Back in 2006 I had the opportunity to be part of a new reality show called Bullrun, which was based on the cross-country rally of the same name. The reality show pitted 12 teams in a 4000-mile adventure where they competed in multiple automotive challenges while driving their own automobiles. The show just recently finished up its third season on Speed TV and over the last 4 years has gained quite a fan base and following. Where the actual rally is a true high-end luxury vacation, the TV show is nothing but down and dirty competition that pushes contestants and automobiles to their limits. I recently had a chance to throw some questions at Bullrun founder and creator Andrew Duncan to pick his brain about not only the Bullrun Rally but the television show as well.
Q 1. The Bullrun Rally began back in 2004 over in Europe so I’m curious as to why, since you’re originally from the UK, did you decide to bring the rally to the United States as opposed to keeping it abroad?
A. To us the USA is the home of the road trip! The culture surrounding the road is iconic, Route 66 etc..On a business level you can plan a 3,500 mile trip in the USA and have one North American business head to deal with when it comes to obtaining sponsorship.
Q 2. The rally is marketed as the “World’s Most Glamorous Rally” and takes participants to some of the greatest hotels and through some of the best scenery in the country. How long on average does it take to plan a rally, scout the route and set up all the hotels and events from start to finish and how many people are generally involved in the process?
A. We’ve normally decided the next route about 12-18 months prior to the rally. Organization is then about 6 months and in total we have a crew and film crew of around 20 people working on the rally.
Q 3. Over the years the Bullrun Rally has amassed quite a cast of characters. Rally veterans like Richard Rawlings, the boys from Team Wu, Team Safety Car, Claus and Team Canada have some dedicated fans that look forward to following them year after year. What does it take in your opinion to stand out amongst the veterans if you’re participating as a newbie?
A. All these old vets are genuine characters, whatever you see on Bullrun is what they’re like 365 days of the year! So to take them on you have to big as just as big a personality in real life, have a devious mind…be prepared for and to do anything…and have a lot of stamina!
Q 4. You’ve said yourself that you’re not really a car guy. What then possessed you to start a rally based around some of the nicest, most expensive cars in existence?
A. I got into this stuff our of sheer boredom (I used to be an investment banker) and just wanted to do something different that was fun. I’m into cars but not to the level of serious car guys…I won’t sit around discussing the merits of a 440 block or the R8 versus the 911 but the event is more than that it’s a lifestyle experience (with cars at the heart of it) and I’m seriously into that!!!
Q 5. The Bullrun Rally has not only attracted its share of characters, but over the years you’ve had some pretty well known celebrities as well. Dennis Rodman, Hayden Christensen, Mario Andretti, and Kim Kardashian to name a few have all been seen frolicking with participants. 2010 seems to be no different with Ice-T and Coco, Chase Crawford, Ed Westwick and of course Bullrun Reality TV show host Bill Goldberg participating. How do you generally get these celebrities to participate and is there some sort of science to it?
A. I wish it was a simple science but it’s more of a black art…we’ve focused on making sure the event is essentially ‘underground’ but with a good reputation. We’ve never advertised properly for that reason and tried to keep it a fairly high end event with cool people. As a result, most of the celebrities that have come along have found out about us. i.e. they’ve heard through friends of friends about it and that it was a great time.
Q 6. Obviously there are a lot of people who wish to participate in the rally so with that being said, is there a screening process or can anyone with money simply enter?
A. We’ve got to like you! Most people (90%) are referral, friends of friends which makes the process easier and we look to take on about 20% ‘newbies’ every year.
Q 7. This year’s rally is running from New York City to Las Vegas, Nevada. What do you look for in a route and what sort of events do you generally have planned along the way to keep it interesting for the participants?
A. First off it’s got to be fun, otherwise what’s the point? We pick routes that we find interesting ourselves and as we’ve been driving routes across the USA for almost ten years that’s not easy! Every route has a flow to it, a painful part, an easy part, scenic part and the trick is to bring all of these parts together to match the physical and emotional state the drivers are going to be in. We pick out the right track events, parties, relaxing times along the route bearing all of this in mind. We never want people to judge the rally on day 2 or 4 etc…we want them to judge it on the basis of all 7 days and then feel like they had an amazing experience…that’s the plan anyway!
Q 8. Marketed as a rally, not a race the Bullrun Rally has a great history of safety and participant cooperation in regards to traffic rules and regulations. At the end of the day how do you keep participants from getting out of line?
A. Most of our drivers are repeat clients and we all have a collective responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone, If anyone steps out of line, they’re spoken to and if necessary thrown off the event that said with 100 cars driving 3,000 miles it only takes a small lapse of concentration or a blow out at 55 mph to cause a problem for someone.
Q 9. In 2006 you launched the first season of the Bullrun Reality show on Spike TV which I was lucky enough to be a part of. Did you launch the TV show as a direct result of the rallies success or was the TV show part of your business model from the get go?
A. It was always a plan from the outset that we wanted to create the live event rally and then base a formatted game show / reality show on the same premise.
Q 10. I remember filming 18-hour days with a crew of about 200 people and at times it was unbelievably chaotic. Has the chaos slowed down a bit now that you have moved to Speed TV and is there more of a formula for the show now that you’ve wrapped 3 seasons?
A. The season you were on, Season 1 was a bloody nightmare in terms of the way the show was put together and filmed. We took over actual production of the show ourselves from season 2 onwards, changed the format of the show, became the show-runners ourselves and changed a lot of production elements so the show became an easier show to shoot (though it’s still tough) and produce though we think the show is also a better product now on the screens. Moving the challenges to the end of an episode was a critical decision in making the process smoother.
Q 11. Obviously the casting of the show is integral to its success as the people and their cars are the main focal point. Now heading into season 4 you must have a pretty good idea of what to look for. So with that said what are the most important things an applicant can bring to the table to get notice by the producers?
A. Always, always, always personality of the drivers. This is a car show BUT 75% of the action is taking place inside the car so the teams HAVE to be interesting for people to watch. We think of the car as the 3rd member of the team, the show is basically about how the people and then the car react under pressure. We have turned away a bunch of teams who had amazing cars but didn’t have anything in terms of screen presence.
Q 12. Host Bill Goldberg, an obvious car nut has been the host now for all three seasons. How much input if any does he really have in the say of who gets on the show and who gets the boot during casting?
A. Lol, none, it’s all down to me and David!
Q 13. I know when we did Season 1 we literally had no idea what to expect and that when we first came in contact with the challenges they freaked all of us out. Now that the show has been on for a while do you think contestants are still gung-ho and willing to possibly damage their rides for the win or do you think these challenges help separate the men from the boys?
A. Good question, it’s interesting actually as we still have a minority people who come to the show say they’re prepared to do anything, sign up that extent and then whine about their cars getting damaged. Thankfully we’ve weeded these guys out to a minimum and we have enough guys who REALLY don’t care about their cars to make up for it.
Q 14. Matt Kutcher, the stunt coordinator is responsible for setting up the challenges we see on TV. Does he think these challenges up by himself or is it a joint effort by you the creator and the stunt coordinator?
A. Actually we devise 90% of all the challenges at our production office and Matt is amazing at executing these for us…he decides when and where to blow up what! We’ve been working with him for 3 seasons now and he always has great ideas to add to what we’re thinking. Sometimes we turn up at a location, scrap our original idea and start again from scratch and that’s when Matt really works well with us.
Q 15. So far the TV show has only taken place on American soil. Would you ever consider doing a European version or would that simply be too expensive to produce?
A. Absolutely, we want to do Europe asap but with American teams.
Q 16. With the shows fan base growing every year I am sure that people and perspective entrants are looking forward to a 4th season. Has SpeedTV signed on yet with Bullrun or will you guys be shopping around for another network?
A. We’re talking to Speed right now, I’d say it’s 50/50 with those guys and if it doesn’t work out we’ll shop it around. The show has a following so I think people will find it and tune in wherever it is.
Q 17. There have been posts on the Bullrun message boards about possibly putting together an all-star show. Is this something that is actually being considered or just a simple rumor?
Q 18. With the 2010 season of the reality show in the bag and the actual rally starting in just a few weeks, what do you see in Bullrun’s future for 2011 and beyond?
A. We want to build out the live rally into a bigger event and we have a couple of ideas of other events we’d like to run alongside under the Bullrun banner. We’ve moved the company into more straight forward automotive tv production now (we’re producing the new West Coast Customs show for HD Theater right now) and we’d love to go into a 4th season of the tv show (fingers crossed!) and we also have another tv show we’d like to put into production also very soon.
Q 19. Finally do you have any parting thoughts for those thinking about doing the rally or applying for the TV show?
A. Two words, do it!