‘Escape the Undertaker’ EP & Director on the WWE Interactive Flick
The New Day are stepping out of the ring and into the haunting world of one of WWE’s most iconic figures for Escape the Undertaker. This interactive film sees Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, and Big E pay a visit to the Undertaker’s own house of horrors, where they’ll encounter a series of supernatural challenges. What happens when the power of the urn combines with the power of positivity?
Viewers will have a hand in deciding the fate of the popular trio in the same vein as specials like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend, Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Heading up the project is director and executive producer Ben Simms, who is no stranger to the format: He recently helmed Bear Grylls’ You vs. Wild: Out Cold.
Here, Simms goes into the challenges of producing a project that feels fresh but stays true to these larger-than-life WWE characters.
How familiar were you with the source material?
Ben Simms: I’m not the biggest fan, but I’m aware WWE is a massive brand. I grew up certainly appreciating it and all the characters. It’s hard to not know who the Undertaker is. The New Day was newer to me. Once I was told a little more about the project, it seemed like such a cool idea.
Tell me a bit about the research you did when deciding your approach.
I worked hand-in-hand with WWE Studios. They were super-helpful and instrumental in terms of making sure things were on brand. With everything going on in the world, I would have loved to have gone to matches. A lot of what I did was pulling from online and documentaries, more recent stuff. I looked in forums and blogs to get the fans’ viewpoint of how the characters were perceived. My goal going in was to strike a balance between honoring their legacies and their ethos, but expanding on that and bringing something new—something different but still in the world. The one-two punch.
Seems like timing was perfect considering the Undertaker’s retirement last year. What was it like getting to know him?
We took big swings in filling in holes of history or expanding on our interpretation of the character. I feel like we did a pretty good job in terms of our research because he was really into the majority of the stuff we brought to him. He was game for a lot. I watched [the docuseries] The Last Ride and a few other things, press he had done as Mark [Calaway] the person. It was nice to take that risk and have some liberty with it, and at the end of the day, I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with it. One of the biggest things I heard going in was just how protective he was of his character.
And then there is the New Day. They ooze personality.
The fun part was the contrast between the Undertaker and the New Day. They are both amazing talents. At the same time, they are opposite ends of the spectrum. With Undertaker, it was setting up the world and a lot of stuff shrouded in mystery. With New Day, it was taking them in that space and turning them loose. They had tons of ideas. They are still a team and working together, but there are times where the choices bring a tug and pull within the team. Once we established what their perspective was going in, [we] let them run with it a lot of times. We wrote some pretty fun stuff, but just one-off comments within the scene play really well.
How does this project compare to other work you’ve done?
A lot of the other interactives I’ve done were in the adventure space: outdoor vistas and on the edges of cliffs and helicopters and wild animals running around. With this one, the challenge was squeezing every ounce of production value we could. We wanted to have balanced choices. The results should pull you in different directions…. You have to keep everyone in the same headspace so it’s totally consistent. We were making a lot of sharp turns at times to get all the variables in the scene because we were shooting multiple versions. It was advantageous to have Undertaker and New Day—so used to live performing—to just be able to immediately pivot and adjust. We wouldn’t be able to do that if they weren’t so seasoned in that regard.
Can we expect any cameos from other superstars? What else can you tease?
There is a cameo I’m pretty excited about. I can’t tell you much else aside from there is someone from Undertaker’s inner circle who has a nice cameo. I think the biggest thing is it’s fun to watch multiple times. There are a lot of different perspectives and twists and turns are part of the same story, but based on what you choose, there will be some success and failure along the way. The story is set in such a way it’s impossible to watch it once and get everything.
Escape the Undertaker, Movie Premiere, Tuesday, October 5, Netflix