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Filmmaker Bobby Razak on the ‘hardcore journey’ that led to ‘Mask’ documentary

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Bobby Razak has earned his stripes over the years as mixed martial arts’ premiere documentarian.

But nowhere did he earn it more than the most difficult film he ever made, “Mask,” the tribute to his friend Charles “Mask” Lewis which was recently released on multiple platforms.

That’s because the Los Angeles resident was close friends with the late Tapout co-founder, making every bit of work on the well-received film a tough task.

“It was brutal,” Razak said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. “Every time you go into edit bay, every time you to shoot, every time you work on it, it was like a knife was going through your heart. It’s one of the most extreme filming/edit/documentary sessions I’ve ever been in in my life. It took so long, it was brutal. It’s so brutal, I feel like I need emotional distance from Charles now. I kind of need emotional distance. The film has come out and I feel I need to have a little bit of separation. That is how much of a hardcore journey it was for me.”

Part of this was due to the extraordinarily difficult decisions Razak had to make about what material was suitable for inclusion in a film about Lewis, who died in a horrific 2009 automobile accident in Newport Beach, Calif., when his Ferrari was struck by a Porsche which was being operated by a drunk driver.

Should the film simply be a glossed-over tribute to a friend? Or should it be a warts-and-all look at Lewis’ life?

Razak opted for the latter, believing the more authentic route was the best option.

“He was incredibly personal with deep and emotional issues in his life — sexual abuse and peeing the bed throughout high school,” Razak said. “All this stuff he had never told anyone, he was concerned about his image a lot of the time and what he was trying to portray. He was a very big fan of KISS, and so costumes and what he’d wear was all really a mask to really cover what was going on with him.

“So he wouldn’t really have wanted that stuff, so I really reconciled myself, do I really want to make a fan movie about someone who is great? Or do I really go deep into the guy and really talk about who he was and what he had to overcome? ... I wanted to show that regardless of where you came from, you can overcome anything.”

This also helps explain why it took so long for the project to come together. Razak set out to make the documentary in 2011, but only finished it a few months ago. As time passed, the film evolved into the end result.

“I feel like Charles wouldn’t want this to happen, Charles wouldn’t want this to come out,” Razak said. “Maybe that’s why it took so long, I needed that 2011-18 to maybe become comfortable, because I remember the earlier cut, ‘Charles is great, Charles is great,’ but as more time, you know, from his death part, I become more, ‘Okay, let me explore this subject as a documentary filmmaker, let me step out of the box.’ As I was mourning the first couple years. The film was more of a mourning film, and then as time passed, I had reconciled to myself just I have to be true to myself as a filmmaker, I have to be honest and I have to show the fans and show people what he’s really about.”

The mixed martial arts world in 2017 is considerably different than what the sport looked like at the time of Lewis’ passing. In hindsight, 2009, which featured the massive UFC 100, was the period of transition between the sport’s up-and-coming days — the era in which Tapout spoke to the MMA audience and connected with them as big corporate sponsors still shunned the sport —- and the current era of network television, big-name sponsors, and an upcoming ESPN deal.

Razak believes Lewis would be in awe of what the sport has become.

“It would have blown his mind,” Razak said. “I think about that all the time. Especially when sometimes there’s a FOX Fight Night on Saturday or Sunday morning or Wednesday. I mean, this was not around when he was alive. I mean, we had Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather. You had Ronda Rousey — women’s MMA wasn’t around in that way. So much of this sport has moved forward. It would have blown his mind, I believe.”

The UFC’s Reebok deal, in which Reebok is the exclusive apparel company, is a different story. On one hand, Razak believes Lewis would be appalled by this era in which every fighter looks the same. On the other, Razak believes the same entrepreneurial spirit which built Tapout from a company that sold t-shirts out of car trunks into a multi-million dollar brand would have also pushed to make Tapout the UFC’s official supplier instead of Reebok.

“Charles was about the free market and free enterprise,” Razak said. “He did not hate the competition. He understood that you needed competition in order to crush the competition. You needed someone to crush. ... If Charles was alive, he would have made sure if there was going to be one clothing company, it would have been Tapout. “