When the opportunity arose to shoot a feature about a champion bucking bull, producer Mike Johns jumped into the saddle.
He had produced “Monkey Rodeo” in 2012 -- about monkeys who ride on the backs of dogs to herd sheep for the entertainment of humans. Now he trained his rodeo sites on Bushwacker, a 1700-pound creature known as the “Muhammad Ali of bucking bulls”.
Johns gathered his crew and headed down to Oklahoma and Texas. He shot Bushwacker’s handler and owner. He shot a couple of the cowboys who try to ride him for the required eight seconds in Professional Bull Riding competition.
He and reporter/narrator Wright Thompson told the story of Bushwacker’s upbringing and emergence as a star, with tongues firmly in cheek, and a nod to the ‘Western Myth’ in American film and literature.
No story about a superstar would be complete without an interview, and Johns delivered, so to speak. At 1:53 Bushwacker rings in with his opinion of...something. We aren’t quite sure of what, but the good news is that Johns captured it for posterity.
“It wasn’t like I had to be Barbara Walters interviewing him,” said Johns. “I just stayed on the other side of the fence. If you wait long enough he will make a noise.
“It was easy because he can’t argue or give you trouble.”
Overall, the making of “Ballad of Bushwacker” went off smoothly, Johns said, except for one hitch. When he started the work Bushwacker had bucked off 42 straight rides, a record on the PBR circuit. Then in mid-August J.B. Mauney broke the streak with an eight-second ride in Tulsa. Mauney’s ride shattered Bushwacker’s aura of invincibility and caused Johns to pause.
“When he got rode the question was do we even do the story,” Johns recalled.
After deliberation, Johns decided Mauney’s ride added texture to the story.
“It gave us a third act,” he said.
Johns offered up Bushwacker’s handler, Kent Cox, to explain Mauney’s ride:
“I don’t think the bull thinks he was rode,” Cox says. “I do think he thinks JB was there longer than he wanted him to be there, but in his mind, he still won.”
The last word belonged to Bushwacker.
It was loud.
(Posted by Steve Marantz, November 14, 2103)