Adam Scheiner is working on a lifelong passion project. The director, producer, and writer of American weightlifting’s first feature-length film is intent on bringing his favorite sport to the big screen. To make it happen, he’s teamed up with some of the biggest names in lifting and kickstarted a fundraising campaign to bring the magic of weightlifting to life.
As weightlifting’s horizon as an Olympic event remains cloudy and obscured, Scheiner — a 15-year filmmaking veteran — is hoping to shine a light on the sport by leaning on his personal experiences as well as an all-star cast of professional athletes and career thespians alike.
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Scheiner, who has already mixed steel and screen in his 2012 short The Artist & The Olympian, has awarded an important mantle to competitor and coach Zack Telander. Telander is set to play the lead role of Casey Murray, a down-on-his-luck competitor fighting for both glory and family.
The Weight’s screenplay has garnered early critical recognition. It won Gold at the Filmmakers’ International Screenwriting Awards, and its Kickstarter campaign has raised over $100,000 to date. The film explores the price of ambition, the politics and scandals behind professional athletics, and the beauty of Olympic weightlifting.
BarBend sat down with Scheiner and producer Josh Bunting of EchoWolf Productions, the studio backing the project, to learn more about their developmental progress, casting and production design, and perspective on The Weight’s potential impact on the sport itself.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for readability.
BarBend: In 2013, Adam, you released the short film The Artist & The Olympian, which starred former national champion, Donny Shankle. At only eight minutes long, that film will presumably end up being quite different from The Weight. What lessons did you learn from working on The Artist & The Olympian, and how did it impact your approach to this project?
AS: I was 23 when I shot that. I’ve been working in the film industry now for 15 years, and one of the biggest things that have changed is how much more efficient I am in dealing with all the aspects of production and how much more I can get out of less. We shot [The Artist & The Olympian] for $15,000. I could do that now for half as much, and have made it just as good.
It also helped me learn how important sound design is. The film’s soundscape is half the movie, and there are just so many amazing sounds in weightlifting. We like to use the comparison of, like, the crack a baseball makes when it contacts a wooden bat. There’s something incredibly special about the way we can use the feet hitting the platform or the oscillation of the bar off the hips. There’s a rhythm to it all. I missed an opportunity to do that on The Artist & The Olympian, and it’s something we are going to do for the feature.
The short also did really well on YouTube, so it helped teach me some lessons about the distribution and marketing side of the business. Sometimes I just want to think about the creative aspects, but the film industry is still a business.
BarBend: From Rocky to Friday Night Lights to Moneyball, athletics have been a cultural mainstay on the silver screen. Why hasn’t weightlifting enjoyed the same level of attention, and can The Weight change the status quo?
Adam Scheiner: The problem isn’t with the sport itself, it’s with the presentation. Even at the Olympics, the way weightlifting is presented can be terribly boring. The weight on the bar itself, in terms of narrative, is the lowest common denominator. The weight is arbitrary — the real story is the human lifting it. That’s something I’ve taken into consideration since very early on in the script.
Josh Bunting: Weightlifting isn’t the only Olympic sport that hasn’t been successful in film. The reason some of the other movies about weightlifting may not have been successful is that the creators didn’t have a strong understanding of the genre. But that’s what Adam has. He understands the beats of the genre.
BarBend: What inspired the team at EchoWolf to throw their hat into the ring and get behind this project?
JB: Adam and I have known each other for seven or eight years, and the project is older than that. From the moment we met, we’ve been talking about doing this. This business is about knowing people and liking people — and I like Adam.
Part of the reason I like him is that I’ve always respected his work, which is a really solid foundation for a friendship. I think the movie is inspiring, and that’s something I need more of in my career. It’s as simple as that. It’s a good movie, and he’s a good guy.
AS: I think I was probably 25 or 26 when I first met Josh, and I was probably a little arrogant back then. I’ve been humbled by the film industry, so it’s like we’re meeting back together at the perfect time when we’re all more mature and much better at what we’re doing.
[Trusting people] may seem small, but it’s a very, very rare thing in the film industry. You spend more time with the people you work with than you do your own family. So if the people get along and respect each other, it affects the project. I’ve never been on a really good film where everyone wasn’t completely trusting and dedicated to one another.
BarBend: You’ve had a bunch of casting announcements come out over the last year, the majority of which are actual weightlifters, alongside some veteran actors as well. What are some of the interesting aspects of working with people on a film who are athletes first?
AS: Well, the situation dictates the action. Zack [Telander] is the one having to do the most, and he’s been working his ass off. He’s doing things behind the scenes that no one knows about to improve himself for this role, but he’s also just the right guy in the right situation.
The others are just the right people for the right roles — they’re playing themselves, essentially, and they’re authentic. We were able to get great actors that, when you see them do a snatch or clean & jerk, you know it’s a high-level weightlifter doing a high-level lift. There’s no bullshit to it.
CJ [Cummings]’s character has somewhat of a real role, which is great because CJ really wants to act. And the most important thing with that is to surround him and the others with veterans like Bill Sage (American Psycho, Stray Dogs) and Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side).
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BarBend: Weightlifters are likely to tune in because they like weightlifting, but how will you get The Weight in front of people who may not know much about the sport?
JB: Adam and I talk about this all the time, and it’s something we’re anticipating. We don’t know yet. There are a thousand ways to distribute a film and get it out there. Independent film is in a really strange zone right now. Everyone is rebuilding the wheel a little bit. Going to a film festival like Cannes just doesn’t matter all that much anymore. It’s a different world.
AS: It’s a mistake I kind of made on Artist where I thought I could make something so good that no one can deny it, but there are lots of great movies that no one sees because the business end wasn’t handled. It all starts with seeing the movie and it getting attention, and that’s where we’re relying on the community we’re building. It’s important for me to get a theatrical release, but the money and the audience have to come first.
BarBend: Sports dramas have compelling lead characters that help drive their narrative and capture the audience. What kinds of films have you looked to for inspiration when you developed the script for The Weight?
AS: I have looked at other filmmakers, but I also try to remember that I am who I am. The story of The Weight is an amalgamation of everything I know about filmmaking and a sport I became obsessed with.
I lean away from making a Rocky comparison as a filmmaker. Rocky Balboa and Casey Murray [Zack Telander] may have similar circumstances, but their characters are different. Rocky is a blue-collar underdog story — Casey is good enough to be the lifter he wants to be, but there are obstacles in his way. The drug use and corruption in the sport are the limiting factors for him, and that’s something we plan on tackling in the film.
BarBend: With the Tokyo Olympics having recently wrapped up and weightlifting’s status as an Olympic sport under scrutiny, what sort of impact do you hope The Weight to have? Do you have trepidation about addressing the drug use in the sport directly?
AS: My goal has always just been to create a great movie — I always expected the impact to be more about helping people get barbells in their hands. I did not expect the Olympics to be on the cusp of being taken away from weightlifting. If [The Weight] does have enough positive effect that it keeps the sport from dying, that is wonderful. But, as a person that loves the community and loves the sport, my intention is to make a great film before anything else.
JB: Change is part and parcel of telling an authentic story about a sport like this. If you’re going to make a movie about weightlifting and not talk about doping, you haven’t made something that’s meaningful or truthful. Whether or not it changes minds is secondary to actually fulfilling the purpose of telling a good story.
[Related: Our Favorite Weightlifting Moments From the Tokyo 2020 Olympics]
The Weight is currently in pre-production and will film on-location in Buffalo, New York. Information about the film’s cast, crew, and production can be found on the official website or on Instagram at @theweighteaturefilm.
Featured Image: @arscheiner on Instagram