My fingers nervously tapped away on my laptop that sat four Happy Potter books high atop a kitchen chair in anxious anticipation. Any minute the Skype ringtone would start playing to conduct an interview for a magazine story I had been assigned. I surveyed my haphazard living room set-up. My two laptops were open in front of me: one for notes and reference, one for the video conference. A towel had been wedged into the doorframe to my right -- my DIY light diffuser to help cut out some of the ambient sun. Audio recorder and lav mic were there for back-up. The dogs had been left with a pile of toys and a plea for silence in a bedroom. All day-old mail had been cleared off the cabinet behind me and the lamps had been adjusted for balanced spacing. I felt as ready as I could be for this socially-distanced, Covid-influenced interview with Flint Rasmussen, the Professional Bull Riding tour's entertainer.
When discussion for the story assignment from Mountain Outlaw -- a lifestyle and culture magazine based out of Big Sky, MT -- had come up in February, Covid-19 (at least to my knowledge at the time) was still relegated to Corona beer jokes and memes on Facebook. The initial pitch was to craft a story about Flint that would focus on an element of his already well-documented lifestyle that was fresh and colorful, and then to interview him in person at the Billings, MT PBR show in May to shoot accompanying artwork for the text. It was a dream assignment! Unfortunately, Covid-19 had other plans. Social distancing measures ensued in the following weeks and the PBR Billings show was canceled like so many other events nationwide. But fortunately, via phone and Skype calls, the story could continue without further problems.
I think it's the challenge of all artists to come up with fresh ways to paint old ideas and create work that has any sense of originality (I'm intentionally avoiding the rabbit of whole of what originality even means these days... that can be a long one to head down). So when presented with the parameters of (and I paraphrase) "Write about this well documented person from a new angle," the first question that came to mind was, well how the heck am I going to do that? But as I began my research into Flint's story and the canon of articles that document his career, I found the leg-work done by other writers to in fact be a help. They in essence became "DO NOT ENTER" signs when pondering the multitude of directions in which I could take the story. Flint's transition from school teacher to rodeo clown to PBR entertainer? Nope, that's been done plenty of times. Flint's early days as a rodeo clown? Ah, nope, lots of articles on that, too. Having that requirement of a fresh angle and a plethora of work to cross reference inherently narrowed the directions I could take, which made it easier to identify the gaps in article coverage that existed.
One thing I noticed quickly is the incredible fandom that Flint has -- I mean some seriously loyal fans. Comments abound on social media that consistently label him as the reason spectators go to a PBR show, not the bull riders that are the namesake of the tour. That struck me as pretty significant. How does the entertainer steal the show from the riders? Was it intentional? Had it just happened organically? What about his performance creates such a connection with audiences? Questions began to pop up one after another in my mind the more I explored the idea. Better yet, I couldn't find a single article that provided any answers.
So with an approved pitch and a direction to head in, I started to down the path of writing the story. Many emails, phone calls, a very nerve-wracking Skype interview (because we all know technology instantly ceases to work whenever we desperately need it to) and drafts later, I'm really excited to be able to share this final version that was published in Mountain Outlaw's Summer 2020 edition.
Click here to read the story!