Twin brothers—and partners in moviemaking—Mark and Michael Polish have spent the last 14 years building up some serious indie film street cred. Since the Sundance premiere of their debut feature, 1999's Twin Falls Idaho—in which the brothers starred as conjoined twins who begin to contemplate a life lived apart when a beautiful young woman enters the picture—the brothers have remained steadfast in their commitment to creating personal, character-driven films.
Typically co-writing their scripts, with Michael directing and Mark starring, the duo has amassed a filmography of critically-acclaimed features, including the karaoke-themed Jackpot (2001), the self-financed period piece Northfork (2003) and the sci-fi drama The Astronaut Farmer (2006). Yet the brothers have always maintained a collaborative—as opposed to competitive—spirit when it comes to finding success in Hollywood. In 2005, they published The Declaration of Independent Filmmaking: An Insider's Guide to Making Movies Outside of Hollywood, a how-to guide for first-time filmmakers.
In 2011, Mark and Michael released what is undoubtedly their most experimental film yet: For Lovers Only. Inspired by Claude Lelouch and the guerilla style of the French New Wave filmmakers before them, the brothers came up with a simple plan: they'd head to France with only a Canon DSLR camera (which they already owned) and one actress (Castle star Stana Katic) in tow and just start shooting. In black and white. There was virtually no budget to speak of, but some of the world's most striking backgrounds were all there for the taking.
When the film was complete, the Polish brothers decided to shake up tradition yet again by forgoing a theatrical release and utilizing digital distribution channels only, including iTunes, where it quickly became one of the store's most popular offerings, quickly earning more than $500,000.
The film is a testament to Hollywood's need for fewer remakes, sequels and superhero movies and more personal films made by filmmakers for whom the bottom-line is of no concern.
And while it would be easy for the brothers to keep quiet about the secret to their success, that's simply not their style. In an effort to share what they learned about the no-budget filmmaking process—and how passion trumps budget every time—Mark Polish has gone back to the scene of For Lovers Only to create How We Made Love, a 22-minute documentary on the making of the film, featuring in-depth cast and crew interviews that are a perfect extension of the story for fans of the original film and a wonderful film school for aspiring indies.
We caught up with Mark Polish to get the details on How We Made Love.
Can you talk a little but about the original film, For Lovers Only?
It was a feature Michael and I made in 2010 and released in 2011. The initial idea was inspired by Claude Lelouch's A Man and a Woman and the filmmakers of the French New Wave. We released it under the radar on all digital platforms, where it became quite successful through social media and word of mouth.
Had the film always been conceived as a no-budget production?
Yeah, it was. I know there's been an argument about "no-budget" being used as marketing term to garner attention, but we literally did not have a document that had numbers on what this adventure would cost.
It really was, "We have cameras, we have some personal connections in France, let's go do this." The equity in this case was going to be our previous experience making movies. So we were going to spend ourselves.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in shooting the film—either from a creative, financial or production standpoint?
From a production standpoint, the time constraint combined with the constant travel was difficult. As an actor, the entire country of France was literally our "set." So at no point could we walk off the set. It really forced you to deal with this make-believe story in a real-life setting. We were a love tornado ripping through France.
Was online distribution always part of your strategy?
The first generation iPad was literally released the week we left for France and we joked that this would be the perfect movie to watch in your bed. So the seed was planted then, but not until we screened it for an audience did we realize that this was a better "one-on-one" experience. At that point we started to explore a digital release.
It played beautifully in theaters at festivals, but I think the audience for this film had a stronger connection because they could cradle it in their arms.
At what point did you decide to do a "making of" documentary for the film and why?
We never had plans to make one while shooting For Lovers Only—it was difficult enough with just focusing on the script. Over the past two years there were a lot questions coming from aspiring filmmakers about how we made this film. That's when I started thinking about a behind-the-scenes [documentary] that would show how we made this movie.
I still wasn't sure if that was possible. After watching all the footage, I did think we could string something together that would inspire other filmmakers as well as give a "thank you" gift to the fans. Their undying support was really instrumental in the success of For Lovers Only.
What was the documentary process like?
The process was a lot more difficult than I had realized. How We Made Love was a complete afterthought, so we were really creating something with absolutely no structure or direction. It was very much like Escher—a puzzle within a puzzle. We had a lot of pieces, but didn't know how they'd fit together. There were many "blank stare" moments where I didn't think [editor] Bryan and I could cut this together—even with the interviews acting as a frame. It was messy for a couple of months there.
What are the challenges a filmmaker faces in creating a behind the scenes documentary? Of all the challenges, which was the most unexpected?
The one thing I didn't want it to be was a promotional electronic press kit for For Lovers Only; I really wanted it to be more of an educational tool for filmmakers. I wanted them to see the guts behind the so-called "glamour" of it all. So the challenge was cutting away all the fluff that sounded promotional and finding all the elements that were educational.
Not having planned that, it sometimes felt like Bryan and I were panning for gold in the dead of winter.
Who is the target audience for How We Made Love?
Filmmakers. I think they could learn a bit about no-budget filmmaking in 22 minutes.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the documentary? And what has the reaction been so far?
Ultimately to inspire others to go out and create what ever art form they desire. The reception has been really positive from the fans of the film. I think it reinforced what they already felt about the film.
We also just picked up a Best Documentary Award at the [Imperial Valley Film Festival], which was a nice surprise.
What's up next for you?
I'm currently in preproduction on Headlock, a film I wrote and will direct. It's spies, lies and love. A global For Lovers Only—but with guns! (laughs)