The Dallas Filmmakers Heading to Sundance: Yen Tan

A number of filmmakers from Dallas are headed to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which kicked-off January 17, in support a number of locally- produced movies that are featured in this year’s festival. We caught up with them, and over the next week, we’ll share their thoughts on their movies, filmmaking, and Dallas. Click here for all the profiles in the series.

Yen Tan lived in Dallas until 2010, when he decamped for Austin. But the production of his new film, Pit Stop, which debuted in the Next category at Sundance, traveled a road that ran straight through The Texas Theatre. The Oak Cliff theater held fundraisers for the film, held screenings of rough cuts, and theater co-operator Eric Steele produced Tan’s film, which was also co-written by Dallas’ David Lowery. As someone who has worked in both Austin and Dallas, Tan offers perspective on the state of filmmaking in the two Texas cities.

Name: Yen Tan

Age: 37

Why did you make this film?

I’ve been working on the script since 2004. Not making the film will essentially mean that I’ve wasted all that time and energy. That would be heartbreaking.

There are probably more Dallas filmmakers at Sundance this year than any other year at one time. You live in Austin, but from your perspective, what do you think this says (if anything) about the state of filmmaking in Dallas?

I was living and making films in Dallas up until end of 2010, when I moved to Austin. There’s always been something going on with the film scene in Dallas. I’m thrilled because it’s been growing steadily through the years, and the Sundance spotlight this year on all the Lone Star films definitely points at something exciting on the horizon.

How did you end up getting Eric Steele and David Lowery engaged in the film?

I have known them as friends for awhile, so it was a natural progression. In this field, it’s always nicer to work with people you like, respect, and trust.

Where did you shoot and what were the considerations with choosing locations?

Pit Stop was shot in Austin, Bastrop, Dripping Springs and Lockhart. The setting is unnamed in the film, so we only used locations that could create a realistic universe of the average small Texas town, which is very easy if you plan out your interiors and exteriors.

What are the any advantages to being a Texas-based filmmaker?

It’s a lot easier to get an indie off the ground here, simply because it costs less to make a film, and you can always find help and support from the community. Austin Film Society’s annual Texas Filmmakers Production Fund is also a huge incentive for a lot of us.

What are the biggest challenges facing filmmakers working in Texas?

There are many filmmaking talents here, but still not enough dedicated producers who know how to find money and how to get the projects into the right hands. It’s improved a lot in the past two years, but this remains an area that needs more cultivating. Producers are so essential in getting anything made and are as important as directors.

Do you see an parallels or contrasts between Dallas and Austin in terms of filmmaking?

I seemed to notice a lot more calling-card films made in Dallas, which are high-concept/low-budget productions, made to show the studios what you can do with more money and bigger talents. There’s also more emphasis on genre or direct-to-video content. Austin filmmaking is a lot more diverse and eclectic.

Where do you see Dallas filmmaking in ten years? Do you think there is a progressive nature to the growth of a film scene? In other words, is Dallas becoming a stronger city for filmmaking, or is this just a singular moment when a number of people from here happen to making good films?

I think much could happen in ten years in Dallas, but I’m also worried that filmmakers who make it here will eventually move elsewhere. That always takes everything a few steps back when someone successful leaves. The encouraging sign is that there is a growing number of Dallas filmmakers who are like Austin filmmakers: cinema aficionados who are very in tune with foreign/art house/obscure films and are influenced by them, so the great divide between the filmmaking in both cities are becoming narrower.

Is there a filmmaking community in Dallas, and do you consider yourself a part of it?

Yes. And since I still have many friends there and visit regularly, I will always consider myself a part of it.

Be honest, do you see yourself continuing to stay in Texas working on films, or do the coasts still have too strong a pull?

I might be past the age of moving, to be honest, and I like making films in Texas. At the very least, this will always be home based for me even if I make films elsewhere. I’m not sure if I can thrive in Los Angeles or New York. I feel like they will crush my spirit very quickly, since my personality is just not aggressive and competitive enough. Here, there’s less pressure, and less of an idea that everyone around you is in the biz. Which I think is healthy for an artist.