How 'House of Cards' Creator Aided Man's 36,000-Mile 'Walk Around the World'

Director/EP Jordan Tappis and Beau Willimon's Westward teamed with Nat Geo for a doc about Karl Bushby, who is 15 years into a 20-year journey.
Joachim Treptow/5MPhotography

House of Cards season four may be months away, but creator Beau Willimon has a new project premiering much sooner.

The Willimon-produced documentary The Walk Around the World centers around Karl Bushby, a British ex-paratrooper who is 15 years into a 20-year, 36,000-mile trek by foot around the globe. The Nat Geo documentary begins when Bushby is issued a five-year ban from Russia just as he is poised to enter the country. It follows him as he decides to trek from California to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., as a show of his commitment to his journey.

The genesis of the doc occurred in 2010, when House of Cards showrunner Willimon came across Bushby's book Giant Steps in a London bookstore. He shared it with friend Jordan Tappis, and the pair tracked Bushby down in Mexico and convinced him to let them option the rights to his story.

Tappis directed and executive produced the documentary with Willimon through their production company Westward. The doc premieres May 15 on the National Geographic Channel.

Check out The Hollywood Reporter's conversation with Tappis below, as well as the exclusive debut of the trailer. 

Bushby shot this documentary himself. How did you turn him into a filmmaker?

He travels with a slew of different types of cameras, from iPhones to flip cameras to GoPros to a professional Canon camera, and he's operating them himself. When we first started working with him, he was at best a moderate photographer. Since then, I think he's become an excellent cinematographer.

How did that transition happen?

We gave him shot lists before he left, and we were checking up with him periodically. As he was sending back footage, we would watch that footage and give him notes and we would say things like, "We need more confessionals. Every night before you go to bed, give us a 25-minute recap of your day." And, "We could have gotten better coverage of when you were meeting with that mayor of that small town. Make sure you set up two cameras while you're doing that." So we were directing him, but he did everything himself.

The Walk Around The World Trailer from Westward Productions, LLC on Vimeo.

He has only seen his son a handful of times in the past 15 years. Did you know the relationship would be a centerpiece of the film?

That's a complex relationship. He decided he wanted to be the first person to circumnavigate the globe in this unbroken path. And there were sacrifices he had to make to be that person. That is the wreckage of his path, and he's had to deal with it every day. He and his son talk virtually every day. He's been watching him grow from afar. Periodically, his son comes out to visit him. It doesn't happen very often, but it has happened several times

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At the conclusion of this film, how much longer does he have on his journey?

When it's all said and done it will have been 36,000 miles. He's a little less than 20,000 miles in. So he's got about 16,500 miles to go. Those first 20,000 miles are the most difficult, mainly because of the Siberian tundra, which is only frozen for a couple of months a year. After that, it turns into a sludgy watery thing you can't walk through. So it's taken him years to walk only a few thousand miles from the eastern tip the Bering Strait to what is called the Road of Bones in Siberia, which he is now only a few hundred miles away from. Then he will be able to travel year-round.

Is there more story for you to tell?

Beau and I strongly feel this is just the beginning in terms of our relationship with Karl and documenting his journey. The partnership has become a true friendship between all of us.

What kind of support did Nat Geo give Karl?

They helped finance the cameras. They gave us money that went to expedition costs. From time to time, that meant he got to sleep in a bed in a hotel. For the most part, he was sleeping in a tent. It was a very small amount of money, so he had to be stringent with the costs. But most of the time that he slept indoors, it was in people's houses. The beautiful thing about social media is, Karl is able to access fans. Those fans — or friends — have been raising their hands and giving him places to sleep. Home-cooked meals. Moral support. Whatever it is he needed. In 1998, when he left, there was no social media. For the most part, he had no connection to the outside world.

What was the big challenge of crafting the story?

Convincing Karl that we should even do it. Karl at that point had walked over 18,000 miles toward his ultimate destination. To ask him to walk three more thousand in the wrong direction to overturn a visa ban made no sense to him at first. He couldn't figure out how this was going to do anything. Our position was, sitting around is not going to do anything. You don't sit around. You move. You walk. Why don't we give it a shot? Why don't we build a goodwill campaign and see if we can get the Russians to pay attention?