The supplement industry is bigger than ever, and the use of dietary supplements has never been greater. We’ve witnessed rapid market expansion the past few years, yet there’s really never been a feature film honestly covering the ins and outs of the industry which we’re all so passionate about it.
Until now that is:
We recently sat down with Alex Ardenti, one of the most prolific bodybuilding photographers and directors in the industry to discuss his history in the industry, his passion for supplements, and what ultimately led to his desire to create a feature-length film about supplements.
If you’re not familiar with Alex, or his work, give his name a quick Google search and you’ll see that he’s one of the biggest and best names in the game. He’s made it his mission to deliver a truthful, unbiased portrayal of the supplement industry spanning its origins to its current state.
The feature film is aptly titled — Supps: The Movie and hits theaters summer 2018 (see the movie’s IMDB page for the current cast, which is growing to this day).
More about SUPPS: The Movie
Before we get to the interview, here are some important notes about the upcoming feature-length film:
- SUPPS: The Movie is 100% independent of the supplement industry and is financed and produced by Ardenti Films.
- It’s currently being shot in Hollywood and other parts of the US (November 2017) and hopefully Europe and Australia
- ZERO funding has been accepted from any brand for product placement, and no one from the supplement industry has helped finance the film.
- A big focus of the film will be of the marketing of supplements and the origins of supplement advertising beginning from 1901.
- Release date is slated for sometime Summer 2018.
Interview with Alex Ardenti
Here’s some highlights from our conversation with Alex:
What was it about the bodybuilding culture that drew you in and how has it impacted your own bodybuilding career?
”I’m from Rome, Italy and was 12 years old at the time I fell in love with bodybuilding, supplements, California, and the Joe Weider / Arnold Schwarzenegger relationship all at the same time when I picked up a copy of Muscle Builder magazine (now Muscle & Fitness) in 1976.
One glance at photos of Arnold running on the beach in Santa Monica with girls in bikinis and I knew exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to live for the rest of my life. I had every intention of going on to be an architect but all that flew out the window when I started working out.
At 17 I won Jr Mr Italy and at 19 Jr Mr Europe. I then won Pro Mr Italy and moved to California after completing my mandatory Italian Military service in the Police Force.”
Given the success you experienced in bodybuilding, what drove you to pursue a career photography and forego the competition life of a bodybuilder?
”Coming to California had the opposite effect I was hoping for on my career. I realized once I was here that I didn’t want to be a pro bodybuilder because most of the competitors I saw were jobless and jumping from one rich girl to the next. Nothing wrong with that really as long as everyone involved is happy but it’s certainly not sustainable.
It really dawned on me when a top pro at the time that was all over the magazines would show up at Gold’s Venice on a bicycle twice a day, not because he needed the cardio but because he honestly couldn’t afford to buy a car. ‘I just go back and forth to the gym everyday anyway’ he would say.
It became clear that ending up like him was a strong possibility if all I did was train and hang out at the beach and I went through a few years of severe depression.
I snapped out of it when I decided to get an agent and started booking a lot of national commercials that paid well and bit parts on TV shows. In 1990, I bought a camera and started to take head-shots of actors, and their agents all of a sudden started giving me tons of photography work for all their other talent.
Then, after sending a few pics of a bodybuilder to Muscle Mag International, Robert Kennedy called me and not only did he give me lots of photo assignments he actually started mentoring me and explaining how the whole industry worked. He gave me a job shooting for a new company called Muscletech that his young employee was about to start and that was my foray into the advertising world. I felt that I had found my calling around 1990 and in no time was working for 30+ magazines around the world.”
You’ve photographed and worked with some of the most popular bodybuilders of all time, any “favorites” among all those you’ve worked with or funny stories during your one on one time with the athletes. Any awkward moments you can or want to share from the sets?
”I treat everyone the same on my set whether they are multi Mr Olympia winners or nervous first-timers. I enjoy working with all athletes really, but I have to say Jay Cutler and Milos Sarcev stick out in my mind just because of their professionalism throughout the years and eagerness to be on set and get the best shots possible. Some of the newer “champs” have a lot more arrogance than the legends of the sport. Maybe because they have more Instagram followers and that seems to go to their head. They are constantly fed BS from their fans and they can’t differentiate what’s real and what’s not anymore.
I have to say that driving around Ronnie Coleman, Kevin Levrone, Nasser El Sonbaty, Milos Sarcev and others around Rome dressed in full gladiator outfits for a Muscle & Fitness shoot will be unforgettable. At one point Ronnie jumps out of the van in the middle of traffic to hop into a pharmacy with his leather skirt, helmet and sandals and Roman traffic come to a complete halt including everyone on the sidewalk. He then nonchalantly pops back into the van and we resume our trip to the Colosseum and the Appian Way for our shoot.”
You’ve done a good bit of acting, directing, and photography…which is your favorite and which one are you most passionate about?
”Acting was and still is a lot of fun. I don’t go on cattle calls anymore, but I am called in on select projects that call for a native Italian mostly. I will always shoot stills, but photography for me just evolved into filmmaking and directing commercials. It was a natural evolution for me. I stopped counting when I landed my 1,500th magazine cover. There was really nowhere else to go as a fitness-magazine photographer.
There’s no natural segue from Muscle Mag to Time magazine or Vanity Fair. Hollywood was a huge and scary challenge and that’s what attracted me to it in the first place. There are no ex-bodybuilders that are working directors in Hollywood.”
What was your driving motivation to make a feature film about the supplements industry? Passion of supplements, bad experience with a shady product, or just looking to address a major category that’s never been addressed before?
”SUPPS: The Movie is a first-person documentary about my involvement with the sports supplement industry and bodybuilding throughout the years. My passion and keen interest in supplements drove me to create the film.
I want to showcase all the positive and interesting aspects of the fitness and bodybuilding industry also at the same time. Supplements and fitness have been intertwined for well over 100 years now.”
What do you hope to accomplish with the release of the Supps movie? Bring about change? Broaden appeal of the category to people outside the lifting world? Etc.
”We owe it to ourselves to show the general public that the people who take hardcore supplements and train diligently are not a bunch of idiotic meatheads that live for the pump alone and will throw any kind of garbage in their bodies to get a little extra muscle.
The mainstream news media does an excellent job of portraying that image so we don’t need to feed that fire. We often have a tendency to shoot ourselves in the foot. SUPPS is obviously about sports supplements but bodybuilding will have a strong presence throughout the film. I have yet to see a positive feature-length documentary on our world since Pumping Iron and I am certainly not the only one to feel that way.“
Do you foresee Supps: The Movie painting a favorable light on the industry, or mores as a call to action to clean up the unscrupulous tactics that seem to be more and more commonplace these days with endless amounts of companies constantly popping up on the scene?
”It’s not a “gotcha” kind of documentary-like say Roger and Me or Supersize Me was. There is no villain to go after and expose to the world. On the other hand it won’t be a ‘sugar coated’ film by any means, but for the most part it’s showing the great success stories we have had and no one in the general public knows about.
My target audience is the mainstream public and I think they will be intrigued, educated and possibly even inspired by some of our key personalities that started literally with nothing and went on to build empires. We have guys that started selling one single private label product driving around from gym to gym to get it out there and subsequently went on to become CEOs of major companies.
That’s the American Dream right there.”
Which companies do you think are truly innovating and paving the way for the future of the supplement industry?
”I need to be impartial and completely unbiased if I am to do justice to the film and the subject matter. I don’t want SUPPS to be Alex Ardenti’s opinion on what works and what doesn’t. The audience doesn’t care about that.
As a filmmaker I will give some brief accounts on what some supplements did to me, especially as a competitor, but for the most part I let the scientists and experts talk about key ingredients we all know and use.
I go into the whole history of supplement marketing and endorsements and try to unravel the evolution of supplements from a scientific point of view as well as a marketing and advertising point of view as best as I can.”
The industry is under some pretty intense heat from the government with a batch of raids and high-profile lawsuits. What are your feelings towards regulations of supplements? Should we have more stringent regulations or a more laissez-faire approach?
”My personal opinion is that it should be illegal to manufacture any supplement outside a cGMP facility. Period.
There are so many great labs in North America and Europe that it would be very silly to not make your product in a facility that can be inspected by the FDA at any moment without notice. You should demand that kind of quality.
I have friends that own such facilities and their labs are simply amazing. They are anal about not breaking any kind of rules on the premises because they can be shut down by the authorities at any time. cGMP labs are very regulated and you can ask any of the lab owners what they have to do for each batch to meet FDA guidelines. The government shouldn’t allow some moron to package pills in his/her kitchen and put them up for sale on eBay saying that they are supplements. That should stop immediately. It’s illegal in Europe and Australia and it should be illegal here also.
SUPPS: The Movie will hopefully shed some light on some of these topics without it being a boring “legislative-heavy” documentary. I’ll try to make it as entertaining as possible. I work for the most part in the sports supplement advertising industry and it’s a relatively small niche but one that I truly love. I am friends with a lot of great people and some very intelligent and forward thinking scientists. Some of them have truly inspired me throughout my career It’s about time we show everyone what we are all about. If we don’t tell our story correctly no one else will.”
Will the proverbial “bubble” burst on the supplements industry anytime in the near future and do you think Supps: The Movie helps or hurts the growth of the industry?
”SUPPS will no doubt help the supplement industry and the current legislation doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon so I see the growth continuing at a fairly rapid pace.”
OK, we’ve gone through the heavy-hitting questions, now time for some easier, more fun questions…What’s the first supplement you ever used?
”First supplement was Weider’s Crash Weight Gain Drink Formula 7 at 12 years old. I get into that in SUPPS. I grew like a weed on that stuff.”
Who’s your favorite bodybuilder of all time?
Who’s Ready to See SUPPS?!
If you thought the supplement industry was wild, just wait until SUPPS: The Movie hits mass market theaters! The popularity, and scrutiny, or supplements and the entire industry will surely skyrocket following the release of SUPPS: The Movie.
You can check out the IMDB page to see who’s in it – at the time of writing, we have industry celebrities including the following:
- Rich Piana
- Ronnie Coleman
- Jay Cutler
- Kris Gethin
- Rich Gaspari
- …and many more!
Grab your popcorn folks, this will be fun to watch!