Courtesy of Gregg Simpson and Denise Masino
Many people spend their time trying to figure out how they can do some good for their fellow man. But few are bold enough to don a costume and take to the streets to fight crime as real-life super heroes. Gregg Simpson’s new documentary Adventures of Miss Fit tells the tale of Denise Masino, a woman who goes on a journey to discover her altruistic alter-ego and do her part to help humanity.
According to Gregg, it all started when he found Denise in a bodybuilding magazine. ‘I saw her picture and said to myself, ‘Who is that?’” Gregg recalled. “I reached out to her and asked if she wanted to make a movie. I thought she would make a good superhero. We didn’t make a superhero movie though. Instead we made a vampire movie full of female bodybuilders. Then we fell in love, got married and 10 years later we found ourselves making a superhero movie after all. But not the one we expected.”
It’s no wonder Gregg originally had his mind set on Denise playing a superhero. She had already proven to be more than an above average person. As a professional bodybuilder, Denise had taken 1st place at the New York City Night of Champions, as well as, 2nd and 3rd place at the Ms. Olympia, the pinnacle of bodybuilding competitions.
Denise had overcome humble beginnings to rise to the top of her discipline. “I grew up in a rough neighborhood in Brooklyn,” she revealed. “As a young teenager I started going to the gym and I found working out to be empowering. I envisioned myself becoming a professional bodybuilder and saw it as a way out. I dreamed of making it to the Ms. Olympia stage to compete on the same stage as the women I admired, Cory Everson, Gladys Portugues, Rachel McLish.”
One thing Denise did not picture herself becoming was a real-life superhero, one of the rare individuals in the world who dresses in costume and takes to the streets to fight crime. But curiousity brought this unique counter culture into the couple’s lives and piqued their interest in making a documentary. “When we heard there were people dressing up in costume — people like Superhero, Danger Man, Zetaman, The Blue Blaze — allegedly fighting crime and doing other forms of community activism, we had to meet these people,” noted Gregg.
Denise admitted that they started their investigation with a “healthy dose of skepticism.” As she explained, “Early on I wondered what are these people really doing? But, I came to appreciate that people were putting themselves out there in the service of others. If they wanted to do it in a costume, so what? I had to ask myself, ‘What’s the last thing you did for your community?’ When I looked at it from that perspective, it made it really hard to judge others. I came to realize there was a mission I had and that doing it as a so-called superhero might make it easier to do, to call attention to what I was doing and to help the biggest number of people.”
And with that, Denise became “Miss Fit,” who empowers people through health and fitness. “The journey I was on had me asking if I were a superhero, who would I be? I’m a lover, not a fighter, so fighting crime was not for me. But it did cause me to ask myself what my values were, what did I stand for? I have always had a passion for fitness and I have always wanted to share that passion. I realized that adopting a superhero persona could be the perfect way for me to do that. I saw how I could make a difference in some small way.”
Since there are caped do-gooders across the U.S. from New York City to Salt Lake City, Denise is not the only superhero in Adventures of Miss Fit — and each one is more interesting than the next. "They're a diverse group and if you think they are grown up men with comic book obsessions... you're only partly right," conceded Gregg. “Some are. But others are professionals with good careers. There are more and more women joining and they tend to be some of the more level-headed superheroes. Some of them are crime fighters in the manner of the Guardian Angels of NYC, but others fight for causes they are passionate about like Animal Rights (The Handler), Homelessness (Zetaman), the Ecology (Treesong) and of course Fitness & Health (Miss Fit).”
Courtesy of Gregg Simpson and Denise Masino
According to Gregg, “We met some colorful people. Like Master Legend, who taught Denise some fighting moves that, to me, seemed like things he learned from watching professional wrestling and old kung fu movies. So I don’t know if his fighting skills are real or not but a friend of ours who is a professional wrestler thought Master Legend’s technique was pretty good. He’s one of the more unique people I’ve ever met.”
Denise found inspiration in another masked crusader called Rock N. Roll, “whose dedication and energy knows no bounds. On weekends she is baking cookies for the homeless and picking used needles off the streets of San Francisco. I think they’ve picked up 7,000 needles so far.”
And while this may all sound amusing, solving crime is a dangerous business. “Denise found herself doing Suplex moves on a downtown rooftop with Master Legend or climbing the side of a building Spider-man style with Danger Man. Sometimes she found herself in risky situations,” admitted Gregg.
“I did ask myself on more than one occasion, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’” Denise confessed.
It’s not surprising that Gregg chose to capture all the excitement with hand-drawn animation and hand-held camerawork. He described his process, saying, “This was partly practical, but also to keep it raw, imperfect, hand-made. This mirrors the story of the real life superheroes, all human, all flawed in different ways. Their costumes also are all handmade from spandex, BMX armor, soccer shin guards, duct tape and spray paint. So the idea was to reflect both the creativity and the imperfections of the characters whose story we were telling with our filmmaking style.”
Gregg and Denise hope that viewers are inspired as they embark on this cinematic adventure. As Denise pointed out, “Everyone has a hero in them. You just have to make a conscious decision to let that hero out.”
In addition to taking to the streets to release her inner hero, Denise and Gregg are also donating proceeds from the film to a good cause. As Denise noted, “Everyone has been touched by cancer in some way, either experiencing it themselves or someone they love. I had the heartbreak of watching someone I love suffer from cancer and I felt helpless that I couldn’t do anything. So raising money for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital is something I could do to take action. When St Jude first started, kids diagnosed with cancer only had a 20% chance of survival. That’s been flipped around and now those kids have an 80% chance of survival. Every kid should have the chance to play and be healthy and just be a kid. We went to St Jude’s in Memphis and it was heartbreaking and inspiring. We have raised over $125,000 for St Jude and we will continue to raise money. We are giving a portion of profits made from our movie to St Jude. We are all in.”
To learn more about Miss Fit and her team’s efforts to erase childhood cancer please visit www.active-ism.com and to find out more about the film go to http://www.adventuresofmissfit.com.