In early October, WWE partnered with Netflix to present an unprecedented interactive special entitled Escape The Undertaker, which saw The New Day's Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods journey into the haunted home of The Undertaker in pursuit of his iconic urn. It was met with universal acclaim from wrestling fans and left everyone who watched its many creative twists and turns wanting more.
Escape The Undertaker director Ben Simms, who has also worked on several other Netflix projects including You vs. Wild, told WrestleRant.com in an exclusive interview that it was originally presented to him as an "escape room" idea and that Netflix was fully on board with it.
“We came up with a bunch of different ideas," he said. "New Day from the start were paired with The Undertaker. They're obviously incredible personalities and huge Superstars, so that was a no-brainer and what drew me to the project, seeing the contrast and dynamic between Undertaker and New Day. I saw opportunity of so many fun and different directions we could go in.”
Simms noted that after developing the story for the special, it was shot entirely in Atlanta and that he was heavily involved from start to finish during the the filming process. “We shot the whole thing in under a week," he said. "It was great. We squeezed every ounce of time we could to put on the screen. We moved extremely fast. Incredible production team. DP and the production designer did an incredible job with pre-setting and pre-lighting almost every scene so we could move in real time from scene to scene and shoot it almost as if it was live.”
As an interactive film, Escape The Undertaker features a number of options and outcomes for fans to choose from and revisit as many times as they want. (Minor spoiler warning ahead!) One of the funniest paths viewers can select is at the very beginning where New Day can either move forward into Undertaker's house or decide to stay put, and if you choose the latter, the credits immediately roll (with Undertaker's name being listed next to everything) and you'll be directed back to the main menu. Interestingly, Simms says he wasn't a fan of including that at first but realizes it ended up being one of the most memorable parts of the entire movie.
“I want to say it was pitched by... it was Netflix's idea, all those types of ideas," he explained. "They're great partners on projects I've worked with them on and it's sort of everyone's idea in a way. It was tricky. Full disclosure: I wasn't a fan of that initial concept at first because we had such great footage of him doing other things. And it paid off, it was a great idea by them. You want to take those risks and hope they pay off and that one did.”
Simms thoroughly enjoyed his experience working with Undertaker and New Day. He told WWE when he first met with them that he wanted to do something they had never done before while also staying true to the brand and their characters. Although there were a few things they weren't completely interested in doing, they always settled on a better solution. He looks forward to hopefully working with them all again eventually.
“I can't say enough nice things about The Undertaker and The New Day and even WWE Studios," he said. "They know their characters better than anyone else and I really wanted to be respectful of that. At the same time, I wanted to tell a new side of the story or add to the lore. I was very happy with the way we were all able to work together because I think we're all moving in the same direction as far as seeing it as an opportunity to do something new and really elevate the brand.”
Even more impressive is that Simms entered the project with minimal knowledge of WWE's product and its characters, but upon doing research and getting to know who and what Undertaker and New Day were all about, it didn't take him long to become familiar with their history.
“With The Undertaker, the approach was a little bit more... We want to fill in some backstory that's mysterious because that was one thing that was surprising with him," he said. "That ended up being the backbone of this story: What does this urn really do for him? We tried to think of a similar approach for The New Day who are a bit more in-your-face and it felt like their motivations and character-drives should be simple. It was very fun and very easy to get to know them.”
As for a potential sequel to Escape The Undertaker, Simms believes it's a possibility if there is enough online support for it, regardless of whether it's a continuation of the first one, a different holiday, or something else entirely. It's just a matter of letting Netflix know there is a demand for it, and once they're aware, they will set the wheels in motion almost immediately.
“Nothing official yet, at least nothing I can speak to," he revealed. "It all depends on if people ask for it. I've been asked something similar before and I've said let the internet know. Let them know and things can happen overnight like that. I personally would love to do another iteration of it, whether it's the Christmas version or other characters in that same world or expand that universe. I think there's a plethora of opportunities to expand on in many ways, even if it's not interactive.”
Escape The Undertaker is available now on Netflix.