Tanya Sierra, a Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) film student, debuted a short film at Film Festival Petaluma alongside film director Finn Taylor on May 5 at the Mystic Theatre. Sierra worked closely with Taylor—a Bay Area native with over two decades of experience in the industry—on a six-minute production. The pair finished the short film in a 48-hour period prior to its debut at the international film festival’s “World Short Showcase” screenings.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Healdsburg, and while the majority of my relatives live in Sonoma County, my family’s roots are in Guanajuato, Mexico. I graduated from Sonoma State University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and a Minor in German. In some ways I feel like I’m very late to the world of filmmaking. I would love to say that I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do, but the true realization, my “aha moment,” came to me only about three years ago when I was 26. It was a long road to this point, but when I think back, I feel like I was always going to find my way to filmmaking.
What attracted you towards cinematography? What captivated you about it?
Cinematography, of all of the areas of filmmaking (writing, directing, producing, editing, etc.) has always been the most intimidating to me. It’s just so complex because there’s so much involved: lenses, lighting, framing, etc. Though, that’s also what’s been captivating me about it the more I learn about working with the camera. There is so much you can do, and need to do, with those elements to produce the story you have on paper.
Who are your favorite directors?
I’ve always found it difficult to choose a favorite of anything, and directors are no different. That being said, one director I really admire is Alice Troughton. She has been working in the television industry for at least 16 years in both the U.S. and U.K., and has a strong reputation in this largely male-dominated field.
What’s your favorite movie? What movie has inspired you to want to become a film director?
While I don’t have a favorite film, what inspires me about a movie is if it can cause an impact. If I can’t stop thinking about it after a couple of days, that’s how I know the film has inspired me, regardless of its genre.
Give us a brief summary on your short film.
Due to the limitations of writing a three-page script, I came up with a comedy about the school’s mascot that takes place on the SRJC Petaluma campus. The school’s mascot, Rosco, is a down-on-his-luck bear charged with saving the school from a huge downward spiral in school spirit by him giving an incredible performance during the school’s 100-year celebration assembly.
What inspired you to write this screenplay, which will be featured on May 5 at Film Fest Petaluma?
So far most of my scripts have been largely grounded in reality. Even the film I did based on an urban legend was still a pretty straightforward ghost movie. So, I wanted to try something different. I wanted to come up with something where, even though it took place in a normal setting, there would be one element that would make it a bit bizarre. That’s when I decided to play with the idea of a school mascot who actually was the mascot, not just a person in a bear suit even though that’s exactly what it looks like.
Who were you working with throughout the making of this film?
I will be working on the film with guest director, Finn Taylor, who has 30 years of experience in the field, and a crew comprised of all of this semester’s intro and intermediate filmmaking students led by SRJC instructor, Brian Antonson.
How does it make you feel to be one of the few female directors in Film Fest Petaluma?
I feel a mixture of emotions. More than anything, I wish there were more female directors in the world in general, but as it stands, I’m just happy to add to the numbers. I have to admit that when I received the good news from my instructor, it took a lot to not scream into the phone in excitement. It also meant so much to me just to see that of the four finalists in the script competition for student productions, all happened to be written, or co-written, by women.
You are one of the few Latina contestants. How does it make you feel that you are representing your community?
While I am the only Latina in the area to debut a film, I’m so glad that there will be a film from Mexico and one from Ecuador in the festival as well. But overall, these are small numbers. So, again, if I can add to the ranks of Latinos, I’m happy to. We need more, though!
Professionally, where do you see yourself going in the next five years?
My plan is to go to grad school for film and television production. After grad school, I would like to either work on a film crew or a television show crew. But until then, my plan is to continue to make an impact through my work on short films.
What words of advice do you have for young professionals wanting to venture into a career in film?
What I’ve learned is that while I may be a generally shy person, when you’re making a film it’s a team effort. If there are people wanting to be in film but feeling discouraged because they don’t have the equipment, don’t let that stop you. If you have a story to tell, you can make it work with what you have—even your cellphone. Just make something!
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