose credits include “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Milk” and “American Beauty.” “Everyone was doing it because they thought we were doing something great.”
The 24-day shoot took place entirely in Paz’s hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, where many of his biggest fans and family still reside. “To shoot this movie in Providence where everything happened has been great,” Teller said in a video interview during production that IndieWire posted Friday. “People are just so proud and so happy that we are filming this movie here.”
Teller added that “Bleed for This” was the most challenging film he’s ever shot, both for the short shooting schedule and for the grueling physical activity in the ring. “The first boxing match in this movie we filmed for 13 hours, and it was pretty much non-stop,” he said.
Younger’s experience was certainly less demanding physically than Teller’s, but it’s easy to get the impression that working behind the camera was also painful. “We broke our backs,” Younger said, describing the challenge of making the movie for just $6 million. Though every director would rather have more money than less, Younger and Cohen both subscribe to the idea that you should make every movie at the smallest budget possible.
“It’s responsible on one hand and it makes for better films,” Younger said. “More money doesn’t mean you’re going to get a better shot. It just means you’re going to spend more money.”
While Cohen lamented the fact that a $20 million film a decade ago might only be able to find $10 million or less in funding today, he rejected the idea that independent films face any kind of existential threat. “People love their big studio tent poles, but people are waiting desperately every fall to get to the festivals,” he said.
He added, “They miss the good movies that are dramas and human stories with great performances, so I think there will always be a market for those films.”
“Bleed for This” hit theaters on November 18.