Interview: Conor McGregor: Notorious filmmakers Gavin Fitzgerald and Jamie D'Alton
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Emerging as a UFC champion at both featherweight and lightweight, as well as breaking pay-per-view records left right and centre in both MMA and boxing, the last five years have certainly been very kind of Conor McGregor.
It is this success which has served as the inspiration for the film Conor McGregor: Notorious, directed by Gavin Fitzgerald and produced by Jamie D'Alton.
The pair had intimate access to McGregor's inner circle during this time. In this interview, we talk to them about the film, and the man behind it all...
In combat sports, personality is almost as important as ability. This has really helped McGregor rise from obscurity to stardom, bringing his sport into the mainstream at home and abroad. Director Gavin explains, 'There's a moment I always go back to, which was the week after his UFC debut in 2013, when he was brought onto the Late Late Show, Ireland's biggest talk show. Nobody had really heard of him, but he rocked up in an amazing suit, just at his witty best, and had everyone rolling in the aisles. He had this unbelievable determination and belief, which was so un-Irish at the time. Ever since then, love him or hate him, we've all known the Conor McGregor story’.
Producer Jamie adds that ‘Before that, there wasn't really much of an MMA community in Ireland. Back then we were the first cameras up there in his gym. There was nobody else looking into it; it wasn't respected, it was seen as barbaric, but everything started to change when Conor started to get bigger. It all happened so quickly because Conor just has such amazing star power. He didn't just change the sport in Ireland, he changed MMA worldwide, forever’.
What is most surprising in the film was the aftermath of his victory over Chad Mendes. McGregor was reduced to tears backstage by the sheer enormity of the event and how he got there, having to deal with injuries and a change of opponent (McGregor was originally supposed to fight Jose Aldo on that date). Is the image we see of McGregor in public a true reflection of the man's character?
Jamie notes, ‘That moment, it was great to watch, it was almost overwhelming for him. There are other moments in the film that are like that, sometimes he just has to pinch himself, he's just one guy from Crumlin in Dublin with the eyes of the world on him, it's crazy. The bit I always like is when he shuts the door after Arnold Schwarzenegger visited. Despite all the fame, he's just thinking 'is this really happening?'’.
Gavin agrees, explaining that ‘Conor is the king at shifting pay-per-views, and you don't shift pay-per-views by being a shrinking violet. He is naturally confident, and he is brash, but he isn't like that all the time. He's a bright guy, he knows where he's at; he's an incredible fighter, but he's also a marketing machine as well’.
Although there is no doubting McGregor's success, with him being at the peak of his powers at 29, it has to be asked why was the film made now and not in a few years' time when the story of McGregor's career can be told in its entirety?
‘Well, how do you tell a story like his, when does the story with Conor end?' Jamie explains. 'Conor is going to keep on, there are going to be many more fights, but we always wanted to make a film that was not told retrospectively. We've seen many of the smash hit sports docs, they have the big moments, the interviews, talking about what went down, and that's one approach, it's just we wanted to make it a much more immersive experience for the audience’.
The film focuses mainly on the Mendes, Aldo and the two Nate Diaz fights. These fights were huge in their own right, although it may seem strange that the historic Eddie Alvarez and Floyd Mayweather fights were only scanned over briefly in the film. However, there was method to this decision
‘The Aldo fight, he didn't just beat him, he destroyed the best guy in the world at the time in 13 seconds, it was just a crazy moment in sporting history. People couldn't get enough of Conor after that’ Jamies says. ‘We always talk about round 3 in the Diaz 2 fight as being the seminal moment in Conor's career. Diaz was landing major shots, Conor was being rocked; if he had lost that fight, he wouldn't have fought Mayweather, and he might not have fought Alvarez.
'Looking at themes in the film, you have this rags to riches story, but you also have the redemption. Maybe, and we point to this in the film, he thought that Diaz 1 would be a fight that he could win comfortably. When he was rocked, put on the back foot and beaten, he had to make up for it in the rematch’.
Naturally, there will be questions asked whether there is a sequel in the pipeline telling McGregor’s story post-Diaz. However, the pair currently have no plans for a follow-up film:
‘It's been a long road and a long project to get here, I think this is it for a while. This is the one people need to watch, and this is the one where people will learn the most about him. Of course, Conor's always going to stay relevant, there are going to be all sorts of things made out about him, but this is the chance to for people to see the real Conor McGregor and enjoy the ride’.
Gavin adds ‘We made the decision to end the film after Diaz 2; of course, Conor's going to have more fights, but it's whether they will be as compelling from the point of view of a rags-to-riches story that's the question. We wanted this film to stand up so that if you go back to it in 10 years time, even if you aren't into Conor McGregor, you can still enjoy this film and be compelled by it’.
Conor McGregor: Notorious is out now and is available on DVD and Digital Download from 20th November.
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