Interview: Director Adam Gacka Chronicles Hulk Hogan’s Ultimate Fan in ‘Sadermania’

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CHICAGO – For anybody that remembers the 1980s, remembers the flamboyant fame of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, and his army of “Hulkamaniacs.” Behind the glitz of it all was one particular Hogan fan named Chris Sader. The circumstance behind the fandom, and his subsequent relationship with Hogan, is the subject of director Adam Gacka’s documentary, “Sadermania,” which will screen at the Midwest Independent Film Festival on Tuesday, April 3rd.

In the documentary, Chris Sader was a normal Chicago neighborhood boy with working class parents, whose obsession was the television pro wrestling matches in the Silver Age of the 1980s and ‘90s, and his greatest admiration was reserved for the pro wrestler born Terry Gene Bollea, AKA Hulk Hogan. What began as a quest to amass, in his ardor, the largest collection of Hulk Hogan autographs and memorabilia, morphed into a friendship between the two men, helping each other “wrestle” with the difficult realities of life.

Chris Sader and Hulk Hogan in ‘Sadermania’
Chris Sader and Hulk Hogan in ‘Sadermania’
Photo credit: Sadermania.com

“Sadermania” will be shown at the Midwest Independent Film Festival on Tuesday, April 3rd. The Festival is Chicago’s monthly cinema happening, meeting every first Tuesday of the month throughout the year and highlighting the films and filmmakers of the Midwest region.

Director Adam Gacka was a fellow professional wrestling fan when he met Chris Sader ten years ago, and considers that meeting the origin of the documentary. He quit a mainstream job at a bank to pursue his dream of filmmaking, hooking up with the Tribeca Flashpoint Academy in Chicago. “Sadermania” used the resources and production knowledge of the school, and completed his film with help from co-producer Paul Matian and the student filmmakers at the academy. HollywoodChicago.com spoke to Adam Gacka, and he talked about “going to the mat” to tell the story of Chris Sader and Hulk Hogan.

HollywoodChicago.com: You are a fan of professional wrestling. How did you hook up with Chris Sader, and what about his story compelled you to make this documentary?

Adam Gacka: Chris and I have been friends for about ten years, and I met him because I was also involved in independent wrestling. From the moment I met him, his story was extremely captivating – a pop culture icon like Hulk Hogan embracing a super fan, it blew my mind. And obviously Chris himself is a charismatic, likable guy and I also knew I wanted to work with him. In a way, this movie has been ten years in the making, and only recently when I got access to the resources at Tribeca Flashpoint was I able to make it happen.

HollywoodChicago.com: There is something very American, in both the good and bad way, regarding obsessive fandom. What do you think Chris’s story says about both the elements of extreme fandom and the ‘Great American Narrative’?

Gacka: The one thing I really respect about Chris is that he is unapologetic about his way of life. It’s allowed him to cope with his own problems and issues, and it’s turned him into a good person. He took the idea of ‘good and evil’ that you see in professional wrestling and applied it to the real world.

In regard to the American Narrative it just shows that if you are passionate about something and are completely driven and you don’t take anything from anybody, you can accomplish whatever you want to accomplish. That is basically what Chris did. What is really amazing is that he is content and happy about becoming best friends with Hulk Hogan – in Chris’s eyes he achieved a lifelong dream. That speaks volumes about the American Narrative.

HollywoodChicago.com: Professional wrestling is less mainstream than in its heyday in the 1980s and ‘90s. How does that particular exhibition stay relevant as both entertainment and as an influence to the culture?

Gacka: Pro wrestling has definitely evolved, but the real change came when most people caught on to the fact that it’s scripted, and just entertainment. It lost a little bit of luster then, and it’s harder now for people to suspend their disbelief and take it seriously. That may be why it’s not as popular as it was before, but at the same time you’re not going to see those types of larger-than-life characters anywhere else. There are still people who like it for that reason, and I don’t think pro wrestling is ever going away. I honesty believe that if it was retooled, and shown in a different light, it could have a resurgence. Chris is a perfect example of the positive effect it can have on people.

A Small Part of Chris Sader’s Hulk Hogan Memorabilia Collection in ‘Sadermania’
A Small Part of Chris Sader’s Hulk Hogan Memorabilia Collection in ‘Sadermania’
Photo credit: Sadermania.com

HollywoodChicago.com: What touched you about the human side of the Hulk Hogan character? What was the element of Hulk Hogan the man versus the image that really struck you after you met him?

Gacka: Just the idea that he embraced Chris, first and foremost. I saw that as pretty amazing. Once I got a chance to meet and interview him, and talk about some pretty intense stuff, I think I also caught him off guard. I wasn’t asking him about anything going on with his life, I was asking him about a positive relationship with someone who looked up to him. His answers and sincerity came through. I worked out with him, I shared meals with him and he was really down to earth, including opening up his home to us. I could really tell he is a good person.

HollywoodChicago.com: Tell us about your production team at Digi Bros and Tribeca Flashpoint. How are they helping to revolutionize and lower the costs of film and documentaries today and what are the advantages for filmmakers like you?

Gacka: My story is pretty interesting because I’ve always had a passion for filmmaking but never pursued it, mainly because of the horror stories of people going to film school, spending four years of tuition, and getting nothing out of it. I went with a more traditional route with political science, and planned to go to law school, but realized it wasn’t for me. After some miserable years working for a bank, I had to what I refer to now as a ‘Jerry Maguire’ moment. I quit my job and sent out these inspiring cover letters to these production houses, and of course nobody hired me because I have no experience.

I stumbled across Tribeca Flashpoint, and was originally hired in their admissions department. I looked at it as an opportunity to get my foot in the door and learn about filmmaking. But I also embraced what the school is all about, and I can describe that in one word…opportunity. I had an opportunity to have access to this equipment and access to other people who shared a similar passion. I worked for with my partner Paul Matian, the VP of Production at Flashpoint and co-founder of Digi Bros, for two years to bring this project to life. It makes me optimistic about education and where things are going because a place like Tribeca Flashpoint exists. It gives people an opportunity to make films.

HollywoodChicago.com: You use a number of different techniques – animation, quick point-of-view cuts and different locations to add life to your film. When did you realize you had to invent these different techniques to bring the documentary more life?

Director Adam Gacka of ‘Sadermania’
Director Adam Gacka of ‘Sadermania’
Photo credit: Sadermania.com

Gacka: The biggest hurdle that we faced is that this story is in the past, and we were relying on Chris and Hulk to reflect on the experiences, but we didn’t want an hour and a half of talking heads. We tried to think of different ways to bring it to life, and the animations is what we leaned on. People have enjoyed them, so I’m glad I used the technique.

HollywoodChicago.com: Have you gotten any feedback from the big professional wrestling associations regarding the film?

Gacka: Yes and no. It’s an interesting situation because Hulk is working for Impact Wrestling, and World Wrestling Entertainment [WWE] has the rights to all of Hulk’s archival footage. We’re right in the middle, and I don’t know how things will play out, but I’d like to work with one of them.

HollywoodChicago.com: The Chicago Style Wrestling organization shows the heart at the level of the beginner in the show business of wrestling. What kind of training takes place in these “minor leagues” and what do you find there that you don’t at the high professional levels?

Gacka: In terms of what it takes, it’s not just physicality or athletic ability, it’s having charisma and being entertaining. I think that is what’s missing at the higher levels, there aren’t many characters anymore. You see a lot of cookie cutter guys who are large and juiced up, but they don’t have any kind of charisma or don’t capture the audience to get behind them. On the independent level, there are a lot of goofy, interesting and entertaining characters, but they don’t have the bodies that the larger companies are looking for, so they are overlooked.

HollywoodChicago.com: Has professional wrestling embraced Sadermania? How do you think Chris Sader could evolve upward to the next level?

Gacka: As in anything, Chris is going to have people that are going to appreciate what he’s accomplished and some are not. People will say he didn’t pay his dues and is trying to be a wrestler based only on his association with Hulk Hogan. That’s what he’s going to have to deal with, whether it’s wrestling or life in general. His whole story is about staying positive despite the obstacles.

The film “Sadermania” will be shown at the Midwest Independent Film Festival on Tuesday, April 3rd at 6pm, located at the Landmark Cinema, 2828 N. Clark in Chicago. Click here for information and tickets. Featuring Chris Sader and Hulk Hogan. Produced and directed by Adam Gacka. Not rated. Click here for the official “Sadermania” film site.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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