“I knew that in order to do this movie right I was going to have to ride a bull myself,” recounts Jeff Fraley, who along with partner Harry Lynch constitutes the two-man team of Trinity Films, an alliance that even in its infancy has proven a passion for seeking out Texas experience. The Austin-based duo’s first effort, Chasing the Dream: a Bull Riding Adventure, documents with humor and reverence the rough ride that has become the fastest growing sport in America. Appropriately enough, this title might also represent an endeavor of fledgling filmmakers to take their subject by the horns and hold on for dear life, artfully capturing the dangerous world of this rodeo event without bucking its yee-haw spirit. As we’re sure Jeff would tell us, at least in the case of a 2000-pound bull, it’s a good thing to chase your dream before it chases you.
Made on a bantam budget of $30,000, Chasing the Dream follows the world’s best bull riders from a small amateur competition in Junction, Texas to the Professional Bull Riders ( PBR) championship finals in Las Vegas. Along the way we’re given an intimate look at the quintessential cowboy sport—its formidable personalities, the danger involved, the numerous injuries suffered by the riders, and a sense of the thrill that gets these guys back in the chutes again and again. As Mark Cain so eloquently puts it, “this is not a sissy boy sport.” And although Chasing the Dream introduces us to Mark and other bull riding stars of the day, it also makes us privy to the aspirations of amateur riders—one such cowboy surprised the filmmakers as much as himself by winning the championship event that serves as the film’s climax. The spirit and stick-to-it-iveness exhibited by riders of all levels emerges as a cultural metaphor in line with the taming of the west. For sure bull riding’s wild allure isn’t lost on narrator Fraley who attends bull school and tries his own hand at the rope—a humbling sequence that draws even the most neophyte rodeo audience into the film.
In a medium that most often requires a judgment be made in order to tell a story effectively—and the world of bull riding can’t help but be rich with countrified stereotypes—Lynch and Fraley take care not to alienate their subjects or their audience. The combination of a structured narrative and the illusion of easy access created by Lynch’s close and unselfconscious camera fosters respect for these athletes and their sport. As proof of the achievement of this delicate balance in documentary filmmaking, Chasing the Dream recently won a Best Documentary Short award at the Great Plains Film Festival in Nebraska, and a CINE Eagle award. Even for those who don’t consider themselves rodeo fans, Chasing the Dream is bound to turn ignorance into eye-opening regard for this most Texan of sports.
Harry and Jeff stopped by the WWW Ranch to tell us about their inspiration for the project, how they conquered their lack of movie-making experience, the riders they grew to admire, and bull riding’s role in Texas culture.
Ranch: How did you choose bull riding as your subject matter?
JF: I’d been thinking about the bull riding idea for awhile. Actually, I wanted to come out of college and go on the rodeo circuit and write for the Dallas Morning News or something.
JF: I don’t know… because I really just wanted to ride a bull.
Ranch: You’re from Texas. Did you grow up around the rodeo?
JF: Not really. I’m from Fort Worth where it’s part of the culture, but it’s more like you break out the boots for the two weeks the rodeo’s in town and then you never wear them again. But during those two weeks everyone is really into it. I was fascinated with this old abandoned announcers booth in Will Rogers Coliseum. My friends and I found a little hole in it so we could watch from about five feet behind the chutes. It was really impressive. And the bull riders were totally different from the other rodeo competitors. That’s one reason we chose it. Another is that we wanted a uniquely Texas subject, as far as economic and regional interest goes.
Ranch: When did you realize you wanted to make a documentary, and when did you decide to do it together?
HL: I’d been in advertising and had been trying to get into the film business since 1992. Jeff and I met through friends and started talking about a screenplay I’d been working on, then we came up with the idea to do a documentary.
JF: It was inertia. That next day I was going to get a final offer for a job I really didn’t want to do, and that meeting just helped me make up my mind to put my energy into this project.
Ranch: One of the best things about the film is that it’s not self-conscious. You almost forget that there’s someone behind the camera sliding into the t ight spots, especially the shots of the riders getting into the chutes. How did you gain access into this community?
HL: We almost always shot as a two-man crew and we tried to get really close to the guys. Jeff’s interview style is loose and personal, and if we turne d the tally lights off on the camera sometimes they didn’t even know it was on. As far as getting in there close, some of my photography background helped me compose, but after a while if I wanted the shot I just went in and got it. I remember we were at the PBR finals and all the cowboys were going back behind stage—remember the shot where Tuff walks out and sparks come down on his head? Well, all the cowboys were back there and these other photographers were heading that way so I just thought, shit, I’m going in there too. You stop thinking as a person somebody may not want in the way