Michael Polish is the director, creator, and producer of the 10-part indie episodic series Bring on the Dancing Horses. Starring Jasper Polish and Kate Bosworth (21, Blue Crush), who also executive produces, the series tells the story of an assassin who is out to complete her list of targets and exact her own brand of poetic justice. Polish’s Bring on the Dancing Horses makes its world premiere today at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in the Indie Episodic Program. In the following essay, Polish explains how he made this series as an independent production during the pandemic.
“Darling, the world is ending.”
In March 2020, I walked into an empty dumpling house downtown to meet my partner, and after I sat down, I heard these five words. The industry had shut down, and to two artists, the world was ending. But if these last 25+ years as an independent filmmaker have taught me anything, I know one thing to be true… the tighter the circumstances are, the more creative you are. The restrictions humbled me back to my beginning. I suggested we go to Montana and do what we do best, run and gun it, and make Bring On The Dancing Horses, a 10-episode series.
Although I’ve been an independent filmmaker since the ’90s, this was something I had never done before. The independent film world was full of trailblazers before I ever entered it. There was plenty of rich history to draw from to support the risks of new ideas. But when it came to making an episodic series, not even the crickets showed up. The idea had not been done. Why? That’s the question I’d asked myself many times. Ever since indie movies jumped into the mainstream, I’d always thought indie TV would follow.
Television is a producer’s medium more so than a director’s. Typically, multiple directors and writers are hired to execute a season with a showrunner to keep the continuity of the show. But that’s not how we tackled Bring On The Dancing Horses. Firstly, there was no way we could have afforded it, and secondly, we knew there had to be a way to produce an episodic series without politics and the responsibilities of a studio-produced show.
We approached this show like a five-hour movie that would be cut into ten short movies. We kept the episodes 30-minutes in length because I intuitively felt that people were digesting media in smaller doses and truthfully, independently, it was all that we could afford. This meant wiping out the traditional method of producing.
Montana was the choice location because it’s the state that hands out courage like the back of your hand. It’s that place I grew up in with a community that I knew would support our vision. When making films or television independently, being resourceful is your greatest strength. It sounds like a dream to hire the greatest actors in the world, but you have to reach into your pockets and your pockets are filled with friends and family. We sourced talented friends and family to act in the series, some who have never been in front of the lens before. And, most importantly, we hired as much crew locally as we could and leaned on them for their knowledge of Montana.
After twelve weeks of production, we were blessed to end up in the Superbowl of independent filmmaking, otherwise known as Sundance. While many know me for the films I’ve premiered at Sundance, many don’t know how many times I’ve been rejected. I’ve applied and been rejected many more times than I’ve been accepted. That’s the thing about the indie world — when you’re operating as a maverick, you have to accept both sides of the coin. I’ve continued to stay inspired because I truly believe that Sundance accepts you when you’re ready.
The emergence of independent filmmaking was creative rebels that wanted freedom to make their art in an economically feasible way that separated them from the mainstream. And that’s the way we are breaking into independent television.
So.. let’s Bring On The Dancing Horses — a term which means, “it’s the end” that is used in Eastern European circuses when the show is done. It’s appropriate for a show about an assassin. In a world that once felt like it was ending, we wrapped a strong 10-episode series that was a reflection of the strength and faith of our crew during a global pandemic.
When we wrapped our shoot, I said “Bring on the dancing horses.” My partner looked at me and said. “No, this is just the beginning…”
Main Image: Michael Polish — courtesy image.