A Pale Producer by Josh Polon

Josh Polan, Producer/Director

I didn’t get much sun as a kid. I was mostly sitting in dark movie theaters. I mean, I also played a lot of basketball. But I guess I watched more movies. Or I can’t tan. Fifteen years later, I still wasn’t getting much sun. I was working on an agent’s desk at a three-lettered Beverly Hills talent agency. Some people call their agency time “grad school in Hollywood.” And it definitely is that. I also like to say “I was Lloyd from Entourage.” And I grew even paler.

I learned a lot about how things get done in the industry. I saw how very tricky it is to get your art made in that structure without creative compromises. I had one file folder thrown at me; I was grateful it wasn’t a stapler. I completed my year and, with my boss’ blessing, left knowing I wanted to work with a filmmaker who successfully manages this studio balancing act. ?

In 2009 I had the great fortune of working as an editorial assistant on CYRUS (2010). I had admired Jay and Mark Duplass’ work ever since their first feature THE PUFFY CHAIR (2005). PUFFY struck me as refreshingly brave, honest, and real. So I jumped at the chance to work with the brothers on their first studio film. I got to witness everything from principal photography through final delivery, and when I watched the finished movie at our LA premiere, I knew Jay and Mark had made exactly the movie they wanted to make. It was inspiring to be reminded that that’s possible.

That summer, Jay told me about Kevin Gant, an Austin, TX singer-songwriter who he and his brother had been obsessed with in the early ’90s. He showed me some interview footage he’d shot, and I fell instantly in love with Kevin’s wildly cosmic music and personality. Jay brought me on as producer, and for the next year and a half we made his doc debut KEVIN (2011). Like THE PUFFY CHAIR, it’s an intimate film that deals with some extremely painful subject matter, but in a hopeful, life-affirming way.

After our premiere at South By Southwest ’11, we had the idea to launch a “comeback tour” for Kevin, built around the worldwide film festival circuit. The problem was that it’s pricey to submit to all these festivals, and pricey to travel. So we turned to Kickstarter.com, the revolutionarily amazing crowd-funding site. I designed a campaign to raise $15,000 in 30 days. It was a mildly terrifying month of May but in the end, 265 backers – mostly strangers – had rallied to lift us over $16,000. Our doc was too long for TV, too short for theaters, and about a very niche artist who everyone immediately loves or hates. So Kevin, Jay and I were deeply touched by the vote of confidence in Kevin’s dream. And we remain grateful for the community that our Kickstarter enabled: 265 new friends to keep informed with backer updates.

I learned a lot on that first Kickstarter. Primarily that you need to think of your campaign as a half-time job. Getting press is huge (our write-up in Film Courage and their subsequent social media blasts of our link were enormously helpful). Getting officially “curated” is also big. With less than a week left, our campaign was barely over 50% funded. That’s when our co-curators, Sundance Institute and indieWIRE, started tweeting and facebooking us. In just two days we surged $4000 ahead. Lastly we tried to catch people’s eye by creating prizes that were original, humorous, and for the most part really good values. We had two backers contribute $1000 for Kevin to write personally inspired songs just for them. I drew these and other tips from two great articles   Trends in Pricing and Duration” and Kickstartup.

While at SXSW with KEVIN, I saw a great short film called SOPHIE, directed by Sean Rourke Meehan. Another pale dude who played a lot of basketball but watched even more movies. I walked up and told him I had loved his short. We quickly realized we have eerily similar tastes in movies. Three months later, we went in on a cheap sublet together in Venice.

He showed me the script for a modern-day Western he’d written with his childhood friend Gary Lauten, called A PALE SHADOW.  It was one of the best I’d ever read: extremely dark, violent, and disturbing, yet sprinkled through with moments of quiet, transcendent beauty, and all building toward a solemn final message of hope. It’s also one of the most skilled teams I’ve ever worked on: all our principal cast (actors Kentucker Audley and Robert Longstreet) and crew are alumni, some of them repeat alumni, of Sundance and/or SXSW.

Our producer Alexander Schepsman produced Fox Searchlight’s MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) which won at Sundance this year. Our DP Carl McLaughlin co-wrote and shot LITTLEROCK (2010) which won at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards. And our production designer Cassie Miggins designed Sundance 2011’s THE CATECHISM CATACLYSM.

Just under a month ago, I designed and launched the Kickstarter for PALE, with a target of $10,000 and 30 days to reach it. This time the stakes are much higher: it’s literally our entire production budget. With no other funding sources, either the campaign succeeds or we don’t shoot a movie. And we eat the plane tickets we’ve already bought our actors.

I applied some lessons I learned from the KEVIN campaign. We offered an Associate Producer credit for $100. We created a QR flyer that backers can post at their local coffee shop for strangers to scan with their smart phones and find our page. We came up with some funky prizes: an Old West-style caricature if you send us your picture; a BBQ rib feast at your place for you and your friends; a Moonshine Party at ours. And we’ve sold all of them. With under 3 days left we’re cautiously optimistic we can make our target.

Above all, it has been incredibly humbling to see strangers rush to greenlight something that came from Sean’s and Gary’s brains, and which I deeply believe will be a powerful piece of art. Thank you for checking us out in our last few days.

So if I can summarize by drawing one lesson from each chapter of my time in LA, it’s:

1. If you move here and your mom or dad doesn’t run a studio, consider sucking it up and working at an agency. You won’t love it, but it will teach you lots and open doors.

2. Then, for the love of Mickey Rooney, leave there. Find someone you admire and learn from them. ?

3. Then meet someone your own age who inspires you just as much, and ask them to rent a house with you. And then you’ve made it! Because you can have pre-production meetings in your underwear on the couch. And you never have to see the sun.

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