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Bull Riding Meets Modern Art
Sparks did more research for The Longest Ride than he had for any of his other novels. " My explorations covered many areas I didn't know anything about," he explains. " I needed to find out what the art world was like in the ' 30s and ' 40s; what life was like for Jewish people in North Carolina in the 1930s; and the many facets of the Professional Bull Rider' s tour and its riders."

A key source for this research was Professional Bull Riders (PBR), the world' s premiere bull- riding organization, which the filmmakers brought on board as technical advisors. PBR produced the movie' s bull riding events. The PBR segments were filmed in Jacksonville, North Carolina and Winston Salem, North Carolina.

Current and active PBR Built Ford Tough Series riders served as stunt doubles for Scott Eastwood, with a few of them, such as 2009 PBR World Champion Kody Lostroh, and Billy Robinson appearing as themselves.

" Nicholas Sparks captured the essence of a PBR bull rider with his character Luke Collins," says PBR chief operating officer Sean Gleason. " We enjoyed working with Scott Eastwood to bring the character of Luke to life on the big screen as a PBR cowboy in and amongst the real- world stars of the sport."

Bowen actually had some experience with bull riding. He was born in a small Central Texas town called Wortham (population: 1000), which, he says, didn't even have a stoplight. " But once a week, for six weeks every summer, there was a rodeo with bull riders. I learned then that there' s a section of the United States that thinks of bull riding like others think of basketball. It' s part of our cultural institution.

" There is something primal about watching a man on the back of a two thousand pound beast," Bowen continues. " I think conquering that fear must be an incredibly liberating thing to do. With the character of Luke, bull riding is about conquering that fear. But it' s hard to confront it when you know that it could kill you.

" You know," Bowen adds, " bull riding is like running into the fire, instead of away from it, and it takes a special breed of person to think in those terms. It' s mesmerizing to watch, and it' s an incredible culture."

Director George Tillman, Jr. says his first encounter with PBR was an eye- opening one. " During pre- production we traveled to Las Vegas, where we saw the PBR finals," he recounts. " Being in a real bull riding environment, seeing the power of the bull, how much life and death this can really be - and at the same time, seeing the energy, the love of bull riding."

Going into production, Tillman discovered he had a few misconceptions about bull riding. " The riders have to hang on for eight seconds to win," he explains. " On television, that seems very slow and normal, but when you are actually at the ring, those eight seconds go by very quickly.

" It' s the toughest sport on dirt."

While the actors and stunt crew/bull riders were always professional, Tillman found his four- legged performer to be a handful. " We had a top bull named Rango," says Tillman. " The first day of shooting, we had five cameras set up. Rango goes into the chute and is very quiet. He was renowned for his toughness."

Rango was more than ready for his close- up. That first ride was unbelievable: Rango came out of that gate, jumped about five feet in the air, and our rider held on for the eight seconds," Tillman continues. " In fact, he may have gone on nine or ten seconds and then he flipped up in the air. It was all that we needed and on top of that, the rider landed on his feet."

Sadly, on September 15, 2014 Rango died of heart complications while receiving treatment for an intestinal ailment.

Rango' s rider was Brant Atwood, a PBR cowboy who doubled for Eastwood. " Brant really has the swagger we needed for Luke," explains Tillman, " and he' s one of the top bull riders in the country. When you work with the real bulls and the bull riding PBR, you' re working with some of the best riders around."

" The great thing about the PBR," says Bob Teitel, " is that its members are probably the last American cowboys. We captured PBR like no other film has. They get bucked off a bull and they' re lying there. The doctor comes out to check them out and they refuse help. It' s just wild!

" I don' t think people realize how dangerous the sport is," adds Eastwood. " Bull riders are probably the toughest guys in the world. Even our stunt guys were in awe of them. I' m fascinated by the sport and have tremendous respect for the riders."

Eastwood traveled to a ranch to train. The facility' s owner, Troy Brown, raises bucking bulls and is a stunt coordinator. " Scott was a joy to work with," says Brown. " He put in the time and effort and he really cared that his bull riding looked right. He was always asking the bull riders for advice. We had the best bull riders in the world - the who' s who of the PBR - in this movie and Scott worked with them to make it look as real as possible.

" Scott had no bull riding experience coming into this," Brown continues. " He rides horses but that' s a whole different ball game than bulls. But he' s a great athlete - he surfs - so he picked it up quickly. And Scott looks like a bull rider. He' s muscular but not too big. He' s very fit."

From the art of bull riding to the art of…art, Nicholas Sparks' research took him to unexpected places. " One of the story' s principal locales ended up being one of the greatest moments of kismet in my entire career," he continues. " I remember sitting at the desk thinking, how on earth is this couple [young Ira and Ruth] from North Carolina going to become big art collectors?

" My research led me to Black Mountain College, which was the center of the modern art movement in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s."

Black Mountain College was founded in the 1930s as an experimental college. It came to define the modern art movement. " Everyone from de Kooning to Rauschenberg was there," says Sparks. " Robert De Niro' s father, another noted artist, attended Black Mountain College. There were very famous artists there and if you look at the American modern art movement in the 1940s and 1950s, there were important intersections there with the great works of this century."

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