With Authentic Location, ‘Complete Bull’ Rings True
Storm clouds are easy to spot in most parts of Iowa, where they appear on the distant horizon and push across the open sky.
But they sneak up on the narrow valleys of Clayton County, in Iowa’s hilly northeast corner. During a recent film shoot on a dairy farm near Guttenberg, the cows felt the storm first. They started mooing before the wind carried in even the first whiff of rain.
“You can’t recreate this on a back lot,” director Barry Andersson says, gazing toward the pasture that makes the film project, “Complete Bull,” feel completely true.
“A lot of being an actor is exercising your power of imagination,” the actress Hannah Ruwe adds. Here, “the location does so much of the work for you.”
In the new series, which producers are pitching to Netflix and Hulu, among others, Ruwe plays a young woman who leaves city life and gets into cattle farming. Really into: She becomes an artificial insemination technician.
The show’s producer, Colleen Bradford Krantz of Pink Spear Productions in Adel, grew up on a cattle farm in western Iowa and drafted the script a few years ago.
She landed a $30,000 Greenlight Grant from Produce Iowa, the state office of film and media production, and bundled it with support from additional investors to build a $108,000 budget, with more than a dozen cast and crew. They’ve been traipsing around the Driftless Area — mostly Clayton County but Dubuque, too — filming on various farms, staying in motels and B&Bs and, of course, prompting some chatter among the locals.
“Iowans are very open to helping when they hear you might be filming in the area,” she says. “In fact, sometimes we had to argue to let us pay them a location fee.”
Krantz has a background in newspapers and documentaries, but this is her first foray into fiction. It’s a bit surreal, she says, to see her idea spring to life.
“To see this group of people coming together and actually creating this reality … it’s amazing,” she says. “I don’t think people always appreciate how much talent there is in the Midwest. But to me, this is proving it.”
This summer, when the pandemic shut down most film and TV productions on the coasts, a few smaller crews in Iowa managed to keep working by following a list of strict public-health guidelines. Casts and crews shrank to 10 at a time. On-site medical supervisors came in to make sure everybody followed the rules.
In fact, “Complete Bull” was one of the first productions in the country to get a blessing from the Screen Actors Guild, the labor union that supports film and TV performers.
At the Guttenberg farm, the Chicago actor John Victor Allen counted himself lucky.
“Some of the country is breathtaking,” he says. “I’ll be honest with you: I don’t want to go home.”
— Michael Morain, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs