The Independent Interview: Filmmaker Jay White on his BLAM TV wrestling series, summer youth media camp, and moving ‘hood DVDs by the hundred

"This project is going to be hilarious, it's going to be entertaining, and it's going to be something great that Pittsburgh can call their own."

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Jay White, from the poster of his feature film, Everyday Hustle

A lot of kids all over Pittsburgh grew up watching professional wrestling. 

Not, mounts-and-earguards, greco-roman wrestling, but body slams and Macho Man: we’re talking WWF, and to a somewhat lesser extent, the WCW.

“Wrestling was a part of Black culture, just everybody’s culture in Pittsburgh,” says White. “We would make cardboard and aluminum foil belts, stuff like that as kids. We just loved wrestling. It was a part of our lives.”

But there were few Black professional wrestlers at the front of any major promotion. 

That got White wondering: what would a Black Hulk Hogan-type character look like? What would a Black Macho Man Randy Savage look like? What would a white wrestler look like who was modeled after Koko B. Ware?

In the pilot, BLAM is a top-of-the-line wrestling promotion that has fallen on hard times. 

“So they decide to come back to Pittsburgh,” White explains, “where BLAM originated, to hold a $20,000 tournament for tag-team wrestlers. And you get all these guys coming to sign up: you’ve got crackheads, you got musclebound guys, you got scrawny dudes, you got old people.”

It’s a bit of a pivot for White, who has some half-dozen documentaries to his name, most of them Pittsburgh-related. One of his most recent: working with executive producer Sarah Martin on Pittsburgh’s Underground Railroad. 

“I like the comedic stuff,” he says. “But the serious stuff is what pays.”

An indiegogo campaign for the series runs until May 15.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jay “Ruff Bone” White

You grew up a professional wrestling fan. Where did the idea for a Black comedy wrestling show come from?

I remember the exact day. It was January 7th. I just so happened to be watching some old Hulk Hogan and Macho Man clips, when they became the Mega Powers. And they were in an interview with Mean Gene Okerlund, and it was just hilarious. He was like, “I feel like, if the Hulkamania and the Macho Madness combine, the whole world might explode!” And they were trying to shake hands. It was like there was this force holding them back, like magnets. And I was just cracking the hell up. It brought me back to my childhood, and I just thought, man, I never see nothing about Black wrestlers. Like, there’s really no documentaries. There’s no films. I mean, The Rock’s got this show now. The Rock’s Black, but he is not from the Black community. So his story being told is great, not taking nothing away from The Rock, but there’s never been nothing told about wrestling from a Black man who grew up in the ‘hood.

You grew up in Beltzhoover. You started filming at a young age. When did you recognize that you could go from just filming around in your community to making a living out of that?

I created this documentary and it was like, ‘hood based. It was me going through all the different ‘hoods in Pittsburgh. And once I filmed it, there wasn’t really YouTube and stuff like that at the time, so I went to Stedeford’s, and I told them I was creating this documentary and I was just selling them myself. And the guy at Stedeford’s was like, yo, there’s a guy, I’ll give you his number: you could get those documentaries distributed, all you need is a barcode. And it was a guy named Tapeman Inc. in New Jersey, and there’s another guy in Harlem called BlackStar Video.

So he was like, they’ll buy those dvds in bulk off of you. You know, they like the urban ‘hood content stuff. And I hit them up, and they both was like, send it to me. And I sent it, and they hit me back about a week later and was like send 500 of them, and the other one was like send me 300. And I was like, holy crap, I could really make a killing off DVDs.

With the subject matter that you were portraying, I imagine there’s a fine line you walk between accurately portraying street life and then glamorizing street life. How do you navigate it?

That was hard to navigate at the time. At the time I was a lot younger, so I just was like, it is what it is. I had to like, reprogram myself from when I left the streets, you know? It’s like, when you’re in the streets, everything that’s right is wrong. And everything that’s wrong is right! So it’s like a totally different mentality. At the time, I still had that mentality of like, I was just showing what was going on in the city. And it was wild. It was raw. It was just dudes with guns and wild stuff, man, you know? And when I got older, I was like, I don’t want to put out that image no more of Black people. It was making me money. But I came to a point in my life where I don’t want to put out that image about my own people. You mature, you know? You get older.

I know that you work actively with youth in the community still. Could you speak to that?

Yeah, I have a multimedia company called Future Stars Media. I do that in the summertime. I would like to do it all year ‘round. So I teach kids everything: multimedia; I teach them how to interview each other; I teach them how to fly a drone; we go out around the neighborhood and take landscape pictures and we do short films. 

I let the kids come up with the ideas for the short films, and we build on it. We build on our ideas and we write little scripts. And then I let them freestyle a lot of the script. And so what we did last year, I think that was the best one we did, because the kids made a superhero film. It was called “The Shadow Stars versus the Black Flag” So the Black Flag was trying to take over the city. And they had this big fight, like that old-school Batman: pow, blam, pow! And the kids loved it, you know. And I just let them create their own stuff. I just try to teach them technical stuff and creativity. So sometimes when I notice a kid doesn’t get the technical side, I just try to let him be more on the creative side, because kids learn differently. You know? I wish in school they would let them be like that with certain things, because not everybody learns the same way. So some of the kids want to be actors, and some of the kids don’t. So I put those kids behind the camera and let them, you know, do the clapper, mess with the audio a little bit, record on the camera. So it’s a great program for kids and they learn a lot and they love it. I think they’ll appreciate it more when they get older. 

Do you feel like your work has gotten much attention here in Pittsburgh and in the Pittsburgh media?  

Not as much as I would want it to be at a local film director here, putting out so many different projects. I feel like it hasn’t really been celebrated, you know? And it’s not that I’m looking for nobody to celebrate me, or pat me on the back or nothing like that. 

But I feel like with this BLAM project, you’re not going to have a choice. It’s just gonna be like, oh, you didn’t cover that? What are you doing? Like, how did you not cover that story? The Post-Gazette did just do a write-up on me and BLAM, so he’ll put that out soon. I just had to send him a few new pictures last night.

All right, well we got to get my story out there first. (We didn’t.)