This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 093: Director Michael Polish Talks About His New Film Amnesiac Starring Kate Bosworth and Wes Bentley.
Selling Your Screenplay Podcast – #93
(Typewriter Keys Tapping)
Ashley: Welcome to episode 93 of Selling Your Screenplay Podcast, I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and Blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing Michael Polish, who recently directed, “Amnesiac” starring Wes Bentley and Kate Bosworth. He got his start writing and directing a film called, “Twin Falls Idaho.” Which was a huge Indie hit, and we talk about how that got his career started. As well as talking about his most recent film since, so stay tuned for that.
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A couple of quick notes, any websites or links that I mention in the Podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode, in case you’d rather read it, or look at something later on. You can find all the Podcasts on the show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for episode #93.
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A quick few words about what I am working on this week? I am still doing re-writes on the script that I wrote in a week. I’ve already mentioned that script a couple of times on the Podcast. I met with the director again last week and we went through another round of notes. The notes are actually pretty mild, considering I wrote the script in a week, so? I think he’s pretty happy with it. And I think it’s slowly making its way to making the script a little bit better. He was actually supposed to start shooting this week. But it looks like it got pushed back another week. So, hopefully, he’ll start shooting next week. As a screenwriter, until the thing actually starts shooting, always a little bit worried that something will fall through, something will go wrong? And they actually won’t be able to shoot the movie, so? I just got my fingers crossed. And I’m just hoping he does start next week. It just keeps getting pushed back week after week. So, hopefully next week, he’ll be all set. It seems like he’s got all the production crew, he’s got his cast in place, he’s got his production crew all in place, so just a couple of odds and ends. Hopefully they will wrap these up this weekend and we’ll be off to the races.
And I got, the other thing I’m working on, was that I got the outline polished up for the spoof. That’s another writing assignment I mentioned. That one last week, so I’m hopefully going to dig into the script this week. I sent the outline to the producers on Friday, it’s now Monday. So hopefully they will get it back, some notes.
Hopefully the notes will not be too bad, and I can actually begin writing the script. What I’m really hoping to do, is get to page 55 by the end of the week. But I found that writing up a script in a week was, once I got to page 55 and keep it, mind this was only going to be an eighty-eight page script. And so paying on beyond page 55 you only got 25 more pages left. It’s not, you’re not at the half way point. You’re really like at the three quarters point already, two thirds really. When I say three quarters point, that’s really the whole point, once you get to page 55 and with a short script like that. It’s all that one, most of it two. And then it’s just pure function of going back over, going and paying off all those things you’ve thought up finishing it all off. Up to, and then polishing off after that. I found that, what reminded me of, once I got to page 55, it was all just really downhill. That’s kind of what I am hoping to do, to get to page 55 by the end of this week. And then hopefully it will all be down week. It will all by downhill from then on. So that’s the goal, we’ll see if I actually get that far? But, I think that I probably can. That’s only about twelve, to three pages a day, to get me to fifteen pages a day, not even fifteen pages a day for four days. I should be on page 55 by Friday. So, that’s my goal. I realize that’s what I’m working on right now.
Now, let’s get into the main segment, today I’m interviewing Michael Polish, here’s the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Michael, to Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Michael: Thank you very much for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe we can just go back to your early days even as a film maker. Even before “Twin Falls Idaho” just tell us how you got started working? You know, one of these kids running around making short films as a child. Just where were your beginnings come from?
Michael: Well now, since I’m a product of the ‘80’s. We didn’t have access to a lot, we had video cameras. But they weren’t, I felt they weren’t like the HD’s we have today, or 10 or 5 D’s. I was running around more with separate and got into 16 and basic 16 artifacts camera. It was a “Kellogg’s” which was a kind of freedom. It started my interest in film. Even when I was in the art program I was able to do some film stuff there. That’s kinda how I got started.
Ashley: Okay, okay. Perfect, perfect. I noticed, your very first IDMB Credit is acting credit on “Hellraiser?”
Michael: That’s funny.
Ashley: Was that your intent? To originally start out thinking, I’m going to be an actor? And then you just got into writing and directing?
Michael: No, I was actually doing a favor for the special effects prefects. The guy who was doing the, I’m sorry, the special effects make-up artist.
Michael: He worked on “Twin Falls.” So we kindly exchanged numbers so we could do “Twin Falls” later.
Michael: The acting thing was, I ended up doing a few pieces after that.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Okay, so let’s dig into “Twin Falls Idaho” for a second. Where did that idea come from? How did you guys come up with that?
Michael: We were really fascinated with Chaney and Bunker, which coined the phrase, “Siamese Twins.” Their vision and it’s been a long time since anyone even looked at them. When we were growing up, “The Guinness Book of World Records” had a picture of them inside of it. And it was reminded us of the last two times, that’s the basis for conjoined twins. So that was kind of the point of what it would be like to be stuck together that severely.
Ashley: Okay, and tell us about that film, just in terms of how you got that film made, I mean, I read that in IMDB that it was a $500,000.00 budget. I mean, that’s not chopped liver, for a first time film maker. So, maybe you could talk a little bit about how you went about it, raising that money? And getting that film produced?
Michael: Yeah, that movie was just under $500,000.00, I think when we finished it? We were, we did seventeen days, just about seventeen days out here in downtown L.A. in front of any building we could. To sort of contain, because it was a small movie. And you know, we were looking for financing and people just don’t consider Siamese Twins perfect if you wanted to. We were sitting there and like, we’ll play the twins and create this crazy movement. We’ll try and create the story principle and there was about two years of financing. There was a studio of interest in it. But it was always quite small and we weren’t quite sure how we were going to do it? Because we kept thinking, the budget was going to be huge because of the CGI. We didn’t know how we were going to bind ourselves together? So after we got done, there was a financer, was doing small independent films. And she actually had sisters that were twins. She said, “I know where you’re coming from.” From the connection I think we can make it even independent for financing, somebody has to connect to us through the paperwork.
Ashley: And maybe you can just talk about, okay so you guys worked this script. You said there was some interested from some bigger companies. How did you get that script out there, backing I mean? This was the mid ‘90’s, what were you doing to just be in the industry enough to get that script together for people? And how did that interest?
Michael: I’m actually walking my dog. Through a short film helped. We had a bunch of short films and one of them was a playing at the VGA on Sunset. I guess it’s just west of Fairfax. After the VGA as I was walking home, actually a film canister. A guy walked by and said, “What’s in the can?” Huh? A neighbor of mine, it was actually John Christ, who was the actor.
Who was the Brazilian accountant, who worked for my other film crew? And he said, “Can I see it?” I said, “Yeah.” And so, I still needed to get a transcript, a video tape back in the ‘90’s. From film I got it transferred to the transfer house. I took the video cassette, he was doing a movie called, “Casualties.” And I think he was talking to Mark Harmon and Linda Ronson, who was playing at the Transit Running, it wound up being sold to Paramount. So it was a very short film, so he started talking to me about and just started asking me? I had another script at that point, I remember. I had written a script called, “North Fork” And that was our third film. And it was so ambitus for our first film. So he said, “What else do you have?” And I said, “We have another film called, “Twin Falls Idaho.” About Siamese Twins True, if you send it out, I’ll make it. Serious you treat it, I’ll make it, and keep it going.
Ashley: Yeah. Good to go, that’s a good story. Okay, so let’s talk just a minute about, and then I promise we’ll get on to your latest film. One of the things I’m always curious about, and I’ve had several people on the Podcast that had kind of a big break out film hit. And I would certainly say, “Twin Falls Idaho” It didn’t you know, smash box office records. But it was definitely a big, you know, a critical hit, everybody in the industry knew it. And I would say, its kinda best for being a little low budget independent film. Its kinda best case scenario, is that it gets out there, gets critical and kind of leads you into your next film hopefully? And I wonder if you can speak to, what is your career look like, you know after this kind of film? And just again, doing the research on this interview, it seemed like you guys continue to struggle with job pod. And I think it’s so important, I think, for new film makers to realize? Like, so many people I talk to, they have this attitude, that if I could just get that first film made, it’s all smooth sailing. And I think so often, that’s unfortunately not the case, there’s still a lot of struggle watch them done, even after your first film. So maybe you could talk about? What did your career look like after this, you know, pretty good success?
Michael: You know I couldn’t have picked a better view to make a movie that ended taking me around the world. And showing it, you know, in 27 countries. I was so eager to come back after a year or two, touring with this film, going alternatively to Europe, Asia, that I wanted to come back and make a second film badly. Because I thought, oh gee, here comes my sophomore slide, because this is going to be rough. Because, you know, getting advantage in affairs leading all these different magazines. We were now touted as being the, “New Indie Film Makers upon the Scene.” A lot of doors opened, and a lot of big doors opened. Will they see you fitting in? And Warner Bros. was the biggest personally went into and doing a film with them called, “The Jackpot” probably could have been an Indie film after “Twin Falls Idaho.” It was, you know, more obsessive of a movie. It would have had a story that could go time video better. And we just decided to make it after a tour of, and we were just going to make a movie of which was cheaper than hitting the jackpot. So we just went out and made this movie, 15 days I think it was? Fifteen days $20,000.00 I think it was? Went around the valley and shot this movie about a Karaoke singer. And it was refreshing to do something that quick, even though “Twin Falls” was seventeen days and a couple of more days. We felt we were with that movie for a lot longer. That one was a lot quicker, unfortunately, “Jackpot” opened a couple of days earlier, a week before 9/11 happened in 2001. And so that was just barely, the surprise about “Jackpot” was it won probably the most awards we’ve ever seen. Just because the casting was a way, making that movie was just a camera in a hand and a couple of actors. We traded the camera back and forth.
Ashely: A-huh. Now did you have a sense that things were going to be tough? Deals were not going to be coming quick? Why did you decide to just jump in and make this? You’ve been out on, you know, tour for so long you just wanted to be film makers again?
Michael: Yeah. I had already, you know, gone to a lot of, there’s a notion of a career as a sort of your next hit. I felt that we wanted to look at what a career would be like after maybe a dozen movies as a close to making one movie, given twelve years. It’s still a movie process, so you know a lot and you shoot, and you shoot, and you shoot. You shoot and you write and you shoot and you write. You see what makes it on the screen, and you also marry what works on it, what works for cinema. Without working in writing, in working in screenwriting is that what’s different in screenplay and protected as the Holy Grail. And you get made and it doesn’t turn out like you want and where do I go from there? Where do I start from? I had everything put into this screenplay. I should probably write a dozen of them. See if you can make six of them, and only three comes out, you’re pretty good, your average is pretty good.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s sound advice, I appreciate that. So let’s go ahead and let’s get into your film, “Amnesiac” with Kate Bosworth and Wes Bentley. Maybe to start out give us a sort of quick pitch or a log-on of the film. I always link to the film and the trailer in the show notes, so people can definitely check that out. If people hadn’t seen it, maybe you could give it a quick pitch?
Michael: Well, it’s a it’s kinda like a Kathy Bates type of movie. A guy wakes up in a van and of course not sure where he’s at? It’s not a, he wakes up one morning, he looks at this woman, not sure of himself and says, “A?” And she says, “Hi, I’m your wife.” Of course from that point on it’s a total mystery. It doesn’t give it justice for this, it simply is what it is? It’s basically a one nighter. A guy waking up in a room and doesn’t know anything?
Ashley: So how did you get involved with this film, with the director, but not the writer? So, how did you come on to this project?
Michael: It was sent to me, professionally. Farnsworth, she sent it over to me and said, “I think with the way you make movies. I think you would make, probably do this. And it’s not a huge project, it’s you know, quite contained. If this is something you want to look at? So she sent me the script and I read it and she said, “There’s really something great about this.” But you need to take it a step farther.” You know, she’s a period piece, and give it more psychological. Get the, you really don’t know the character’s names in the movie. It’s just a man and a woman, you never know, they never call each other by their names. And, she, her desires to having a 1950’s family. Which is, married, with kids, you know, a house. And her environment, she’s built up to be in the ‘50’s. even though it’s modern day movie. She’s stuck in another time. And that made it very separate, logical, so that was my comment to the script. And you know, there was a bit psycho, but what if we take it to another level. Which is, she thinks she’s living in the ‘50’s.
Ashley: Okay, okay. And maybe you could speak to a little bit, just about your relationship with the writers. And you have a writing career of your own. So I’m sure you come out there as a director and a writer.
How did you work with the writers on this, making those kinds of changes? Do you ever let them sell it to you, you work with the writers. I’d just be curious to hear, because I think there are a lot of writers/screenwriters out there that get their scripts to directors who are also writers. And what is that relationship typically look like?
Michael: There’s always a couple of ways of dealing with this. Sometimes the writers are so intrinsic to the script that you’re working hand in hand. I wrote a lot of my own screenplays, when I have been able to take those and transfer the screenplay myself, and sometimes with my brother Mark. Beyond, with this script, it had a writer and it was a screenplay that was around for a while. So I didn’t know there was a writer, and then another writer came along that was maybe a year in front of me. And he gave me a really, really, nice polish. And then my eye guy, I was able to sort of sort out free rein with it, in a way that? Because I had to make it into a budget. It was bigger budget screenplay, than I, was looking at ways of keeping it more maintained. So, without having to, or without insulting the writers that were on this before. It was cleaning it up for the locations environment. And make sure Wes was confident to work with. Understand that he was comfortable with this. And what came out at the end was really connected. It really was a two handed, they were really came out of them was the actors. The heaviness was those two in every scene. So when I talked to them, I would say, are you capable of handling all this dialog? It’s quite a bit. So that was basically it. But you know, I have worked on movies where I’ve been able to do, call the writer and said, “Can you look at this a different way?” And I’ve been able to not have any writers really changes a lot of things.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you mentioned at as you were pitching it? If you did mention “Misery.” And I was curious if that came up a lot, you know. Not only in directing, but in the marketing of this film. Was that worry, that you would do too closely compared something like that?
Michael: Well, you know, it’s such a great movie. It’s something that’s engrained in us, as a good piece of, how to make a movie that’s contained. And between two people, you know, when you watch an easy actor, it only falls in line with the two characters, one being captive and the other being the friend. It just gets a little bit more nuts than a little bit. I think if it’s compared in a good way that’s, I think it’s going to be okay.
Ashley: Okay. So maybe you could talk a little bit about the two. Just in getting this project done. I understand, obviously, you said, Kate Bosworth got the script originally so she, her involvement was pretty much early on. But, when did Wes Bentley come into it? And did that impact the financing of this movie? A, I often wonder what comes first with a film like this? Is it the actors get attached to a film first, or then they get financing, or do you get financing and then you try and get these actors attached?
Michael: You know, first independence, every way possible. Who’s bigger really? This one was financed based on Kate. He wanted to get a male lead somehow, some sort of way, right? They wanted the one who played on “End Game” right? If they could pick up a George Clooney, right, they would gladly do it, but that’s just not going to happen.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Michael: As well as someone I’d work with for a while. You know, his brother worked with me on another movie. Until I knew or paths were going to cross again eventually. I knew he was a very, very nice guy. And really wonderful to work with, he’s. Once Kate decided she was a shoe in, we were just looking for the guy she would hold captive in. Which guy, we wanted to keep benched up. Because I knew Wes wanted to do this one. So I was able to call Wes and able to have one of the more frank conversations I’ve had with him. And he was hesitant. And really wanting to go after somebody that might not work.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. My wife loves Wes Bentley too.
Ashley: So, maybe you could talk about the release schedule for “Amnesiac.” When can we see it? When’s it going to be released? Then when’s it going to be released on Video On Demand?
Michael: Um, this is a down day, which I’ve never been a part of. A, which means it’s videos and ITunes and I believe Video on Demand the same day, which is August 14th. Um, I’ve never done this before, I think this is exciting. Because I know I can rewind it over and over again. Where as in the past you couldn’t see them. You could pretty much know August 14th. You know it’s out and you can see it at any time you want.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I always like to arrive at the end of these interviews, what’s the best way for people to follow you? If you’re on Twitter they can get your Twitter handle, Facebook, a blog, whatever your comfortable sharing. I can related to all those things, to the show notes.
Michael: Yeah. I’m a basic Twitter person. It’s just – #Michaelpolish.
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect.
Michael: It’s just easier stuff on that.
Michael: In a word, I just release a lot of different stuff on there. Set scales and things that no body gets through recordings. I’m not a regular source for social media. Whereas more access, you can also push media people want to see, that’s nice.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And a “Amnesiac” has a Twitter handle, or a Facebook page as well.
Michael: Yeah, we have a Facebook page, I’m sure it has Twitter, but Kate feels we need to link to all that stuff too.
Ashely: Okay, perfect. And I’ll track all that stuff, okay? I’ll put that in the show notes, okay. Michael I sure appreciate you coming on the show and talking to me. This has been an entertaining interview, I sure appreciate it.
Michael: Thank you man.
Ashley: Alright, talk to ya later.
Ashley: I just want to mention to things, we’re doing at Selling Your Screenplay to help screenwriters find producers who are looking for material.
First, we’ve created a monthly newsletter that will be sent directly to producers. Every member of SYS Select can submit one log-on per newsletter. I wanted to Email my blog database of producers and asked them if they would like to receive this monthly newsletter pitches? So far we have around 170 producers who have signed up to receive this newsletter. These producers are hungry for new material. And are happy to read scripts from writers. So if you want to participate in the pitch newsletter? And get your script into the hands of lots of producers. Sign up at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select.
And secondly, part of the premier paid screenwriting leads services. So we can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently we’ve had, we’re getting ten to twelve high quality paid screenwriting leads per week. These are producers and production companies who are actively looking to buy material, or actively looking to hire screenwriters for a specific project. If you sign up for SYS Select, you will get these leads actively Emailed to you several times per week. These leads run the gambit from production companies looking for a spec. script, to producers looking for needing to hire a screenwriter to write up on of their ideas. A lot of times these producers have a novel or a comic book, or they have a treatment. And they need an actual screenwriter to turn it into a screenplay, that’s very common. There are a lot of producers who are looking for leads. There are a lot of people trying to produce shorts right now. So there are a lot of producers out there, actively looking for screenwriters who have shorts, or scripts. Generally, I would say, in the ten page range the positively short film. And these leads are Emailed out as I mentioned, several times per week. As it’s coming in, we summon them up. To sign-up, go to –
www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select, again that’s www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select.
I recently set-up a success stories page, for people who have had success through the various SYS Services. So if you want to check out what some other people who have tried our services are saying, just go to – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. You can read testimonials from a bunch of people who have used our services with some success. Also if you have had success with the SYS Services, please do let me know. These stories are very inspiring, they’re inspiring for others, to read. So, I would love to share your story, either on our success page, or even on the Podcast. Its interview you, so if you’ve used the SYS Select Services, please get in touch with me. A lot of times I’ve gotten in touch with people, you know, months and years later. As I was setting up this success page. I went back to a bunch of people. And there were people who had success a year or two ago with our services, and I didn’t even know about it? So, I know there’s got to be a lot of other people out there who have used various SYS Select Services and have had some kind of success. But I don’t necessarily ever know about it. Because most of the time, it’s the screenwriters amount of success they start doing with a producer/director that they, I’m kinda out of the loop. So, if you’ve had success, please do interview me. As I said, these stories are very inspiring, I’d love to have you on the Podcast, if you’ve had success with the SYS Services. I’d love to post your testimony on the success stories page.
So, next week, on the Podcast I will be interviewing Matt Dye, who is the screenplay teleplay petition director at the Austin Film Festival. The Austin Film Festival is a great festival for screenwriters. We talk through the whole process of submitting scripts. What you expect if you place a tile in the contest, how the festival works, how the vetting process works. Kind of how the festival formed, where its origins and how it became such a screenwriting success at the festival. Really from soup to nuts, everything the Austin Film Festival will cover in this interview. So if you’ve ever wondered about the Austin Film Festival, ever wondered if it’s a good fit for you? Or maybe just interested in going to it? This would be a great interview for you, as a. I had a lot of questions about it, and hopefully a lot of the questions you might have are answered in that? Keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap things up I just want to make a couple of comments about the interview today. I’ve talked about this before on the Podcast. When people typically talk about independent films. They are usually referring to “Sundance” or some other types of films. Which it, “Twin Falls Idaho” was. But really the vast majority of the independent films are of low-budget genre film; horror, thrillers, action films. There are literally hundreds of these films, not thousands of these films being made. And that’s sort of what I spent my time highlighting on this Podcast. A lot of the films come from. They don’t get big theatrical releases. But for the most part a lot of these films are making money. The producers are very savvy on an international markets, savvy about casting. And you can look at a lot of these films, listen to the interviews, and you can tell that the producers and the people backing these movies are generally very experienced. And so these movies are business and that’s really comes first and foremost. Hopefully this Podcast can illuminate the opportunities that exist in this area. This is where the most opportunity for screenwriters will lies, especially those screenwriters. But it’s actually the thing that is probably talked about least. You go to most screenwriting books, screenwriting seminars, Podcasts. Most of the people talk about studio films. If they’re talking about any films, they are typically talking about Sundance, or some other films. Which I deem for the most part are not even a business model. Most of them lose money, and most of them never see the light of day. Most of them don’t make it to Sundance. So these genre films are really a good audio tunes. The producers are not, as you know, piped into the top writers. Top writers are typically doing studio films. So they have to be a little bit more creative about where they find their material. Which means their generally very opened to more writers. A lot of these movies are not all that great. A lot of them as I said, are low-budget genre films or movies actually; horror, thriller. And a lot of them are pretty shloppy. I think “Amnesiac” is a good example of an elegant general genre movie. And I think it’s interesting that the producers did with this movie. The producers clearly set out to make a thriller that they could make around back. I mean, in essence this movie is one of these low budget genre movies that I’m talking about. But they hired Michael to direct it and I think they probably did that, because they knew he would bring artistic sensibility to it, the film, and he did that. And I think this film is a great example of, as I said, it’s definitely a genre movie.
I think this movie has a good chance of making its money back because it’s a genre film. But by the same token it’s a very well-cast obviously when Wes Bentley and Kate Bosworth.
But it also fulfills those also genre, typical genre throws. And I think it will, it has a good chance of making its money back. But I think also Michael brought in real artistic sensibility to it. So it kind of elevated one of these elevated genre movies. And I think this is really kind of the best of what you can hope for in these types of films. Because I think it’s worth going and checking out this film for its vet. Like I said, this is a business now, this is an actual business. Where people are producing these types of movies, they are looking for material. It is very contained, there is a lot of lessons you can learn about, this is very contained. Almost entirely takes place in one house. Now they did do a couple of shots outside of it, but. I would say,
80%-90% of this film was inside this one house. So, it’s fairly cost effective to shot it. As I said, cast it very well with Wes Bentley and Kate Bosworth. It’s definitely a thriller, they can take some really thrilling, scary moments, creepy scary moments in it. But again, they did a trailer to attract that kind of crowd that wants to see a thriller and again, they bring in Michael Polish to direct it, to bring it a real solid artistic sensibility to it, this film. And down near a finished product that comes across pretty well. It’s ever so much better than a lot of these low-budget thriller movies that you might see.
Anyway, that is the show, thank you for listening.