HEEL, a new short film written by 10-year wrestling veteran Ryan Nemeth, attempts to shine a light on one of the darkest aspects of the pro wrestling business—pervasive allegations of sexual assault.
“When I started writing the film, my goal was to bring light to a topic that a lot of people keep hidden,” says Nemeth, who started wrestling in 2010 and spent time in NXT before an extensive run in the indies. “This is a movie set in the world of wrestling, but it’s about sexual assault.
“This film is entirely a work of fiction, but it is based on disturbing events that a lot of people have been privy to in wrestling. Over the past summer, that became very public with the #SpeakingOut movement. It was pretty awesome to see people speaking out get so much support this summer, but it sucks that sexual assault exists at all within wrestling. I hope that HEEL serves as a catalyst to keep this conversation open and keeps people talking.”
A trailer for the 10-minute film was released last week.
Nemeth began writing HEEL in January 2019, and he enlisted the wildly talented Maggie Levin direct the film. Best known for her feature directing debut on the horror film My Valentine, Levin brought the HEEL script to life, capturing a very powerful story in only 10 minutes.
“The beauty of the short film is to tell as compelling a narrative as succinctly as possible,” Levin says. “Ryan came to me and asked me to direct what was already an incredible script, and I really felt there was a way to compress everything he wrote into a taut, gut-punch of a movie.”
HEEL was featured last week as part of the streaming Austin Indie Fest, winning Best Director: Women in Film. Levin helped oversee the process of trimming the HEEL script from 32 pages to 12, working unrelentingly to only deliver elements of the story vitally crucial to the plot.
“This film is about a delicate issue and painful for so many people, so Ryan and I needed to handle the issue with care while not shying away from the ugliness and horror of it,” Levin says. “That’s why we chose to open with the sexual assault detailed, upfront, as the first thing in the movie. You never see it, but you understand where it’s going.”
In addition to writing the script, Nemeth also plays a starring role. There are many other wrestling personalities involved, including older brother Nick Nemeth, who is widely known for his work in WWE as Dolph Ziggler, as well as Brody King, stunt coordinator Chavo Guerrero, producers Ruby Riott and Matt Cardona, and financial backers in the Miz, John Morrison and Brodie Lee.
“I am floored each time I see how many amazing people believed in this and helped make it happen,” Nemeth says. “Everyone we worked with is so talented. Rodney Munoz is an Emmy-winning wardrobe designer, another one of our producers was Jeff Tremaine from Jackass and we had more financial backers, like Scott Derrickson, who is a filmmaker from Dr. Strange, and Sam Richardson, who starred in Veep.”
Additional support for HEEL came from a grassroots fundraising campaign, which allowed the film to be shot in November 2019. And despite the restrictions surrounding COVID-19, post-production wrapped this past July. Current plans are to release the film in 2021.
“It is a gritty, dark drama that deals with sexual assault in the world of pro wrestling,” Nemeth says. “Unfortunately, it exists. This is a look into those dark, unknown parts of pro wrestling.”