From the opening clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu plié-ing in a ballet studio, to the piano chords leading into Michael Small’s theme song with the great first lyric “Everybody wants to live forever,” to the training (with gym equipment you’re likely to find only in man caves), to the contest scenes, and everything in between—oh, and all the dialogue that’s been quoted by bodybuilders everywhere for the past
 36 years—1977’s Pumping Iron, starring Schwarzenegger, Columbu, Lou Ferrigno, Ed Corney, Mike Katz, and Serge Nubret, among others, has been the inspiration for generations of aspiring bodybuilders.

Now, with the big-screen release 
of Generation Iron this September, bodybuilding gets a long-awaited and long-overdue makeover. Narrated
by Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actor Mickey Rourke, Generation Iron takes over where Pumping Iron left off.  Filmed last year, the docudrama stars Phil Heath, Kai Greene, Branch Warren, Dennis Wolf, Roelly Winklaar, Ben Pakulski, and Hidetada Yamagishi, and captures the real-life drama of the sport’s greatest athletes as they vie to become the 2012 Mr. Olympia.

In the past four issues of FLEX, director, writer, and producer Vlad Yudin (who had the unenviable task of filming contest-dieting bodybuilders—yikes!) gave us behind-the-scenes nuggets about filming Yamagishi, Winklaar, Wolf, Warren, and Pakulski.

Here, in the first of our Generation Iron features, Yudin gives us more insight into the making of this ground-breaking film. We also get up close and personal with Kai Greene on what it means to be in a movie that’s sure
to inspire the next wave of bodybuilding stars.

FLEX: It’s been well over three decades since Pumping Iron. What
was your motivation for making Generation Iron,
and why do it now?

Vlad Yudin: There are a few reasons. First and foremost, I’m a huge fan of the original. There had been nothing of such magnitude done on this sport—at the time, most of the public wasn’t even aware that this was an actual sport. Pumping Iron changed the whole bodybuilding and fitness industry and the way regular people viewed weight training. I had a conversation with Jerome Gary [producer of Pumping Iron] and we talked in great detail about how this film changed the public’s perception of bodybuilding. Really, most people didn’t know what bodybuilding was. It’s one of those sports that’s largely unknown; to this day, there’s a lot of misunderstanding, so there needs to be a reeducation. We decided it was the right time to reintroduce it, if you will, to the new generation.

When did you first see Pumping Iron?

When I was in high school. I’d heard about it before, but I’d never sat down and seen the whole thing. But when I finally got around to watching it from start to finish, I was riveted. There were so many cool elements to it. Just the characters themselves were so unique. The way they talked about bodybuilding was entertaining. I’m
 an outsider to the sport, and in
a way that’s good, because this film needs someone who isn’t involved in it. Looking at it from an outsider’s point of view is a good way to bring in others, because it’ll help others relate to it.

After that movie, I became a fan of bodybuilding because it’s so different from other sports. I was never a bodybuilder—though I’m training now—but that film stuck with me through the years. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve with Generation Iron. We want to make something that bodybuilders will appreciate. It’s very important that we keep true to the essence of the sport so bodybuilders will see that it’s treated with the respect it deserves. At the same time—and this was a key challenge—we wanted to take something that’s so unique and present it in a way that people who are new to the sport can identify with and appreciate it.


Once the business side of making the movie was done, what was the next step?

To be perfectly honest, filming was quite a challenge. It was a very involved process, because I wanted to be as prepared as possible. My goal was
to get full access to the athletes. You can imagine that when you’re training for the biggest contest of your life, you don’t want to be bothered with all these cameras in your face, following you around all day. The tough part was to get them to know me. It took a lot of conversations and meetings.

One thing I know from previous work is that you need a level of trust between the filmmaker and the subject being filmed. If the person isn’t comfortable, you won’t get the best footage. It’s important to spend time with them so they’re relaxed and natural on camera. Once they know you, they trust you and let down the wall, so to speak—it’s easier with some than with others. You also have to be mindful of the circumstances when you’re shooting. Filming these guys during the off-season, when they’re a long way from the contest, is different from when they’re just weeks away from competing. Then they’re extremely focused on this one show where they have to look their absolute best 
to those who’ll determine who’s the greatest in the world. That’s very stressful. Imagine all that preparation to look the best you’ve ever looked for just two days—out of the entire year! So many things have to go right.

So, of course, when you bring your cameras around, they don’t always want to do an interview, especially at the end of a long, hard day. They want to nap, or eat, or spend time with their families. Throw in hot weather, like you have in New York and Texas, and you have a very challenging situation. But because you’ve laid the groundwork and gotten to know these guys, they realize the magnitude of the situation. All of them were inspired by Pumping Iron, and now it’s their chance to be immortalized onscreen for the next generation.

It boils down to mutual respect. Respect for what they’re trying to achieve and respect for the film that’s capturing the journey.

When did you start filming?

Principle photography began last spring. We started in New York with Kai and Victor. We shot them training and just going about their day-to-day lives to show people how these pro bodybuilders do it.


And when did filming wrap?

We did the bulk of the shooting leading up to the Olympia and then at the Olympia, as that’s the culmination of all the training and preparation. Then we did pickups a couple months later. The last scene was at Bev’s Powerhouse, which was cool, because that’s where we started.

In the past four issues of FLEX, we’ve gone behind the scenes with Victor, Hidetada, Roelly, Branch, Dennis, and Ben. Which brings us to the last two guys, Kai and Phil. Now, Kai was actually the first guy you shot…

Yes, and it was very interesting that we started with Kai. We spent some time with him before we started filming—we wanted to make sure he understood the mission and was comfortable in front of the camera. He’s a true artist by nature; if he weren’t a bodybuilder, he’d be doing some other form of artistic expression. There are many layers to him. He’s very multi-dimensional. The more time we spent with him, the more we uncovered. Everyone was drawn in by his personality. He makes a really good impression because he’s so passionate.

At the same time, the Kai sequences were very challenging because you’re talking about over-100° days in the middle of July in New York. It was brutal! And here you have Kai walking around the streets covered up from head to toe, wearing his black hoodie. We were all thinking the same thing: “How is he doing that?” Once we got to the gym, I told everyone to stay out of his way. The key—and this went for all the guys—was to make sure that they didn’t change for the cameras. We wanted to capture everyone in their natural environment, being themselves, being real, with as little compromise as possible.

And what about the meals? I understand you were treated to Kai’s version of Iron Chef.

Oh, my God, it was very tough scheduling things in between all the meals the guys eat. They don’t miss their meals for anything! We had to
 plan ahead and then often change plans right in the middle. There was a lot of improvising, because we’d be shooting and have to stop so Kai could go cook one of his meals. But we filmed that, too, of course, and it was very interesting to see how big a role food plays in being a bodybuilder. Most people automatically think that being a bodybuilder means lifting weights in the gym, but they don’t think about the other half of the lifestyle, which is the eating. And Kai was cooking in his tiny little apartment with all the burners on the stove going at once. The heat was unbearable—but he was still in his hoodie and sweat pants!

I know this isn’t the sequence in which
 you filmed the guys, but let’s jump over to your visit to the FLEX offices in New York City.

Yeah, Kai was there, too. It was interesting to see how the office staff reacted to him. His exterior can look intimidating. He’s got scars on his face and unusual hair, not to mention his size. Right away you see a character walking by. But that’s just the outside. He’s very insightful, well-spoken, and soft-spoken—not the typical image people have of a bodybuilder. It’s cool to show that, because people have their stereotypes.

This film will show the many dimensions of all these guys. It’s a great representation of bodybuilders as individuals, and what they do to excel at this sport.



The Predator talks about the challenges of filming, opening up for the camera, and being a part of history in the making

FLEX: When did you first see Pumping Iron?

Kai: It was sometime in the late ’80s. It was the class movie at the institution I was in at the time (Greene became a ward of the state at age 6), and I remember the main character was this huge dude who liked working out.

It became a point of reference for my life because I was working out by that time, but didn’t know what competitive bodybuilding was, didn’t really know what bodybuilding itself was, until that movie. The ’80s was a time when pop culture was very heavily influenced by the idea 
of working out—you had Olivia Newton-John telling everyone 
to “Get Physical” and Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon was still very popular. Hollywood was showcasing Arnold, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and other action heroes who were larger-than-life, with equally larger-than-life muscles. That exposure made a lasting impression on me as a teenager.

Seeing that movie definitely changed my life forever. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. My friends and I could quote the entire movie verbatim. If fact, several years after seeing it, at my first Colorado Pro [in 2006], I got a chance to meet [IFBB pro] Darrem Charles. The whole time we were backstage, we went back and forth with dialogue from the movie. It was clear we were both well-versed in the art of Pumping Iron. That was
 our common ground. I can imagine—I hope—aspiring athletes in the future will do the same with Generation Iron.

2014 Chicago Pro - Abiu Feliz
You met with Vlad before filming. What was going through your mind, knowing that you were going to be in the film?

I remember being very excited and honored. I wished that the people who were in my life 20 years ago were still around so I could share this with them. Part of me wanted to call them up and say, “I’m going to be in the new Pumping Iron!” The uniqueness of this sport is in how lonely the journey can be as you dare to dream and aspire to be the best bodybuilder in the world. It’s unfortunate that the people who were in my life then are no longer in it now, because my life is drastically different today. There’s no one here today that I could share notes with from 20 years ago. But it was still very exciting!

With several training videos under your belt, you’re no stranger to the camera. But were you prepared for the size of the Generation Iron crew? Vlad had upward of 10 people on his team.

At times it seemed like even more than that! It was an amazing spectacle. We were walking the streets of Brooklyn and people were looking out their windows and coming out of their buildings to see what was going on. People were saying, “They’re filming that dude with the muscles who’s always carrying bags of food.” Normally you don’t see a film crew that size in the project streets, so it was interesting seeing their reactions.


The goal of the documentary filmmaker is to capture subjects in their natural state. Did having the cameras and all those people following your every move affect you at all?

Yeah, as much as I want to say it didn’t, there were a lot of times when I struggled to keep my concentration. It’s a tremendous demand to focus on what you need to do. I definitely learned firsthand that it can be very challenging, particularly those times you think you’re prepared but realize you really aren’t. There’s a certain amount of practice one needs in order to be natural and comfortable with that many unblinking eyes on you—and that’s one thing about the camera, it does not blink, ever! It’s like having people come to your house—you want to clean up and put away your dirty laundry, so to speak, before they enter your home so you don’t expose parts of yourself you may not feel comfortable putting on display. But it’s like you hid the dirty laundry behind the door, and people are there in your home, looking behind the door and seeing it. Now it’s revealed to the masses, so there’s a certain amount of trepidation that comes with the experience. That feeling of vulnerability can cause a lot of anxiety. Will people understand and accept me? Will the fact that a professional bodybuilder is not driving a $100,000 car reflect poorly on my status, or on the expectations people have of a two-time Arnold Classic winner?

How did you deal with that?

You want to be the athlete getting ready for the biggest and most important competition of your life, and that’s all—you’ve invested so much in being ready for that moment you’ll be called upon. There’s a part of me that recognizes the responsibility of being in the spotlight. As I’m committing myself to making my dreams tangible, I have to be aware of the fact that people are paying close attention to my actions and words. The audience may need to hear a much more powerful message than just how many sets and reps I do. In that moment, there could be individuals watching who are willing to make themselves available to you and whatever it is you have to say, with more respect and attention than they might give their own parents at any given time. I didn’t grow up with a father in my home, but through TV, movies, and various other mediums there were other role models. That’s why I have to give props to the Bill Cosbys of 
the world for giving me a point of reference I could draw upon in my own life—be it fostering a loving relationship between me and my niece, or being with other people who make my life more fulfilling— even if it was only something I was watching onscreen.

But getting back to the question, the shooting days were at times very long. While you’re trying to get this work done, you want 
to make sure you’re concentrating on doing what you—the athlete aiming to be the best in the world—should be doing. The last thing you want is to not place well at the show. I didn’t want it to be a case of thinking afterward, “My parts were great, but I didn’t do well in the show.” I felt continually torn between serving two masters. I thought, what would [six-time Mr. Olympia] Dorian Yates do? Would he allow distractions to interfere with his goals? Then again, you realize that this is a golden opportunity, a million-dollar moment, and you’d be an absolute idiot to let it pass you by. So you put your best foot forward and do whatever needs to be done.

The trailer came out shortly before last year’s Olympia. What was your reaction on seeing it?

There’s a part of you that thinks, “Aw, man! I could have done that better!” or “I wish I would’ve said this…” But the truth is, when you were in the actual trenches of the experience, there were so many things going on.

What about the gym scenes? Did you put any pressure 
on yourself to make them memorable for the film?

There might have been times when I thought like that, but I didn’t want to get injured. Would that serve my goal? No. You really have to keep your ego in check, and with all my years of training experience, I’ve been pretty good at keeping my ego at bay. Actually, there were a lot of things I’d like to be able to take credit for now, and say I knew what the end result would be, so I decided to do this or say that, but I didn’t. That credit goes to the filmmakers and to the situation at hand, and how it all just played out naturally.

Being an athlete who has a responsibility to himself and 
his sponsors and fans can be daunting, because you try to keep everybody happy—but sometimes you come up short at the end of the day. So you just do the best you can and focus on things that are immediately important as the cameras are rolling. You realize that this is representative of my preparation at this period.

This was my big-screen acting debut, so in my mind I was thinking of Apollo Creed or Clubber Lang from Rocky, because characters like that resonate with me. But then you tell yourself that this isn’t some part I’m playing. I’m not a thespian. I don’t need to know what my “motivation” is before a scene, because this is real life—my life. When the cameras are rolling, this is me getting ready for the biggest moment of my life.

And that’s where the vulnerability comes in. Because you aren’t acting, you’re just being yourself and the whole world is watching.

What do you hope people will come away with after watching Generation Iron?

At the root of the [bodybuilding] experience is the recognition of personal power and the ability to use it. You’re not a victim of circumstance, genetics, or the permissive will of a deity. You have the power to create your own reality.

It’s through the application
 of decisions that are made from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep that I’m able to define myself as a champion. My successes and failures are not a product of the sins of my father or the demonstrations of love by my mother. My own hand decides
 to create what I will with my life. That’s the biggest lesson this lifestyle teaches.

I got the support I did as a youngster embarking on this journey not because someone expected me to be Mr. Olympia, but because they understood that at the root of this, this young man would be able to devote his energy, anger, whatever, toward developing skills—crafting a physique, following a diet plan—that will carry him through life.

That’s the beauty of this lifestyle, and that’s the lesson I hope people watching the film come away with. You can create your own destiny. You’re an active participant in that process every day, with every decision you make. And whether you recognize that power in your hand or not, that reality is not one to run from, but one to recognize and embrace. To embrace it puts you in the driver’s seat to create and make of yourself and your life what you will. – FLEX