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Meet the 2011 LA Film Festival Filmmakers | “Once I Was a Champion” Director Gerard Roxburgh

Meet the 2011 LA Film Festival Filmmakers | "Once I Was a Champion" Director Gerard Roxburgh

In 2008, Ultimate Fighting Championship star Evan Tanner went on a solo trip to the desert. Several days later his body was found less than a mile from his campsite. A complex man and an anomaly in the world of mixed martial arts, Tanner was a self-taught philosopher with conflicted feelings about fighting and a self-described loner who motivated thousands with his writing.

Combining archival footage and interviews with those closest to Tanner, director (and former fighter) Gerard Roxburgh sensitively paints a portrait of a man conflicted, a fighter who believed he could change the world even when he couldn’t change himself. [Film synopsis courtesy of the Los Angeles Film Festival]

“Once I Was a Champion”
Documentary Competition
Director: Gerard Roxburgh
Executive Producers: Sophia Tavernakis, Dan Caldwell
Producer: Kirk Porter
Cinematographer: Matt Irwin
Editor: Gerard Roxburgh
Featuring: Evan Tanner, Randy Couture, Dana White, John Herzfeld , Forrest Griffin, Chael Sonnen, Rich Franklin

Responses courtesy of “Once I Was a Champion” director Gerard Roxburgh.

Hometown: Greenock, Scotland UK

Film website: http://www.onceiwasachampion.com

Always been a storyteller…

If I was born hundreds of years ago, I’d be the guy sitting around the fire sharing fables. Whenever my dad would tell my kid brother and I a bedtime story he would turn off the lights and assume we’d be going to sleep. I would usually keep my brother up another half hour or so trying to outdo the tale I had just been told. When I was doing my GE at college I took a Cinema 100 class as an “art” requirement. I never got into movies to make art, I just wanted a bigger campfire.

Finding a film subject on Myspace…

I had studied martial arts since my early teens and always wanted to have a pro fight or two. I even thought about doing it as a profession, until I blew out my knee and decided to go back to college. I had heard about a former champion writing a blog on myspace and while nursing my injury I became an avid reader of it. I wanted some inspiration to help with rehab, but instead I found a blog about alcoholism. I became emotionally attached with Evan probably because there was so much drug/alcohol abuse in my extended family. I wanted to reach out and help him, so I wrote Evan a message pitching the idea to do a documentary on him sobering up and coming back to the cage. To my surprise, he wrote me back and seemed keen on it. Shortly thereafter my uncle died back in Scotland and I dropped everything to go home and make a film about him. By the time I was finished, nearly a year later Evan had in fact sobered up and got back in the cage. He lost both of his comeback fights and died mysteriously out in the desert. I found myself thinking about him a lot over the next few days. I’ve been working on this film ever since.

From 200 hours to 90 minutes…

The biggest challenge was by far the editing process. I had approximately two hundred hours of footage that I needed to whittle down to ninety minutes. I believe that a good editor has to immerse himself in the subject matter much like an actor “becomes” a character. I’m hoping that my film comes across as inspirational, but I realize it can often be sad. It’s hard figuring out how many frames to hold on of someone’s heart breaking before making the next cut. Leaving the audience with a smile on their face at the end is of utmost importance to me and it was challenging figuring out how to do that.

On finding a fighter likable…

Regardless if you knew who Evan was or if this is your first introduction to him, I don’t think you will ever forget him after this doc. I would hope it could change some opinions on the stereotype of what a “fighter” is, but that’s not my main focal point. No matter how you receive this film, I believe you’ll walk away treasuring your friendships a little more.

From Marsh to Morris, documentary influences…

I watched a different documentary every night for about a year while I was shooting. My inspiration from a technical point of view was “Man on Wire,” “The Fog of War,” and “Facing Ali,” those are by far my favorite “talking head” documentaries. How each of those films use their b-roll, their camera work and editing techniques are exceptional. Regarding story, I’d say the HBO film “The Smashing Machine,” has some similar themes as mine and they handled their subject matter in a very honest way. All of these movies had a huge influence on my work.

Down the pipeline…

I have several projects I want to work on both documentary and narrative. I’m really not sure which one I’m going to do next, but I’ve become increasingly interested in quantum physics. Mortality is obviously a theme in my current film and it’ll probably be in my next one also. Not to get too philosophical on you, but I’d say humanity doesn’t cope with death as well as we should. I’d like to tackle this issue in the most pleasant way possible, and hope to do that in my future endeavors.

An open call to LAFF audiences…

I’d just like to say if you happen watch my film and enjoy it, make sure you reach out and tell me, haha. In all seriousness, whether you’re in the industry or not, I’m always up for making new friends. I think that’s what life is all about. You never know, we might end up working together on something.

Check out these prior participants in the Los Angles Film Festival, courtesy of SnagFilms [Disclaimer: SnagFilms is indiewire’s parent company]
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