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A New Career, Found on the Range

First-time moviemaker Cindy Meehl has a hit with Buck, her new documentary

Q: Were there lessons from your previous careers that translated to the filmmaking process?

Cindy Meehl at the NY premiere of Buck

Buck director Cindy Meehl. — Photo by Chance Yeh/PatrickMcMullan.com/Sipa Press/AP

A: Whether it was fashion design or photography or art or even setting a table, to me everything is creative. So I looked at it, and perhaps naively so, as, ‘Well, this is just another creative endeavor. I’m going to create this movie.’ Now, a year later, if you had asked me if I knew what I was getting into, I probably would have said no. It was a tremendous amount of work. But every little door just kept opening. Every little thing just started going right, and you start to think whatever this is, this is bigger than me, and I’m just going to go with it.

Q: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

A: The movie took two and a half years to make, and I shot 300 hours of footage. I really enjoyed the filming process and going on the shoot, but I think that the editing — trying to take those 300 hours and be able to represent what Buck is about and to convey it — was really tricky. My editor Toby Shimin is just a genius. It took much longer than we thought it would, but we just wanted to get it right.

Q: Robert Redford, who consulted with Brannaman when he directed The Horse Whisperer, appears in the movie. Were there other established filmmakers you consulted with?

A: Redford was great and very generous, but he didn’t get involved in the actual filmmaking. [Oscar-winning Rain Man director] Barry Levinson lives in Reading, and there were a few times when I was just stuck and I called him to get some neighborly advice. That was really nice.

Q: If you had started your filmmaking career at a younger age, do you think you would have told this story any differently?

A: I think that I told the story from my heart, so I don’t think the story would have been different. In a way, I think [inexperience] was to my advantage I would hear these negative things, and perhaps if I had been in the business a while, I could have talked myself out of doing it. People always want to give you reasons not to do something, and I think that in this case, it was such a great lesson. I felt like — I don’t know how I’m going to do it exactly, but I feel confident that I can, and I’m just going to persevere.

Q: What was it like to win an Audience Award at Sundance?

A: It was amazing. Just getting into Sundance was incredible. I couldn’t get over it. I was so hoping that’s where we’d premiere. And from the first screening, we had about 500 people in the audience and they were on their feet, crying and clapping, huge standing ovations. I had never been through any of this, and I thought it was great.

Q: For many reasons, these days so many people over 50 are contemplating new careers and new directions in their lives. Given your success, what advice would you give them?

A: I think that you really need to be open and seize the moment. You may think that because you’ve gone that far in life and you haven’t ever tried something, that it’s too late. And it’s never too late. You have to get in there — and you also have to realize that it’s going to be hard. I think people give up too easily. You can’t do that. There’s great reward in hard work.

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