Halle Berry’s directorial debut went all in on mixed martial arts, with “Bruised” featuring a lot of personalities and organizations within the sport, including popular promotion Invicta FC. Shannon Knapp, the head of the all-female outfit, spoke to Bloody Elbow about her involvement.
Victor Rodriguez: Shannon than you so much for joining me again and being willing to talk shop, because… bit of a special occasion here. You have been involved in the Halle Berry film “Bruised“ — how have you been doing and how excited were you to be a part of this?
Shannon Knapp: Yeah, I’m very well and thank you, of course, for having me on. Excited, I’m very excited. It’s kind of surreal to step back and think Invicta is really featured in this movie. I think for me, the part that excites me the most is how much this is gonna mean to my athletes. It’s a win-win for everybody.
VR: I guess we have to get into the genesis of this, right? How it all began. So I’m going to assume that like most projects like this, somebody said “Hey, we’re going to make a mixed martial arts movie involving a fighter that’s coming up through the ranks, let’s see if Invicta is interested in some kind of collaboration here.” Am I fully wrong here or just slightly off base?
SK: Yeah, just a little off-mark there. Just that they were gonna make a movie and they were scouting and going to a few different events and look at the process as they were preparing for their scenes and stuff like that. They reached out to me and asked about coming out to one of the events. I was able to coordinate with them and actually bring Halle out to an event.
One of the things, one of the pitched lines for Invicta from me was “Listen, if you’re gonna tell a story, you gotta tell a real story. You gotta go where it begins . You cant go into the middle or highest levels of the sport if you don’t show the grit and what it takes and the passion and the dive in the beginning because it really does take that. This is not an easy sport. They agree to come out to the show, I threw open the doors. I said “Take a look at everything, my house, your house.” She was able to wrap, do a walkout, get in the cage, really see it from a different perspective. It’s different when you come to an event like Invicta versus when you come to such a huge event like the UFC. Really to give her that inside look was what I felt would be a very valuable piece. as she prepared for that role. And then later as we continued to talk and they started asking questions for the setup to the fight in the movie, I did a little consulting then I’m like “Hey why don’t you just call it Invicta? I have all the pieces you need. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. I’ve got the cage, I’ve got the brand. I’ve got the logos, I’ve got the fight posters, all these different things.” We just came to that agreement that yes, this was the perfect option.
VR: Since you had the infrastructure it made a lot of sense to make that happen. So how much of an eye-opening experience was it for the cast and crew to see the reality of it and watching the wheels in motion.
SK: They were very receptive. Very receptive when I pitched, about just calling it Invicta, “You can use my cage”, they were very receptive. It was, Halle was very passionate about the sport. I think it was very important to her and her team that that representation in that fight at the end of the movie, that big scene, that they got it right. That they got it right to point where people involved in the sport would say “Wow, this looks good! This looks real.“ I think it was very important to them and I think it was very helpful for them to see how things were set up, even things like the athletic commission positions and different things like that I think it was valuable to them in a lot of ways.
VR: And what do you think surprised them the most? It could be something where they’re coming in with some knowledge of the sport, but what do you think really took them aback?
SK: Huh. I think that really probably the difference in just how hard and how resilient and capable these women are that compete in this sport and just really see what they really go through in their preparation and how they great ready. And also how you set up an event. Those are probably some eye-opening things. I’ve heard Halle talk about it in several different interviews about a conversation that she had with me. I just listened to it last night on Trevor Noah’s show about when her and I met. And she’s talking about obstacles she’s faced being a black woman in Hollywood and just being a woman in the sport and one of the things that we’ve talked about when I first met her is that there is a difference.
I’ve contacted venues that worked with other promoters where the venue would pay them they would actually pay the promotion, it was more of a male-dominated promotion. Where when I called them, they wanted me to pay them. And in some cases they wanted me to pay them more (than what they paid out to others). It’s just interesting to shine a light to show we’re still breaking down barriers, especially in an all-female promotion I think that was one of the eye-opening things that stood out to Halle and her team.
VR: It’s unfortunate that these things continue to happen to this day, but having that visible to cast and crew would hopefully allow them to have a greater level of perspective. So at least there’s something of a teachable moment in that.
VR: So tell me about the process like having a film crew in your house, in a way. They have all of this at their disposal. Were there any growing pains with that or was everything pretty much smooth, what was that experience like?
SK: Well, actually they didn’t do any filming inside my home (laughs). Actually a male plays the owner of Invicta in the movie. But I was onsite, they flew me out to New Jersey, I was out on the film set on the boardwalk. But it was very educational for me as well, to watch the process. I’d been on film sets before and things of that nature but it was really i think for me to really watch Halle really dive into this part and really embrace it with such passion. and not just a passion for just the sport but a passion to get it right. I think you have any A-list actresses or actors or anyone to that comes in and wants to portray your sport you’re sometimes looking over their shoulder going “Uh-uhhhhh”. How are they really gonna capture the essence of what we do?”
It was really, really important for me to have that opportunity to to watch her, because she’s nailed it. I have to be honest with you, she trained hard. If I were out scouting you know what I’m looking for, a newer talent coming through the sport, starting out their career, I’d probably take a look at her. The skillset, the technique, that passion and that drive, those are things you really can’t train and I was really, really was inspired by her passion.
VR: I’m not sure if you had any information on this but do you think she ever did a test cut or anything like that? Obviously that being an important part it makes for a lot of miserable moments. Do you know if she tried a test cut to at least get the experience in?
SK: I’m not sure, but knowing Halle and how she trains, her whole body transformation throughout this film was amazing to watch. I can’t imagine, I’m bet she tried something. She just was very passiontate about capturing and I bet to some degree at some degree she tested something. I can’t say that for sure, but I’m just guessing she walked the walk.
VR: Speaking of waking the walk what was it like of actually watching her making the walk in the film and seeing everything come together the fight scenes, what was it like to see this part being built?
SK: I felt very honored, to be honest with you. I just keep in mind how this was gonna translate in terms of the excitement for my athletes of “Oh, I actually fight for this promotion!“ You know? I think that was kind of always in my mind. I waited patiently for the moment like what we’re going through right now where the movie is just everywhere and all kinds of clips are out there, she’s talking about it you see the logo everywhere, and i think the athletes are very excited about this. And I will tell you this — that fight scene in the movie near the end of the movie, that big fight scene? It’s choreographed beautifully, it looks real. She was even injrued during the filming. She broke a couple of ribs, she was all in.
VR: I saw you were doing the whole red carpet event and everything and it was nice to see you get that recognition and having you be an active participant in that part of the ceremony and all. So watching the final product, what was that like walking away from it? You’ve mentioned the dedication that Halle has had and respect that the cast and crew had for the sport and integrity of keeping everything as realistic or as grounded as possible. What was that like walking out?
SK: I thought the movie was very good. For me, as a critic, the fight scenes were going to be very important. I thought Halle’s character, I felt there was a good message as well that winning is getting up and getting into the fight. That’s what winning is. I just think that sent a message that although there are hardships we have to overcome we gotta get back and moving to accomplish things. I think there is a message here. There is something is very positive as the athletes watch it and potential athletes down the road, it’s that winning is not always defined by putting on a belt around you.
Winning is working and trying to change your circumstances. That’s kind of what I walked away with. There were roles in the movie, Halle’s an amazing actress, and I really think she nailed that part. There’s a young boy in the movie, Danny Boyd, Jr, and he’s incredibly, exceptionally talented. Not to take away from anyone else that in the film. There were real standouts, I felt he was a real standout. Also Adriane Lenox, who plays his mother. It was a good movie, and like I said the fight scenes really won me over.
VR: Well, the film drops the day before Thanksgiving so I haven’t seen it yet. I’d be really really disappointed if they don’t have an MMA writer addicted to cheesecake in there because I like be represented too, I don’t wanna feel too left out.
SK: (Laughs) Exactly.
VR: Now that Invicta’s been a big part of the film, what’s next for Invicta because we haven’t seen an event for a little bit and we’re near the end of the year, what’s next for the company and when can we expect to hear of a new event?
SK: We’ll be making announcements shortly, we’ll be back in January. And we’re mapping out our schedule for next year. I’m incredibly excited about the future of Invicta, what we’ve got planned and what we’re working on. One of the things add, too, is that fans really want to pay attention to this movie. When they’re in the gym in this movie, there’s Invicta posters everywhere. I call it, my athletes are gonna play “I spy.” There’s posters of previous fights, there’s footage of the (Lisa) Verzosa / (Julia) Stoliarenko fight, which was a barn burner. that’s in the film. I think the fans really ought to keep their eyes open as they’re watching this.
Bruised, directed by and starring Halle Berry is available for streaming on Netflix.
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