MMA: Exclusive Interview with Cult MMA Documentarist Genghis Con
Since our friends over at CagePotato procured a rare exclusive interview with Genghis Con (real name Isaac Kesington) back in late 2008, this maverick has evolved from a purely highlight-reel magician to a fully-fledged MMA-documentary maker.
Yet even though he has received a wealth of plaudits for his creative output, and has progressively built up a genuine cult following on the underground circuit through his artistic endeavor, he remains very much an enigmatic figure who is yet to fully enter mainstream MMA consciousness.
I recently managed to catch up with Genghis, and quiz him a little further about his development within the realm of filmmaking over the past few years, and to see if I could tease out any inside information about the fighters that feature in his compelling documentaries. What ensued was a monster 70-minute conversation, which has yielded a trilogy of interviews for your viewing pleasure.
A list of keywords spring to mind when enjoying a Genghis Con documentary; authentic, artistic, emotive, insightful, real, edgy, cultural, familial, raw, humorous, humane, empathetic, happiness and hopeful.
Every generation produces exceptionally talented artists in every field, visionaries that invariably are distinctive amongst the crowd for what they represent and how successfully they represent it. Fantasists that transcend the topic matter to encompass their entire art form. What is so striking about Genghis Con is how real his depictions prove. You can’t help but feel that you are watching something eminently authentic, created by someone congruently genuine.
Nothing is forced, nothing is fabricated. In fact, it’s an artistic fly-on-the-wall documentary for MMA. The fighters are evidently super-comfortable in Isaac’s presence that enables him to capture the combatants in their true light. His videos have each been routinely receiving over 20,000 Youtube views, still underground in some respects, but on the cusp of a mainstream breakthrough.
What is evident is that we are potentially witnessing the incipient creations of a future luminary of the big screen. And let’s hope that Isaac doesn’t compromise his rawness and purity when he inevitably receives more attention and eventually permeates the mainstream.
Genghis may be deemed as an inspirational figure within the MMA community. The epitome of a go-getter, he neatly highlights the old adage that “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” We are discussing a self-made man who essentially carved out his own career by relentlessly pursuing his passion for MMA. The overriding message, of paramount importance, is there exist opportunities for ambitious and talented people within MMA, and indeed all walks of life.
Interview Part 1:
JS: So I believe you’ve just returned home from business. What were you up to?
GC: I was just in Miami, doing some business for the show, setting everything up in preparation for shooting the 2nd season.
JS: Okay, great. I personally stumbled across you from perusing MiddleEasy and CagePotato, and it seems like this exposure has helped build your cult following amongst the MMA community?
GC: Yeah, MiddleEasy and CagePotato have been helping out a lot. I interviewed with CagePotato a long time ago and they’ve been fans ever since, always putting up my latest videos. Same with MiddleEasy, they’ve been following my progress and uploading my big releases. It’s great promotion for me and I appreciate it.
JS: Okay, so CagePotato interviewed you around three to four years ago, but I thought it would prove fascinating to get an updated interview with you in order to detail your notable evolution over the past few years. First of all, I’ve noticed a strong Latin-American cultural feel that pervades your recent work such as “Miami Hustle”, given that you primarily film Cuban and Brazilian fighters. What’s your actual cultural background?
GC: My actual background, well, my dad’s Nigerian and my mum’s American. I was born and raised here in America. I was born in Atlanta, but moved to California after a couple of months and was raised there, where I stayed up until after college. Then it was back to Atlanta.
JS: Okay, and how old are you exactly? (N.B. I wasn’t trying to chat Isaac up here, just eliciting some background information for y’all) And when did you finish up your studies?
GC: I’m 26. I never actually got to finish school. I got a scholarship to come out and play football in Atlanta at Fort Valley State. I ended leaving after a year, and started working.
JS: So just how good were you at football? Could you have made it into the NFL?
GC: I never really went that far. As I mentioned, I stopped playing after a year at University. I played because I was good at football but I didn’t really enjoy it. I never attempted to go after the NFL.
JS: So whilst at university, did you also undertake any courses tailored towards your new chosen career path in film?
GC: Not really no, it was purely a football scholarship. I never even chose a major either.
JS: Okay, so how come the change of direction towards film?
GC: Well as soon as I became an MMA fan, I started looking around for videos and all that, and I was always looking at highlights trying to identify the best fighters out there, since at the time I lacked knowledge in the game. I wanted to introduce my brother to the sport in order that we could share that passion, so I would change the music on the highlight videos and then show him. From there, I went onto editing video and filmmaking.
JS: Ah right, so this was the first time you had ever embraced any form of filmmaking?
GC: Yeah, that was the first time I had ever got into it. As soon as I started doing highlights, that’s when I started to become more serious with it. I was always making music at college, producing music, but I didn’t know anything about video.
JS: Okay, so how many years ago did you begin to appreciate the wonder of MMA, and when did you properly begin to produce your films?
GC: It was late 2003 when I really began to follow MMA, and I got into editing just over a year later, after watching the first series of TUF in January 2005. That’s when I started to really pay attention, renting the DVDs. And then I discovered Pride when the organisation was really in its prime. I remember watching Gomi lose to Aurelio back in ’06.
JS: And were you drawn more to the excitement of Japanese MMA?
GC: Yeah, I’m a huge Pride fan. They had all the best fighters and fights around the middle of the naughties.
JS: Okay, so what’s your role precisely within the entire filmmaking process? You’re evidently self-taught in terms of the machinery?
GC: Yeah, I ended up buying a camera, and learnt how to film. It was relatively easy. I already knew how to edit from my highlight-reel days.
JS: And is anyone else involved in the process?
GC: Well that depends. For example, on “Miami Hustle”, we have another camera guy that comes in on call every once in a while when we need him. Juan Carlos Faraldo, the Strength & Conditioning coach that features in “Miami Hustle” also helps me out a lot with the filming, providing me with location ideas and all that.
JS: Right, and with your earlier highlight reels, I think it was the one that featured the British fighters, I noticed a guy named Brendan Corbley?
GC: Yeah, he just provided me with a lot of the footage for some of the older Dan Hardy and Paul Daley fights back in Cage Warriors.
JS: Ok, as you alluded to before, you produce your own music. Who are you biggest musical influences?
GC: Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Moby. In film, it’s Robert Rodriguez, Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino
JS: All very talented artists in their own right. Obviously you have much less funding, and constitute a much less mainstream production, but are your documentaries at all influenced and inspired by HBO 24/7 productions, because these are also very artistic and emotive, especially with the incorporation of suitably soulful music?
GC: Yeah, I was heavily influenced by 24/7. When I first started out, I always wanted to produce documentaries that captured training scenes in the build-up to big fights. I love the style of 24/7. And music is a significant part of the process for me. Often, I select the music before even editing.
JS: And are you still producing your own music and filtering it into your videos?
GC: Yeah, I still produce music, though I haven’t used a lot of it lately. I’m waiting till I improve in that area before I start using it more.
JS: Okay, and having listened to a couple of your tunes, your music is pretty evocative, quite moody, almost reminiscent of Moby’s style. Is that an accurate description?
GC: Yeah, that’s the sound I go for. I mix electronic, dance, rock, various genres. I also would like to attempt reggae. Still no lyrics, purely instrumentals, possibly drawing upon some samples.
JS: From the research that I’ve conducted on you, it appears that you have produced dozens of highlight videos and documentaries in total. Obviously, we know about your long list of previous highlight reels, but when exactly did you move on to creating actual documentaries?
GC: Summer 2010 is when I started making real documentaries. My first one was the Raphael Assuncao training camp. Til that point, it was purely docu-highlights from the footage I located online.
JS: Okay, so until last year the whole filmmaking gig was essentially a hobby? How were you earning a living?
GC: Yeah originally it was just a hobby, because I was making no money off the highlights. It was only last year that I turned it into a job. I always had other jobs before, but now I work purely behind the camera on video, making documentaries for people, and commercials. There’s a lot of work that I produce which I can’t display as my own work because it is made for clients.
JS: Okay, so you mention clients. Are you therefore producing work extrinsic to the realm of MMA?
GC: I do a lot of work both inside and outside of MMA. Within MMA, I produce on the request of sponsors and managers, who are looking to showcase their fighters. Outside of MMA, it tends to be local TV commercials in Atlanta, for doctors’ practices and other enterprises.
JS: Okay, cool. Do you think the docu-highlight vids helped to hone your craft, showcase your skills and ultimately gain you access to elite fighters?
GC: Yeah, the highlight videos made it easier for me to contact the fighters and prove that I could come in and compile something credible. At that time, I didn’t have a lot of work behind me.
JS: That’s immense Isaac. I appreciate it when somebody can proactively carve out something through their own endeavour and “balls”. It’s sort of reminiscent of Ariel Helwani and his rise to prominence with MMA reporting, by contacting fighters independently via MySpace, and gradually building his own reputation. Your stories resonate a little.
GC: Yeah thanks Jonny. I like Ariel, he’s quality.
Look out next week for Part Two of the interview, in which Genghis discusses, amongst many other topics, his initial contact with the fighters that feature in his documentaries and being approached by a film company to produce a feature-length presentation.
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