Catching Up with Tanner Beard, Producer of Knight of Cups

Movies Features

One of the favorite conversations I had at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was with rising star producer Tanner Beard. He had a film at this year’s festival, a crazy-sounding romp called Beaver Trilogy Part IV. Like me, he’s a tall, bearded Southerner with a loud laugh and a gregarious manner. But unlike me, he was also preparing to go to Berlin to premiere his “other” movie—Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups. We talked about growing up in the South, the films of Richard Linklater, and meeting and working with giants like Terence Malick and Sarah Green.

Paste Magazine: Where are you from?
Tanner Beard: Texas originally. A little town called Snyder, Texas. It’s like eighty miles south of Lubbock, eighty miles east of Midland, and eighty miles north of Abilene, which are the three bigger towns there.

Paste: Cattle country, right?
Beard: Big time, yeah. And now windmills. There are more windmills there per capita than anywhere else. I don’t really keep up with it anymore. I haven’t been down in years.

Paste: Nice. I did the Linklater doc last year.
Beard: Oh, okay. My office is kind of next door—So, I’m in L.A., but I have an apartment in Austin. Silver Sail, my company, is in Austin and L.A. So we’re there in Austin Studios, which is, like, Austin Film Society; Robert Rodriguez is over there. Terrence Malick, I think, just got some offices over there. Linklater obviously kind of started the Austin Film Society.

Paste: Y’all are all in the same neighborhood over there.
Beard: Yeah. I’ve loved Richard Linklater since I was in high school. I even liked Tape. I don’t think anybody else likes Tape. I just have always liked him. He’s a Texas filmmaker guy. So my buddy Zac [Ephron] had done a movie with him called Me and Orson Welles. We got to go stay at Linklater’s place in Bastrop for a while and hang out. We were just fishing and hitting baseballs, because he’s got a baseball field out there. Poor man. Half of it burned down.

Paste: Including his epic poster collection.
Beard: It was really cool for me, because I was like, I can’t believe I’m getting to hang out at Mr. Linklater’s amazing place. It was just a cool “aware” moment. I took that one in.

Paste: Let’s talk more about Beaver Trilogy Part IV.
Beard: It’s sold out in Salt Lake City, which is really cool. I think we had a decent little review in The Hollywood Reporter, which is good. I’m excited. I wish Bill Hader could have made it down. I think he’s writing a movie with Trey Parker and Matt Stone right now.

Paste: Wow. That’s pretty great.
Beard: Yeah, that’s exciting. I’ve loved those guys since I was in high school. [Regarding Beaver Trilogy Part IV,] I actually haven’t seen the finished version yet, so I’m just as excited as anybody to see it. I didn’t get to go to the one in Salt Lake, but it was a pretty cool deal. I think the handprints of Crispin Glover and the director from the movie they did years ago here in Utah are still there. It’s Utah history, which is what really makes it cool. I’m hoping the rest of the nation sees it, though.

Paste: How long of a process was it making the film?
Beard: It’s kind of hard to say, because I came on board later on. So I saw a rough cut, a documentary, and that’s when I came in. We finished it out. A film I did called 6 Bullets to Hell was playing the same exact time in Oklahoma at Trail Dance. I was actually going to try to go to that, but of course luck would have it they both show on the exact same day. Obviously, I’m going to stick around at Sundance. They literally started within a half an hour of each other. So I’m thinking, “Hey this is cool. I have two different movies playing at the exact same time at two different film festivals.”

Paste: From the titles, they sound very different.
Beard: Yeah, one’s a Grindhouse Spaghetti Western we shot over in Spain. A sense of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and all the Clint Eastwood scenes. And then you have The Beaver Trilogy Part IV. Couldn’t be more polar opposites. Have you ever been to the Berlin Film Festival?

Paste: I have not.
Beard: I’ve never been, so obviously I’m very excited to go for what I’m going for. I’m staying a couple extra days just to see, because I’ve never been to Germany.

Paste: Yeah, that’s going to be quite a first experience of Berlin.
Beard: Yeah, I’m gonna buy me a fancy new suit. Muck it up with Christian Bale and Natalie Portman.

Paste: Tell me about being a part of that. That’s gotta be just mind-blowing.
Beard: The film was shot three years ago, and I saw a trailer for it a year-and-a-half ago—we were actually in Austin. Sarah Greene, an amazing, amazing woman, brought her laptop up to this meeting we were having and hands me some headphones. We’re out in this outdoor park, this cool place in Austin, and everyone’s drinking their fancy beers and everything, and she hands me these headphones.

So I put them on and she opens her laptop, and she’s like, “You are maybe only one of four people who is going to see this.” And I was like, “Oh, shit.” So I got to see a little cut of five or six minutes of Knights of Cups of where it was at the time. And I just remember watching it, and [thinking], “I can’t believe I get to be a part of this film.” You know what I mean? Because somehow Terrence Malick made the 405 look beautiful. It was just so cool.

Obviously the stars in it are amazing. But it’s just so different than anything I’d ever seen. I think it’s going to do really well in a place like Berlin. I haven’t seen the full movie yet, so again, I’m excited to see that one as well. But yeah, it’s pretty amazing. We have a second one coming out. It stars Ryan Gosling and all these other people. Then we have a third one that is a documentary. Brad Pitt narrates it. I get to say I’ve produced a movie with Brad Pitt now. I’ve never met hardly any of these people, but on paper it looks really nice. So I’m really excited for Berlin to finally be together, and now I get to finally meet you and talk about art. It’s a pretty exciting deal, man. You know, I don’t forget where I came from, so to be here is really humbling and amazing. It make me hungry to do more big stuff.

Paste: How did the hookup with Malick happen? Was it friends of friends?
Beard: Through Sarah Greene. She had a film out here that Silver Sail produced last. It’s called Hellion with Aaron Paul.

Paste: I know Kat Candler a little bit.
Beard: Yeah, Kat’s great. Sarah Greene produced that, and that’s where that connection went, and then we were able to continue working together after that. So we pretty much just became really close through Hellion, and that led to life-changing things for me. I just really never told anybody about the Malick. Even my friends were like—you know, I’m trying to get these struggling indie films off the ground—and so they’re like, “So what are you doing now?” And I’m like, “Well, actually, I’ve got a movie coming out now. The trailer’s coming out tomorrow.” They’re like, “What the fuck? How are you involved in this?

Paste: I have met Sarah once. Jeff Nichols introduced me to her, and I told her, “Most directors have director heroes, and I do have director heroes, too, but honestly, you are one of my greatest filmmaking heroes.” I love how she adopts directors, and obviously, I love so many of the films she has done. I love the filmmakers she’s chosen.
Beard: She’s just such an awesome, awesome woman. I feel really lucky that she kind of took me under her wing, and put her confidence in me and her trust in working together. I’ve learned so much about doing things the right way through her. I love the woman.

Paste: So being a producer can mean any combination of about a dozen different job functions. Can you tell me about which of those you fulfilled on each of these current projects?
Beard: Recently, we completed a cool grindhouse spaghetti western that’s a total throwback to the classics of the ’60s westerns shot in Europe. In fact, we even shot on the same sets! On this project entitled 6 Bullets To Hell I was the Executive Producer, but I also directed it alongside fellow actor in the film, Russell Cummings. We came on board during the movie when we lost some financing to finish it and keep it alive. That function of EP was a lot more hands on in comparison to Knight of Cups, where I worked more behind the camera only, which is typically where an EP on a project would stay. The interesting thing about the title of any “producer” is the involvement, business or creative, is different per project.

Paste:Which do you think you’re best at?
Beard:In terms of producing, I’ve done it enough to know how to get something across the finish line, but you’re only as good as the team you have working with you. When it comes to directing or acting, those functions are subjective to use the word best but they’re by far the most fun aspects of the job in my opinion. I love to produce projects off the ground, but I’ve learned everything I know from two incredible producers, Suzanne Weinert and Sarah Green—they’re the best!

Paste:What in your previous career has prepared you best for those kind of functions?
Beard: I used to work in the oil field, used to make lattes, was a DJ, and bagged groceries. The differences in all the jobs definitely set you up for the variety of work you can get in the film industry. On one set, you’re worried about the authenticity of the Viking shields or where to find a castle set, and on the next you are figuring out how to transport a covered wagon in the mud, and the next month tracking down a 1960s cop car.

Paste:What’s the best advice you can give to someone looking to get into producing? You know, other than becoming friends with Sarah Green, ha!
Beard: The best advice I could ever think of is study and learn from someone who is doing it. Even if that means starting off from the very bottom until you can get yourself in a position to learn, thats the best way to do it. Very rarely are any two projects the same, so seeing how a producer works to produce the film to completion will give you the knowledge of what the job entails, and of course making your own projects with friends is the most fun way to learn.

Michael Dunaway is the producer and director of 21 Years: Richard
Linklater a New York Times Critics Pick starring Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke; Creative Producer for the “Sarasota Film Festival”; Movies Editor of Paste; host of the podcast The Work; and one hell of a karaoke performer. You can follow him on Twitter.

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