Documentary peeks behind mask of MMA apparel pioneer Charles Lewis
Before documentary filmmaker Bobby Razak could produce a work that truly captured the life of his late friend Charles “Mask” Lewis, he had to come to terms with betraying him.
The documentary “Mask” is scheduled to be released Tuesday on multiple platforms, including Amazon, iTunes and Google Play. It will make its way to Netflix later this year.
Razak wrote, directed and produced the film, which chronicles the life of Lewis, the founder of apparel company TapouT. Lewis started off selling clothes from a car at mixed martial arts events and eventually turned TapouT into a multimillion-dollar enterprise.
Lewis was killed in 2009 when a drunk driver ran his Ferrari off the road in Southern California. Razak, who worked for Lewis as a video producer at TapouT, has been working on the film ever since, though he acknowledges that it’s not the piece Lewis would have wanted.
“I did not want to make an homage to Charles. I didn’t want to make something that was very clean of him,” Razak told ESPN. “I think if Charles were alive, he would be very upset with me for sharing so much personal stuff. He was a very private person.
“This is a business project to me. I wanted it to be very analytical. I wanted it to show his complexities. I had to battle with that, but once I made the decision, I went all the way. This film would have ended our friendship if he were still alive, but I wanted to present something intelligent to the public that let’s them really see the formation and roots of TapouT.”
Several of the most powerful scenes in the film, which includes interviews with UFC president Dana White, longtime referee John McCarthy and fighters Josh Barnett, Chuck Liddell and Donald Cerrone, are narrated by Lewis himself. Much of that audio came from a private recording Lewis did alone, which Razak discovered after his death.
“There’s a tape I found that was pretty eerie,” Razak said. “He was sexually abused as a child and talked about peeing the bed until he was 13 years old. I found this tape of his inner mind that I never knew about. I never knew any of that happened to him.
“It was almost like Charles gave the tape to me from the grave. I was making the film and thinking, ‘Man, I need another layer to this.’ I found this shortly after, and it really expanded the movie.”
The film’s distributor is Gravitas Ventures. Razak partnered with multiple investors but says the project was heavily self-funded.
Although nine years have passed since Lewis’ death, he remains a fixture in MMA history. The UFC inducted Lewis into its Hall of Fame in 2009, and his name appears on one of the Octagon’s inner walls.
After Lewis’ death, TapouT fell into financial ruin and was eventually purchased by ABG and pointed in a significantly different direction, toward fitness apparel.
Razak said he is already considering a follow-up to “Mask” that would dive deeper into that fallout, and would possibly involve contacting the man who ran Lewis off the road in 2009.
“[Lewis] would have been deeply upset with what happened to the company,” Razak said. “And if Charles were alive, there’s no way [the UFC’s exclusive apparel deal with Reebok] would be positioned the way it is. Charles was incredibly close to [former UFC owner] Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White. Charles would have made sure if there was one company in that role, it would have been TapouT.”