WHEN IT COMES TO ADDING western flavor to Hollywood productions, the small Central Texas town of Bandera has the market cornered. The film and advertising industries often use Bandera as their backdrop for western images and recruit locals to be extras in movies or star in pick-up truck commercials. But what happens when a Los Angeles film crew dares to Hollywood-ize Bandera?
The Oxygen Television Network sent Katie Puckrik to find out. Puckrik arrived in Bandera on a spring weekend last May, 2002 with a mission—to capture the spirit of this Hill Country hamlet for its Who Needs Hollywood? television series—and a trick or two up her sleeve. "The concept of the series is to go to a small town and in three days put on a big, old-time variety show with all the local residents. The show itself follows the whole process. It's kind of a mini-documentary," said Puckrik, who is the co-creator, the co-executive producer, and the host of the series. In true reality-show fashion, Puckrik devised a challenge for the participants. "We make sure we come to town armed with a few seemingly ridiculous concepts—for, say, an opening number—that are perhaps a little provocative, just so the people who live in the community have something to react against," Puckrik said.
Puckrik arranged for a showdown between Hollywood's glitz and Bandera's rugged cowboy culture—and promptly put her money on Bandera. She recruited volunteer Banderans not only to star in the show but also to help produce it. For instance, Banderan Judy Barbour designed Puckrick's costume for the show. And a local couple, Mike and Susie Wilson, were hired as Puckrick's production assistants. Local venues, such as the junior high school and the Cabaret, a popular dancehall, were taped for auditions, rehearsals and the final taping of the variety show.
Puckrik, Shanda Sawyer (the co-executive producer and director of Who Needs Hollywood , and producer Teresa Campbell began auditions for the variety show and lassoed a range of talents from award-winning trick roper Kevin Fitzpatrick and dude ranch wrangler and entertainer "Dobro" Joe Henderson to singer Josh Peek and the Bandera High School drill team.
But the ultimate challenge came when Hollywood-based choreographer Marvin Thornton, a Fort Worth native dressed in a dancer's version of a cowboy outfit—red from head to toe; a western-style shirt with detailing and sequins, and the requisite cowboy hat—was introduced to ten cowboys wearing Wranglers, worn boots, and ten-gallon hats. Thornton, who was also Puckrik's co-host, would be their coach for a dance number involving stick horses and a robot sequence followed by synchronized hip thrusts."I was thinking, 'What would be the most ridiculous match for cowboys?' I thought, 'How about something spacey, futuristic . . .,'" Puckrik said.
Many Banderans were leery at first, according to ranch manager Kerry Hearnsberger, who danced in the show. "Some of the guys came to me and said they were really concerned, that they were portraying it as being hokey," said wife and ranch manager Brigitte Hearnsberger, who also participated in the show.
"I had to tell the guys, 'Just go with it. This is all fun.' We're doing this for the town, not for the Hollywood people," Hearnsberger said.
In fact, many Banderans saw the show as a chance to represent Bandera and boost tourism. Others were lured by the limelight; still others by sheer flattery. But most remained convinced that the TV show would miss the mark and spoof their cowboy culture.
"It's definitely a little mischievous. It's definitely lighthearted," Puckrik admitted but added, "The comedy never comes from poking fun at the people." Puckrick and her team relished moments, when various participants resisted some aspect of the show. "By setting up a little conflict, it better demonstrates what human nature's really like, and it gives the people a chance to kind of assert themselves," Puckrik said. "It gives people a chance to go, 'Well, maybe those ideas are okay, but we have our own ideas and this is how we like to keep it.' It's really the triumph of small towns and individuality over conformity and certainly conformity in the entertainment business at large."
So when the dancers modified the robot segment, protested wearing silver-painted cowboy hats and sequins, and insisted on wearing their own hats and clothes, it was not a glitch but television gold to Puckrik. And, of course, the camera was there to catch it.
"There was a lot of interaction between the cowboys on the robot dance. You know, saying, 'A real robot wouldn't actually do this type of thing. A robot would be more hip.' And then one of the cowboys said, 'Well the image I have in my head is the Wizard of Oz and the tin man.' In a funny sort of way, it had to do with that cowboy code, that expression they have here: 'cowboy up.' Just step up to the plate and do your job. So, that was an interesting example of us coming from Hollywood with glitz and trappings and them applying their cowboy lives and making something new with that," Puckrik explained.
While you may not see a realistic portrayal of ranch life, Puckrick promises a glimpse of Bandera's true character. "I think they're really trying to portray Bandera the way it should be—a bunch of fun-loving cowboys and cowgirls that just pull together and want everybody to be successful," [Kerry] Hearnsberger said.
In the end, you might say Hollywood and Bandera came to a draw. Puckrik captured Bandera's spirit on film. And, Bandera got to do what it loves best— showing off before its people and its sense of community.
Who Needs Hollywood? airs on the Oxygen Network at ten o'clock CST on Sunday, December 22.