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 groundbreaking 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 flmed. 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 of-season, when they’re a long way from the contest, is diferent 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 flm that’s capturing the journey.

When did you start flming?

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

And when did flming 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 frst 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 betweenall 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 flmed 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.

Read Part 2 of our interview with Generation Iron director Vlad Rudin.