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Interview: Gabe & Alan Polsky On 'The Motel Life,' Future Projects And Producing For Werner Herzog

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist November 8, 2013 at 2:14PM

Well, it's been a long time coming, nearly a year in fact since its 2012 Rome Film Festival debut, where it picked up three awards—editing, screenplay and the coveted Audience Award—but "The Motel Life" (our review here) is finally making its way onto screens this week. The debut film from producing-turned-directing brothers Gabe and Alan Polsky, starring Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff with Dakota Fanning in a small role, the film is based on the 2006 novel by musician and writer Willy Vlautin and tells the story of two brothers who flee their Reno motel after getting involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident.
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The Motel Life

GP: And without the animation it would be, as you say, a classic independent film. But when we read the book we thought, you know, it is a positive story, and it's easy to look and say these guys are in a horrible situation, they're losers but it's really about hope and redemption and acceptance—a beautiful story in which they both, in a tragic way, get what they need in order to move on. And the animation gives it a levity and little more humor and moments of breath, so it's not so relentless.

AP: I don't think either of us are huge fans of the dark indie drama quote-unquote, and ... we saw it as sort of a hopeful story that needed to go to the depths in order to show that hope. The nature of their situations is kind of dark, but we really wanted to tell the story of how these guys persevere in this situation, in a hopeful way. 

"I don't think either of us are huge fans of the, quote-unquote, dark indie drama...we saw it as sort of a hopeful story."

Do you see yourselves working together always or might you pursue separate projects?
AP: Right now we're both working on a lot of different things. 

GB: We've got stuff we're working on independently and stuff we're working on together. But I'm very proud that I did this project with my brother. it had to happen this way, that our first movie was like this and about two brothers. 

As producers, you had an idea to make "Bad Lieutenant" into a series of films, pairing a different director with a different actor each time. Are you still pursuing that?
AP: We'd like to. There are other parties involved, which is always a challenge. But we still really believe in that concept, finding different auteurs and matching them with a great actor and finding different versions of the 'Bad Lieutenant,' but at this point we don't have a screenplay or anything. 

Have you any viable director/actor pairings in mind?
AP: I try not to go down that road until it's real. There's a lot of amazing combinations.

GP: I do think that other directors have been influenced by the 'Bad Lieutenant.' I've seen a couple of other films and I won't be specific, they're called different movies but they're essentially a version of 'Bad Lieutenant.' 

At script stage, before you got Herzog involved, did you envision 'Port of Call - New Orleans' being as batshit as it came out?
GP: It had to be that way. I don't think Alan or I would have wanted to do a movie that was down the middle, a conventional cop movie. If you read the script it's kind of a linear, procedural thing … we needed a director that just totally dismembered it and blew it apart and made it something interesting so that we would be proud to have our names on it. Werner Herzog—you have a guy like that, it's impossible for it not to be like that—he's a perfect storm for that kind of thing. 

But did you originally envisage Abel Ferrera returning?
AP: We had a responsibility to talk to Abel because of the contract. 

GP: But we can't really talk about that.

The Motel Life

So how about your "Flowers for Algernon" project?
AP: We got the rights to the book which was a very difficult process and took about a year. And since then the rights holder Cliff Robertson passed away, but we thought Will Smith would be great in that role and so did Cliff Roberston, so we partnered with Overbrook and Will and we're hoping to make this movie. We've been developing it, we think it would be exceptional.

You're also developing a Dorian Doc Paskowitz surfing biopic that has Sean Penn attached?
GP: Yep, just developing it, trying to get the script great.

Would Sean Penn be a possible director for that project?
AP: Anything's possible.

How about "Gun With Occasional Music," the Jonathan Lethem adaptation? 
AP: They're all in development, and as we did with 'Motel Life' we keep working on the script till it's great. That's how we got started in this business, developing—so we've had a lot of experiences of adapting things and doing things from scratch. It's one of the toughest things to get right.

Do you prefer your role as producer or director?
GP: I think I enjoy being involved with the creative process and the producer is less involved with that. It can be fun but it's a more creatively removed position, obviously it has to be someone's vision. I think Alan and I enjoy the creative process thoroughly and directing is the most creative position, as producer you don't have the same input ...

AP: I disagree a little with that. I think lot of producers are very creative people, I think that even things that we've produced we try to be as hands on as we can. When you're making a film with Werner Herzog it might be less of a collaboration day-to-day than if you're making a film with a younger filmmaker but it's a very creative business and the emotional involvement and the time of directing obviously you get into the guts of the story more, but there's a lot of creativity to be had producing, finding the right material, developing, getting the right team together.

GP: It depends on where you want to put your energy and how much time you have. Obviously if you're directing you have to just focus on that. 

I can imagine that working with Werner Herzog might pose some very creative producing challenges.
AP: Definitely.

GP: That was our film school, making that movie with him. The experience that we had with him was insane … The way he thinks, which is out of the box, the way he looks at the world, that's not conventional. His attention to details that are skewed. He doesn't try to be [odd], that's the thing, he doesn't even know that he's being insane, he has no idea until people tell him! He thinks that it's completely normal. 

"The Motel Life" opens this Friday, November 8th in 20 national markets and is available on VOD and iTunes simultaneously. We recently hosted an Soho Apple Store chat with the filmmakers, Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff. Two clips from that chat below. The entire Q&A can be heard in the form of an iTunes podcast that you can download here.

1. What drew Stephen Dorff to the material?

2.Emile and Stephen discuss working with producers-turned-filmmakers.

This article is related to: Gabe and Alan Polsky, Rome Film Festival, Interview, The Motel Life, Stephen Dorff, Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning


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