Thursday, August 13, 2015

Polish Filmmaking: Michael Polish Interview

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Amnesiac is the second solo outing by Michael Polish (one of the identical twin filmmakers, the Polish brothers) after his Jack Keruac adaptation Big Sur (which is great and everyone should see it). The thriller stars his wife Kate Bosworth as a femme fatale, playing against type and features his signature visual style. As a moviegoer who's been following the brothers career closely, I was eager to talk to Michael about his interesting career as a filmmaker so far.

You and your brother have a very interesting career trajectory in American cinema landscape since your debut TWIN FALLS IDAHO.

You know me when I was a conjoined twin. (laughs)

I've been following your careers closely. One of my favorite films of all time being NORTHFORK. It's a great film.

Oh thank you. Yeah. You only get to make one of those in your career, that's for sure.

You have written, directed many different kinds of films. I'd like to know your process in choosing a project. AMNESIAC is not written by you and I am wondering how it came about?

I was intrigued in how visually I could bring something to this. So I wanted to think of it as a two-hander, meaning it was two people in a contained area and I knew that landscape pretty well, knew that environment because I've done that before - I've done a film called For Lovers Only where there's only two people running and we were chasing them around.

In the screenplay, Amnesiac didn't have the period aspect. It was basically a modern day piece with a sort of femme fatale. I thought it would be psychologically thrilling to have a main woman character believe that she lived in the 1950s. She is doing everything to make 1950's nuclear family. That she is stuck in a sort of a time capsule. I thought that would elevate what we didn't see in the screenplay. Everyone was on board with making this a period piece. We then knew we might have something special.

It's very you though. I've seen those period details in your films before. I thought that Michael Polish touch was everywhere.

Also it's a second film without your brother's involvement. Are you going separate ways in filmmaking now with you doing your thing and Mark doing HEADLOCK?

We did three films we co-wrote and produced and directed: we had sort of classic sense of producer-director relationship and Mark acting in them. After Northfork, we got to do Astronaut Farmer. But we could feel that at that point we wanted to do different things. We ended up getting a lot of things financed that are previously written and we decided to produce everything that we can do together, knowing that we will get a lot of different work separately later. I don't think we ever set our goal to be like the Coen brothers. As long as we were happy doing it together, we just thought that it was a nice way to launch our careers.

I always thought that you guys always had a very distinctive visual style- your use of space and lighting. In AMNESIAC it's also no exception. It's a small movie with everything taking place in almost one location. What kind of challenges did you have?

Challenge was in how to make one house interesting- if we were able to move around the house, if the house was a maze - you are not sure where you are at, kind of thing. The biggest room (the main bedroom), as the things got worse, got smaller and smaller and they end up in the basement. I thought, let's start big and then see how much we can cram things in to a basement.

Visually we ended up making it darker and darker. I still wanted the movie to be soft lit. I didn't want to bring a lot of lights and make it overly dramatic horror film. I wanted to be sort of classical, painterly murder.

Going in from a huge Cinemascope type of world but it gets smaller and smaller makes people feel very confined by the end. I wanted to the film to be like a rubics cube, so we go back to a same scene over and over again.

It's very effective.

It's a very different role for your wife Kate Bosworth since BIG SUR in which I thought she was great in. Here she plays a kidnapper and a murderer.

She initially brought the screenplay to me. Then she asked me what I thought of it. And I said that the character's very strong but it might be better if we made her look like somebody else. So we made her look at certain types- a Hitchcock blonde and even Ed Hopper paintings. I told her, "You like this character. So Let's make her look like she seriously believe her own world." She had a lot of fun with the character. Yes it's very classically themed. She is this classic blonde. From that, we had a place to jump off from. You didn't really need to make her go there because the character was so stylish.

Kind of 50s movie star, the ice queen...

Yeah, exactly.

You see the movie and it's pretty dark and serious. But it was a lot of fun. You know there was a lot of laughter on the set. But when you see Wes Bently really go at it - talk about being at the dinner table scene and him remembering things. After calling 'cut,' everybody started laughing because it was pretty psycho. (laughs)

Tell me about 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN.

Ah right. This is a film that's coming out in September. That's another whole different direction I took. I say if Amnesiac is about hell, this movie is about heaven. It couldn't be farther apart. You wouldn't expect a filmmaker going from one extreme to another.

It was based on a fascinating story about a minister who was killed on a bridge. I found it really interesting in exploring something where you had a near death experience. Again, visually of course, I wanted to see what I can do. It had a lot of religious aspect to it which I found fascinating. Obviously some of the most beautiful art in the world is based and probably inspired by religion. It's a modern day piece but I was able to work with my cinematographer (M. David Mullen) to make it feel and look classically beautiful in a way that nobody has seen in movies before.

I always thought that your style is a good fit for a western. I want to see a Michael Polish Western some day.

That is in my pocket somewhere. I'm gonna pull that out pretty soon.

I'm very much looking forward to it.

Amnesiac opens in theaters and VOD on August 14.

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