With a 35-lb. head, it’s no wonder our dear Bucky Badger acts a little cocky from time to time. The independent film “Being Bucky” gives an in-depth look into the lives of those underneath the sweat-laden Bucky costume. Producer John Fromstein, a University of Wisconsin alumnus, and director Scott Smith, a Madison native, understand the unique bond shared between Badger fans and Bucky. The two-hour, nonprofit documentary follows the team of Buckys from their initial tryout, to mascot camp and through the end of their season. Fromstein followed a lead given by his son to do a Bucky documentary after his friend attended the Bucky audition and said it was too intense for him. Although initially unsure of what they might find, Fromstein and Smith began shooting.
“We went to the tryouts in a sense thinking it could be a really fun, quirky competition thing,” Fromstein said. “Once we got to know the guys and how different they were, it ended up being more about the seven guys so we let their stories drive the film.”
The personality it takes to entertain thousands of rowdy fans without speaking does not come standard in most people. The film captures the anxiety of the many Bucky hopefuls during the grueling four-round tryout process. Imagine dancing in front of a panel of judges for one minute as if you were a mascot — now imagine doing it without the costume. This was one of the many uncomfortable challenges endured by the applicants during the elimination process. After whittling down the competition to seven, the dynasty continued with two new and five veteran Bucky Badgers.
The film follows Chris, Blake, Dave, Sky, Ryan, Craig and Jeff — the seven Buckys who made the final cut. They followed Jeff Theil, a former wrestler-turned-Bucky, back to his parents’ farm in rural Wisconsin. In true Midwestern style, the production crew was greeted with a warm welcome and hearty meals. Smith truly experienced the nitty gritty of farm life one day.
“Scott stepped in cow shit — a lot of it,” Fromstein said.
“It was dark and fricken’ freezing,” Smith replied. “We went to the farm at four in the morning; it was cold, and we were tired, and they’d already been up for an hour or so milking cows asking ‘what kept you?'”
Good thing he has a sense of humor.
Chris Kitts, another Bucky, comes from Packerland (Green Bay). The documentary featured his emotional struggle as he juggled college, Bucky and caring for his father who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Dave Blanchard, a sophomore, returned after initial rejection from his freshman year tryouts to make the cut. Among other things, his audition featured an homage to Britney Spears, as he shaved his head. Needless to say, entertainment comes naturally for him.
The beauty of documentaries lies in their ability to expose a seemingly unknown lifestyle to the audience. As can be imagined, the kind of energy at a camp full of university mascots from around the nation is electric. The “Being Bucky” cameras captured the bond that forms between mascots in the rare occasion that they are not supporting vying teams. At mascot camp, Bucky and Michigan State’s Sparty horsed around and had a genuinely good time. Bucky undoubtedly brings a little something special to the camp every year, and this was admitted by an Iowa mascot on camera. Enough said.
“Being Bucky” features a lot of joking around, as may be expected from a university student. However, they never hesitated to buckle down or lose respect in the name of entertainment.
“I was surprised by how seriously some of these guys take it. Once they put the head on, they don’t talk. There’s a real discipline. They take it really seriously. Little kids kick them all the time and they don’t kick them back,” Fromstein said.
With such a heavy costume, grace and fluidity are hard to master on the field. In addition to the weight, the mascots are virtually blind with the exception of a small opening through the mouth to see out of. Despite these obstacles, the Buckys practice explosive moves to hone in the crowd.
“The intense physicality of being a mascot is surprising — it’s incredible to see what they do and how they are with this costume on. … It’s amazing the amount of energy that it takes,” Smith said.
Being Bucky is not easy. Among the many rules for the mascot are no talking when the head is on no matter what, no touching people’s food, no inappropriate Facebook pictures and no moving when holding babies for photo ops. The first rule can be hard to follow when fans ask questions that cannot be answered by some sort of body gesture.
“Being Bucky” won the Wisconsin Film Festival audience award for best documentary and has been picked up by numerous Wisconsin Marcus theaters. Smith and Fromstein recognized the love and dedication of Badger fans throughout the state and knew that this would be a success in the theater.
“Our challenge is to get past the local loyalty and spread this to other states,” Fromstein said.
“Being Bucky” may even be featured on the UW campus to allow students easier access to it instead of going to a movie theater in the suburbs. DVDs of the film can be ordered at www.beingbucky.com. The memory of Bucky lives on in our hearts and is now captured on the big screen, so don’t miss out on this nostalgic documentary.