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Polsky Films & Bad Lieutenants

Polsky Films & Bad Lieutenants

Articles - Moviemaking

You could probably rebuild an entire rainforest with all the scripts that have been hastily optioned by eager producers only for them to either bomb or never find an audience at all. Patience is a virtue that tends to be overlooked in Hollywood’s work now, dream later landscape. That’s why when fresh faces emerge who commit both sentiments to the present, the biggest winner is the moviegoer.

Alan and Gabe Polsky were never interested in cluttering their production resumes with disposable movie projects, and it’s precisely this that separates them from their contemporaries. Though they took a good-hearted objection to being referred to as “two of Hollywood’s best up-and-coming producers,” you can’t help but think that’s exactly what they are with their first film, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, receiving rave reviews from around the world. 

Directed by Werner Herzog and staring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes, Bad Lieutenant is the long-awaited sort of remake of Abel Ferrara’s original film—only this time set in New Orlean’s post-Katrina backdrop. MovieMaker caught up with the Polsky brothers, who told us about being the new kids on the block, sibling rivalry, the lessons taken from Bad Lieutenant and their latest project, Butcher’s Crossing.

Michael Walsh (MM): Alan, you and your brother have been especially selective in picking the first project for Polsky Films. What was it about Bad Lieutenant that appealed to you so much?

Alan Polsky (AP): Well, you know, when we were approached with it, neither of us had seen the original and we just loved the character, we just had so much fun watching Harvey Keitel and Jeff, you know. You didn’t really care about the plot, you just wanted to see him; he’s a bad lieutenant from scene to scene. Gabe and I have always really looked for strong characters. We kind of have that consistency with all the things we are developing. And we just loved Bad Lieutenant and the character so we decided to finance a screenplay about this character. We kind of like the idea of treating it more like James Bond, but like a “Bad Lieutenant James Bond” or whatever. So the character has the same vices, etc., but it’s a whole different story, different city, different feeling, different themes, all that stuff.

MM: Now that you have established yourselves as two of Hollywood’s most up-and-coming producers, do you think you guys will be taking on more projects as time goes on, or will you continue to be so selective?

Gabe Polsky (GP): First of all I don’t know that we are really, you know, the way you described it…

MM: How so? How is it different then?

GP: No, In terms of being best up and coming producers

MM: (laughs) Oh, it’s certainly a nice start.

GP: Yeah, i think we are always gong to be very selective about the kinds of projects that we do and what we are really trying to do is work with filmmakers like Werner Herzog— extremely high end, extremely creative, both filmmakers and actors. And continue to do very creative projects that will reach audiences in a different kind of way.

MM: Was it difficult working with Werner, or was it especially rewarding because he is very specific about what he wants for the project and, as a producer, you want to be able to meet the requests of your director. Was that something you enjoyed working with?

GP: He was actually very enjoyable to work with. It was our first movie so I think, for us, we were a little bit intimidated coming into this, kind of knowing when to speak our thoughts, when we thought it was necessary. Obviously, this guy has made 40 films, so it was more like us going to film school with Werner Herzog, which is in itself kind of a funny thing to say.

MM: Were there any unexpected challenges that popped up during the process?

AP: There are unexpected challenges every single day, you know. Nothing about this process—or making any movie, really—is expected. Everyday it’s something new, or something goes wrong, or something doesn’t go according to plan, I don’t even know where to start.

MM: Is there anything you would have done differently when producing the movie? Any moment that just seemed like you could have gone differently if something else was done differently?

GP: No. I think we’re just happy the way everything turned out.

MM: Have you guys ever disagreed on anything? And if so, how did you handle it differently than you would have if you had a disagreement with someone else who you weren’t related to on the set, whether it was Werner or anybody else?

AP: Gabe and I have disagreements every single day. I would say that we have a very healthy combative relationship, that at times can be slightly brutal. But I think it’s that brutality that’s helped us sort of build a slate with the movies we have done. I think that when you work with your brother—when you work with family—you kind of let go of that gentle way of communicating with most people and more to the way you were communicating when I was seven and he was five. Sort of like, “I’m gonna take your toy, because I’m bigger and you’re gonna deal with it.”

MM: (laughs) Do you ever see yourselves taking on a more creative role in the process in your future moviemaking? Whether it be writing, directing or anything like that?

GP: I can’t say right now what we’re going to do. But I can say that Alan and I are both hands-on, very creative people who want to be involved from the very beginning, and hands-on and crafting a story and being on set and being a part of the filmmaking process. Helping to choose everything from the actors to the music, we like to be involved in everything. That’s kind of the only way that this business is satisfying to us, for us to be creatively involved in every aspect.

AP: I think Gabe has really hit it on the point on the head: The way we look at movies is like we put together our team—you look at us with Herzog and Cage—and what Bad Lieutenant is, it’s a creation of everybody. It was a script that we gave to Herzog, he added all his little Herzog-ian elements that made it amazing, Nic Cage came in and was just doing so much amazing improv because he’s a professional, he’s amazing. And we helped shape the movie from the very beginning—from choosing the writer, director, actor, etc…

We want to work with teams that want to be collaborative; everyone brings a different skill, a different eye, a different look. And at the end of the day you come up with something really amazing and unexpected and fresh and creative and commercial and something that people are excited to see.

MM: You’re set to work with Sam Mendes on the adaptation of John Williams’ Butcher’s Crossing. How do you think your experience with Bad Lieutenant will aid you in that process?

AP: Bad Lieutenant‘s given Gabe and I a tremendous amount of confidence. Neither of us went to film school, so we feel a lot better about the process and where we can add value. And we found this book, actually a writer brought us this book that Sam contacted us about. Sam is a wildly talented, Oscar-winning director, but I think that, just like Herzog, we want to learn from Sam, but we also want to add value from the very beginning and we have. We’ve just hired a writer, but we were very hands-on in choosing that writer.

MM: Abel Ferrara had a little bit of an opposition to the movie being made, initially, and he didn’t want to see it at one point. Has any of that changed and how did you guys react to it when you found out?

GP: First of all, after he said that, I’ve never taken a train car.

MM: Really?

GP: Yeah. I’m very superstitious. No, I’m kidding.

AP: No. Gabe and I actually enjoyed the publicity of the Abel thing. Yeah, it helps the movie. Abel and Herzog are kind of, and Werner would hate me saying this, but you know they’re sort of on the edge directors. They’re not mainstream; neither of them are Steven Spielberg. I think that they’re both very unique, and it’s very telling that they both told the Bad Lieutenant story.

MM: When did you guys decide that this was your calling, that you guys wanted to be involved in film and producing films and being a part of the whole creative process and everything? Was there a significant moment that stood out when you said ‘this is what I want to do’?

AP: I’ve got a business background. I finished business school really searching for something more creative and my brother was in Hollywood and he kind of talked about it but I wasn’t sure that it was a real business. I just wasn’t sure and I came out and visited Gabe for something and we were just talking about it. He was like, you know this is real and we talked about what producing was exactly. I just thought it seemed really, really interesting in a combined business with art and creativity and a lot of the things I thought I was naturally good at and wanted to do. So it was kind of Gabe just talking me into it.

MM: Gabe, is there anything you’d like to add?

GP: Yeah, Alan just copied me.

MM: That’s always depressing.

GP: Yeah. No, no, I’m thankful that Alan is with me here. He’s a very big ally and great partner.

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