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The Legend of Baron To'a

The Legend of Baron To'a - a rambunctious action film with a Pasifika flair, is out in NZ cinemas TODAY! Australian audiences get to enjoy the film on March 12. I've seen the film twice now and I've been thoroughly impressed with the fantastic effort from all those involved with the making of the film. This film punches above its weight and raises the bar for action films of NZ's future.

One thing that makes The Legend of Baron To'a unique is that it is a Pasifika story told by Pasifika people. This isn't a review of the film, I've already done a review which you can read on the website: This is more a blog about my experience on working with the stunt and production crew on the film. Myself and some of the Impact Pro Wrestling crew were fortunate enough to be a part of The Legend of Baron To'a film. With John Tui's titular character, Baron To'a, being a legendary pro wrestler, IPW were contacted by the stunt team to advise on the wrestling holds in the fight scenes as well as choreographing maneuvers for some of the flashback wrestling matches. Caleb Just aka Kingi played a huge part in having the film involve IPW. With his close friendship with superstar stunt couple, Tipene Kerei and Ashlee Fidow, he was able to organise time at the IPW Danger Room in Henderson for the crew to learn the art of wrestling in preparation for the film. Myself, Alfred Vorderman (Alfred Valentine), Robert Eden (Charlie Roberts), Caleb Just (Kingi) and Jamie Seu (Jamie Tagataese) met with the stunt team lead by Augie Davis and Andy Stehlin as well as star, John Tui and director, Kiel McNaughton along with his family at the IPW Danger Room. We all ran through a match scenario swapping positions to see who would best suit the scene. This was essentially an audtion. It was so fun to be a part of this process. I didn't have my gear with me as I went to the IPW gym straight from work (what a dumbass!) Seeing John Tui jump in the ring and try some stuff out was hilarious. John is a natural in that wrestling ring. He looked right at home. While waiting for the news of whether I'd made the cut or not, I get contacted by my good friend, Stan Tallon - the man behind the Sam's Island Gear label. Stan had been tasked with creating a vintage 80's style wrestling t-shirt graphic for the film. With that brief in mind, Stan hit me up to do the main imagery of Baron To'a.*

FUN FACT: One of the first names for the character was King Mafu

Knowing that John Tui was playing a 'legendary Tongan pro wrestler' in the film, I looked to none other than THE Tongan pro wrestling legend that is King Haku for inspiration. It was an interesting exercise to try and illustrate a character before the look and wardrobe had been finalised. As you can see from the photo reference, I took a lot from King Haku's pose - the iconic clawed hands and the musculture. I also used reference photos of John Tui's face to try and get the likeness right.

First pass at John Tui's likeness

The first pass at drawing John Tui's likeness was sent back for revisions. They wanted an afro and the face to look more like John. The second pass is what got signed off. I drew the image and Stan worked his magic on the fonts and logos. It was cooling knowing that my artwork would be seen in a feature film. At the end of 2018, I was approached by M2S1 Films about doing storyboards for the next film. Unfortunately, I was too busy working on Headlocked stuff to be able to commit to it. That film would turn out to be Take Home Pay.

I was gutted that I couldn't do the storyboards because how dope would it have been to draw up some of the Lima Tau action in Take Home Pay? But this time round, my artwork will find its glory on the big screen... if it makes the final cut!

We finally hear back from the production crew and they decided to go with Alf, Caleb and Rob for the flashback wrestling scene BUT they still need two more wrestlers for another scene in the film so Jamie and I get the call up! So on a overcast morning around 7am, far too early for my liking, we gather onset outside a West Auckland warehouse. My wrestling gear in tow, we get fitted out into our costumes. I show off my red mask and the costume dept. inform me they won't be using red. They show me the purple costume they have earmarked for me so luckily, I have a purple mask! I put on the ill-fitting singlet and trunks along with my kneepads and kickpads and take a seat amongst the extras waiting for our scenes to be shot. Jamie is geared up in gold full tights and his Big Man sleeveless tee. Film and TV shoots can take a long time so how do I decide to pass the time? By playing some Tekken 7 on my Omen by HP laptop! I played a few games with Jamie and some of the other extras under the tent.

It was a great time to pass the time and also get to know everyone else who was there to be part of the film. Ain't nothing like a bit of friendly digital competition to forge bonds with strangers.

One thing that I noticed under the extras tent was the abundance of Māori and Pasifika faces, not only as background talent but also the lead actors and people behind the scenes.

I felt at ease amongst our people, all of us joined together by the film from different walks of life and area codes. It was beautiful to experience. Jamie and I finally get the call up to film our scenes. We walk behind the corrugated iron walls to see a gang headquarters set with the IPW ring set up outside. The canvas is a little damp due to the overnight moisture so we get some towels to help soak it up. Once inside the ring, I notice the ropes are a little loose and the ring has no give. Where the ring is set up, it's made it hard for the ring to do its job and it can no longer bounce back like it usually would. "This is gonna be fun!" I think to myself knowing full well, I'm probably gonna take more bumps in it than Jamie. Working with the stunt co-ordinators, we try and figure out what they want us to do and when, for the right shots. I call spots to Jamie and I recall the Frogsplash I gave him got quite the reaction from everyone around. That's right, this fatboy can fly! It takes a few takes to get the timing for the shot right but when they got it, I could see how ecstatic they were. Seeing the shot of Uli Latukefu's Fritz walk into the compound and my Frogsplash hits just as the camera pans made my sore knees feel worth it. The shot even made it into the trailer!

We filmed a few other spots creating wrestling sound and fight textures in the background of the scene. With the ring being harder than usual, I was really feeling every bump and slam I was taking from Jamie but I was having fun. It was a full day of filming and by the end of it, I was absolutely knackered. My back hurt, my knees hurt but I've been wrestling for almost 14 years now so I have a history of doing dumb shit and hurting so why would this stop me now? Honestly, I had so much fun filming those scenes for The Legend of Baron To'a. I remember wrapping our scenes and the cast and crew applauded our work in the ring. I think a lot of people really saw how hard and how skilled pro wrestling can be. I appreciate the crew for taking the time to have us showcase our stuff and be a part of the film. Fun fact: While standing in the ring on set, I commented to Jamie that this scene has actually happened in real life. Back in 2007-2008, Impact Pro Wrestling were hired to perform at the Headhunters Headquarters on Marua Road for the family Christmas parties. They were really fun events and the best thing about it was getting a FREE Mr. Whippy ice cream at the end of the day!

Having seen The Legend of Baron To'a twice now, it was pretty surreal to see my name plus the names of some good friends in the credits. This movie is so damned good. TBH, I didn't expect to be blown away by how good it was and how amazing the production looked. Being a part of this movie and seeing everything in front of and behind the camera featuring brown faces was an experience I will never forget. As someone who is often seen as the lone brown voice in the white industry of comic books, it was great to be surrounded by my people, nay, OUR people telling OUR stories. It warmed my heart to see a Central Auckland cul-de-sac reflect my upbringing in South Auckland. Seeing myself in smart arse characters like Fritz and Royden and seeing my multicutural community in the people who populate the film. Seeing a reflection of yourself and your people and the joy it brings is testament to the power of diverse storytelling. The Legend of Baron To'a is a welcome addition to quality NZ cinema and if you're a fan of action, comedy and #PacificStories, you definitely want to go and check this out at your local theatre. You may even be lucky enough to meet some of the cast this weekend at select screenings and locations. I've got to thank Kiel, John, Uli, Tipene, Ashlee, Augie, Andy, Kerry, Stan and everyone else I worked with for allowing me to be a part of the film in some small way. I am honoured to have both of my art disciplines - comic illustration and pro wrestling - on display in the film, something I never thought would happen. Fa'afetai tele atu i le tatou tifaga. And thank you for reading this blog. Go see The Legend of Baron To'a NOW! The Legend of Baron To'a in NZ cinemas NOW!

Coming to Australia cinemas, March 12

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Michel Mulipola
Michel Mulipola
20 feb 2020

Thanks to the folks who've take the time to read the blog. I just remembered a cool little thing that happened after the Cast & Crew screening of The Legend of Baron To'a... Post-screening, everyone was out in the lobby naturally fizzing with excitement after seeing the film. After taking a photo of some guys with Jay Laga'aia, Jay proceeded to ask where the nearest taxi rank in Sylvia Park was so he can get back to his hotel. Jay was staying at the Cordis and seeing as I was heading to Sandringham, I offered to drop him off. What proceeded was a great car ride filled to the brim with conversations about Māngere, Pasifika humour and representation and just pride in our…

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