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Toe-to-Toe with Jeff Waxman, co-producer of 'The Fighter'

"THE FIGHTER" (2010): Wahlberg returns to a dramatic

"THE FIGHTER" (2010): Wahlberg returns to a dramatic role, a genre he's had great success with. He plays "Irish" Micky Ward, a real-life 1990s boxer from Massachusetts. Credit: Jojo Whilden

We all know that boxing has provided movie makers with some great storylines. The latest is a movie from Relativity Media and Paramount called, "The Fighter." It stars Mark Wahlberg, as boxer Micky Ward, and Christian Bale, as Ward's half-brother, Dickie Eklund. It opens in Los Angeles and New York City on Friday and nationwide on Dec. 17.

Relativity's Jeff Waxman was raised in Queens and now lives in Plainview. However, he is making his mark out in Hollywood. In his most recent effort, Waxman co-produced  "The Fighter.' Waxman, pictured below with Ward, describes his job as "getting it done on time and on budget."

Among Waxman's other credits are "Immortals," which is in post production, "Reign Over Me" and "Law Abiding Citizen."

The Neutral Corner: What is it about the Micky Ward story that appealed to you?

Jeff Waxman: It's the ultimate story. It's a guy who was always overshadowed by his brother, who was also a fighter. But when he finally gets the chance, he wins the championship of the world. It's a rags-to-riches story. There has never been anyone who worked harder than him. But all those years, he was in the shadow of his brother, Dickie Eklund. In the end, Micky Ward is an easy guy to root for and that makes for a great movie. He got his chance and he made the most of it. It's total redemption, even when Dickie comes out of jail, he helps him.

NC: What was it like to see Mark Wahlberg transform into a fighter?

JW: Actually Mark had been training and planning on doing this movie for about four or five years. He had a ring put in at his house. He was always training and waiting for the movie to happen. Micky Ward was one of Mark's childhood heros. Mark is the reason the movie got made.

NC: Are the fights scenes authentic?

JW: Yes. We watched the actual Micky Ward fights. We went to watch live fights. All the fights where choreographed but Mark took all the hits, those are real hits. We didn't use stuntmen and we used real fighters as the opponents. Mark took every shot. That's the only way he would do it. He said it had to be real. There were times we were concerned that he might get hit too much. Mark wanted to do all the fights in the first three days of shooting, this way, after that, all he had to worry about was the acting. We've had trainers tell us that Mark could fight right now, and win. His number one focus was that it had to be real. If he was going to do it, it had to be real.

NC: Were they difficult to shoot?

JW: We actually had HBO come in with their trucks and shoot the boxing the way boxing is shot on television. We had all eight cameras, we had guys roaming on the floor. We shot it visually, like you would watch it on TV. We didn't stop and do it over for a close up or a different angle. HBO shot it the way they would shoot a fight. We actually ran through each sequence live and let it run out. The budget forced that but it made the movie better. It was Mark Wahlberg's idea to use HBO and it was great. To make a fight look real is very difficult.  We also shot it on video. The entire movie is shot on film, but not the fight sequence. It's a cool look. The guy who directed the scenes for the fights, was actually the same guy who directed the Gatti-Ward fights from the truck for HBO. When we shot it in Lowell (Massachusetts), they were great, they gave us whatever we needed because they knew Micky. The town of Lowell is this old industrial town and boxing was one of the ways out. So when Micky won, they all won. Everlast and Budweiser were also a great help. They helped us recreate the exact same ring.

NC: Did you use any tricks at all?

JW: We had to fill up the arena, so for the crowd we used paid extras, free extras, blow-up dolls and cardboard cutouts.

NC: Really?

JW: Yeah, and you can't tell. We also used real cutmen. We used real fighters in the gym. We cast Mickey O'Keefe, he was the guy who trained Micky when he was a kid. We just used him in the movie and he was great.

NC: What is it about boxing that lends itself to great movies?

JW: It's because boxing is basically one-on-one, there is no place to hide. It's the ultimate challenge. You can't run from it. But what makes a great movie is when your main character has to overcome enormous odds and succeed. And that's Micky Ward, it's so many fighters. Boxing produces those kind of characters, those kind of stories.

NC: Did you always follow boxing?

JW: I was a sports fan, so I always watched the big fights. I watch much more boxing now. I was a Sugar Ray Leonard fan. He's in the film. He fought Dickie Eklund. I loved the Leonard-Roberto Duran fights. I loved the Ali, Frazier and Foreman era. I watched all of those fights.

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