Film producer Katie Mustard to join Vail Film Festival women’s panel
If you go …
What: Women in Film Panel.
When: 3:45 p.m. Saturday, April 1.
Where: Cascade 2, 1310 Westhaven Drive, Vail.
Cost: Festival passes start at $50 and include the panel discussion.
More information: Visit www.vailfilmfestival.com to purchase passes and learn more.
14th annual Vail Film Festival schedule
Film screenings take place at Cascade Theaters, 1310 Westhaven Drive, and CineBistro at Solaris, 141 E. Meadow Drive, No. 104, both in Vail.
Saturday, April 1
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — Film screenings, Cascade Theaters and CineBistro
1 to 6 p.m. — Hospitality lounge, Cascade Theaters
3:45 p.m. — Panel: Women in Film, Cascade Theaters
7 p.m. — Awards ceremony, Cascade Theaters
7:30 p.m. — Closing Night film, “Sticky Notes,” Cascade Theaters
10 p.m. to midnight — Closing Night party, Larkspur Restaurant, 458 Vail Valley Drive, Golden Peak
Sunday, April 2
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — Film screenings, Cascade Theaters and CineBistro
1 to 5 p.m. — Hospitality lounge, Cascade Theaters
For independent film producer Katie Mustard, there’s rarely a dull — or still — moment in her day. Her job entails handling myriad aspects of the filmmaking process, from start to finish and beyond, and often on multiple projects at once.
But that’s exactly the way she likes it.
This weekend, Mustard’s focus will be three of her recently finished projects showing at the Vail Film Festival: “Custody” starring Viola Davis, “Sticky Notes” featuring Rose Leslie and Ray Liotta and “All We Had,” directed by and starring Katie Holmes.
This afternoon, Mustard will also take part in the Women in Film panel discussion, a topic that holds much interest and meaning for her.
Making her way
Originally from Missouri, Mustard followed the siren call of Hollywood to Los Angeles as soon as she could, attending the University of Southern California. From there, she held a variety of industry jobs, working her way from assistant to higher positions in films, television and commercials.
Now, she owns her own production company, Mustard & Co., and works as an independent freelance producer on a number of projects of all types, from documentaries to horror films and just about everything in between.
“I finish one movie and I get to start another one,” Mustard said, of her freedom as a freelance company. “Working in movies is so cool because it’s different (each time). It’s a project-oriented industry. … It allows you to be constantly coming up with new ideas.”
Though she’s technically based in New York (moving from Los Angeles after 20 years), Mustard said she’s more often “where the work is.”
“Honestly, I’ve been in Calgary, Canada, since January, and then my next movie’s in Savannah, Georgia, so you’re kind of moving around a lot,” she said.
But mobility and change are something she thrives on, and an aspect of filmmaking she sought out after years of trying just about everything.
“Producing is such a hard job to explain because it’s so encompassing of so many types of jobs, and there are so many types of producers,” she said. “I tend to do a little bit of everything, with the focus on what is called physical producing.”
This means Mustard steps in on projects that are just beyond their infancy stage of development. Then she sees them through pre-production (hiring, fundraising and set-finding stages), production (active filming stages) and post-production (distribution and selling stages).
For example, the three Vail Film Festival movies — “Custody,” “Sticky Notes” and “All We Had” — were finished at different times between 2015 and 2016, and “I’m still actively working on them,” Mustard said. “Almost every day there’s something to do.”
“It’s all these children that I have out in the world,” she added with a laugh. “They’re in college, but they haven’t graduated yet. They need care.”
Finding her projects
Another aspect of being independent and freelance that Mustard enjoys is that it gives her more freedom to pick projects that truly speak to her.
“When you make a choice to produce a film, you have to love it, because it takes so long and you put so many years of your life into these projects. To me, it’s not worth it to work on anything you don’t really love,” she said. “Because ultimately you are branding yourself.”
By choosing specific projects, she said, she is not only aligning herself with a certain type of film, but making an impact in the industry as a whole. For her films, she likes to focus on “authentic, grounded characters” and “voices that aren’t heard as much.” In many cases, that means bringing women to the spotlight, both as movie characters and as participants in the making of the project.
“These are stories that need to be told, and there’s an audience for them,” she said.
Women in film
An awareness of the disparate percentage of women working in the filmmaking business has been growing steadily for several years, Mustard said.
“The statistics of women in film — both working in it and on screen — are staggeringly low,” she said. “And I still watch big movies and I’m shocked, and I’m like, ‘That female role is awful, it’s terrible,’” she added with a rueful laugh.
The way to fix the gap, she continued, is to raise awareness and take steps, however small, to include more women in the process.
“It’s not like we’re all sitting around being gender biased, but there’s this apathy,” she said. With fewer women in the industry, it’s often easier to find men to do jobs such as writing, set building, cinematography, directing, etc. But that can change.
“Somebody just has to say, ‘I’m going to do everything in my power to find the best projects, but by female directors and with female stars,’” she said. It’s an effort she’s taken on personally, as well, even more so recently.
“I didn’t grow up thinking, ‘I’m a feminist,’” she said. “There’s what’s called an unconscious gender bias. … We’re free enough that we don’t notice it and then there’s this recent movement where people are actually pointing out the numbers,” which leads to an understanding of the existence of a problem.
Mustard said she has become more aware of this disparity in recent years, due to a growing awareness in the industry overall.
“And that’s the first step,” she said. The best thing we can do is be aware of it.”
Her next step is to make that extra effort to be involved in more projects with well-developed female characters, and that are created by and directed by women, as well as doing her part to involve more women in her own projects, when possible.
“At least as a producer, one of the things I can do right away is hiring more women,” she said.
Strong female characters
In each of her three films at the festival, Mustard has achieved that in some degree.
They “break all those stereotypes,” she said. “While again, there’s women in the roles, they’re pretty hard-core women and they’re women who make mistakes.”
“Custody” features Davis as a family court judge who takes on a tough case while dealing with her own family issues.
In fact, Davis was a big factor in the film getting successfully made, Mustard said.
“She was the first actress to attach herself. She’s an executive producer, as well. She’s the type of actor who reads a script and if it’s good she says OK,” Mustard said.
Having someone of Davis’ caliber and fame helped gather further talent for the film, not to mention funding. Though she had to fit the filming schedule into a tight deadline to not conflict with her television show, “How to Get Away With Murder.”
“She loved the material and believed in it, and that’s what gets a film made,” Mustard said.
The film “Sticky Notes” drew Mustard in by featuring a realistic and nuanced main female character. Leslie (“Game of Thrones”) plays a woman who has a difficult relationship with her father, working through how to deal with his serious cancer diagnosis.
Mustard said she liked how Leslie’s character doesn’t automatically drop her entire life to run and care for her dad, such as a one-dimensional female character might do.
“It’s easier to find (these types of movies) on smaller levels. It’s harder as the budgets get bigger, … and that’s what we’re trying to change,” Mustard said.
She’s committed to making the effort in her everyday work life, and hopes to inspire others to do the same.
“Shining a light on this is so important because that’s how we become aware,” she said. “At the very least, the one thing we can all do is be aware of these statistics and make choices, even if it’s just helping out one woman, … that’s at least a step forward.”
“If I can encourage other people to help one other woman,” she added, “to me, that’s worth it.”