Professional Bull Riders Shows Take Viewers Deep Into the Action

Production crews follow the tour, giving consistency to the coverage

You’ll see plenty of western wear on the athletes and everyone else at the Professional Bull Riders shows, such as the Jack Daniel’s Music City Knockout event that took place last weekend at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and is part of PBR’s Built Ford Tough Series (BFTS). But make no mistake: this isn’t the back lot at Paramount Pictures.

Brian Douglas has directed the PBR shows since 2010.

Brian Douglas has directed the PBR shows since 2010.

“It’s a very dangerous sport,” says Brian Douglas, who has directed the show since 2010. That was underscored by the three significant injuries sustained by riders that weekend. He points out that keeping the show safe yet exciting is helped by the fact that crewmembers are a tightly knit troupe. “We travel with the same crew every week,” he says, throughout the 32-week season. “It’s one of the things that sets PBR apart from other sports.”

That kind of consistency allows the show to get viewers in deep. So does a large camera complement. Directed by Douglas from the IMS Productions suite of trucks, the main array comprises three Sony handheld HDC-1500 cameras with Fujinon 4.5X wide-angle lenses. One handheld is behind each of the two bucking chutes; the third covers the riders’ walk-offs, behind-the-scenes shots, and the locker room.

“The wide-angle lens helps us belter capture the action in what are sometimes are very tight and dangerous quarters,” notes Douglas.

Three Sony HDC-1000 cameras inside the “shark cage” serve as the main action follow cam, low-angle shot camera, and replay camera.

Three Sony HDC-1000 cameras inside the “shark cage” serve as the main action follow cam, low-angle shot camera, and replay camera.

Another HDC-1500 is attached to a jib atop what the crew refers to as “the people pen,” getting viewers deep inside the pen where the riders mount the bulls.

In the center of the ring but actually about as far as any of the action tends to reach is the “shark cage”: a pillbox with a barred side through which three Sony HDC-1000 cameras serve as the main action follow cam, low-angle shot camera, and replay camera. A fourth camera is situated mid arena and used primarily for replay and perspective. Two POV cameras are locked to wide shots of the arena and field of play and are used as background for graphic material displayed over their images.

The comprehensive coverage of the field lets Douglas toggle between two distinct production approaches. “On our standard show, we shoot the rides and event in a conventional manner, like standard sports coverage. [We’re] out front of the chutes, utilizing the shark cage as well as a camera off to the side, with those two cameras making up two of the nine total cams.”

Handheld cameras take viewers in close for a real behind-the-scenes perspective.

Handheld cameras take viewers in close for a real behind-the-scenes perspective.

However, for what he calls the “pure” broadcast, the production uses the same nine cameras. “But we take our viewers behind the scenes and shoot the rides from the chute or rider view, utilizing the handheld cameras’ perspective as the main follow cam or action cam depicts the rider leaving the chutes more from his perspective,” he explains. “We then use the conventional-perspective camera angles as the primary replay angles. We also have our talent rove around, using wireless microphones, during the event, as opposed to the industry-standard announce-booth philosophy, to once again take our viewers truly behind the scenes.”

No matter how many cameras he has, though, and where they are, pictures alone can’t convey the intensity of bull riding, what A1 Mark Harrier calls “the brutality of it.”

“It’s a different kind of sport,” says Douglas, whose father was a camera operator for CBS Sports for 30 years and was on the crew for the notorious NFL “Ice Bowl” game in 1967. “But it’s one that you can take viewers very deep into.”