Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stephen Platinum can be a prick!

That’s Why the Booker Is a Prick

- from Platinum Championship Wrestling's owner/promoter Stephen Platinum

I recently read a book by a wrestling booker – that is, the person who decides who wrestles whom and how a wrestling card is laid out – and in it the person in question said that if you do a great job as a booker, people give credit to the wrestlers, but if you are doing a bad job, people blame the booker.

That’s true enough. But it shouldn’t be any other way.

I look back on things that I booked when I first got the opportunity (back in 1997, for smaller indies in the Colorado area), the things I did once I started booking my own shows and had total control (in 2002 until 2005) and how I organize Platinum Championship Wrestling now, and I am stunned at how much I have changed.

People mark the improvement of wrestlers, note the changes in those that work in front of crowds or cameras for wrestling promotions. You can look at old footage of Shawn Michaels when he was part of the (Midnight) Rockers, during his run as the Heartbreak Kid, and since his comeback in 2002 and note the differences. You can debate about when he was at his best (personally I think the things he did during his final run were clearly the best.) For bookers (or creative, or writers, or whatever other silly labels we give to the “pencil” nowadays) we usually don’t note differences or see how those things change. People attach a style to someone, and then that person is simply that – Vince Russo is Satan, and never did anything well or came up with anything good. Or Paul Heyman is the best ever, and if TNA brought him in he’d turn them right around.

The truth is, and speaking only for myself, I’ve learned a great deal in the thirteen years I’ve been booking wrestling shows. It wasn’t until I had a couple of years in there to NOT book that I reached back and looked at the bookers I admired, looked at things I had booked with a truly critical eye, and, frankly, admitted that I had a long way to go that I really developed a workable style and a true philosophy.

I’m not going to go into depth about my personal theories and methods of booking – that can be for another time. I’m going to talk about the hard parts of the job – not because I want a pity party, or want wrestlers that currently wrestle for Platinum Championship Wrestling or may to have sympathy for me, but because there are aspects of being the booker that I find fascinating and continue to struggle with, and I imagine other bookers struggle as well.

Retracting Things You Said You Were Going to Do

I hate this. It’s part of a creative process – you have an idea, you start moving things in that direction, and then you decide to go a different way. Once I get an idea of, say, an angle, I start getting the process going, and that means often discussing things with the people involved. I’ll clear things with the wrestlers (something I know that not everyone does, but I do) and start looking at how to move things in the shows in that direction. However, often to the night of the show, things will change. I’ll decide based on crowd reaction, which wrestlers show up that night, and any other of a number of factors, that angles have to happen faster. Or slower. Or not happen at all. Or be altered significantly. And the hardest part is a conversation that starts with, “But you said…” I can feel the trust between me and the wrestler in question at jeopardy. The solution to this dilemma in wrestling has been setting up a hierarchy where bookers say something, and wrestlers are simply supposed to say okay and get it over. If that changes at the last minute, so what, that’s “the wrestler’s job.” Bookers, in essence, are set up to be pricks – not having compassion for the wrestler who now has to adjust what they were going to do, not question a decision they might not fully support, and simply, in effect, order a wrestler to do what the booker wants even though it’s the wrestler who’s integrity as a performer and actual physical well being is at stake. Many bookers are famously of the “my way or the highway” variety – most any Japanese booker of note, Vince McMahon Jr. (and senior, for that matter), and frankly, most others. It’s a system that favors being a prick as a booker, because you reduce the headaches and don’t have to take the time to justify.

It’s very easy to look at a wrestling card and say “They are rushing this angle” or “I can’t believe they changed champions again.” For bookers, there’s a delicate game going on of keeping and audience happy and leaving them wanting more. It’s easy to say that, but hard to do. You want the crowds to be big. Then you want them to stay big. Then you want them to be thrilled and talk about your show to others. You want the wrestlers to be on a high as well. Also, as a creative person (which most bookers are) you often have ideas that you want to see played out…so you can get to the next idea. Yes, it’s a prick move to do a ton of angles and having them find fruition all the time. But that’s why the booker is often a prick, because they want the results of finishing angles and making big things happen.

Being the Bearer of Bad News

I rarely worked for a booker that really was direct with what he wanted out of talent. When I didn’t work for the “tell two people slightly different things, hoping they’ll work it out between themselves and not be mad at me” booker, I worked for “You wrestle him, he goes over clean” and walk away from you guy. Both of them are pricks in their own way. But it’s hard to tell someone something that they aren’t going to like. And most wrestlers don’t like to lose. Or they don’t like feeling that their primary purpose is to enhance someone else. Oh, wrestlers are good at saying the right thing, but wrestlers are human, and if they became pro wrestlers in the first place, it’s because to an extent they have a performer’s ego. It isn’t always easy to visualize the conflict you are going to have with a wrestler when you tell them what you want, so many bookers take one of the two prick-like actions above…the appeasement method, or the “my way or the highway” method.


Most shows that I wrestled on were booked on the fly…or certainly appeared that way. “You wrestle him, you guys are first.” “Maybe cut a promo after your match, and he comes out, and someone else comes out, and you have an impromptu tag match.” Run sheets are handwritten, if there is one at all. The other extreme is things written out and planned almost minute to minute, with the booker telling you exactly what he wants out of your match, how to structure it, how to begin and end it, and everything in between. One is the prick trait of laziness or not thinking the wrestlers are worth including in the big picture, the other is the prick trait of micromanaging.

In short:

Being a prick as a booker certainly makes the gig easier in the short term. The bad part is that you never really rally the wrestlers and people putting it on the line for your vision. You miss out on the wrestlers not only contributing ideas, but feeling a true part of something bigger. There are headaches that come from trying to be straight up, inclusive and balanced about things – Roland Alexander between trips to the Golden Corral famously said in Beyond the Mat that you have to be a prick because the wrestlers’ egos are such that they’ll run all over you. And to an extent I can see where he’s coming from. Mostly because he is fat and the ground shaking from his movement quivers the water in my plastic cup sitting on the dashboard of my touring safari SUV. But in the end, the much harder road is to establish respect with the wrestlers and yourself. Wrestling breeds a whole lying culture. It’s always been that way. But if wrestling is truly going to make strides forward, there needs to be more people involved in the business who are decent human beings (I think immediately of Cary Silkin, not a booker but someone I have never heard anything but great things about) that have a heart, but also a mind to get things done in the long term best way possible. Booking means you’ll have to change your mind. But don’t be a prick – go through the trouble of explaining to the people involved why. Booking means that you’ll have to pull the trigger on advancing an angle at the proper time – just don’t be a prick and sacrifice the long term, sustained success for a short term effect. You’ll have to deliver information that may not be received favorably – but don’t be a prick and lie or intimidate to get your way, that’s disrespectful. And you will have moments when you aren’t as prepared as you could have been, or feel the need to have every detail go according to your vision – but don’t be a prick, realize that others can and should contribute, and deserve your work in preparing and leading them as well in a proper manner.

I ain’t perfect…if anything, all I’ve learned is that I have a long way to go. But I am fortunate to have a crew that works for the overall card, doing their utmost to make it the best match, card, and promotion it can be. And even as I’ve calmed down, they’ll tell you down to a man or a woman…I can be a prick.

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