In Recess October 2022

Film Fanatic

A Round Rock family law attorney uses her creativity and storytelling skills behind the camera and in the courtroom

Interview by Will Korn

A Photo of Tiffany Crouch Bartlett and Kevin Costner on Location 
for the Movie Open Range
Tiffany Crouch Bartlett (center) and Kevin Costner (far left) surveying land for a scene in Open Range outside of Calgary, Alberta. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Crouch Bartlett.

Tiffany Crouch Bartlett vividly remembers the sight of Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones leaping over edges and dodging bullets in the 1981 classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. Little did she know her first screening of the film would awaken a passion and open a door to a magical world of moviemaking years later. The Round Rock-based family law attorney spoke to the Texas Bar Journal about her experience as an independent filmmaker, as well as her time in Hollywood working with some of the industry’s brightest stars.

WHAT WAS YOUR ORIGINAL INSPIRATION TO BECOME A FILMMAKER?
That’s a great question and one that I haven’t thought about for a very long time. But the first film I saw that made me want to go to the movies all the time was Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981. I saw it every day, at every showing, when it played at our little theater in Canadian, Texas, and I spent all of my allowance money going to see it. It was unlike any film I’d ever seen before, and I wondered if maybe I could be a part of that world someday.

WHICH OF YOUR FILMS WERE FEATURED IN INTERNATIONAL COMPETITIONS AND SCREENED AT THEATERS?
Well, I have been very lucky to be a part of the productions of some major Hollywood films from the inception of a rough screenplay to the end of production, including The Insider (1999), 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001), and Open Range (2003). I worked very closely with Eric Roth, who is still a dear friend and truly a genius screenwriter, on The Insider and it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay and Best Picture, so that was an incredible experience. Of my own short films that I either directed or produced, Blood Country (a documentary about horse slaughter in Texas) screened at the Steven Spielberg theater inside the legendary Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles as well as downtown Austin at the original Alamo Drafthouse, and those were very special moments for me. I also produced a lovely short narrative film before the pandemic called La Casa Verde, and it screened at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and also in San Antonio at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. I was able to invite some close friends to the screening there, which was a heartwarming experience.

ARE THERE ANY FILMMAKERS WHO INSPIRE YOU? HAVE YOU TAKEN ANY PIECES OF THEIR STYLES AND APPLIED THEM TO YOUR OWN WORK?
Ingmar Bergman is a huge inspiration for me. His films are wholly unique in my mind because they are what you could truly call “art.” The way he was able to blend such masterful acting performances by actresses like Liv Ullman with such starkly haunting and beautiful sets and locations—there’s just no one else like him. I’m also a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, William Wyler, and Howard Hawks. I have tried to incorporate some of all of these guys’ styles into my work, but I am probably the only person who could see any of that inspiration in my little films.

ONCE YOU HAVE AN IDEA FOR A FILM, WHAT IS THE PROCESS TO GET STARTED WITH MOVING IT TO PRODUCTION?
The most important thing is, of course, writing it all down. Once you have some themes or ideas in your mind, it’s time to write your outline, followed by a script or storyboard. I like to draw out all my ideas and try to see it in cinema or photographic form in my mind before anything. Then it’s time to get a good crew to help the vision come to life. While it’s possible to do everything yourself, as I did with Blood Country, it’s more fun when you’re bouncing ideas around with other filmmakers.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES THAT COME WITH DIRECTING AND PRODUCING A FILM?
The most challenging aspects for me were finding the funding and support to make a film. When your resources are very limited, it makes filmmaking even more difficult, but it’s also more rewarding in the end. Working with actors and bringing out the performance or reactions you are hoping for is probably the most critical part of filmmaking for me. If the actor or the interviewee (in a documentary) is not compelling, then the film is just not going to be very successful.

A Photo of Tiffany Crouch Bartlett and Kevin Costner
Tiffany Crouch Bartlett (left) poses with longtime friend Kevin Costner, with whom she worked during the production of the 2003 film Open Range. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Crouch Bartlett.

HOW DID YOU BALANCE YOUR TIME AS AN ATTORNEY WHILE PURSUING A MASTER’S DEGREE IN FILMMAKING FROM CAMBRIDGE?
That was probably the most ambitious combination of work I’ve ever done, and I’m honestly not quite sure how I made it through that year! I was directing and editing several short films while at Cambridge and flying back and forth from London to Austin for court hearings, and I was definitely exhausted by all the traveling and time changes!

WHAT IS THE FILMMAKING WORLD IN HOLLYWOOD LIKE? HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO BREAK IN?
When I was studying at the University of Texas School of Law, I had to get special permission from the dean to take film production classes at UT during the same time. I became close friends in the film program with Shawn Guthrie, who now runs the Student Academy Awards in Los Angeles, and he introduced me to Barbara Morgan, who is the executive director of the Austin Film Festival. Barbara put me to work right away, and there I was able to get to know Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay for one of my favorite films, Forrest Gump. I basically spent four days with him during the festival from sunup to sundown, and he offered me a job to work with him at Touchstone Pictures/Walt Disney in Hollywood after I graduated from UT Law. So, I packed my bags late in 1996 and moved out to L.A., where I was able to conduct research and worked for a couple of years as a story editor for Eric’s film projects in the late ’90s. Honestly, the film world in Hollywood can be tough. Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, there was a lot of sexual harassment going on, and honestly it was not the best environment for a young single woman to live. Thankfully, I was able to be sheltered for a while by Eric and Kevin Costner, also a dear friend, with whom I worked for several years. But ultimately, I didn’t want to stay in that glittery world. I wanted to focus on some of my own projects back home in Texas. TBJ

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