Riding the New Range
Ten-gallon hats are just the beginning
The cowboy isn't dead – he's working the PBR, the Professional Bull Riders circuit. It's big business, a 32-date traveling extravaganza with all the pizzazz of pro-wrestling and millions of dollars – as well as lives – on the line. Yet the bull riders portrayed in documentarian Meredith Danluck's debut feature, The Ride, don't just strap on some chaps, throw on a 10-gallon hat, and feign John Wayne for the crowd. When they're not risking life and limb on the back of a half-ton of angry beef, they're a bunch of humble ranchers and small-town dreamers, tapping into something iconic about the Old West.
Austin Chronicle: How does an East Coast filmmaker, working for Spike Jonze's VBS.TV online news network, get to travel with the PBR?
Meredith Danluck: I'd gone to the Indy 500 and had such an amazing time. When I got back to New York, our creative director Eddy Moretti and [producer] Jeff Yapp said we should do more Americana stuff like this. We should go to the rodeo; we should go to the Kentucky Derby; we should just explore all these things that are mainstream but are outside of our hipster radar. Jeff had just run into some cowboys at an airport bar, and they turned out to be from the PBR. The next weekend, we flew to Nashville, went to a PBR event, and after that I convinced both Jeff and Eddy that we needed to make a feature. Basically, I just badgered the hell out of them until they said, "OK."
AC: Was it easy to get the cowboys to open up?
MD: Yes and no. We had a huge advantage because [bull breeder] Tom Teague and [PBR CEO] Randy Bernard really opened the gates for us. It's just like any scene: It's a family; all the riders and their families involved in that business, or sport – whatever you want to call it – they're protective of each other. When one person vouches for you, that provides you entrée.
AC: It doesn't seem like it would be hard getting Willy Ropp, the Amish-born rider, to appear on camera. He's a ball of energy and seems like a filmmaker's dream.
MD: I want to make a movie just about Willy. He's amazing. I met him through Tom Teague at an event in Iowa. We were just going to hang out, figure out what we were doing and who we were shooting, and as soon as I met Willy, I knew: He's our underdog. He's the guy that's got all the burning desire but not a lot of luck. Every time it seems that he's going to get a little bit of success, he gets injured or he doesn't have enough money to get to the next event. I think there's a Willy in everyone, that kind of dreamer.
AC: He's the polar opposite of Flint Rasmussen, PBR's resident entertainer. As the veteran of the circuit, he seemed the most road-weary.
MD: Just months after we filmed that segment, he had a heart attack, but he's OK. These guys are like rock stars, and they're on tour and it's physically demanding, but what Flint does is emotionally demanding. You look at all comedians – and that's basically what Flint is – they come from a different place. It's not sunshine and rainbows, and I think we just caught him at a very true moment of "I'm gonna lay it down for ya." In a weird way, he's the most relatable character, really analytical. He's not a cowboy in the same way these guys are, because they seem like icons. He had sarcasm, which is something they don't have. To them, funny is funny, what's not is not, and there's nothing in between.
Spotlight Premiere, World Premiere
Wednesday, March 17, 7pm, G-Tech