Monday, April 22, 2024

Interview: Tanner Beard of the Mammoth Film Festival

Multi-hyphenate Tanner Beard is best known for his work as a prolific producer of independent films but he has also distinguished himself in other professional fields. He co-founded the Mammoth Film Festival in 2018 and recently served as a voice actor in Andreas Deja’s Mushka (2023). As the festival rapidly expands in scope and ambition, it has begun to gain increased prominence on the independent film circuit. Beard is passionate about bringing small-scale productions to a wider audience and believes that film festivals play a valuable role in elevating the profile of obscure indie movies. 

Zita Short had the opportunity to sit down with Beard and discuss recent developments in his career. 

Zita Short: What led you to get involved with the production of Mushka?

Tanner Beard: I was lucky, I guess. I was shooting a movie with the director of photography, who happened to be one of the producers of Mushka. He invited me to work on the film. It was a lucky chain reaction. 

ZS You recently received the Tim Burton “Native Burbank” Visionary Award, what do these sorts of accolades mean to those working in the entertainment industry?

TB: The Tim Burton award was definitely one that I ended up calling some people about. It’s pretty cool. I appreciate it whenever a movie that my production company has put out gets an accolade of any kind. You’re really proud of it because you can kind of place it in your house or in your garage. So winning the Tim Burton award was one for the books for me personally. I would be completely lying if I said that wasn’t awesome. 

To go back to Mushka, it was kind of a blast to work with the legends of the industry. The director, Andreas Deja, worked on Disney movies that I saw growing up. I never thought I’d get to work with somebody like that. To add my voice to his piece of art was an amazing honor. 

ZS: Is it easier to become an interdisciplinary artist in the modern world?

TB: It’s a good question. I don’t know if it ever gets easier. However, you do get to go into each new project with more experience under your belt. That means that there’s a different way to attack each project. Still, it’s never easy. It’s always hard to make a good one. Then again, it’s more fun when you know what you’re doing. You don’t have to worry about making the same mistakes twice. That can make it more fun to do. It’s always hard. You can make thirty-five movies and on your thirty-sixth still have no idea what you’re doing. I like so many different elements of the film industry. It may seem like I try to put my finger in every single pie. That’s only because I enjoy it. I like to produce, I like to edit, I like to act, I like to help produce the outcome of a movie. Sometimes you only get to serve a limited number of roles on the set of a film. Serving in all of those capacities is an honor. I’m also egotistical (laughs). 

ZS: What challenges are involved in founding a film festival in the streaming era?

TB: The number one thing for us is taking care of the films that are still playing in competition. We have a lot of films making their world premiere and they might be bought and sold at this festival. It can be quite a lot of fun to see the growth and become a part of that charitable camaraderie. We’re a 501-C3, so we’re a non-profit organization doing this. We have to turn a profit in order to keep the festival going. In terms of the difficulty level, I definitely have to keep an eye on the employees and make sure they’re not overloaded with work. Organizing this festival, when you’ve got so many films on your hands, can be a real challenge. We chose Mammoth Lakes, California as the destination for the festival and that’s a big draw. It’s really the source of the festival’s allure. We like to have a lot of like-minded individuals come out and celebrate how hard it is to make movies. It’s a tremendous amount of fun and it’s really becoming something. 

ZS: Why do you think that short films struggle to find an audience outside of the film festival circuit and what can be done to remedy this problem?

TB: I don’t know if the problem will ever be remedied. People might learn to just start watching shorts. I think shorts are a beautiful way to tell a story that is only owed a certain amount of time or to experiment with seeing if it’s owed more time. It’s a great way to have something tangible that does have a short shelf life when we think of the festival circuit. Sometimes short films move beyond that setting. Some people do like to watch shorts. You can get on YouTube and see all sorts of shorts that are amazing. I’ve watched some that way. Then you have something like Amazon, where they group a bunch of different shorts together under different classifications. 

I like to make rough drafts before producing final versions of anything. That’s just how I grew up. I like shorts, on a personal level, and I appreciate the fact that they provide directors with the chance to tell a short-form story. When you look at something like Black Mirror, you see how effective short-form, one-off storytelling can be. Maybe it’s not a short in your mind but an episode of something. I think short films are important for the growth of the industry. It can provide artists with a smaller reward for the risks that they take but there’s still risk in it. It still costs money to make a short film. Film festivals cost money to go to. 

Still, making a short helps you to understand the field that you’re competing in. You can’t get any information back if you don’t put anything out there. Sometimes making a short is a great entryway in the industry. I’m an advocate for them. We show shorts at the Mammoth Film Festival and we have some good ones. It’s always a heated competition. 

ZS: Would you describe yourself as a hands-on producer?

TB: When you call somebody a producer, you should think of an entire soccer team. Each player has a job that they need to do. They’re all producers or players on the team; you have your forward, your guard, your goalie. That’s how I feel about producing sometimes. On occasion, you are the goalie. Other times, you’re the coach’s assistant. That’s just how it is in this profession. I like to be way more hands-on because I grew up making my own movies. I’m not afraid of doing the work and being down in the trenches. Other times, it’s the satisfaction that comes with having done something. You connect the dots that can only be witnessed if you’re looking at a project from the outside. 

You can really benefit a film if you know how the members of the production crew work. Just getting from A-Z can be a big part of producing or executive production (which is a whole lot easier, sometimes). It can be tough when you’re on a set and you have to inform people that it’s been raining for three days in a row and you have to move everything from outside to inside. With that kind of producing, you have to be quick on your feet. Even if it’s the wrong answer, you have to commit to it in order to avoid losing your crew. It varies. That’s why you have so many people who tell you that they’re a producer. It’s hard to figure out what they mean sometimes. I’m a part of that crew. You just never know. There’s no movie that’s the same. 

ZS: Do you have any amusing anecdotes from your time in the industry?

TB: If something doesn’t go wrong, it’s almost like you can’t trust it. With the Mammoth Film Festival, we’ve definitely dealt with some blizzards out there. At the end of the day, it actually enhanced the experience instead of ending the festival. When working on movies, you get really concerned about rain. Sometimes you need it not to rain on a specific day and it inevitably ends up not going your way. That’s why so many people don’t know what a producer does on set. They have to solve so many problems in order to ensure a positive outcome for the movie. You generally find that it’s all a blur and you don’t really remember what you produced. When people ask you what a producer is, you end up telling them about flat tires and actors who don’t show up on time. Sometimes you can really impress them by telling them that you got McConaughey to do a movie. You just never know what kind of job you’re getting yourself into. Being in the field is a lot more noble, as the profession goes. Being amongst other producers is fun. 

ZS: What are your plans for the future of the Mammoth Film Festival?

TB: The town of Mammoth itself is experiencing a tremendous amount of growth. We’re seeing more and more hotels springing up. More people are learning about the festival, the competition is growing, the sales are increasing, the marketplace is continuously growing. As long as we can keep getting movies bought and sold there, as well as getting an agent or meeting other talented people in the industry, it represents growth. We love movies so much. There are agents who are willing to work anywhere and there are agents who count The Goonies (1985) as their favorite movie. You want to bring all those people together and let them grow and seed. When we see movies that premiered at Mammoth on airplanes, we know that we’re really doing something cool. You feel like you’re seeing your little boy up there. It’s kind of funny but our main thing is just to keep growing. 

ZS: Do you find yourself actively seeking out opportunities to work on a diverse range of projects?

TB: I was talking to a buddy of mine recently and we were reflecting on the fact that there aren’t many genres that we haven’t tackled. We were talking about how funny it was that I, as a kid from West Texas, was able to go to Bangladesh and work on a film production. How did I end up in that position? It’s what’s lovely about this business. It teaches you so much about things that you never thought you would have had an interest in. I hope I get to tackle every movie genre once. I do like Westerns and I’ve never had the chance to make one. Hopefully I’ll get around to that someday. 

ZS: What are your thoughts on the WGA and SAG strikes that have taken place in 2023?

TB: I’m obviously not in the mix and I don’t know what’s happening in the big meetings. You have to sit back, wait and provide support. I’m still kind of waiting to see what happens. We’re hearing good news. It’s also complicated because, as guild members, we have a different set of guidelines to act under. I definitely support my unions and we’re all out there battling for the little guys. I’m an indie film guy so I support anything that helps independent film productions get off the ground. I don’t work on big productions, not that I wouldn’t ever want to, but right now I’m all about indies and festivals. 

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