By Elizabeth Gracen:
Not long ago, sequestered away in our homes, terrorized by a virus that turned the world upside down, fearful about an uncertain future and what to do with ourselves, we hunkered down. We waited, unsure of how long it would be before we could stick our heads above ground again. Even as that fairly traumatic collective memory fades and our lives pick up pace in an ever-fraught world, there are remnants and evidence of what we made of our time during lockdown. For many creative people, there emerged unforeseen projects born out of frustration, boredom, and the ever-present, incessant need to create.
Such is the case with John Myers, an award-winning visual collaborator, producer, and visual effects supervisor for bi-coastal visual effects studio Ring of Fire for 23 years and now the owner of Mirage Effect. He's also the director/producer of the new streaming docuseries The Dual.
The Dual is a multi-episode documentary featuring a classic college wrestling dual meet that originally aired live on Iowa Public Television in 1986.
This docuseries showcases the 8-time consecutive NCAA Champion Iowa Hawkeyes, coached by the iconic Dan Gable. On February 23, 1986, the Hawks took on in-state rival Iowa State Cyclones, coached by 26-year-old Jim Gibbons in his first season of coaching the Cyclones.
All ten matches that fateful day were highly contested. Now, 35 years later, we take a look back at the legacy of this event, through interviews with the athletes, coaches and the media.
Myers started wrestling at Eagle Grove grade school in small town Iowa. He then wrestled in college as a Nebraska Cornhusker in the late 80s. His memory of those early days sounds a lot like a classic Hollywood sports movie. “In my little town, we started wrestling in second grade. It was all truck drivers, farmers, school teachers, people who worked on the railroad. And one of the best things in the town was the high school wrestling program that had a rich tradition—and it was a town with only 2,300 people. It was like All the Right Moves, but for wrestling.”
During the lockdown, Myers sharpened his film-editing skills from his home studio, searching for a creative outlet, scrolling the Internet for inspiration. As the search browser found its algorithmic footing, an unexpected treasure appeared from the Iowa State University Library Archives site.
“It was 2 or 3 in the morning. I found a wrestling meet between the #1 and #2 wrestling teams in 1986—Iowa vs. Iowa State. It was a dual meet in three parts, and I was just mesmerized,” said Myers.
What is a Dual Meet?
"A dual meet in wrestling is a competition between two wrestling teams, where each team sends out one wrestler in each weight class to compete against wrestlers from the opposing team. It is one of the most common formats of wrestling competitions and is widely popular in high school and college wrestling."
“There’s ten matches in a dual meet—and all of these ten matches were highly dramatic and very competitive. It was all these people I knew from back in the good old days—a bunch of kids from Iowa,” said Myers.
The Iowa State coach was Jim Gibbons, NCAA Champ Wrestler and Coach / ESPN College Wrestling Analyst/ B1G Net Wr OG (@JGibLacesUp). In 1986, Gibbons was a twenty-six-year-old, first-season coach. Over the years, Myers and Gibbons became friends, often talking about a collaboration based on Gibbons' career in sports, but when Myers called him to ask about the 1986 dual meet, Gibbons hesitated.
“The dual meet was a moment—like lightning in a bottle,” said Myers. “There were twenty-nine NCAA championship finals appearances by these guys. It was a lot of accolades, but Jim didn’t want to think about it thirty-five years later. It was kind of a bad memory for him, because after this dual where his team did well, they fell very short of their goals two weeks later at the NCAA Tournament in Iowa City.”
When Gibbons declined the invitation to collaborate on the project, Myers reluctantly went back to his studio in search of new inspiration. But, two days later, he received a phone call.
“Okay, we’re doing it,” said Gibbons.
Circumstances quickly aligned and past connections resurfaced with a champion for the project in Iowa public television, which provided access to the archival footage stored in a box in a vault in Johnston, Iowa. “The broadcast master was thirty-five years old, 3/4-inch tape—the most analog thing you’ve ever seen. It had ghosting (in different colors) off the back of the athletes as they were moving—like a Pink Floyd music video,” said Myers.
Myers played around with the low-res footage and decided to interview a couple of the coaches and athletes, thinking he might have enough to fashion a 90-minute documentary. When Iowa public television agreed to provide post-production, Gibbons starting making calls, and before they knew it, they had thirty-six interviews in nine states.
“It was the beginning of COVID. All the airports were empty. We were walking through JFK, and I maybe saw two people. We had our pick of rental cars. It was surreal.”
Myers employed the basics of guerrilla filmmaking, with Gibbons shooting B-roll with an iPhone. The camera and vintage-lens footage matched nicely with the archival tape, and Myers brought on talented colorist Steven P. Arkle (“Sparkle” to those in the know) to wrangle the iPhone 4K footage to match. In the end, Myers had six thousand minutes of interviews and two-and-a-half hours of the dual meet, which he transformed into a series of six one-hour episodes.
Dan Gable - IOWA HAWKEYES HEAD COACH & Jim Gibbons - ISU CYCLONES HEAD COACH
“The story is told chronologically as the event happened, and there's no narrator. The guys are telling the story. I pretty much asked all of them the same 10 questions as they watched the match.” Wrestlers and coaches, once arch rivals, let memory’s pull take them back thirty-five years to the high drama of sports competition and the consequences that followed in the dual meet’s wake. Myers found the original color commentator, Chuck Patten, to recap every match and the meet’s results for the film, recreating that unique feeling that only college sports can elicit.
The project faced its own share of drama along the way as Myers pressed ever onward to bring it to fruition, convinced that if the series was good, it would find a distributor and, ultimately, an avid audience. “I mean, you make these projects. My expectations weren’t very high. I just wanted to do it because it was a COVID project, and I hadn’t done anything [of] this magnitude. I didn’t know! I honestly though it was going to a 90-minute documentary."
Myers credits his post-production teams at Yessian Music & Sound and Mad Colour for bringing The Dual across the finish line. "For audio, Scotty Gatteño was the mixer, and Michael Yessian was head of production. They did work on this that I didn't think was possible from an audio standpoint. I cannot sing their praises enough. And the same with Sparkle. They just saved it. They turned it into this kind of gritty, eighties thing—and it was never meant to be this super-polished, but they turned it into something really beautiful. It looks great, sounds great."
The Dual on the road.
The Dual recently hit the road for a series of sold-out pubic screenings around Iowa that will run until the end of the year. Wrestling fans can't get enough. "We're not selling tickets, we're just having these events. The venues fill to capacity in a day with ticket registration. It has been an unreal response for us!"
A must-see for sports enthusiasts and documentary lovers, The Dual is scheduled for streaming platforms in early December 2023. All proceeds from the film will go to The Dual Foundation, a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization that supports organizations, communities, and individuals who are advancing, promoting, and coaching in the sport of amateur wrestling.
To read more about The Dual or find a screening, visit their website and follow: