Lately, WWE's Ali has been releasing a series of promos and vignettes on television that use unique visuals to captivate the viewer's attention. The person who created those videos with Ali by his side, Craig Mitchell, was a guest on Wrestling Inc.'s own WINCLY Podcast today to talk about his creative vision for those vignettes.
The duo of Ali and Mitchell didn't believe that WWE would use the videos on weekly TV, however, that all changed when they started posting the videos to social media. Mitchell praises Ali for his ability to take an idea and make the most out of it, whatever that idea may be.
"We joked about it being picked up [by WWE] actually, because they were just internet videos," Mitchell said. "I think one good thing about Ali is you give him a little bit of ground to work with and he'll take the ball and run with it. He has a lot to say and he has a great way [of doing it], and that's why I really agree with what he does. I think he has a great way of putting himself out there and being able to vocalize what he can do, not only just on the mic but how he puts himself into the light, you could say.
"He puts himself out in a way where it's just super relatable, so I think when we started to put the videos out, it was like, 'Hey, they're not giving me this, they're not giving me the screen time to develop my character.' And what we were able to do was - fine, we'll film it, we'll put it on your Instagram, they're self produced," Mitchell explained. "If they're giving you the ability to use your social media how you want to do it, let's do it. And we joked like, 'Wouldn't it be kind of funny if these videos get a lot of eyes on them and you can end up getting them on SmackDown and stuff. And that ended up working out, so I think that's one of the coolest things that we were able to accomplish."
Mitchell noted that a great promo from any pro wrestling star can ultimately suffer from a production that's lacking in audio and visuals. His vision is to make Ali's promos more of a personal conversation between the viewer and the speaker, Ali.
"I think the ability to cut a great promo, I mean, it has to be a total package too. If you cut a great promo but the way it's being presented is garbage, or poor quality, or poor sound, if it just doesn't draw you in as an interesting way of viewing it, it could fall flat," Mitchell stated. "And that's one thing that I think we were able to accomplish right out of the gate is we were able to [ask]: what is the subject matter? Cool, we get that, so let's film it in a way where as you're watching it, you're not bored. Even if they are only a minute or a minute-and-a-half, you feel like you're somehow in an intimate conversation with Ali when he's talking. I think that's what we always try to have [with promos], and I think a lot of guys could benefit from doing that."
Mitchell believes that the cell phone promos that wrestling stars release aren't a high enough caliber to really capture the attention of viewers.
"A lot of guys just film a promo on their cell phones, and that's great and all but it just doesn't feel captivating," Mitchell said. "If you take five minutes, find a guy who has some decent sets of gear, and have them just put you in the center of the frame and actually give you a moment to collect yourself and actually present what you're thinking or what you're feeling in a way to where it's actually appealing to the eye. It could do wonders for you. I think that's really what Ali is able to do is he has a great mind for putting his promos together, and I just gave him a good set of eyes to see it."
Mitchell would go on to describe WWE's influence while creating these most recent vignettes they've filmed. Mitchell and WWE alike thinks it's important that Ali be represented a certain way so his superhero-like character of "the light" can appeal to the widest audience possible.
"[WWE does have some influence now], a little bit," Mitchell admitted. "I would say that it's a vocabulary thing, for sure. We want to make sure that the words we're saying - we don't want to use any offensive words or anything like that. I think that was something we always wanted to make sure that was very clean and appealing to all. But I think the other influence would be now, with this, I think we would also want to make sure that the subject matter [of the videos] is approved. So we wouldn't want to talk about anything that [WWE] would deem something that they wouldn't want to have on TV. So I wouldn't say it's very vague but it has to be more inclusive, especially because Ali right now is representing something for a lot of people and he's in a very positive light. To keep that rolling, I would say that the subject matter needs to be very inclusive."
Along with his talent for filming, Craig Mitchell also spends his time competing in the squared circle. He described his moveset as a blend of different pro wrestling styles, but for the most part, he likes to focus on delivering the Japanese "strong style" combat.
"Personally what I'm doing now is kind of what I have always been a fan of, so more of like a 'big fight' thing," Mitchell explained. "Every style of wrestling has it's place - you have your technical wrestling, you have your high flying stuff. I have always been a fan of the Japan style, like big strong style fighting; I've always been a fan of that. Even more of like the hardcore stuff like Necro Butcher, matches where from the beginning to the end it's more of a fight. I think if I were to describe myself, I bring that and I kind of bring more of a brawl, fight style, but at the same time, I can do a little bit of everything. If you would see me for the first time, you would see that I'm a little bit of a bigger guy but I move just as well as some of the cruiserweight guys. At the same time, it's more of a 'fight for your life' kind of thing in a match with me. I think that's my style, it's kind of a blend between the strong style, blow-for-blow brawling, but I can also mix it up and do the high flying, the lucha, and everything like that."
Mitchell is very much involved with the company Freelance Wrestling, located in Chicago, IL. He explained to our listeners that Freelance is a promotion that wants to give the lesser known pro wrestlers of the world some quality opportunities to perform in front of a live crowd. He appreciates this punk rock-esque style of being "by the wrestlers, for the wrestlers".
"It was something where it was like, 'What if we could put on matches for the wrestlers?' So kind of a company that gives an opportunity to up-and-coming guys but at the beginning, the major market was other guys up-and-coming in wrestling," Mitchell said. "We were able to get together as a small group, and I believe one of the first ever shows we ever did was kind of a studio taping kind of thing. We were just going to release it on the internet. So it was a by the wrestler, for the wrestling kind of company and then it kind of turned into, well, in the area, a lot of the opportunities were constantly being given to the guys that were already on the up. So for us who were trying to make a name for ourselves, we needed a place that was going to be willing to give us the opportunity and is going to be able to give us some trust in the fact that we could do something positive in this world of professional wrestling.
"Just because we didn't have the years behind us didn't mean we couldn't take that ball and run with it a bit," Mitchell continued. "So Freelance was kind of giving opportunities to guys that were up-and-coming that maybe some of the other ones didn't give a look at, and I think that's also very true to punk rock and coming up in that environment. A punk rock environment mixed with pro wrestling is kind of what it turned into, especially in the early days. It kind of felt like you were going to a punk, hardcore show mixed with wrestling. And then it became more about the wrestling but the thing that stayed true to it is Freelance is always a place that was willing to give an opportunity to somebody, even if you have never heard of [the performer]."
To support Craig Mitchell follow him of Twitter @CraigXMitchell or Instragram.com/CraigXMitchell. You can also buy his shirts at Pro Wrestling Tees. His full interview with Wrestling Inc aired as part of today's episode of our WINCLY podcast. It can be heard via the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post. In it Mitchell discusses helping to found Freelance Wrestling, working to break out on the indies, working with Ali on his promo videos, how much freedom WWE gives him and Ali with them, constants across all of Ali's promos, Ali continuing to give back to the Chicago indie scene and more.