He, she and the camera – interview with Mark Polish at Transatlantyk Festival
“He, she and the camera”
Interview with Mark Polish by Katarzyna Godycka for Kultura.wp.pl – August 6th 2011, 13:06, 1. International Festival of Film and Music Transatlantyk in Poznań.
Polish language version of the interview available here: http://kultura.wp.pl/title,Ich-dwoje-i-aparat-fotograficzny-z-funkcja-nagrywania-wideo,wid,13682059,wiadomosc.html
First of all, welcome to Poland, Mark.
Thank you. Thank you.
How many times have you been to Poland before?
Previous to Cracow.
So this is the second time, right?
Yes, the second time.
And how do you like Poland?
I love it. People are so friendly and very supportive of our films. So supportive and it’s just lovely, you can feel their love for film.
Yes, it’s very, very strong. And just for art in general. You know, very, very passionate.
In Cracow you were two years ago and with what movies?
“Stay cool” and “Manure”. It was nice, because we had problems with those movies, they’ve been legally taken from us and those were the original directors cuts. So, it was nice to be able to show those movies there.
Could you please tell me something about you? When did you know that you want to make movies? When did it start for you?
When I was younger, we did go to the movie theatre quite a bit. Our father, even our mother, but our father mostly took us to the movie theatre in United States and we’d go quite a bit. So we were raised watching all types of movies, there wasn’t a movie that we weren’t allowed to see. I mean if it was too violent, I don’t think we’d see it. Rarely there was a subject matter that we weren’t allowed to see and our father would explain it to us if it was complicated. But then, at a time we were growing up cable, you know cable television?
Yes, of course.
This started in United States to get really big, we were going from three channels to about sixty to seventy channels, in the late-seventies, so they needed a lot programming.
For us it was much later, ‘cause cable was introduced in Poland at the beginning of nineties and we’ve got something like fifty channels. And now hundreds of channels on digital platforms.
So we would watch a lot of the movies from the seventies, mid-seventies. They would program a movie seven or eight times on that same channel for thirty days, so you watch the movie seven, eight times in a row. So you’d be influenced by those movies and we’d watch very, very talented directors with their movies, from “Dog Day Afternoon” to “ The Godfather”.
All Al Pacino’s movies. And they would play numerous. And you would see foreign films, they were big as well, foreign back then, like “Mad Max” by George Miller (Australia) and we would watch them over and over. So we got educated through filmmaking that way and I think what really inspired us to be story tellers.
You have a twin brother, Michael.
Was the fact of having a twin brother helpful at school, like sometimes to switch exams or something like this?
Not so much. We didn’t switch as much, we did couple of times at class, but it was too nerve wrecking, too nervous to get caught. It was more for the people around us that wanted to do that than us. We did it one time and I was so nervous, it was so nerve wrecking that I never did it again. But in a sense of doing each other’s homework, we were in a same class we helped each other.
You’ve come to Transatlantyk Festival with your latest movie “For Lovers Only”. Tell me something about this film.
It was a film that Michael and I wanted to do when we were much, much younger and we wanted primarily to do it on a 8 mm camera, you know 8 mm camera?
That was our first instinct, to do a black and white love story, primarily in Paris, about a relationship between a man and a woman. We were big fans of “The man and a woman” movie (by Claude Lelouch) and we wanted to do something similar, because of the low budget and they were so inspiring, but we got caught up and we got caught making bigger films, “Twin Falls Idaho”, “Northfork”, all those films got in the way, and then when this new technology started to come around, the Canon Mark II 5D, we looked at these and thought that we could possibly try to do “For Lovers Only” again, just attempt that. So we bought two those cameras, and with no money, we flew to France, we got Stana to come aboard, we flew over there, we had script about 82 pages long, but you know, the description is like “hotel room”, “they were on the cliff”, it didn’t go to do a lot of description. And what we wanted to do was to really get into the intimacy of the relationship, really get into what it was like to be in love with somebody, and that was a whole goal to film a love story that really delved into what being in love felt like.
Personally I think that you completely achieved it, I saw the movie already several times…
You saw it?! I didn’t know it! Ah, wow.
Of course, I’ve been to Zlin Film Festival (the world premiere of For Lovers Only) back in May
What did you think of it, would you love it?
I love it absolutely. And I’ve meet all those great people there.
They’re all here now.
That experience really helped the film. All of you being there really helped bringing recognition to the film, ‘cause no one knew what was going on, no one knew what the film was about and now was kind of our, I mean, our whole approach, Michael and I approach was, we thought the film was so intimate, that it may a hard time reaching people, I thought that people would kind of shy away, ‘cause it’s black and white, it’s really raw, it’s really about intimacy.
It’s very beautiful, ‘cause there’s definitely some magic about black and white…
Yeah. Yes, it is. There’s something about the film, that even as an artist it’s hard to explain, I think it has to do with everybody’s ability from Stana, to Sara, to Sean, who was on it, the crew, to just give everything you got, you and there was no money, and there was absolutely nothing financial, we gave no money to anybody. And I think because it came from our hearts it goes right to people’s hearts. And it was really an important, special time, it was a magical time that we filmed that.
Technology which you used, the photo camera with possibility of video recording allowed you to go literally everywhere and film every possible place you wanted to film.
Yes. It’s strange how technology has made, a big part technology has made a world very impersonal, but a big part technology has brought the world closer as well. You speak to people in Poland, I mean over at Twitter, you can instantly talk to somebody in India„ that’s the greatest thing of technology, and the worst part of technology is that the negativity can travel just as fast. And you can’t control it.
And the benefits of Zlin could have been negative too. If nobody liked it, it would have spread just as fast. It’s fortunate that everybody loved it and it travelled bigger, and more beautiful and faster, and started the success. I mean that was the beginning of the success of this movie when everybody traveled there for Stana.
She is fantastic actress. I “discovered” her 2 years ago on “Castle” and I think she’s phenomenal.
She is special, Stana, she’s one of a kind, she’s an old soul, she is very, very wise, she has the bravery that you rarely, rarely see. You know, we sat down and spoke to her about the role, she immediately was like: “let’s go, let’s do this”. I said, these are the things I require you to do, there’s gonna be no crew, at that point we didn’t even have a make up, we had nobody, it was Michael, I and her. We gonna fly to Paris, do you wanna ride a motorcycle, do you wanna jump off the cliff? Do you wanna do this? And she’s like “let’s go, let’s do this”.
The way of distribution the movie, iTunes and the digital format, is quite unusual. Why did you chose this way of distribution?
Why the format?
There were couple of reasons. To be able to distribute in United States is very expensive now. I mean it’s a really expensive platform to get the movie out there. When we started showing it to people who could potentially take it to theatres, their responses were positive and in some sense they weren’t when they said: “could you make the colour version?”, “could you add the colour?”, “could you desaturate it?” They were very afraid of the black and white, that no one would come, and to be able to pump that much money into promotion and ads, they would think that they’re not gonna recoup. That’s one component of that. The other component was the film was so intimate, that we felt that if we could give it straight to the audience that we thought would appreciate it and go reverse it, reverse – go to the people who love it first. We didn’t go to any critics, we didn’t do any press, get it to the people who we think would love it. They would in turn spread it around.
Spread the word.
And it worked. And I’m fortunate that it worked. And the love for the film now is reversed towards to be theatrical, so it’s nice. So worked in the sense that we wanted to get it to the people who we thought would appreciate it, and mostly people could see it on this, see it on the iPad…
Yeah, it’s on my iPod as well
And it’s personal, it’s a personal movie and that way, one of the screenings, I’ve written about it, people were coming out of the theatre and they were so touched by the movie, that a lot more emotional and could talk about it and we thought: that might hurt the film. So let’s get people to watch it one on one in a privacy of their own home and then they would connect with the film and then they will tell people. And it worked. I mean, it was very, very risky to do it that way, but it worked.
So you’re saying that there are plans for theatrical release in the fall, right?
Yes. In the fall.
And what about the DVD release in the future?
Yeah. We’re gonna do a DVD and then put the documentary on it as well, ‘cause there’s a very beautiful documentary of how we did it. Behind The Scenes is really fun, we had a really good time making it.
Is there going to be a commentary for the movie?
We may, I don’t know, it’s hard to talk about the movie, it’s hard to just to sit there and watch it through, it’s a little bit too self-indulgent . I love to talk about the movie, I love to share the experience with people, but to sit there and really analyze what happened I think kind of takes the magic a little bit. Some people wanna hear it. I guess it’s an option, you can turn it on, you can turn it off. The ending is a big discussion piece.
Open to interpretation. Very open.
I spoke to a few of your friends the other day about it, their interpretation is so much better than mine, what the ending of the movie is about.
So what is your idea?
My idea? I’ve just read the review to Stana and she even didn’t know that she was ending there, the ending ended with her in the cab in the script. And to me it was, the image of leaving them with the colour image of their memory together was so much more powerful, that the love of them exists in colour, that the love they had between each other is in colour, it’s not black and white. And those final images to know that what they did was so positive in their lives, so optimistic and they’re leaving so happy, she’s particularly the one leaving happy, him not so much. But she was so fulfilled. She came to Paris broken, and she left happy.
Like some kind of a miracle indeed happened to her.
Yeah. And I wanted her character… I do feel that the movie is Yves showcasing his love for her, so much about him framing her and showing how beautiful this woman is, it’s really him showcasing her and how much he loves her, more than it is her.
Can I say that Stana Katic sort of became your brother’s “muse”, because after “For Lovers Only” he’s already invited her to his next movie, “Big Sur”, which is a movie adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s novel, “Big Sur”.
Oh yeah, absolutely.
So is this some kind of a sign of long term cooperation between Stana and Polish Brothers?
Possibly, her TV show’s schedule is tough and it’s hard to get her, but when there’s opportunity, we definitely going to work with her, because she’s, one she’s talented and her dedication is amazing, her dedication to filmmaking. And I believe her home is the big screen, she’s the movie star. She’s made for the big screen. The way she looks, the way she acts. To me, this is a movie star. She’s got everything to be a movie star.
You’ve said exactly the same what Dean Devlin, the producer of her TV film “The Librarian 3” said about her. He said exactly the same
She’s special. She’s a special girl
The filming is already finished for “Big Sur”, right?
Yes, it’s in editorial stage.
And when is it going to be released?
I think it’s going to, and I’m not confirmed on this, I think it’s probably going to premiere in Berlin.
The Festival in Berlin is in February, right?
I think, I’m not positive. I’m not as close to the film as Michael is, but the discussion they all had, and they where talking about is a foreign premiere first. Kerouac is more appreciated over there, Kerouac’s literature is not that the Americans don’t get it, they understand him and everything, they think that the film will benefit from foreign first.
You’re the writer and your brother is the director. How the cooperation looks like between the two of you?
It’s great. We know each other’s weaknesses and we know each other’s strengths. And that’s the best of what our collaboration is. He asks me to do what I do really well what I like and I ask what he does really well. It becomes like the perfect marriage I don’t try to go into what his strength are to outdo him. Although he does have the ability to write and I have the ability to direct. And we help each other to look at it from different perspectives in each field. He comes to me, helps me on something what I write, look at it this way, or will fill something I say, did you think of covering it this way. So it’s a very, very healthy relationship. We’ve been collaborating since we were born, since the first food came down our stomachs, it’s been a collaboration. It’s an amazing, it’s great to have that kind of partnership. And especially in the field we’re in. It’s amazing.
Tell me something about that thing you wrote, “The Declaration of Independent Filmmaking”, what is it exactly?
It is a tutorial study of filmmaking of our first three films, we analyze how we made the first three films and they were at three different budget levels, the first one was at 5 hundred thousand, the second one was I think at one hundred twenty thousand and “Northfork” was 1.8 million. And it goes through to trials and tribulations of how filmmaking was made, and it was from film to digital, to film, to small movie, to an epic. So we went through it as teachers.
“An Astronaut Farmer” is a big one.
Yeah. And the very end of the book is the beginning of “Astronaut Farmer”. I finished the book and we started “Astronaut Farmer” on set, so I wrote a little bit about the “Astronaut Farmer” at the end. I didn’t feel that there was a book that was written by people who actually done it, there was a lot of filmmaking books , but there wasn’t a lot of books that said “this is what it’s really like”. This is what we did to get our movies made, you could take what we did and apply it probably to get your movies made. We were very… young filmmakers, we didn’t have any connections into Hollywood, we didn’t know anybody and we took it upon ourselves to make our first movie and didn’t rely on other people. We basically say everything to make this movie, we think we know enough about the language of film that we can make it. Fortunately we didn’t fail, our first film did very well.
“Twin Falls Idaho”.
Yeah, and it’s the difference between being filmmakers and not filmmakers.
Back to “For Lovers Only”. Was the chocolate scene rehearsed or it was totally spontaneous? Did Stana know what you’re going to put into her mouth?
I’ll try to explain how it happened. It was a working kitchen in the restaurant and we didn’t know where anything was at. It was completely dark , all we had were the tea candles, and we would go where the sets were, we called them live sets, since they’re working, they weren’t movie sets at all. So we went to the kitchen, with the candles, I didn’t know where anything was at, they had planted chocolate somewhere in the kitchen, and I didn’t know where it was, so I’m looking for it, we’re looking for food, and it wasn’t about, it was about finding food, since we’re hungry, so we’re opening everything and I find an olive, a batch of olives. So the first time we did it I had an olive and I’m saying “don’t bite down”, so you don’t break your teeth. “Don’t bite down, you’re gonna choke”. The second time we filmed it I had chocolate. She thought I had an olive again, she thought I had something bad, so when I did it, it was chocolate, so it’s very sweet, it’s very real. So it was scripted, but not scripted. You could find anything. We could find cake in the refrigerator.
How did it happened that Yves didn’t notice the tattoo on Sofia’s leg earlier, but so late in the movie?
The tattoo? There are couple of things. One I think she hid it, and I don’t think she’d let him see it, and at this point she was exposed in the bathtub, but what happened in the movie, we had the big tattoo and Stana was “I wanna put it here.” and I said “that’s fine”, so it was all the way through filming, so when she said she’s gonna reveal it in the bathtub I said “OK”. So it was kind of her, in the script they’re making love in the bed and he saw it. She said, let’s not, let’s do it in the bathtub, it’s more, she’s vulnerable, it’s water, that kind of thing. I think she hid it from him,. It’s one of those things where I think when you’re in passion, he wasn’t looking for those things, but in the bathtub with her leg up I think it’s when he should see it. A lot of people have a problem with that reveal there and I think, look, there are things on my body that no one see, I have scars that no one would see until I show you them. And the reveal of it is more important to than when they knew about it. It’s a big bomb, it’s like “David! Oh, no!”
The music in “For Lovers Only” is absolutely phenomenal and fantastic and for me it’s really the first time when I can say that I love the whole soundtrack from the first second to the last second.
Oh, really? You’re talking about the Kubi’s stuff (Kubilay Uner, composer of the original score for the film)? That’s nice, thank you.
Kubilay composed such a wonderful music that it really is a masterpiece.
We worked really hard on that. Because it’s black and white, the imagery was so strong. I mean, you couldn’t put very many sounds to it, and it would send it, if we did, say we put like a guitar with a distortion on it, it’d make a movie sounded different, if we did something, it was so particular what we wanted to be, so it took a long time to figure out how do we match that picture, what sounds are going to match that image. And it took about four, five times to figure out, these are the instruments, this is what we are going to do.
How long do you know each other? How long do you work together?
Michael and Kubilay went to college together. They didn’t work together for a long time, I know him for years and years and years. He’s super talented.
He is. I think that the music for the film deserves every possible award.
Yeah. I agree.
Also the whole movie.
Thank you. But it’s all about finance. You buy everything, unfortunately it’s, you don’t wanna admit, you don’t wanna talk about that, but it takes a lot of money to get nominations, because you get to spend a lot of money for the people to see it.
And the final question. What are you working on at the moment?
I work on a few things. I have a bigger movie with Sony Pictures Company, that’s about clowns, about performing clowns, that might happen next, and then I have another 5D movie, that will bring us back through Europe, it’s gonna start in South-East Asia and then come back over. And that’s another utilizing the 5D camera, and going into areas, that’s about a guy’s who is world traveller and is making his way back home. Hopefully we don’t get arrested, because, you know, … really for this film we may be detected now. Because if we went into everything in France, nobody would know where we were. And that’s what I’m hoping a lot of people don’t make that a point, because I don’t want make people upset. That wasn’t about stealing things, it’s about celebrating filmmaking and being able to go into places and shoot, natural stuff. So I hope that people don’t go “yeah, they stole it.” that wasn’t the point. The point was to feel victorious over stealing. You wanna go and grab things. It’s about shooting people in the natural environment and not have the crew and huge lights come with you. Imagine trying to light that castle at St. Michel. You know, the one at the very beginning of the movie, on the beach.To be able to bring the crew up in there would cost a fortune, and the point is, let’s get passed all that,red tape and just make a movie, me you and the camera.
Thank you very much.