Interview: “Generation Iron” Director Vlad Yudin

Generation Iron Vlad Yudin headshot

Director/Producer Vlad Yudin

Vlad Yudin grew up in Moscow before moving to New York in 1995 to pursue his career in film. In 2008, Yudin became partners with Edwin Mejia to form The Vladar Company and produce various feature and documentary projects, including “Big Pun: The Legacy” and “Last Day of Summer.” Yudin later wrote, produced and directed his debut feature film titled “Last Day Of Summer” starring Nikki Reed from the popular Hollywood franchise, Twilight, DJ Qualls (Hustle & Flow, Road Trip) and William Sadler (Die Hard 2, The Shawshank Redemption) for The Vladar Company. The film had its theatrical release on September 17th, 2010 with Entertainment One.  Vladin’s new documentary, “Generation Iron,” is in theatres now.

Jennifer Williams: Before you came to America from Russia in the mid-90s, were you a fan of American films?

Vlad Yudin:  Yes, absolutely.  When I was growing up, we had a lot of access to bootleg versions of American movies.  So, we passed around a lot of VHS tapes back then.  I am a big fan of American cinema.  In Russia, we had access to Russian films but also had access to European films and American films.  I remember when I was growing up I saw a few films that really stuck in my mind.  Of course, I was a big fan of action-films because in Russia no one was making those yet.  I think still to this day, the Russian films don’t match the quality.  I remember seeing Batman (1989) for the first time.  That was a film that was very inspirational to me.  Michael Keaton was in so many different films in different roles and is someone I respect a lot.  If I can pinpoint one film, I’d say Batman as it really stood out a lot.

Jennifer Williams:  What motivated you to come to America?

Vlad Yudin:    Education.  In the mid-90s in Russia, education was not going to way it should be going.  The whole country was going through a very rough transitional phase from the Soviet Union days to the present Russian days.  The transition wasn’t as great as everybody hoped for and education wasn’t [either], so my parents wanted me to come here and get properly educated and feel safe about it, too.

Generation Iron LowResPosterJennifer Williams:  What inspired you to make “Generation Iron”?

Vlad Yudin:    To me, the first initial interest was formed when I was thinking about body-building and how much of an unknown sport or culture professional body-building really is.  And it is ironic because the sport is hugely popular.  Everybody loves the gym, loves a fit lifestyle.  A fit lifestyle is wildly popular.  But the pinnacle of it all, where body-building came from… is really unexplored.  So, that got me really hooked about exploring the sport and finding something in it to make a film.  Including the Mr. Olympia contest, the whole process took a little over a year.

Jennifer Williams:  Are you into body-building yourself?

Vlad Yudin:    Not at all!  I’m definitely not a body-builder.  I think it is actually a good thing that I was outside of body-building.  When I came in to make the film, I was able to focus on the film and notice all the small details that maybe a Body-builder/Director would have missed.

Jennifer Williams:  How did you go about casting the film with the particular body-builders you chose for it?

Vlad Yudin:    In the film, we focus on Phil Heath and he is the current Mr. Olympia.  Mr. Olympia is “king of the throne” and is a monumental figure.  We have “the contenders” such as Kai Greene, who is Phil’s nemesis so to speak.  There are a lot of other guys in the competition, but it is really about finding the interesting stories, the backgrounds and what they are going through in their life.  [It came down to] how interesting I find their stories to be, really.  The most difficult part is that we have almost seven or eight main characters that we have to cover and we kept all of them in the film.  That was the most challenging part.  How do you keep so many different characters in the film and then, still focus on the main storyline?

Jennifer Williams:  Were you surprised at the amount of access that each of the men gave you to their non-gym lives?

Vlad Yudin:  That access was very important.  I told each of them at the very beginning that if we were to work together on this project… that it is very important that we work together on this and I need to get access and be able to get into your lives.  It wasn’t easy because obviously they are human beings.  Me showing up with a camera crew… for them, it wasn’t always the easiest thing because body-building isn’t a sport where you have cameras every day and filming every part of your life. It is a challenge. It was something that they had to get accustomed to.  When I made the film I didn’t focus on the access, I was just focusing on making the best possible film I could.  I guess now that I look back upon it, this has never been done before.  Body-builders have never let people in their house like that before.  It was some tremendous access that we had.

Jennifer Williams:  Did it take a lot of convincing to get the men to say “yes” to giving you that access?

Vlad Yudin:    It took some meetings and conversations.  I think the most important thing is that once they saw my vision and I explained to them what I was trying to do, I think it was easier from then on.  We did have to communicated a lot on the vision as we went back and revisited it as we filmed more and more.  When these guys are training, they are consumed with training and winning Mr. Olympia and placing high [at the Competition].  That is their goal, of course.  That is why they train years and years of their lives for.  But once it came to my vision for the film… they just let me do my thing.

Jennifer Williams:  “Generation Iron” definitely stirs some rooting passions in the audience… particularly in the various successes and failures that they achieved.  Over time, did you come to have any favorites amongst the competitors? 

Vlad Yudin:  That is a great question.  I tried not to, of course.  They’re all great guys, but I couldn’t get attached to any of them because I still had to make a very truthful film.  I didn’t want any conflicts of interest.  I really am a fan of all of them in many ways because in their sport… it all comes down to the judges.  I am definitely a good acquaintance of all the guys [at this point].

Pumping_Iron_movie_poster 1977Jennifer Williams:  How much did the film “Pumping Iron” influence you in making this film?

Vlad Yudin:  “Pumping Iron” in my opinion is one of the greatest documentaries of all time.  That said, I didn’t want to make a copy of “Pumping Iron” or something that was like it only with today’s guys.  I knew that “Pumping Iron” was something that made its mark in history.  This is a new film with a style that is different and  I think that our approach is different as well.  “Generation Iron” is its own film.  “Pumping Iron” is an amazing documentary and it can never be matched.  It introduced body-building to the world in the ‘70s.  Whereas our film is a more in-depth look at body-builders themselves and how they approach life.

Jennifer Williams:  Do you think that the great success of “Pumping Iron” and it helping to make Arnold Schwarzenegger a star helped any of the body-builders in saying yes more easily and giving you that access you received?

Vlad Yudin:  I definitely think it played its part.  Especially as we had Jerome Gary as an Executive Producer and he produced “Pumping Iron.”  It gave us initial credibility in making this film, absolutely. But now that it is coming out, people see our film as its own film.  Meaning that they see it as having its own place now in the film world.

Jennifer Williams:  How much of a shadow does Arnold Schwarzenegger cast on body-building today?

Vlad Yudin:  Oh, a huge shadow. Without question.  He’s the guy who transcended body-building in a huge way.  In many ways, Arnold is a true inspiration to a lot of the guys who are competing today.  He has the Arnold Classic show which takes place in March every year in Columbus, Ohio and that show is big.  Basically, there is Olympia and then the Arnold Classic in the bodybuilding world.  There is a large Expo as well.  Arnold has a huge shadow and I think he will be for as long as body-building exists.

Jennifer Williams:  For anyone who has seen “Pumping Iron,” your film is a very intriguing one as we get to see how body-building has changed (and not changed) since the mid-70s.  Did anything surprise you in making this film thirty-five years later?

Vlad Yudin:  Definitely a few things.  One is how these body-builders are being judged by society.  I would never think like that.  When I go to the gym, I would see everybody working out and then see a body-builder type working out [with such dedication]… you have to respect that in a way.  Professional body-builders get really scrutinized by society.  Most people don’t see it as art or even as a sport.  I think most people kind of look down upon body-builders, which is unfortunate for them to experience.  The whole culture of body-building is something that people have a hard time understanding or accepting.  In daily life, they are being judged by the society that is now looking at them and right away assuming something or judging them.  I was amazed at seeing this as I never personally felt like that or ever experienced that before.  But in making the film, I definitely saw a lot of that.

My second thing is that most people kind of don’t ever think of body-builders as being intelligent individuals or smart individuals because of their physical appearance. I learned through making the film that this wasn’t the case, but it was interesting to see what society thinks of them.

Current Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath Courtesy, The Vladar Company

Current Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath
Courtesy, The Vladar Company

Mr. Olympia Challenger Kai Greene Courtesy, The Vladar Company

Mr. Olympia Challenger Kai Greene
Courtesy, The Vladar Company


Jennifer Williams:  The storyline you had with Phil Heath and Kai Greene really has a Rocky Balboa-Clubber Lang from Rocky III feel to it.  Did you have to take a different approach in filming Phil and Kai separately?

Vlad Yudin:  No, the approach is pretty much the same.  I knew from the beginning that they had a rivalry going on for a while.  They would take verbal jabs at each other and stuff like that.  So, I wanted to spend extra time with them and really highlight the contrasts and differences between them.  As people, as body-builders, their approaches to life and what they thought a “Mr. Olympia” should be like.  And really show two sides of body-building in a way.  Knowing all that, I really wanted to focus on their differences and those differences are there in front of you, so it wasn’t that difficult to pull anything out of them.  I think that people are going to love that rivalry between the body-builders.  That is definitely a story that stands out the most when it comes to rivalries.

Jennifer Williams:  For sure.  Do you have any upcoming projects audiences that audiences should look for in the future?  

Vlad Yudin:  Absolutely.  I just finished a film called Catskill Park, which is a horror/sci-fi thriller that will be released in 2014.  And then I have a project called “Head Smash” which is a graphic novel that will be made into a film next year.  The graphic novel was released during Comic-Con and it is doing well.  Those are the two films that I am really focusing on in the near, but presently it is all about “Generation Iron.”

“Generation Iron” is still in theatres and it is having its U.K. Premiere this weekend.  We will be opening it internationally soon and I’m very happy to see it do so well.  Audiences outside of body-building have reacted to it in a positive way.   It takes time to get word out across the country, especially documentaries.  Our film is still in theatres here in the U.S. and I hope that people get a chance to see it.

© 2013 The Willams View

About the Author:

Jennifer Williams is an accomplished writer, interviewer and critical reviewer having written about or covered many subjects of interests. Having graduated from Tulane University, La Salle University and New York University, Kevin's career background in Politics and Civic Affairs, Public Relations, Marketing, Non-Profit Management and Filmmaking have helped inspire much of her past artistic and creative efforts. Jennifer directed and co-produced the documentary feature film, Fear Of A Black Republican. Her latest film, Rebel Song, looks at a middle-aged American Celtic Rock band and the music inspired by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Rebel Song is expected to be released in 2014. In addition to The Williams View, Jennifer is also the Entertainment and Politics Editor for Politisite, a Contributing Writer for Townhall, Breitbart's Big Hollywood, Liberatchik and Hip Hop Republican. Jennifer has been interviewed or profiled across many Media outlets such as the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Philadelphia Inquirer, Kansas City Star, L.A. Weekly; Current TV, Christian Broadcasting Network, Huffington Post Live, Al Jazeera and BET News; radio programs ranging from National Public Radio, Voice of Russia - American Edition, the Mark Davis Radio Show, the Chris Stigall Show, the Steve Deace Show, the Bob Grant Show, Victoria Taft Show, to the Michael Eric Dyson Show and many others.

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