Filmmaker Interview: Rebecca Hynes on hunting for the right story

There's not one single way to tell a story, sometimes they're told with twists and turns, leading you to a different place than you expected. When finding your story, take time to allow room for fortuitous moments of inspiration. Filmmaker, Rebecca Hynes found herself capturing the experience of a small town rodeo show and it took her to interesting places. 

Hynes' upcoming documentary "Rodeo Dog" is an amazing portrait of a town and its unexpected heroes. We had the pleasure of collaborating on the soundtrack and are excited to announce that the film is screening at this year's BendFilm Festival. We caught up with Rebecca about her project and she shed some light into following the story wherever it takes you.


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M: When did you start filming?

RH: I began my career in commercial film production in 2000 as a production assistant intern.  I worked two jobs on the side to support myself, and did the classic climb up the film production ladder, one rung at a time. 

M: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

RH: When I was about 15 I knew I wanted to work in media in some capacity.  I was enchanted with everything from the Olymipcs on TV to articles in Outside magazine.  I studied communications in college and my school had a really strong radio program so I worked as a program director and DJ which gave me a lot of tangible experience.  It wasn’t until I started PA’ing and gaining experience on set that I truly set my sights on this path.  I gravitated right away towards the role of Producer, and so I followed that track until I became one. 

M: What was the inspiration for Rodeo Dog?

RH: In 2011 I was at the Redmond, Oregon rodeo on a storybook summer night. They always put bullriding at the end of the rodeo because its the biggest draw.   After about the third bullrider got bucked off, the bull ran out across the arena rather than back through to the gate to the holding pens behind the chutes.  When this happens there’s men on horseback that go out and rope the bull or chase it back to the gate.  But before that could happen this little black dog came racing across the arena, circled around behind the bull, jumped through the air as if it was going to bite the bull’s tail, and sent the bull running back towards the gate into the chutes.   The whole crowd yelled, gasped, and clapped.  It looked like the dog had gotten loose and was chasing the bull, but it quickly became clear it was working in the arena just like anyone else out there.  I had been on the hunt for the right story I wanted to tell in a doc short, and I thought this little dog would make for a great 4 minute sort of film.  Two years later I met the dog’s owner when I arrived at their ranch to begin filming, and literally within minutes of being on their property and meeting the family I knew there was a larger story to tell. 

M: What's usually your favorite moment when working on a film?

RH: When there’s a moment on set when you witness people’s emotions on a deeper level, when you drop below the surface and really touch at something deeper, honest and ultimately more authentic.  Whether it happens on or off camera. One of the favorite elements of my job is the diversity of places and people I come in contact with on a monthly basis.

M: Were there any happy accidents when filming? If so, what's one that stands out?

RH: Principal filming happened at the Spray Rodeo, a town of 100 people in a valley on the John Day River with no cell phone service, no large hotels or grocery stores.   The nearest hotel with rooms was a 2 hour drive away, so I ended up renting an RV trailer for me and my crew after the film’s principal character invited us to camp with their family.  Sleeping in a one room trailer with three guys you don’t really know is quite an intimate experience that a lot of people probably wouldn’t do.  But because we were jammed right in the center of the family, we were there for so many life moments we never would’ve been able to capture.  And when we woke up on the first morning the family matriarch Delene was  inviting the boys out for camp pancakes, fried eggs and bacon…and my crew in the RV said “is this real?” because it was like something out of a movie, while we were shooting a movie. 

M: How do you feel music plays a role in filmmaking?

RH: It sounds cliche but I believe that music is the engine that carries a viewer through a film, whether its a :30 TV commercial or documentary.   Its the vehicle that can transport someone from beginning to end, and while doing so set the pace, establish the emotion and become the glue that connects all the pieces.    

In RODEO DOG I wanted the music to be a bridge between the rodeo world which is based on age old tradition and the modern world.  The matriarch in the movie rides on the same saddle she received for her birthday in 6th grade and she’s now in her 60’s.  But she does so with an iphone in her pocket, and its that melding of history and timeliness that I wanted the music to help capture.  I also wanted to break down stereotypes and insert some songs that were intentionally juxtaposed against the footage you see.  The “Blue Pyramids” song is one of the best examples, as its kind of quirky and a little bit weird and your hearing it over shots of bulls bumping heads, kicking up dirt and groaning.  It works, its just unexpected, which is great.

M: What was your process for finding a soundtrack to Rodeo Dog?

RH: I started with an initial batch of songs I had been foldering away over the course of the development and production cycle of the film.  My editor Chris Jones also picked a song.  Many of those initial songs worked, but many didn’t, so as chapters of the movie started to take shape I’d find a placeholder songs for the edit.  When I watched a segment or chapter in the rough cut come together I would know what kind of song I wanted for that section.  Then once I had a complete rough cut we reached out to the labels to inquire about licensing for the film.  Almost all the labels came back willing to grant usage, but even with favor indie rates it added up really quickly because there’s 10 songs in this 13 minute film.   So I sat with Eric and Kat at Marmoset to strategize on what was possible.   Then the Marmoset team proceeded to post folders of options for each chapter and I would usually know in the first :05-:10 of a song that it was the one.  I could just hear it right away, it would have the right tone, feeling, pace, arc, instruments, all of it.  I feel strongly you should never try and talk yourself into a song being the right one, its something you know in your gut and you have to trust that. 

M: How do you feel music can be misused in film?

RH: I think its really hard to set aside your personal taste while you select and critique music for placement. Its easier said than done to remove your filter and listen to a song with the lens you have to put on it - does it support not overshadow, does it sync with whats happening in the footage, does it elicit the right emotion?

M: What are you working on now? What's a project you're excited about coming up?

RH: I just wrapped a branded surf movie in Hawaii.  I’m blessed to call so many beautiful places my office day to day. I’m prepping a commercial project thats a live event stunt which is shaping up to be really fun. I want to work on more long form projects, both in producing and directing…thats what I’m most excited about.