THE MAGIC WAND: Behind The Scenes of The Voice vs Wanderlei Silva

THE MAGIC WAND

Behind The Scenes of The Voice vs Wanderlei Silva

On March 25 at 8pm ET HDNET premieres the latest episode in the acclaimed The Voice Versus interview series with special guest, Wanderlei Silva. In the following feature, MICHAEL SCHIAVELLO takes us to Las Vegas and behind the scenes of filming for The Voice Versus Wanderlei Silva.

I’m sitting on a high chair in the penthouse suite on the 60th floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and getting my make up done. It’s about 6.30pm and at any moment I’m expecting Wanderlei Silva to arrive to shoot The Voice Versus.

The suite’s lounge room has been converted into a mini studio. There are wires and cables running across the floor and enough lighting to almost compete with the beam that shoots out from atop the Luxor pyramid next door. Okay, not really. The Luxor’s pyramid contains a spotlight that shoots the brightest beam in the world up into the night sky. With over 42.3 billion candle power the beam is created by 39 Xenon lamps which use curved mirrors to merge the light from the lamps into one super beam. According to the Luxor website “engineers say that an astronaut could read a newspaper by Luxor’s Sky Beam from ten miles into space” and “on a clear night, the Sky Beam is visible up to 250 miles away to an airplane at cruising altitude.” Our improvised studio lighting consists of 4 HMI lights with chimera covers and 7 state of the art blue LED light panels to throw a very cool colour effect on the back wall.

We’re shooting with three HDCam video cameras — the absolute best for shooting High Def Video. Camera one is set behind my chair, camera two is behind Wanderlei’s chair and the third sits between the both of us and is set on a dolly, which will move side to side slowly during the shoot to give motion to the shot. It’s a scene far removed from the first episode of The Voice Versus, which was shot in my cramped hotel room in Sydney in February 2010 with special guest Joe Rogan. Truth be told, the first episode of The Voice Versus featuring Joe Rogan wasn’t even meant to be what it became. HDNET had never had a one-on-one interview with Joe before and I was just interviewing him for a small piece for Inside MMA. That small piece turned into a 75 minute interview, which later turned into the first episode of the series you now know as The Voice Versus.

The make up artist’s name is Christina. She’s a soft-spoken German woman in her late forties with soft hands and a gamin blonde haircut. She squeezes a clear gel onto the tips of her fingers and rubs it across my cheekbones.

“What does he look like?” she asks, trying to garner information about Wanderlei. “Is he tanned or pale? Does he have good skin? By the way, your skin is very dry.”

“That’s from staying in hotel rooms. I try to moisturise and exfoliate but its so cold outside that the heat is high in the room and it just dries me out.”

“I know darling, I know. You have beautiful eyes, so dark.”

“Thanks,” I smile. “I get that a lot. As for Wanderlei… I don’t really know how to answer that. I do know he has had plastic surgery.”

“Really?” she beams, intrigued. “What happened?”

“Well he’s taken a lot of knocks over the years and suffered some broken bones and cuts, the usual facial scarring hard knock fighters collect over time. I’m going to ask him all about the surgery in the interview but yeah I think you’ll need to do a bit of work on him.”

“Is he good looking?” she asks.

“He’s, um, very unique.” I answer diplomatically. “He has a lot of character … and he has a big tattoo on the back of his head.”

“A tattoo of what?”

“I don’t know. I plan on asking him about that too.”

Just after seven o’clock Wanderlei Silva arrives. He’s accompanied by his manager, Rob Cardenas. Chris greets him and the cameramen and sound technicians queue up to say hello. They’re all based here in Las Vegas and have shot footage with most every UFC star, but the chance to shoot a one-hour intimate interview with Wanderlei has them excited.

“He’s just so awesome,” says Jesus, a cameraman. “I’ve met him before and he’s this total badass in the cage but the nicest guy outside of the cage.”

It’s a duality I experience for myself over the course of the night. I’d only met Wanderlei once before, in Sydney, after his win against Michael Bisping. On that occasion I’d snagged the Brazilian for a quick two minute interview in the lobby of our hotel. This time I’d prepared over 55 questions, which is more than enough for a one hour show and probably enough for two hours.

Wanderlei’s handshake is gentle and warm. He greets me with a huge smile and in the fashion of most Brazilians by saying, “Hello my friend.” I thank him and Rob for agreeing to do the interview.

“Not at all,” says Rob. “This is a big thrill to meet you and to have Wanderlei on the show. I’m a huge fan of your work and Wanderlei’s really excited for the interview.”

“Well I’m excited too” I say and turn to Wanderlei. “We’re going to have a lot of fun. It’s a mix of silly questions and serious questions. You just be yourself and we’ll have a great time with it and make some awesome television. I guarantee it will be the most enjoyable interview you’ve ever done and the most original.”

“I can’t wait,” says Wanderlei.

Christina takes hold of him and guides him into the make up chair. She runs her fingers over the jigsaw puzzle that is his face. It’s a tapestry of scar tissue, cuts, bumps and reconstructed skin.

“How you gonna make me more beautiful?” jokes Wanderlei with a roar of laughter.

“You have a lot of character,” she says softly and grins at me across the room. “Okay, let’s do this.”

As Christina does Wanderlei’s make up, I’m perched in my interview chair as the lighting technicians reposition their equipment. Lighting a set is of the highest importance in any television shoot and my bald head doesn’t quite make lighting an easy job. If the lights are set at the wrong height or angle, the brightness can bounce off my head and into the camera spoiling the shot.

“Okay Michael, you need to sit back in that chair. Sit up straight,” says the lighting technician. “If you come forward too much that light is going to bounce right off your dome. Okay? You comfortable?”

“Yeah I’m good but I have props at my side here that I need to reach down and pick up.”

“That’s okay, just make sure you get back to the same position. What about this bit you’re doing at the end? You gotta leave your chair for that?”

“Yeah, I’ll get up and move around and then Wanderlei is going to do something — I hope — that will take some time.”

“Okay that’s fine he can take as long as he likes. We’ll re-set the shot when you’re ready. You just tell us and we’ll break and re-set the shot for that final piece.”

My producer Chris comes over to me as Jesus pins a lapel microphone inside of my t-shirt.

“What are you going to start with?”

“With this,” I answer, showing him a picture I plan to use for my opening question.

“Holy shit, that’s going to be crazy,” Chris grins.

“Make sure we’re spot on with it okay Chris? I haven’ shown Wanderlei the picture and I doubt anyone has ever asked him about it before. We get only one chance to capture his spontaneous reaction.”

“What if he gets pissed off?” chimes in HDNET CEO Andrew Simon as he studies the picture. “I mean that’s not the best picture man, I’m just saying.”

“If he gets pissed off we’ll just move on.”

“You sure you want that as your opening question?” Andrew asks.

“I’m positive. It’s my ice breaker. I always use an ice breaker.”

Ever since I began interviewing celebrities for my Sunday morning radio sports show on 3SCB Southern FM when I was 16, I’ve used ice breakers. An ice breaker is a first up question that sets the mood for the interview and makes the subject feel comfortable with you. It also sets the mood of the interview for your audience. Capture their attention straight up with a clever ice breaker and you’ll most likely keep their attention for the duration of your interview.

So how do you find a good ice breaker?

Scour books, newspapers, magazines and websites for every titbit of information you can find.  If you find a quirky fun fact, use it as an icebreaker to develop a rapport with your subject. They’ll be grateful you’ve discovered something about them that’s unusual and not often addressed. If you can’t find anything fun, then ask a fun or left-of-centre question.

Take, for example, my opening question when interviewing England’s 1966 World Cup winning captain, Sir Bobby Charlton: “So Sir Bobby, at what age did you start losing your hair?” You’d be surprised how baldness as a common denominator can break the ice!

When I interviewed French tennis star Natalie Tauziat, I broke the ice by reciting to her an obscure romantic French poem by the Symbolist junkie Paul Verlaine.

Il pleur dans mon coeur

Comme il pleut sur la ville;

Quelle est cette langueur

Qui pénètre mon coeur

The opening two lines of the poem translate as: There is weeping in my heart, like the rain falling on the city. Natalie blushed and giggled like a schoolgirl.

Then there was my opening question with super model Rachel Hunter when I asked: “So would you like to be my ringside date at a kickboxing show one day?”

She said yes, by the way… although I’m still waiting for the date.

For The Voice vs Alistair Overeem my ice-breaker was a question about Alistair’s facial scar. For The Voice vs Tito Ortiz my ice-breaker was about his real name, Jacob, and some whacky alternative names I thought could suit him, including the goth “Raven” Ortiz complete with a goth picture of Tito our art department had designed for me. The ice-breaker for The Voice vs Joe Rogan involved squeezing some Vegemite (an infamous Australian spread made from the yeast scraped off beer barrels) onto Joe’s finger and getting him to taste it.

Wanderlei finishes make up and takes a seat opposite me on set. Jesus wires him with a lapel microphone as the lighting technician adjusts the lights behind me so they don’t bounce off Wanderlei’s head.

“How is Australia man?” asks Wanderlei. “I love that country man. When I was in Sydney, my God, the women and the beaches and the people was all so beautiful. I really loved it. That one beach in Sydney, what’s the name?”

“Bondi Beach?”

“Yeah man! Bondi Beach. The women there and the water. Man, it was just so beautiful you know.”

“Australia is a beautiful country. It’s been a bit depressing lately though with all the floods. Just been crazy. Queensland was flooded an area the size of France and Germany combined. Brisbane, which is our third largest city, was just cleaned out. The entire CBD was evacuated. It was crazy. There was a bull shark swimming through the Downtown streets. Can you believe that? And now the clean up has begun. People are finding giant sea rats and spiders and insects and other stuff in their houses. Everything is soaked and ruined. It was a very depressing New Year period Down Under, bro.”

“Man I know! I seen this on the news. That is so sad man.”

“You guys copped it in Brazil too, those floods and landslides in Rio. Just horrible.”

“It’s crazy weather man everywhere. I don’t know what happened. Just very crazy. Even here in Las Vegas it’s so cold now, you know.”

“Okay Mike, we’re set when you are,” says Chris as the cameramen move into position. “All phones off please. Silence please.”

I pick up my i-pad and scroll through my questions. It’s always good to be over-prepared for an interview. While I have about 55 questions for Wanderlei, I know I wont ask all of them. An interview should be as casual as possible and not regimented. The key to being a good interviewer is not so much the asking of the questions but listening to the answers. You have to be prepared to go off on tangents and follow the energy and flow of your subject depending on their answers. Every interview is different. I must have done over 500 celebrity interviews for magazine, radio and television in my life; I’ve interviewed movie stars, sports stars, super models, Playboy bunnies and politicians. If there’s one thing I know for sure about interviews it’s that they’re all different and everybody has a great story to tell — you just have to get it out of them.

“You use this a lot?” asks Wanderlei pointing to my i-pad.

“Brother you have no idea. When I’m traveling I never leave home without it. You ready to do this?”

“Yeah. Lets’ do it! I’m ready. This is very exciting.”

“Okay Chris, on your count,” I say.

“Okay. Camera one.”

“Rolling.”

“Camera two.”

“Rolling.”

“Three is rolling. Okay and speed. Michael, take it away.”

I dip my head, take a deep breath, smile and look up. I meet Wanderlei’s energetic glance and shoot out my hand.

“Wanderlei Silva, welcome to The Voice Versus! Fantastic to have you here. Absolute pleasure.”

I reach down and pick up my prop for the ice breaking first question. It’s a photo any MMA fan is most likely familiar with. It features Wanderlei Silva and Shogun Rua sitting on the floor bare chested and pressed up against each other with Wanderlei between Shogun’s legs. Designed as a mock inspirational poster, the top of it says JIU JITSU while the caption underneath reads: It’s Only Gay If You Make Eye Contact.

“Can you explain this picture Wanderlei?”

I flash the picture in front of his face. Wanderlei lets out a huge guffaw of shocked laughter and almost falls of his chair. He shakes his head and waves for me to put the picture away.

“Man, that’s no happen! The guys fix my face…”

“Are you sure Wanderlei?” I joke. “Are you sure?”

“I don’t remember that man. That’s terrible man! Its terrible. It’s terrible,” says Wanderlei his face a mix of humour and disgust.

I get a glance of the second cameraman. He’s biting his lip, trying his hardest not to laugh. I afford a little grin as Wanderlei goes into a detailed spiel explaining the origins of the picture that has become an internet sensation forwarded on millions of emails over the years.

“I had to do it,” I laugh, putting down the picture.

Wanderlei waves his hand at me as if to say get rid of that damn picture! and laughs.

“You start the interview like that,” he laughs, shaking his head. “I don’t know. Phew!” He continues to laugh.

The tone for the interview has been set and for the next hour we produce television gold.

When the interview concludes, around 70 minutes later, Wanderlei stands up and wraps me in a massive hug.

“Did you enjoy that?” I ask as the lighting technician resets the studio to do some head-to-head poses.

“Man, that was excellent. Really really great questions. Nobody has asked me those questions before. Man, that was really good fun.”

“Hey I’m just asking the questions,” I say, smiling widely. “You’re stories are freaking hilarious.”

*

It’s 7pm and darkness falls across Las Vegas as much as darkness can. I meet up with Chris, Christina, the two cameramen and the sound technician to shoot stand ups. Stand ups are basically the parts of the show where you see me standing up. These include the show’s opening, all throws to breaks (called teases), all come backs from breaks (called tosses) and the final piece to camera. We are set for a busy night filming the openers, teases and tosses for two episodes of The Voice Versus (sorry, can’t reveal the second guest yet!) comprising 14 pieces to camera in total.

The first piece is set to be the most fun. It’s the opening and first tease for The Voice vs Wanderlei Silva. For the shot Chris envisions me driving down The Strip. To do so he has rented an All American Classic silver Chevrolet Corvette C6 V8 Coupe. The 2005 model packs some serious punch with a top speed of 175 mph (281 kmh) delivering estimated peak output levels of 400 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque. It is mine to drive along the world famous Las Vegas Boulevard. Oh yeah, this will also be my first time driving in the United States!

“Chris, I have never driven outside of Australia before and you want me to drive a   Corvette with the roof off along the Las Vegas Strip while I’m wired for sound, talking, with a camera in my face and lights in my eyes! Dude I’m shitting myself!”

“You’ll be okay,” Chris assures me on the phone. “I’m picking the car up right now. It’s fucking awesome. You’ll love it.”

“It has to be automatic. I can’t drive manual!”

“It will be automatic, I know you can’t drive stick. We’ll drive to an empty car park and let you do some laps to get a feel for it before you drive the Strip. Okay?”

“Is it insured? Honestly is it? I have never done this before mate.”

“You’ll be fine. It’ll look great. Be there in ten minutes.”

Ten minutes later Chris pulls the Corvette into the valet in front of the Mandalay Bay. I’m not typically a car kind of guy but this is a sexy vehicle.

“Take a photo of me,” Chris asks. “This thing fucking purrs.”

I snap a photo of him behind the wheel and am eager to find out exactly how the shoot will work.

“Here’s what will happen. You’ll be wired and we’re mounting a light on the dash to light up your face. We’re going to drive in front of you in the Yukon. Stay close to us. We will be able to hear everything you say. When we pass the MGM you start talking and look at the camera which will be sticking out the back of the Yukon. When you finish your opener do another take. Let’s try and do three or four takes and then do the first tease about Wanderlei’s plastic surgery. We’ll just go in a straight line all the way down The Strip. That should take us just past Fashion Mall and then we’ll turn into a sidestreet and pull over. Okay?”

“Okay,” I say but I’m still shitting myself.

“Relax it’ll be fine. We’ll go to a carpark now and let you open her up a bit and get a feel for how she drives.”

“You have to drive it out of here though. I’m not doing that.”

“You got it. Let’s go.”

I get in the passenger seat with Chris behind the wheel and we follow the Yukon to an empty shopping centre car park.

“Alright,” says Chris swapping seats. “You’re on your own. It’s really smooth and has some kick. Open her up slowly and then go for it.”

I get behind the steering wheel, put on my seatbelt and put the car into Drive. I hit the accelerator gently with my foot and the car kicks forward. It’s sensitive. It also feels strange driving in the left hand side of the car and in the right lane. I push down a little harder. The car kicks forward again. It’s smooth. Super smooth. And it really does purr. I press down harder and turn to the right. It handles superbly like gliding on ice. This is amazing. Now I’m officially having fun. I put my foot down even harder and really open her up, tearing down the back of the carpark, braking, steer right, straighten up and put my foot down again. It’s completely exhilarating. After five minutes of hooning around the car park I’m ready for The Strip.

I pull up behind the Yukon and see the crew crammed in the back.

“Can you guys hear me?” I say into my lapel microphone.

I get the thumbs up from the back of the Yukon.

“Take it slowly and don’t speed through any yellow lights, okay? I’m going to follow you. When we reach the MGM lion I’m going to start my opener. Okay?”

I get another thumbs up.

“Let’s roll!”

We turn onto The Strip and I’m tailing the Yukon by four or five feet. The MGM golden lion is fast approaching and I quickly rehearse what I’ll say in my head.

“Okay guys, let’s get ready. The lion’s coming up. I’ll count myself in. Okay?”

I get a thumbs up from the Yukon.

“Five, four, three,” we pass the MGM lion. “Two, one…” I go into my opening spiel. It’s a good take with the MGM in the background. I finish the take and Jesus waves at me to get closer to the Yukon and drive a straight line behind the camera.

“Okay, let’s do it again. Five, four, three,” we pass the Hard Rock. “Two one…” I do a second take and kill it.

“That was a good one. Let’s do one more. On my cue guys.”

Jesus waves at me again to keep a straight line as we pass Paris Paris.

“Three, two, one…” I do another take. I kill it again. I hardly even notice the cab driver next to me trying to figure out why I’m tailing a Yukon and seemingly talking to myself with great animation.

“Okay that should do it for the opener guys. Lets do the tease to plastic surgery. In three, two, one…” I do my first take of the first tease as we pass Harrah’s. I’m happy with it but can do better. I do a second take as we pass by the massive Venetiaan. The second take is better than the first but I can do even better.

“One more time guys. Here we go. Three, two, one…” I do my third take as we approach the Wynn. I hit it out of the park. I’m thrilled. That’s a wrap in the Corvette.

“Okay guys that’s it. Let’s get off the Strip. That was fun! Thank you!”

We turn off The Strip and take the Corvette back to the rental yard. We’re on a tight schedule. Chris has booked another car for our next series of shots: a stretch limousine.

The stretch limousine pulls in front of the Mandalay Bay. I hop in and we follow the Yukon to the City Centre at Aria. We park in front of the waterfalls and get out to discuss our shots.

“Can you get a bottle of champagne?” I ask Chris.

“I can get one from Aria.”

“Cool, let’s do a shot where I pop the champagne open while cruising in the back of the limo down The Strip.”

“Sounds good,” says Chris.

“Also I’m wearing the crocodile boots so let’s do one of those standard classic shots where I step out of the limousine and we shoot my feet hitting the pavement and then swing the camera up and I start talking to the camera.”

“Sounds good too,” says Chris. “I also want to get a shot where you wind down the window as the limo pulls up to the camera and start talking. I think that will look good.”

“Alright sounds great. What do you want to do first?”

“Let me grab the champgane,” says Chris.

“I know the people here at Beso,” Jesus mentions. “We could shoot a piece inside maybe with some girls?”

“Okay brilliant!” I smile. “I have a great idea. Get me two hot girls and a few shots of alcohol and we’ll tease Wanderlei’s famous wrist roll. I’ll drink the shots with the girls and say something like Aah, that’s how we warm up but do you know how Wanderlei Silva warms up? and then the girls and I can imitate his wrist roll. It’ll look mad!”

“Yeah that’d be good. Let’s do it.”

We enter Beso and Jesus chats to the manager. He organises two gorgeous hostesses to appear with me in the shoot and orders the bar tender to make us whatever drinks we require.

“I need a nice cocktail for the first piece I’ll do on my own. Then after that we’ll need three shots, one for me and each of the girls. Something sweet.”

“Coming right up,” says the young bar tender.

I take a seat on the couch as the cameramen set the shot. Chris is directing one of the hostesses to deliver the cocktail to my table while I’m in mid-sentence then for her to move out of the shot while I finish.

We do this tease shot in two takes. The hostess is flawless. The second take is just for safety.

Both hostesses take a seat next to me for the return-from-break piece in which I toss to Wanderlei’s famous wrist roll. Three shots of red alcohol with sugar around the rim of the glasses are placed in front of us.

“Okay girls, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to start talking to the camera. When you see me reach for my shot, you reach for yours, we cheers and we drink. Then when you see me put my hands together and start rolling my wrists, you copy me. I know it sounds weird but trust me, it all makes sense.”

“Oh my God I’m nervous” says one of the hostesses. She’s only just turned 21, extremely leggy with high cheekbones and radiant eyes.

“You’ll be fine,” I assure her. “You get your face on television and we get to drink for free! Life is good!”

Chris counts us in and we do the first take. It goes flawlessly except for one thing. The sugar on the rim of the glasses sticks to our lips, particularly the two girls and their lipstick.

We finish the take and both girls lick the sugar from their lips.

“That was great,” I say.

“Oh my god,” says the leggy hostess. “The sugar was just stuck there. I felt in on my lips but I knew I couldn’t wipe it off so I just kept on smiling.”

“Okay we’re going to do it again,”  I say.

“I’ll order three more shots,” says the other hostess, “without the sugar this time.”

The bar tender fixes us three shots sans sugar and we do a second take. It’s even better than the first. The girls are all smiles and their wrist rolls look comical and cute, which is just what I wanted.

“That’s a wrap,” says Chris.

“That was so much fun!” says the leggy hostess. “When will it be on TV?”

“I’ll let you know,” I say. “Thank you so much. That was really good. Man, those shots were strong though. I feel a bit tipsy.”

“Me too!” she giggles. “That was so much fun.”

We walk back outside to the waiting limousine and shoot the piece where I step out of the limousine with my crocodile boots. When the shot’s wrapped Chris hands me a bottle of Aria champagne as we set the next shot. I jump in the limousine with Jesus and the sound technician sitting across from me.

“Keep the window open half way as we drive,” says Jesus. “As you chat I’ll be able to shoot the lights of The Strip as we drive along. You going to pop the champage cork?”

“Yeah I’ll pop it out the window. We only get one chance to get the cork popping so I’ll try to do it right in one take.”

We pull out of the City Centre and onto The Strip. I rehearse what I’m going to say in my head and poise my thumb on the cork. As I begin my spiel, confident that I’ve got it under control, I accidentally push a little too hard on the cork, too soon. With the window not wound down the cork pops off and champagne spills out. There’s a split second where I don’t know what to do as the cork ricochets off the closed window like a rogue bullet. I finish my spiel anyway and drop my jaw in complete shock.

“Fuck! I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened. The cork just went off.”

“Man that was fucking great,” says Jesus. “I thought for sure you were going to stop but you didn’t even flinch. You just went on and finished the shot. That was perfect. You’re a professional, man.”

“So we got it?”

“We got it!”

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