Written by Shona Smith on Jul 23, 2020. Posted in Interviews / On Location

Feature film Bull filmed on location at Houston rodeos

Bull, a Texan drama from director Annie Silverstein filmed at the state’s rodeos and on location in Houston with assistance from the Houston Film Commission. Producer Monique Walton (pictured right) discusses the Texan shoot with TLG.

Bull is set in a near-abandoned subdivision west of Houston, a wayward teen runs headlong into her equally willful and unforgiving neighbor, an aging bullfighter who's seen his best days in the arena; it's a collision that will change them both.

Making its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes International Film Festival in Un Certain Regard category Bull went on to win the Grand Jury Prize, Best First Film and Critics Prize at the Deauville American Film Festival. Earlier this year, the film received the Texas Independent film Award from the Houston Film Critics Society and the film was set to have it’s Texas premier at SXSW Festival 2020 before it became one of the first cancelled US film festivals due to coronavirus.

Can you tell us a little about Bull and the locations used?

We shot BULL in the summer of 2018 in Houston. The writer/director Annie Silverstein, co-writer Johnny McAllister and I had been doing research for a number of years across Texas during the development of the script, and we knew early on that we wanted to shoot the film in Houston. We did a location scout with Alfred Cervantes of the Houston Film Commission early on. We shot a large part of the film in the Acres Homes neighborhood. We also shot at rodeos in nearby Egypt, Texas. 

BULL was written, directed, and produced by Texas filmmakers, shot in Houston in the summer of 2018, and created in collaboration with the rodeo community of Texas as well as non-profit organizations and youth groups. 

The script for Bull (co-written by Johnny McAllister, BS '96) was selected for numerous labs, including the Austin Film Society Artist Intensive, the San Francisco Film Society Screenwriting Lab, and the Sundance Institute's Screenwriting, Directors' and Creative Producing Labs.

Why was Houston chosen as the setting for the film from so early on?

Annie Silverstein and Johnny McAllister were doing research for the script and attended the Bill Pickett Rodeo while they were visiting the Bay Area. They met a bullfighter - JW Rogers - at that rodeo who happened to be from Houston, and he invited them down to a backyard rodeo in Houston later that summer. So we all went down to this backyard rodeo at Old William Johnson Arena in Egypt, TX, just outside of Houston for a research trip, and it was pretty clear from the start that we wanted to shoot there.

Soon after, we went on a location scout with Alfred Cervantes from the Houston Film Commission, looking at different neighborhoods in Houston proper, and it helped propel us to commit to Houston for this story. 

Director Annie Silverstein is local to Texas, what unique factors did this bring to the project?

Annie Silverstein, Johnny McAllister (co-writer/EP) and I are all based in Austin. We’ve been here for over a decade now. Being in Texas meant that we could do the extensive research, taking trips every weekend to different rodeos, working with non-profit organizations that serve incarcerated moms, and eventually doing an extensive casting process to build the story from the ground up.  Overall it was really crucial for our process in developing the film for us to be in the community as much as we could. 

How did the community links play out on set?

We had bullfighter consultants - JW Rogers and ‘Teaspoon’ Mitchell, who worked with our lead Rob Morgan (Abe) and our stunt coordinator Jeff Schwan during prep and production for the bullfighting scenes. When we were at a live rodeo, like Old William Johnson Arena, we worked with the founder, Joskie Jenkins, to coordinate so that we could get the shots that we needed. We also worked a lot during prep with women who had been formerly incarcerated to workshop the script, like Lauren Johnson, who works for the ACLU, and Evelyn Fulbright from the organization Girls Embracing Mothers. They provided insight into the prison scenes.

Were the rodeo scenes a challenge for the production?

The rodeo scenes required a lot of moving pieces. We were shooting with three camera crews during those scenes, at live rodeos. We were trying to get as much coverage as possible because obviously we couldn’t control the bull rides. We worked with the rodeo organizers, our stunt coordinator Jeff Schwan, and the local stock owners to establish a safety protocol. JW Rogers and Jamon Turner,  our stunt doubles for Abe, are actual bullfighters and were familiar with the bulls that were being ridden during the rodeos. And then Rob Morgan would jump into the arena, right after the bull went into the catch pen and before the next rider came out of the chute, to get the shots that we needed.

What insight can you provide on the local filming industry & infrastructure?

The local film community and infrastructure is really strong and the institutions that we’ve worked with, like the Austin Film Society, Texas Film Commission, and the Houston Film Commission are incredibly helpful and well connected. For us, SXSW [would have been] the ultimate homecoming screening for our film. They definitely champion local filmmakers as much as they can, and provide a wonderful opportunity to connect with both industry and local community during the festival.  What's great about the film culture in Austin is the spirit of inclusivity and support, and filmmakers really try to help each other on projects. It’s an intimate community, but with all of the high level crew and infrastructure that you need to put together a strong film.

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