Buck and Sundance


“Buck” (the movie) and Buck (the person)

HUGE HIT at Sundance Film Festival


January 2011, “Buck,” Director Cindy Meehl’s documentary about Buck Brannaman premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah.  Craig and I were there.

Setting: ski town.

As a former ski bum, the Park City atmosphere is familiar to me; the ski athletes focused on their prowess, ski bunnies eyeing the athletes, the chi-chi shops and casual elite nightlife.  However, Park City takes on an urgent tone when the Sundance Film Festival lights up the town.  One Park City shop keeper wryly described the influx of independent film cognoscenti as “the invasion of people in black.”  She was obviously comfortable making this remark to me, because I was obviously not of their sophisticated, black garbed, uptown ilk.

Cedar Creek Productions enigmatic
 and soon to be iconic, movie poster.
All photos used by permission.

Wardrobe: mostly black.

What is it with East Coast people and their lack of wardrobe color?  Aside from the black clothing (that set them apart from the skiers, who are famous for their eclectic and often vivid wardrobe choices), it didn’t take long to pick out the independent filmmakers, intently cruising Park City.  Like horses and cultural groups, filmmakers have a feel to them.  Through observation and blatant eavesdropping, I’d say, independent filmmakers are intense, a bit cerebral, and focused (pun intended); and movie making is the mission at Sundance.

Theme: self assurance.

Cowboy Ray Hunt’s “adjust to fit the situation” is good advice in any setting.  With wit and abundant charm, Buck settled into the movie scene with ease.  With the movie, “Buck” taking on a life of its own, I now feel obliged to distinquish between “Buck,” the movie and Buck, the person.


Buck Brannaman (the person): leading man, in every sense.
Mary Brannaman: leading lady, gorgeous, former Ford model, poise and style.
Lauren Swenson: daughter, ready-for-anything, participant and keen observer.
Reata Brannaman: her father’s daughter, gracious and honest. (“I’d rather be roping.”)
Brannaman Family at Sundance: (left to right) Lauren, Buck, Mary, and Reata. (Daughter Kristin was working, unable to come to Sundance). Cedar Creek Productions Photo.

 (Left) Sherrie Flynn riding her colt for the first time, during clinic filming.  Emily Knight photo. 
Extras and Bit Players (the local bunch included):
Gary Myers: oil field, ranch and family man.
Sherry Myers: Gary’s vibrant, independent wife.
Tate Myers: son, silent type, deep thinker.
Sherise Myers: daughter, looks like a movie star.  Don’t let impressions fool you.   This competent girl works on the oil production slope in Alaska.
Nate Miller: Sherise’s fiance´ and solid Alaska man.
Billy Flynn: cowboy, raconteur and bon vivant (French literally translates, “good liver.”)
Sherrie Flynn: could double as a runway model, prefers to run her ranch and ride horses.
Craig Staley: avid outdoorsman, wears “camo” as formal attire.
Betty Staley: along for the ride, happy to hop out of the truck and open gates.
At Sundance, the men were handsome in their Western suits and hats, their wives and daughters beautiful.  We joined Cindy’s movie crew and their delightful families. It felt like an extended family reunion, where you might not know all the “relatives,” but you’re sure glad to meet them.  At first, Sundance did not feel like a movie premiere.  That was deceptive.
 Gary (left) and Craig being interviewed by Cindy, during filming.  Emily Knight photo.
Being a part of a documentary and a blockbuster film premiere is not the norm for me, my cowboy friends and our families.  But, it can never be said that we didn’t make the most of it. As if the cowboy hats, vintage Pendleton plaids and formal attire “camo” was not enough to draw attention to this group, one evening as we wended our way through the crowded streets, headed for the Mustang Bar (appropriate for this entourage), Billy Flynn belted out, “MUSTANG SALLY… you better slow your mustang down!   MUSTANG SALLY…. oooooh, baby….”  Heads turn, people smile.
As news spread that Cindy’s movie was the industry “buzz,” the Sundance experience settled into a bucking horse rhythm; startling and also reassuringly predictable. 
Buck and Billy visiting. That odd black object (on the right) is a camera tripod moving… out of the shot! Emily Knight photo.  
In addition to being a respected, independent film venue, and a career maker, Sundance is also a mega spectator event.  Movie fans by the thousands clog the streets. Getting tickets to any movie at Sundance is a convoluted feat.  There’s a lottery and long waiting lines. At the “Buck” premiere, according to veteran movie goers, who were waiting in line, “Buck” was the “hottest ticket in town.” Considering the movie lineup the audience could choose from, that added to my premiere jitters.
Opening Scene: Library Theatre.
At the first public screening, sitting in the darkening theatre, my stomach did flip flops.  Would the audience like this movie? Would they understand our Western way of life? What would they think of Buck? From the first fade-in to the credit roll, the audience was spell bound. Me, too. The audience laughed, cried, and at times, the silence was so intense, I couldn’t hear anyone breathe.  After every showing, the audience gave Buck a standing ovation.
We basked in our “Buck’s entourage” status. We hung out in theatre green rooms with the Brannamans, the movie crew, family and friends.  We dined at fabulous restaurants, enjoying the camaraderie of shared elation. Brian (establish author, not in danger of becoming Mr. Cindy) Meehl, Andrea (Creative Consultant, vivacious communicator) Medich and I spent one late night in a rollicking, ranging discussion of all things creative and pertinent to life.  When Robert Redford arrived at the premiere party dinner, Craig got to shake Redford’s hand.
Cindy with Robert Redford, at dinner.
Cedar Creek Productions photo.
Trekking along on a press junket, we saw the backstage makeup rooms, interview sets, an assortment of movie stars, and movie makers in the making. Craig and I also held countless stranger’s cameras, who asked to have their photo taken with Buck. Buck kept pace with it all, screenings, interviews, and fans, fans at breakfast, lunch and dinner, every street crossing, and in the lobbies. After each showing, the number of Buck’s fans grew. Cindy was besieged, too, with industry reps, inquiries and future options. The hit movie phenomena experience was non-stop.
Wearing what may become his trademark Pendleton Plaid, Buck on Main Street, Park City, talking to fans. The Paparazzi also received the same courteous response from Buck. Lauren Swenson photo.
Wardrobe Change: mostly grey?
For someone who relishes my rural solitude, Sundance was surreal. One of my favorite experiences was rummaging around Park City with new friend Tina Cornish, from Chico, California.  Tina appears in a pivotal sequence in the movie. Tina’s mostly grey wardrobe was assessed as “needing some color.” (Does that mean documentary cast members, in grey are not to be confused with East Coast movie makers, in black?) Tina and I dutifully gallivanted through Park City, looking for a colorful scarf. Horse crazy, instant girl friends, Tina and I decided to buy and tie around our necks brilliantly colored, panty hose.
Now, that’s a fashion statement.  Knowing what the official response would be to our silliness, we laughed until our sides hurt. We also came to our senses. Tina bought a flattering soft yellow scarf, which she never wore. She looked stunning in grey.
Q&A: wrap up.
During the Q&A after each screening, the audience sat rapt as Cindy answered questions about her vision and dedication that created this movie. Buck answered questions about horses, his personal life, and the future. Asked for his favorite moment in the movie, Buck replied, “When my Mom (Betsy Shirley) said, ‘…he was just an ordinary boy, he didn’t show signs of early genius.” The audience adored Betsy’s candor.  They also fell in love with Buck’s love and respect for his Mom.
Buck with his foster Mom (Betsy Shirley). Emily Knight photo. 
When the movie won the Audience Award, Buck went beyond the usual acceptance speech (those traditional industry thanks to everyone and their brother). Buck spoke about the courage to be different. He gave one of the best acceptance speeches at the award ceremony. The award ceremony party was a multi generational “let your hair down” ballroom DJ bash. Cindy, Holly, Tina and I danced with each other, with other movie crews, and anyone else that wanted to dance. Meanwhile, Buck, Mary and Reata spent the evening signing autographs and standing for more fan photos. 
It was all fun and went by in a joyous blur.
Under the party lights (left to right): Tina Cornish, in va-va-voom blue, Cindy Meehl (in BLACK!), Holly Meehl (daughter and ever so tolerant companion of her raucous, celebrating elders), and Betty Staley. Do we look like we have been dancing our hearts out?
“We partied like rock stars,” said Cindy (sans the substance abuse). Cedar Creek Productions photo.  
 Staley Homestead during clinic filming. In the arena (left to right), Billy Flynn, Betty Staley, Sherrie Flynn, Craig Staley, and Gary Myers. Producer Julie Goldman can be seen in the arena alleyway (behind Craig and Gary). Director of Photography Luke Geissbuhler is in the cherry picker boom. Emily Knight photo.
For Craig and me, being a part of a documentary is a once in a lifetime event; a memory we will cherish. Our property was one of the film locations, which involved so many of our dear friends, clinic riders and animals (who appear in the film). Hosting a clinic is a labor of love that I look forward to every summer. Hosting a clinic that’s being filmed was challenging, at times. But at the end of each day, while the clinic participants relaxed, the film crew was still working, filming us, relaxing. Cindy required the same work ethic from her film crew that dedicated riders have. That is a big part of why this movie works. Cindy surrounded herself with film professionals that fit in like work gloves at a working ranch.
Filming at Staley Homestead. (Below) 
Cameraman Chris Clements and Producer Julie Goodman.
Emily Knight photo. 
Credit Roll: best supporting actress.
(or, there are no small parts, only small actors)
Sound: vaudeville drum roll
Since the premier, the most common question I’m asked, “What’s it like to see your face on the big screen?

Great insight on my part. “I dunno.” 

This question stumped me, because I didn’t even notice myself.

My lack of self consciousness is a tribute to Director Cindy Meehl and Editor Toby Shimin’s brilliant work.  During filming, I felt comfortable with the movie crew.  Toby wisely cut out my most awkward moments. At Sundance, I saw the movie three times and I didn’t think about myself on the screen, one time.  Even when I knew I was coming next, I was still swept up in Buck’s story, every time.

Have you ever seen a movie, where you know what’s coming and it only enhances the thrill of watching to the end?   “Secretariat” comes to mind.  Most of us know that in real life Secretariat won the Triple Crown of horse racing, but watching the movie “Secretariat,” the audience is still on edge, rooting for Secretariat to win.  That’s good story telling.  Cindy achieved the same thing.  Buck’s story is familiar to me.  I know it’s me on the screen, too. But the compelling way Buck’s story unfolds in this film is funny, breathtaking, emotionally charged, and disquieting, packing a tremendous message that pierces viewers’ hearts.  I’m not distracted by my face. I’m transfixed by the story.

I cannot wait for everyone to see this movie.

For those who know Buck, and everyone, who cherishes this style of horsemanship, Director and Producer Cindy Meehl did us all proud.

Thank you, Cindy.  Thank you, Buck.
Director and Producer Cindy Meehl.
Emily Knight photo.
Buck, the person, during filming of “Buck,” the movie.
Emily Knight photo. 
Sham-less Plug (spelling intentional):
Buck (the person) is scheduled for a clinic at Staley Homestead, August 5-8, 2011.
“Buck” (the movie) is slated for cinema release, nationwide, dates and locations to be announced. Ask your local cinema TO GET THIS MOVIE. Even if I’m in it, it’s still a great movie.
To see on location photos and a movie trailer, GO HERE.




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