Thirty-one year old filmmaker Tanner Beard gets it. He ascribes to the do-it-yourself filmmaking philosophy. If you look at Beard's IMDB page, you'll find credits ranging from Editor, Camera and the Electrical Department - to Writer, Director, Actor, and Producer. His latest film is the Grindhouse-esque Spaghetti Western, Six Bullets to Hell.
Beard hails from the small West Texas town of Snyder. If you've ever seen Friday Night Lights, you're in that territory of Texas. In a town with nothing more to do than watch movies, he played and organized sports until the age of fifteen, when he became interested in film. Luckily for Beard, his parents happened to have a video camera.
My parents had an old school 80's VHS video camera that we rarely used and the thing was just sitting in the closet collecting dust. I had a fascination with it, so one one day I just grabbed it and I just started making videos in my backyard and around Snyder.
Despite Snyder being a relatively small town, it does have a nice little resume of actors and people in entertainment that hail from the town. Among them, Kevin Alejandro (True Blood, Ugly Betty, Southland), Powers Boothe (Tombstone, U-Turn, Sin City), Charlene Holt (deceased; El Dorado), Dick Jones (deceased; the voice of Pinocchio in the 1940 Walt Disney film Pinocchio), Brad Maule (General Hospital), and Barry Tubb, who is most famous for playing Wolfman in the 1986 smash hit, Top Gun.
It was fellow Snyder native Barry Tubb that introduced Beard to his first film set on Tubb's own Writer/Director effort Grand Champion (2002), which starred a young Emma Roberts - who of course is the daughter of actor Eric Roberts, and the niece of actress Julia Roberts. Beard realized at age 16 that this is what he wanted to do:
All of a sudden, being on this film set, I got to hang out with people like Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis; people who I admire and never thought would be able to have the opportunity to spend time with them in my hometown. Combine that with fascination of learning about the different facets of production - it was hook, line, and sinker for me.
Do-It-Yourself Texas Filmmakers
Do a quick google search on filmmakers from Texas and you'll find it's an impressive list. Texas was a huge part of the early '90s independent cinema boom with the emergence of Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, and Robert Rodriguez. The difference with this generation of filmmakers was notably, the do-it-yourself aspect of filmmaking. The idea that instead of paying to go to film school, just find a bunch of friends and make a film yourself. Rodriguez has even gone out of his way to make little seminar videos for aspiring filmmakers with the same attitude.
This isn't just limited to Texas of course, filmmakers like Quentin Taratino -- who didn't even make it past the 8th grade -- and Paul Thomas Anderson were also do-it-yourself filmmakers. These filmmakers, like Tarantino once said, "Didn't go to school for film, they went to film." In speaking with Tanner Beard, I really got the sense I was one reference away from igniting a two hour conversation about film, which would have been fine by me.
There's been a mini war in the film industry about what's more valuable to young people today with education prices so high. Why not, instead, take that money and finance your own film?
Tanner Beard has seen both sides of the spectrum:
I actually went to film school very briefly, but honestly, I didn't feel like the program I was in was very good. It's an interesting question because I think if you truly have the passion, you will find a way to make your films and get them seen. Learning on your own how to do that, I find, is more valuable than getting information constantly crammed in your head at University, and when you're done they release you to the wolves.
At the same time, school is valuable for those that might not get the lucky opportunities that I've been fortunate to have. Especially at some of these schools that have fantastic film programs. So, I think the philosophy on which strategy is better comes down to the individual.
A Man of All Trades
As I've mentioned above, Beard has a variety of film credits on his resume, in many aspects of a film production. The rise of the actor-director is in full swing today. Earlier in his career, when Beard was involved more in acting, it was essential in his mind, for the development of his own filmmaking career, to always be around on the set:
When you're an actor on a film set, other than between action and cut, you don't really have much to do. Being able to watch and observe all the different aspects of a film production that goes into making the audience see what they see it is incredible. It really gives you great perspective. Think about how hard these people work, and how a two second crane shot in a film takes a whole day to film for just that little bit on the screen. The dedication is something special and unique.
Beard & Terrence Malick
Other than the sheer amount of work Beard has listed on his resume, what jumps out at you is that Beard is credited as an Executive Producer for legendary reclusive filmmaker Terrence Malick's next three films; Knight of Cups, Untitled Terrence Malick Project, and Voyage of Time.
Of course, being a major Terrence Malick fan, I had to ask Beard about his first hand experiences with Malick:
Oh man....I mean we used to study Terrence Malick when I was in film school, I mean think of that, Malick isn't just a name it's vocabulary in the world of film.
Last year, I got to spend a little time with Mr. Malick at the Cannes Film Festival, where he screened a little bit of a documentary I've been involved with called Voyage of Time. Just to be able to have the opportunity to meet him and spend time with him in person was fantastic, because there's some people who don't even know what he looks like. He was very gracious and kind. Obviously I look forward to any project that I'm a part of with him.
Over Malick's past few films, he's been known to not even use a script; preferring to instead have an idea of what he wants to film, and exploring that first hand with his actors. I asked Beard to compare and contrast that with how he goes about making his own films:
Me personally, I kind of like to follow the guidelines of filmmaking because I don't have the clout or the name recognition yet to get away with doing something pretty radical like Mr. Malick does.
Also, I mean it's not like Malick goes out there and creates magic out of thin air, he does extensive preparation combined with having the best actors and crews in the business. It's insane the amount of talent he has working with him combined with his own brilliance. So when you think about it, with that much talent and the opportunity to make films with complete creative freedom, why be settled with just following words on a page?
I don't care what line of work you're in, you want to work with and surround yourself with the best people in that industry. I think that's why Mr. Malick gets the caliber of talent that he does, and he takes full advantage of it.
Continuing that theme, Tanner Beard's number one advice for young, aspiring filmmakers:
I still have a lot to learn, but one piece of advice I would tell people a bit younger than me who want to get into the world of film is to surround yourself with creative people, and live a creative life.
It's not about who you know - but who you know in your life that inspires you. My longtime friends continue to inspire my creative energies and also provide much needed support. In the end, it's inspiration and creativity that should drive your work.