I sat down with Cindy Meehl, director of Buck
, inside the VIP Tent at the 2011 Nashville Film Festival this past April on a lovely Sunday afternoon. What had originally been planned as a half an hour interview suddenly became a conversation that lasted over an hour. Here is a bit of what she had to say regarding herself, her background and her documentary, Buck.
1) CH: How did you go from not making documentaries to making documentaries?
CM: Because I do have horses and I grew up riding horses. I grew up taking copious amounts of lessons and thought I knew a lot and when someone exposed me to this type of horsemanship it was such an immediate epiphany. It’s like you suddenly see the truth. It’s so obvious because there’s always something that doesn’t sit right with you about people and maybe the way they are training kids and you see them training horses and there is a brutality about it. There’s almost a dictatorship about it and this is much more of a partnership and I was so wowed by it…it’s really basically a common sense concept. I had some troubled horses, but I kind of could manhandle into going over jumps. I felt really sad because I thought that if I had known this then I would have had such an amazing time with that horse. I thought that the group of people that followed him and the way that he teaches…really filters into your every day life. There’s so much cross-over into raising kids or raising a family. There’s a lot of leadership about what he’s teaching.
2) CH: People in the film had epiphanies and started feeling bad for how they had treated their horses. Did you have same reaction?
CM: I did, I really did. I originally was exposed to it through [Buck’s] friend, Verne. It was like changing your religion. Suddenly I realized, somebody has a better way and I said, “I don’t think I ever knew anything about horses until now”. After all the time I had put in on horses, that was a humbling moment.
3) CH: Then you went to Buck’s clinic?
CM: I went to one of Buck’s clinics after that and then I was really wowed. I was still in such awe, “Why don’t people talk about this and teach it”? He was really funny, you know? I think that comes across a little bit in the movie. He has a real dry wit so I was laughing a lot, yet intimidated because you’re so humbled because you realize, “I’ve got so far to learn to really communicate with a horse with that sensitivity”. You’ll work at it your whole life.
4) CH: What have you learned from Buck to enrich your family and personal life?
CM: I think the thing about not whining about anything. You really learn to just shut up about excuses. I like people that do what they say they’re going to do and work hard at it. I have two girls and I always wanted them to grow up and follow their dreams and you can’t rely on somebody else to make you happy. You have to get out there and work. Whatever you’re doing, if you put your heart and soul in it and you work hard you’re going to find your happiness there. A lot of people depend on their mate or spouse to make them happy and those are the people that are the most miserable.
5) CH: There are repeat customers? People continually go to Buck’s clinics?
CM: If you go to a clinic and you think, “I got it and I don’t need to come back” then you’re really not a candidate for this horsemanship. If you understand it at all, what you understand is that you’ll never understand it all. You’ll never master this. You realize that animal sensitive that we all wish we had, you’re always striving for. The people that really get it are the people that will come back. It’s a real devotion.
6) CH: The lady with crazy horse…does that happen often at Buck’s clinics?
CM: He’s pretty blatant, up front with people. People do cry sometimes because he’ll say things to you that maybe you don’t want to hear. A lot of people will say “Ya, I just want him to chew me out because I need it”. He doesn’t mince words. He’s going to tell it like it is. It’s a very humbling experience to go ride with him. He will say things in a way that makes you think.
7) CH: How did the making of the movie happen?
CM: After going to about 3 of [Buck’s] clinics…I was so moved by what he was doing and how inspiring he was. Then I thought, “Somebody should do it now because he’s so good and I thought he’s the best out there…well why don’t I just do it?” Because I hate to wait around when I have an idea and I just think it should be done. So I went up and asked him at McGginis meadow ranch. He was sitting at a table by himself and I just went up and asked him if he’d ever thought about doing it. He said, “No.” I said, “Would you like to?” and he said “Yes.” I said, “Well I would like to do it” and he said “Okay” and he wrote his number on a little piece of paper which I kept. I laugh; it was like a two minute conversation. I had a camera crew out there about two months later. I don’t think he or I ever envisioned that two and a half years later we’d still have a camera on him.
8) CH: Would you do anything different about the filming process.
CM: I was learning as I went, you know, because honestly, in hindsight, when I started I realized how naïve I was. I had a really good editor and team. Toby Shimin is so amazing. I have to give Toby a lot of credit. One thing I would do different…I would fly to Wisconsin and get a sound byte from Smokey [Buck’s brother]. Because the question seriously that’s been asked at every single film festival after every screening, if I do a QA, it is “What happened to Smokey”.
9) CH: How much directing Buck did you have to do?
CM: Oh no, you don’t direct Buck Brannaman.
10) CH: What was Sundance like?
CM: Sundance was a dream. To me in my heart that’s where I wanted to premiere it seemed the natural thing to do to be out West. It’s visually such a Western story. So it was my dream come true. And then beyond that to be able to sell it at Sundance was very amazing and gratifying. It was rewarding because I had just poured my heart and soul into it. It was a true passion project. I also felt really strongly that I wanted to do a documentary…I thought in this particular time that people were so starving for some inspirational story and a hope story…and that was a real motive behind this as well. This guy, he works his butt off and he never complains. He’s in gale force winds, he’s in drenching rains and he will not bat an eye. He’s so tough about that and he doesn’t believe in excuses. A lot of people say, “Well, how did it turn out so good?” and I say “Because it’s Buck Brannaman”. You kind of wouldn’t deliver him a half-ass movie. It’s a lot about discovering your own humanity through the horse. So you really have to start looking at “Why am I making excuses? Why aren’t I just working harder?” There’s no room for excuses in his world. His motto is “If it’s not working just change it.” So if things weren’t working in this film I would change it or if I thought I didn’t have the footage I needed I would go get iit.
11) CH: Were the time lapse and landscaping shots important to you for the film?
CM: You have to have it to set the tone and give people breathing room…to let their mind rest. I wanted it to be a really engaging film because otherwise people were going to just pass it by and that whole idea and message would never get out there.
12) CH: What kind of input did you have in the music of the film, especially regarding the song, “Just Breathe” by Eddie Vedder ?
CM: I was very involved. A friend of mine knew someone doing a documentary on Pearl Jam and she got the film to their manager and the manager liked it.
13) CH: Do you get emotional during the screenings?
CM: There’s one scene at the very end where he’s cantering away in the film…that always makes me tear up. There’s something about it that gets me every time.
14) CH: What is your favorite memory from filming?
CM: When he was roping. He did that for 20 minutes and the rope did not touch the ground. It sort of lets you know what a perfectionist he is that he can still do that today.
15) CH: What was it like interviewing Robert Redford for the film?
CM: He was amazing. He’s so smart and so amazing and so articulate. He thinks on his feet. He’s almost intimidating. He’s so awe-inspiring. I was so impressed with him. He’s phenomenal. I came away with this huge respect for him. That was a big highlight. Talk about intimidating though, to suddenly never direct a movie and you’re sitting in front of Robert Redford asking him questions.
16) CH: So you were in fashion?
CM: I was, but that was in my 20’s it was a long time ago. I designed clothing and sold it across the country. It was more high end evening wear is what I specialized in.
17) CH: What was the progression from fashion to docs?
CM: I was living in New York. I got married when I was about 30 and moved out to Connecticut. And at that time I was kind of done with the fashion business. It was a soul-searching moment and I thought, “I really don’t like this business and I don’t want to do it.” I’m very much a “follow your heart and dreams” and at the time I thought that’s what I wanted to do, but after being in it for about 7 years, nothing is as glamorous as it sounds. It’s all hard work so you’ve either got to live it or not. So I just got married, went to Connecticut, had children, but I also was doing fine art. So I started painting more…and was doing photography. I was always doing something creative so it didn’t seem like such a huge jump.
18) CH: What is your favorite documentary?
CM: I really liked Man on Wire. I was living in New York when that happened and it was sort of a non-event. It was like “Oh, some nut walked across a wire down there”, but when you realized what went on…it’s so phenomenal that he didn’t fall off. And I think too why that was so powerful is that they never addressed 911…that little extra impact of not talking about 911 and it’s in everybody’s hearts…and the fact that they didn’t play on that at all and how can you not think about that almost throughout the thing on some level and that’s what made it to me so powerful it’s like here this guy is and he’s dancing between these structures that are so just mammoth and they don’t exist anymore and it’s because of the state of the world today. It was so profound.
19) CH: Who is your favorite artist?
CH: Who inspired you as a young woman in the fashion industry?
CM: Audrey Hepburn, Jacki O., Lagerfield, Donna Karen, Vivien Westwood. I draw creative juices from everywhere. I’m so visually inspired. It does get hard for me to sometimes to pick a favorite because I draw from everything, visually…and things that have an emotional impact; usually, if it strikes me in an emotional way whether it’s a painting or a dress. I would watch old movies a lot to get inspiration for clothes.
20) CH: If you could keep 1 album for the rest of your live which would you choose?
CM: Norah Jones’ first album [Come Away With Me]
21) CH: What is your favorite film of all time?
CM: I like these old films like, The Philadelphia Story. I like Out of Africa. I liked the Hangover because it was hysterically funny. All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard.
22) CH: Do you have a next project?
CM: I do. I have a couple of things that we’re working on, but I don’t want to jinx them because nothing is started up per se. Everybody asks you that, you get a successful film and it just seems the obvious thing to do. “Oh, I guess I have to go do it again” and then you have to really look at your reasons…you have to do some soul searching. I know one thing, if I don’t feel passionate about it from my own point of view …and also my criteria is that if it won’t help people…and inspire them…lift people up or give them tools to lift themselves up. I feel very strongly about that. I can guarantee you I won’t do anything that doesn’t do that.
opens at the Belcourt Theatre
in Nashville, TN this Friday, July 1. The film is a hit with both horse people and non-horse people alike. In response to the wide-range of audience that the film has touched Cindy says, ”I’m really happy about how people are responding. That makes it all worth it.” A very special thanks to Cindy Meehl for being generous enough with her time to sit down for an interview during what I know was a very busy week for her.
Buck, the film, has achieved a great amount of success for such a small film. The film won the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and the 2011 Full Frame Awards. The film won the Best Documentary award at the 2011 Provincetown International Film Festival and Crossroads Film Festival. Buck also became the official selection at 2011 SXSW Film Festival, True/False Film Festival, 2011 Silverdocs, Documentary Fesitval, 2011 Seattle International Film Festival, Nantucket Film,m Festival, 2011 Independent Film Festival Boston and the 2011 Deauville American Film Festival.