Michael and Mark Polish - Photo by Stephanie Diani for The New York Times
Michael and Mark Polish – Photo by Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

“The studios have really priced themselves out of a certain type of movie. They either want to make it for a limited amount of money, or they’ll go through the roof. We actually were in a meeting with a studio where they said: ‘You have to make it bigger. We have to spend more money. It’s this much money, and we have to make this much money.’ and we walked out thinking, ‘This isn’t a good business model anymore.’ ” – Filmmaker, Michael Polish.

“What we’ve done is create a company to make movies in a way we think is more cost-effective, speedier and isn’t frustrating to the artist.” – Jonathan Sheldon, Prohibition Pictures

Back in May, I passed along a Variety item about identical twin filmmaking team Mark and Michael Polish who had just formed their own production company, Prohibition Pictures. As reports of doom and gloom in the indie film sector fill the headlines, John Anderson picks up the story and offers a few new details about the brothers’ plans in this morning’s New York Times.

Filming is just about to wrap on Manure, the comedy about a fertilizer salesman pursuing the American Dream in the 1960s starring Billy Bob Thornton, Téa Leoni and Kyle MacLachlan. Filming on another comedy, Stay Cool with Chevy Chase, Winona Ryder and Sean Astin, will begin soon after using most of the same crew. With six other scripts in development, Prohibition also plans to begin a third film early next year.

The model is the old studio system, which the Polish brothers believe they can utilize to keep film costs down. The company owns instead of rents equipment and the idea is to create a kind of conveyor belt with a continuous stream of films in various stages of production worked on by crews who are used to working together as a team. The hope is that their model will attract future investors. According to Prohibition producer Jonathan Sheldon, “When you keep costs low, it’s enticing to people who want to be involved in movies.”

It sounds like a reasonable plan and I’m rooting for the brothers succeed in their mission, but Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope immediately comes to mind. He also dreamed of making small pictures at his own studio, but with no one around to tell him “No,” things flew out of control. However, there’s no sign Mark and Michael Polish suffer the same egos and ambitions so hopefully they’re on to something here.

Of course, keeping costs down is only half the battle. Once you’ve made a movie, you’ve got to convince people to come see it. No one in the article addresses the marketing and distribution problem.

11 Responses to “Polish Brothers Navigate Indie Waters”

  1. I actually met the Polish brothers several years ago when Northfork came out and they did a Q&A in Little Rock. They seemed to have a lot of ideas and energy back then, so I hope their mini-studio plan works. It seems, though, like the sort of thing that looks deceptively simple and turns out to be a much harder beast to wrangle.

  2. Personally, they have yet to show me anything that didn’t feel fairly derivative. I want to like them, but they haven’t won me over. Hopefully their next film will eclipse The Astronaut Farmer or their previous indie efforts.

    I wait patiently.

  3. Yeah Jennybee, they’re treading dangerous waters here, but they work so cheap it just might work.

    I haven’t fully warmed up to them either (Still haven’t seen Astronaut Farmer…best add that to my queue), but they’re interesting.

  4. I kinda think they might be better as indie studio heads than they are as auteurs. Artistically, I think the best you can say is that they’ve had some interesting failures.

  5. I met them at the Mill Valley, CA Film Festival almost two years ago.

    I hope this works out for them…

  6. One of the unspoken mottos of LiC is that we’ll take an interesting failure over a wretched success any day of the week.

  7. The Polish brothers were Freshmen when I was a senior at Roseville High. We all grew up in Rocklin. They were cool and I think I should get in touch with them again…

  8. Good rule of thumb Craig.

  9. And the best thing about interesting failures is that they’re interesting enough that there’ll always be a few wiseasses like me who insist that Northfork is a great film.

  10. Northfolk is one of my favorite films from 2003.

  11. I struggled with Northfork, but not necessarily in a bad way. It was definitely interesting.

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