Only a couple of months ago, the mixed martial arts world lost a giant. When Charles "MASK" Lewis was killed in a tragic car accident, the MMA community at large mourned. Numerous articles and posts popped up over blogs and news outlets across the country and memorials in the form of online tributes, letters to the TapouT company, tribute websites, original artwork, and an empty seat at UFC and WEC events all served as reminders of a man who did so much to change the face of MMA in his own way.
Another tribute emerged as a short but poignant look at the man known to the MMA world as Mask - a tribute in the form of a 15 minute short film that juxtaposed iconic images and quotations from Mask alongside comments about Mask and his contributions to the MMA world from some of the biggest names in the fight game.
Check after the jump for the full interview as well as some videos from Razak.
Pulling together such a great film so quickly after Mask's death, and doing it in such a way that would be true to Mask's legacy happened under the watchful eye of one director, a man no stranger to TapouT and their style, an indie filmmaker that Sports Illustrated believes "may be king of the (mma) screen" - Bobby Razak.
After learning more about Razak through a mutual friend, I sought him out to get some comments from him on the development of Simply Believe and his own background.
Razak was born and raised in London, England and had what he describes as a typical English school boy background. He moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college to make his mark in the movie business. He left his family and friends behind for this new chapter in his life, and told me, "It was hard but had to be done."
Razak is no stranger to the combat sports world either. He has trained in boxing, thai boxing, Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, and even kung fu and Kyukoshin Karate. In addition to Razak's extensive work with TapouT, he has also directed other films about mixed martial arts and non-fighting related topics as well.
FightTicker: What made you want to get into filmmaking?
Bobby Razak: I always wanted to make films since I was a young boy. I saw Spartacus when I was 5, the house was being renovated and I was upstairs watching it in the small box in my parents room.. It brought so many emotions into my body. I just knew I wanted to create something like that, Spartacus just blew me away. That and a whole heap of destiny - I was born to do this.
FT: Who are some of your film influences?
Razak: I love Film Noir, the destructive path of a man who is a victim of circumstance has always fascinated me. Its like Macbeth and Shakespeare , Macbeth was a victim of his circumstance as opposed to his individual Greed. Macbeth was a loyal soldier did his King no wrong but the prophesy of the three witches and the Greed of his wife convinced him he had to take this path. I always felt if Macbeth had let the course run naturally he would have been a great king as opposed to forcing the issue with deceit.
This is the core of film noir and It always tripped me out. (Mr Henry my English studies teacher - wherever you are - one love.) Some film noir classics: Robert Ryan, The Setup, to me is the greatest fight film of all time. Of course Double Indemnity, Asphalt Jungle by the great John Houston is a stunning piece on the post-McCarthy paranoia that was sweeping America in the 50's. Sunset Blvd. is a great social commentary on Hollywood and lure this town has in the process of selling your soul for the almighty dollar and fame. I love movies, also the Run Run Shaw Kung fu films of the seventies greatly influenced me to, , 36 Chambers, Drunken Master, Fatal Flying Guillotines. I love movies - they transport you into another world and another life. I still use films as a tool for when I want to escape being Bobby Razak
FT: With your own fighting background and interest in film, was fighting related filmmaking something you always had in mind?
Razak: Kinda sorta - Dad purchased me a Bruce Lee poster when I was 6 - the booklet with the 3 marks on his chest, from Enter the Dragon . I finally watched it and it blew me away. I knew from then that martial arts would always be a big factor in my creative endeavors. Bruce Lee was a giant to me; his energy, grace, power, speed, his presence always keep me in awe. In many ways I think he is the grandfather of modern day mixed martial arts along with Helio Gracie
FT: Was there one thing that really made you want to do film work on fighting?
Razak: Yes, the love for martial arts. I trained, I fought and competed, and I bounced for many years. It's in my blood. I'm from East London, you got to fight for respect there.
FT: What was your first mma film?
Razak: Rites of Passage
FT: Tell me about and Rites of Passage.
Razak: Rites was the first intelligent documentary on the overall state of what was beginning to mold itself into the sport of MMA. When I made Rites there was no MMA - it was NHB [No Holds Barred].
FT: What is the overarching message you want people to take from your work?
Razak: Choices. Whatever choices you make in life will determine the final outcome. Destiny can play a role in these choices but at the end of the day you make that choice, for better or worse. I also want to inspire people. When you watch something I direct and produce I want you to look deep within and think "How can I take myself to another level?".
FT: How did you get hooked up with TapouT?
Razak: Ive known the guys 12 years now. Mask came to me when I was making Rites and asked If he could get his T-shirts on the fighters and his logo on the box. Mask said he had no cash but would make it up to me one day and help my career. He was a man of his word.
FT: What all have you done for TapouT?
Razak: Wow thats a lot - ok here goes
Bloodline short film
Pit fight Redux Commercial
Pit fight Redux short film
Underdogs short film
Robert Drysdale commercial
Underground Kings promo
Mask man commercial
Mask man short film
Skechers Ninja spot
Skechers ninja short film
(the last four have not been aired yet)
FT: From the TapouT shows and interviews and things, it’s not hard to see that all three of that TapouT guys, particularly Mask, were involved in all levels of the company – how closely did they work with you when you were working on all these projects?
Razak: Not too close, I did my own things, they trusted my vision. Pit fight was shot like seven years ago and after the success of Bloodlines Mask wanted to show something retro from back in the day. All the fights in Pitfght were real .
FT: You were tasked with a huge project – directing “Simply Believe”, the Mask tribute – what does it mean to you to be able to do a project based on someone who had so much influence on the MMA scene?
Razak: It was my honor and I felt it was my right. Nobody else could have directed Believe or even the Underdogs short. I knew this man intricately, his life and what he went through. I got thousands of emails for Simply Believe , even M. Night Shyamalan (director of The Sixth Sense and The Village) reached out to me and watched. It was amazing to get that response. It also drove me a little crazy. I started filming Believe the day after Charlie died, it was too much emotionally for me. I also lost my father in March three years earlier. I don't know if I could ever put myself through that again. I also had a lot of negative people in my life who were just hating on me so the combination of energies was rough but it was a great learning experience and a great eye opener to how people can be jealous of you when you things are going big for you and what to avoid [Laughs].
FT: What is it that you want people to know about Mask from Simply Believe?
Razak: Man, Mask was all love, brother.
FT: Are there any of your personal experiences or impressions with and of Mask that you’d like to share with us?
Razak: He was about to jump off a huge building for his Mask man commercial, he didn't know the full ramification of what he was going to do, he was terrified. I had to take him back on the stairs and speak to him that he was always pushing for people to bring their "A" game and to never let fear hinder them and now it was his shot to do something crazy and prove to the world that he had balls of steel by jumping off this building with a couple of wires.
FT: Obviously your main medium is film and visual portrayals, but what words would use to describe what Mask did for the sport?
Razak: Mask kept the sport alive in the early years financially, with support, with his energy. He is one of the founding fathers of our sport, he is part of that interwoven fabric which created the evolution of our sport. He is as important as Takuan Soho , Miyamoto Musashi, Usheba, Jigaro Kano, Mas Oyama, Bruce Lee. He is Charles "Mask" Lewis.
FT: What are some other projects you’re currently working on?
Razak: I'm in post-production for the Underdogs feature which is on the history of MMA from a southern cali perspective and I just booked a new film and commercial and another short - top secret right now but it's gonna be amazing - I start shooting second week in June.
FT: Are there non-fighting films/documentaries you’re doing/have done?
Razak: Yes, I did a love film called Love Pain Eternal which was got accepted at Cannes last year. I also love romantic comedies and love stories so I definitely want to move more in that direction in 2011 after the big films are finished. I'm known to be a romantic [laughs], and people say I'm funny so want to give it a shot.
FT: Who are some of your favorite fighters in MMA?
Razak: Fedor and GSP
FT: Anyone you’d like to thank or give a shout out to?
Razak: My lawyer, J. Fagerholm, my editors Chris and Gabriel. To Jade , thank you for everything and your support. To my composer Rob Persuad - two Tottenham boys in Hollywood doing our thing is crazy buts its happening.
Thanks to Bobby for taking time out of his schedule to talk with me and answer some questions. In addition to everything else, he is currently working on two feature-length films: one is Underdogs, that will be an in-depth look at the history of MMA as a whole - Razak mentioned it could run close to three hours. The second is a piece about Mexican fighters and the impact they've made on the sport as seen through their eyes, featuring UFC fighter Cain Velasquez among others.
I'm also including some video segments, including Simply Believe, some of which Razak directed, some of which he is featured in.
For more information on Razak and some more of his videos, check out his myspace page.
Underdogs Video Blog
Rites of Passage Trailer
(Originally posted on FightTicker.com)