INTERVIEW WITH WRITER-DIRECTOR TANNER BEARD
TANNER BEARD: Have you ever heard of
It was mentioned in the movie. Snyder, Texas
HENRY: I’ve only heard of it in the movie.
TANNER: It’s like eighty miles south of
Lubbock, in West Texas,
where is. Like Texas University Abilene, Midland,
– kind of in the middle of all those towns, in the middle of nowhere. Odessa
H: It’s funny; I’ve found Hell's Gates in
York and Idaho, but I couldn’t
find any in . Is it your invention? Texas
TANNER: Really? No, absolutely not. It’s a town. There’s a huge man-made lake there called
it’s a tourist destination spot. On the 4th of July people dock
their boats and get wasted out there at Hell’s Gate. There are just two
historical structures, along a canyon.
There’s a gap in the canyon, and before there was a lake, it was an
entryway for people to cut across the canyon a lot quicker. I grew up going to the lake, and that’s how I
learned of the story. I’ve always been
fascinated by it. Possum
H: Now I notice there are a lot of the same character names in your earlier short film, MOUTH OF CADO. Was that sort of an audition film for THE LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE?
TANNER: (laughs) Probably more of an audition film for me to be a director, producer, writer, actor in the movie. At the time that I made MOUTH OF CADO, I wanted to make a feature, but I wanted to make a short film first. Obviously we didn’t have any money. And I didn’t know too many people who were going to give a 23-year-old kid a couple of million dollars to make a Western. We got really lucky with the budget we had. We were able to stretch it.
H: Can I ask you how much you spent on HELL’S GATE?
TANNER: Yeah; it was 2.1 (million dollars). Everyone we showed it to thought it was closer to eight to ten.
H: I’ll tell you, every dollar’s on the screen.
TANNER: I didn’t even take any money for the script, or directing. I had to get paid as an actor, for S.A.G., but I think we spent that money on music. I just pulled out every favor in the world. We shot a lot of it on my folk’s land, which is not too far from
. So I
probably saved millions of dollars on land rental, just from having a crew of a
hundred out there for a couple of weeks.
The bills would have started to add up pretty quickly. Possum
H: So that’s what you had, a crew of about a hundred?
TANNER: Yes, on certain days, like the big ‘town’ days. (Mostly) we had a crew of about forty or fifty; it was a standard sized crew for a union movie. So it was important that we didn’t shoot too much that we weren’t going to use. We do have a bunch of deleted scenes that are going to be on the DVD actually.
H: Very cool; it always makes me feel like an insider to see that stuff.
TANNER: (laughs) Right: see all the Summer Glau scenes that no one’s ever seen. My sister actually did the music for it. But it could never have happened without my producer, Suzanne Weinert; she’s just amazing.
H: How did you two meet up?
TANNER: Actually, she used to work for Julia Roberts. It’s kind of amazing; the people she worked for are Paul Newman, Ron Howard and Julia Roberts. She and Julia were together for a decade running Julia Roberts’ old company, Shoelace Productions. Julia was really good friends with a guy from Snyder named Barry Tubb, who is actually in (my) film. He was in TOP GUN and LONESOME DOVE, and a huge deal in Snyder, where I come from. Anyway, Barry was making a movie there in Snyder, when I was like sixteen, and I jumped at the chance to work as an intern for the first couple of weeks, and eventually come on to the payroll. It was called GRAND CHAMPION; it was kind of a Western kid’s movie, set in the present day. It had Joey Lauren Adams, and Emma Roberts when she was a little girl – she’s huge now. Julia Roberts made an appearance in it, Bruce Willis made an appearance in it.
, Natalie Maines, a
lot of country singers. When you go on
to IMDB, and look at the entire cast list, you go, ‘What is this movie?’ All these
A-list people, but it was just film-school for me. George
Tubb actually went to high school with my dad, so he was like, “You’re Rick Beard’s son? Come on board.” And that was how I met Suzanne, being on the set. And then her and Barry Tubb teamed up again in 2004, and did a little comedy called CLOWN HUNT, and that’s when I met Brendan Wayne. I told him, “Dude, I have always wanted to make a Western.” He said, “Are you kidding me? My granddad’s John Wayne. All I’ve ever wanted to do was a Western.” I said, “I had this idea about Hell’s Gate – I’ve always loved the name, loved the place, and it’s an interesting story about these cowboys, and how it got its name. And I’d love to make an eight-minute short.” So I got Brendan on, and all these other people attached, a lot just for the genre’. I was able to raise a little bit of money. And we made the short; it looked like we had a lot more money than we did. So with a thirty-minute short, which is an epic-long short -- it was more just to show investors -- I said hey, obviously I’m young and inexperienced, but I’ve got a handle on this project. And here’s the proof. And we won some festivals, and a year later we’re geared up for the feature, so I got incredibly fortunate. Some people it takes ten years to make a movie; it only took me four.
H: With LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE you surrounded yourself with some familiar names and talents: Henry Thomas, Buck Taylor, Indian actors like Zahn McClarnon and the Spears brothers. What do you think attracted them to the project?
TANNER: I just thought I was the luckiest person, I thought I found the Golden Ticket. But Suzanne said, at the end of the day, everybody liked the script, because I tried to make every single character somewhat important, so we could get cameos. Because you know that, if the movie gets sold, you’ve got to have someone on the DVD cover. Actually the crazy thing is there are so many people in there from Snyder, like Kevin Alejandro and Steven Taylor. I called out a few favors. I’m really good friends with (ONE TREE HILL star) Robert Buckley, and Rob said, ‘I’ve got this buddy of mine, and he just wants to be in a Western. He says he doesn’t care if he has a line: he just wants to be in it.’ And I said sure, man, we’ll find him something. And it turned out to be James Lafferty from ONE TREE HILL, which has this huge following. Every fifteen-year-old girl in the nation knows who they are. James is such a great guy, and Kevin Alejandro and those guys are in the movie for such a short bit, but it looked like they had been out there for a while. They were kind of thrown together, but they had camaraderie between them, I thought. Have you seen Eddie Spears on HELL ON WHEELS?
H: I sure have; he’s terrific.
TANNER: He’s awesome – so good in that. He cut his hair for it; it was a really big deal. They had a ceremony for it.
H: I was at the première of YELLOW ROCK. Eddie was looking at the movie, and saying after that he was sentimental about it, not only because it was a good part in a good film, but because it’s the last time he’ll see himself with all that hair. How did you get Henry Thomas?
TANNER: We had a great casting director, Sid De Miguel out of
He helped us get Henry Thomas, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Eric Balfour, Lou Pucci. Suzanne got Glenn Morshower on board, she knew Buck Taylor from some films they had
done together. A lot of people, when they saw that it was a western, wanted to
jump on board. New York
H: I as very impressed with your cinematographer, Nathanial Vorce. Am I right, that this his first feature?
TANNER: It is, to be in the driver’s seat. He’s worked on Terrence Malick’s TREE OF LIFE. He was 2nd or 3rd unit director of photography, because they had they had quite a few on that film, but Terrence Malick’s B or C-team guy can be my A-team guy any day. We had a great time. He had such a great vision. We shot on digital, but we brought together digital with sort of an old-style image. We went to Panavision, got a bunch of amazing Panavision lenses from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, that a lot of old Westerns were shot on. And they’re like hundred-thousand dollar lenses, but nobody’s used them in so many years, because they’re obsolete. But the technology, we thought it would be such a cool look to bring the digital world mixed in with that classic wide-screen look. And I loved it. He had such a vision for it.
H: And it absolutely looks like film.
TANNER: We had a great colorist, too. Again, a lot of people pulled out favors, and everybody gave 110. We were shooting on Red cameras. Nobody shoots 35 any more. I would love to do a 35 mm movie some day, just because there’s nothing like it. But times are changin’.
H: What length was your shooting schedule?
TANNER: Again, this attributed to Suzanne Weinert; we somehow shot it all in four weeks. And Nathaniel and I went off for a fifth week, on our own, on my parents land, and shot just a ton of ‘B’ roll (cut-away and atmosphere footage). Because again, we’re shooting on digital, so it’s not like you’re burning up film. We shot all around the ranch; we boated out on
. Got the shot that you see at the end of the
movie; that’s the real Hell’s Gate. We
CGI’d out the water only, so everything else was real, and I think the folks
around that area, the Western history buffs, will appreciate that. Possum
H: In addition to your parents’ land, you were shooting in a Western town.
TANNER: This great place -- I’ve got to plug it -- called Enchanted Springs Ranch, outside of
where Summer Glau is from. It’s just
outside of Boerne, Texas . And Henry Thomas is from San Antonio .
So all their parents came down when we were shooting in that town; we
roped most of them into being extras with us.
That was cool – Henry got to act in front of his parents. He enjoyed that. We filmed in San Antonio . Then we went north around Boerne, Texas Granberry,
Texas, to shoot for .
We shot a ton around the Granberry area, and also the Dallas
area. The final sequence, with all the
cliffs, that was on the same mountain chain as Hell’s Gate, but several miles
away, on the other side of the river. We
pretty much shot this where it historically took place. Possum Kingdom
H: I’ve got to say, your art direction, production design, costume work is just gorgeous, just real. You forget you’re watching a movie.
TANNER: I’ll definitely send that message toward Kari Perkins and Chris Stull because they really were the entire backbone of the film, and we couldn’t have stood up without them. Kari Perkins was amazing. She bent over backwards; she knew the budget wasn’t huge, and she somehow pulled together a lot of amazing costumes, and they really distressed them, and Chris Stull was just a miracle worker.
H: Jamie Thomas King is very entertaining as Doc Holliday. Isn’t he a Brit?
TANNER: He is. He was on THE TUDORS. We got Jamie really late in the game, because funny enough, nobody really wanted to touch the Doc Holliday character, probably because nobody wanted to go up against Val Kilmer. He’s so loved in that role, it’s a touchy one. So we had to dive into the acting pool; we really needed an actor to play this guy. He’s a precursor really to the Doc Holliday character that we all know, like at the O.K. Corral. This was actually his first recorded gunfight, with Champagne Charlie Austin. I thought Jamie did a helluvah job – it’s a tough character to take on. .
H: I liked the stuff with just the two of you in the dentist’s office; I loved that tooth flying up in the air. I suspect that was CGI.
TANNER: It was, but the tooth was real. (laughs) It was my cousin’s – he had just had his wisdom teeth taken out; just gnarly looking teeth. I said, dude, that thing looks like it hurt when it came out. I’ve got to use it. I don’t know if that’s going to be on the director’s commentary or not, but it definitely makes us laugh.
H: You have two very beautiful leading ladies, Jenna Dewan-Tatum and Summer Glau. What were they like to work with?
TANNER: Amazing; and again, they’re both from
, which was a fun
part of the movie. Most of the cast
hired out of Texas
were native Texans. Jenna was an
absolute sweetheart, and really dived right in.
Nobody got to really see each other.
I don’t know if she ever met Lou or Summer or Eric on-set, because of
the way the scenes were shot, but she was an absolute delight to work
with. She really got into it; she loved
the costumes – she never wanted to leave the costume trailer. Summer Glau is just so incredibly
professional. She actually flew from
Hawaii, from a movie set, went home for an hour, then drove back to L.A.X., got
on a plane to San Antonio, had to drive all the way to set, straight into hair
and make-up. She came out and caught us
for the tail end of the day, when the Moon family is outside of their house,
and we had just enough light that it looked Terrence Malik-y out there. I said, we’re going to go ahead and roll this
one. She just dove right in, and really
had no idea what the scene was. L.A.
H: Well you wrote it, you directed it, you acted in it. What do you think of yourself as, primarily?
TYANNER: I’m a pretty good…I don’t know. I’m a pretty good procrastinator. People ask me what I do, and I don’t know what to say, except that I’m in the motion picture business. Everybody moves out here to be an actor, so I try to consider myself that, but for the last couple of years I’ve been so into the business side. Really, I’ve always wanted to do anything, as long as it involves movies. I’ve got to say that my love is being in front of the camera. It’s just too much fun to get out there and play pretend. Sometimes you don’t get as many opportunities as you like, so you try and create them yourself. I’ve created a thousand, and maybe one of them hits. I would hope to always consider myself a film maker. But I definitely love to act.
H: Speaking of which, I understand your next project is about Cherokee bank-robber Henry Starr.
TANNER: We’re definitely excited about that. I just tied up the books rights. It’s not based on a book, but he’s done a lot of history on it, and I had to get the rights to progress forward.
H: I know you’re part Cherokee.
TANNER: Right – Cherokee and Choctaw. So would you be playing Henry Starr?
TANNER: No, absolutely not. I’ll definitely have a supporting character, I just have to: the movie sounds like too much fun to not be a part of. But we’re raising the bar pretty high with this one. We’re looking to shoot in
Mexico, Oklahoma and . Arkansas
H: All the
TANNER: Pretty much. It’s more of a biopic than an action movie the way HELL’S GATE was. You know, Starr robbed over thirty-something banks, and his story has never been told on film, which completely blows my mind. It’s such a fascinating story; he even wrote, directed and starred in his own movie. We’re trying to make this one more studio-friendly, and maybe have a studio attachment on board before shooting. Suzanne Weiner’s also got another period piece set in
about the Irish that sided up with the Mexicans, in the Mexican-American
War. John Riley, he’s kind of a Mexican
hero. So we’re pitching those movies as
kind of a package, and I’m attached to direct that one. Suzanne is producing it. So we’re waiting to see which bites
H: Would be writing both of them?
PATRICK’S BATALLION I did not write. I’m
just attached to direct.
Henry Starr I’d be writing and directing, and I’d be acting in it, too. I need to fill it up with people that will make it sell first, and then I’ll take a role.
H: Have you always been fond of westerns?
TANNER: Oh yeah. My dad, to this day, goes to sleep every night watching the Western Channel. I grew up in Snyder,
West Texas: tumbleweeds and dust and wind. It was what you played outside; cowboys and
Indians. My dad and my grandpa, they’re
just huge western fans, which is what they grew up with. I’ve learned so much about the western genre
with the TV shows. There’s always
GUNSMOKE, but I love BONANZA, RAWHIDE, . Some of the writing is so good in these
shows. Obviously they’re older CHEYENNE ; they don’t
have all the fancy things we do now, but the writing, the stories; they hook
you and you can’t stop watching. And
before you know it you’re an hour into something from 1956. Hollywood
H: Do you have a favorite western?
TANNER: My family’s favorite is
, great movie, but my favorite is
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. I love the
Clint Eastwoods, I just think they’re fun, but I love the John Waynes too. I’ve really grown to appreciate the two
different sides of the western. They
were able to kind of put a fork in the road with the standard Gene Autry type
of stuff; once he got older, he got cooler, more realistic. TOMBSTONE
NOTE: I conducted this interview with Tanner a couple of months ago. When I contacted him yesterday, to see if he had any news, he e-mailed me, “I couldn't be happier that Lionsgate came on board to distribute the DVD. We have four projects in the works but St. Patrick’s Battalion and Henry Starr are next up. I'd say St. Pats is next up for us but we'd like to start Henry Starr directly after. Unless plans change, both would shoot in TX between now and 2013! We have sold LOHG in several foreign territories already and even more recently at
so I’m very excited about that. And LOHG
is on its way to the Almeria Western Film Festival in Cannes in
September! On a personal note I have a film coming out this year called
"The Letter" with James Franco and Winona Ryder. Just acting in this
one but I'm very excited about its release as well.” Spain
Movie Review – THE LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE
Treading ground reminiscent of B. Traven’s TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE is Tanner Beard’s THE LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE. It is an extremely impressive feature directorial and screenwriting debut, and a visual feast.
Texas, a not of desert, but
of green and water, it’s the story of a group of people whose initial
connection seems slight at best, except that they are desperate and struggling,
and largely dishonest: a young outlaw (Eric Balfour), of a wolf-pack hired to
kill one Champagne Charlie Austin. A
young Irish railroad worker (Tanner Beard), with doubtful morals and an
agonizing toothache. A young and
desperate thief and cut-purse (Lou Taylor Pucci) who manages to be at the wrong
places at the right times, with an ear to every half-opened door. It’s a triumph of writing, direction and
performance that we care what happens to each man. Texas
What draws the three together is not accident or conspiracy, but fate, at its most sinister and relentless. Along the way there are white buffalo; deadly bowling matches; beautiful women -- with morals and without them; shootouts between men too drunk to care about the danger to bystanders; and Indians that have always been friendly up until now.
It’s an ensemble piece, with roles for the supporting players so rich, and well acted, that it intentionally takes a long time for the viewer to figure who the lead characters are. Among the notable performers are Buck Taylor as a businessman with political aspirations, Henry Thomas as a bartender with a secret, lovely and too sympathetic Jenna Dewan, and FIREFLY star Summer Glau. One of the best scenes feature TUDORS star Jamie Thomas King as Doc Holliday, blissfully drunk at the card table, and amused at a poor loser. Another standout performance is by YELLOW ROCK star Michael Spears as an increasingly menacing Indian the boys want to trade with.
The photography by Nathaniel Vorce, making his feature debut as a cinematographer, is not merely beautiful. It creates an idealized realism that makes everything that happens in the story all the more credible. Likewise Kari Perkins’ handsome and accurate costumes and production design and art direction by Christopher Stull and Yvonne Boudreaux combine to draw the audience into the movie’s beautiful but grim world.
If I can give one warning to the audience, and I don’t think this is a spoiler, the opening scene is confusing because it is a flash-forward. If you think of the movie as starting a couple of minutes in, when you first see buffalo, it will be chronological, and much more understandable.
Update, August 12, 2012 -- If you'd like to run out and rent LEGEND OF HELL'S GATE, and you should, RedBox has a link, so you can check to see if it's available in your local kiosk: http://www.redbox.com/movies/the-legend-of-hells-gate
FIRST LOOK AT BBC-AMERICA’S ‘COPPER’
First look at COPPER, BBC America's first original drama, coming in August. It's set in 1860s
in the infamous Five Points gang area Scorcese revealed in GANGS OF NEW YORK.
Sure, it's an 'Eastern,' but let's be open-minded: after all, Billy The Kid
came from New York City Brooklyn! I’ll have much more about this series in next
'HELL ON WHEELS' -- GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS.
The good news is that season 2 of the hit AMC Western series will begin on Sunday, August 12th. The bad news, for DISH satellite customers, is that DISH is dropping AMC. If you want to keep AMC on DISH, AMC asks you to let your voice be heard by calling 855-KEEP-AMC, or going to KEEPAMC.COM.
‘DJANGO UNCHAINED’ TEASER TRAILER
After a rash of often clever but fake trailers, the official first teaser trailer is here. I’m delighted that the first face you see is James Russo, and the last is the original Django, Franco Nero, talking to Jamie Foxx.
OAKLEY, CODY, MASTERSON ITEMS ON THE AUCTION BLOCK TODAY
Sunday, June 10th, in
, property of Annie Oakley, Buffalo
Bill Cody and Bat Masterson will be auctioned, for a preview, check out the
video. Dallas, Texas
Well folks, that's what I've got for this week. Next week I'll have more about COPPER, and some other items I'm still working on.
All Original Contents Copyright June 2012 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved