By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(July 2005) I’ve been involved
in the non-profit arts world for more years than I care
to admit (OK, about 25). It really gives you the opportunity
to meet people who are unique with a different agenda
than those you meet in the for-profit, commercial world.
I think I can safely say that I’ve met some truly
amazing human beings; many who have touched my life
and inspired me to excel and expand what I am doing.
When the RI International Film Festival took off nine
years ago, I never expected it to become what it has
today. For me, being so close to it, I’ve seen
it like a snowball rolling down a steep hill, getting
bigger and bigger, gaining momentum, and taking on a
life of its own. My expectations have been tempered
by the reaction of others and the event has now grown
to be something that not only reflects my vision, but
all the wonderful people who work with me and have made
RIIFF their own.
Filmmakers from around the globe have also adopted the
festival, many applying yearly with their latest work.
This year, we expect over 1,500 entries from about 60
countries, which is a bit scary and equally amazing:
scary, because all entries are reviewed multiple times;
amazing because the work tends to be so strong and polished
and it lets you know what a global village we really
of the filmmakers I’ve gotten to know in the course
of producing RIIFF is Stu Pollard whose most recent
feature will have its World Premiere this August 9-14th
at the Festival.
Stu is a highly engaging filmmaker who immerses himself
in his work with unrivalled compassion, conscience,
and tenacity. Plus he’s a USC alum, so we share
I met him several years ago when he screened his feature
debut “Nice Guys Sleep Alone,” with us.
It took home a major prize and Stu made sure that fact
was promoted on the subsequent DVD Release. I cannot
tell you how cool it was to go to Hollywood Video, which
distributed his work, and see our name surrounded by
laurel leaves on the back cover.
In addition to writing and directing the film, Stu also
raised the nearly one million dollars necessary to produce
A bittersweet romantic comedy about the increasingly
shrinking role honesty plays in modern courtship, “Nice
Guys” enjoyed a healthy run on the festival circuit—taking
home several awards—prior to being acquired for
worldwide distribution. The film has been incredibly
successful in the marketplace. Domestically, it ran
for eighteen months on HBO, is currently airing on the
Lifetime Movie Network, and will enter a ten-year syndication
deal in 2006. The “Nice Guys” DVD was the
number one renting title in Hollywood Video’s
First Rites film series, and went on to become one of
the best renting indies on Netflix.com—garnering
national press coverage more than two years after its
Worldwide, the film’s ancillary rights have sold
in over a dozen territories, including Canada, Spain,
China, France, Australia, Greece, England, the Philippines,
Stu is now in post-production on his second feature,
a psychological suspense drama entitled “Keep
Your Distance.” Like “Nice Guys,”
Stu set the film in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky,
and he again shouldered writing, directing, and fund-raising
A story about people searching for what makes them happy,
“Keep Your Distance” features an outstanding
ensemble cast, including Gil Bellows, Jennifer Westfeldt,
Christian Kane, Kim Raver, Stacy Keach, and Elizabeth
I spoke with Stu recently on the phone about his work
and thought he would be a unique role model for many
aspiring New England filmmakers. Here’s what I
GTM: What inspired you to become involved in the film
STU POLLARD: I suppose the simple answer is audiences.
My first ones were my high school and college (Georgetown)
classmates. They listened to my student-radio shows
and watched my short films, and in doing so encouraged
and inspired to keep moving forward. To keep creating
things. Being able to entertain people, captivate them,
make them laugh, cause them to think—that’s
very intoxicating, and it’s a large part of what
drives me not only to make films, but also to make sure
my work gets in front of as many people as possible.
GTM: Working in Kentucky is not exactly being in Los
Angeles or New York. What limitations have you discovered
and assets from being in the so-called “heartland”
STU POLLARD: Kentucky, specifically Louisville, is where
I grew up, so many of the stories I want to tell are
naturally set there. There are three tremendous assets
that come with shooting in Louisville:
(1) Unparalleled production value. It’s a place
that’s both beautiful and largely unexplored on
the big screen. All the locations are real. It’s
a kick to know that just about anyone who watches Keep
Your Distance will be seeing parts of my hometown for
the first time.
(2) An incredibly supportive community. Lots of studio
projects are shooting internationally these days because
of financial and tax incentives. But I’d put Louisville
up against any place in the world in terms of film friendliness.
The amount cooperation, access, media coverage, and
overall goodwill that Louisville has generously shared
is incredibly valuable in innumerable ways, from stretching
our budgets to keeping crew morale at unprecedented
high levels. It starts with Todd Cassidy (at the Kentucky
Film Office) and (Louisville Mayor) Jerry Abramson,
and continues all the way down the line.
(3) A loyal, built-in audience. Louisville came out
in a big way to support my first film, Nice Guys Sleep
Alone, both when it was in theaters and when it was
released on DVD. I’m a firm believer that there’s
no point in making films if you don’t have people
to watch them. The reception of Nice Guys in Louisville
was overwhelming, touching, and inspiring. And it made
me fiercely committed to making more films in my hometown.
GTM: How did this current film "Keep Your
Distance" come about and how long did it take to
STU POLLARD: This story was originally entitled “Space”
and evolved from my experience in several long distance
relationships. We changed the title due to the unavoidable
science fiction connotation, and the script went through
many permutations as it developed over the course of
about a year-and-a-half. But one theme that remained
throughout was trust. The key relationship in the story
morphed into one that was more about emotional distance
than geographic distance—a bond that’s forged
between two strangers. A big conceit of the story is
that sometimes it’s easier to trust someone you
barely know than your best friend.
the script took about a year-and-a-half. Raising the
money—from the business plan all the way through
to closing escrow, took about a year-and-a-half. And
making the film took about, well, a year-and-a-half.
Throw in a little overlap of those phases, along with
a divorce, and it all adds up to about four years from
conception to completion.
GTM: What was casting like for you with this project
and working with a "name" talent? How did
you cast Stacy Keach and what was it like working with
STU POLLARD: We started with the good fortune of hiring
Monika Mikkelsen, the hardest working casting director
in Hollywood. She made the whole process unbelievably
fun and productive. We met so many incredibly talented
people who wanted to do this project—that’s
why casting is arguably my least favorite part of the
process: You have to turn down literally scores of wonderfully
talented actors, just because they’re not quite
right for the part.
With the likes of Gil, Jennifer, Kim and Christian headlining
the film, we were incredibly blessed, doubly so with
our supporting cast filled out by Jamie, Elizabeth,
and Stacy. I considered them “name actors”
before I got to know them, but now that their names
are recognizable because they’re gifted, hardworking,
and professional actors. The most amazing thing about
the cast was how much they cared about the project.
They’ve all enjoyed tremendous success in their
careers, and they’re all incredibly talented,
but they also proved to be complete team players. An
indie experience is much different (e.g. less luxurious)
than a studio film or a network show, but no one was
phased. They were all down to earth and focused on doing
the best job they could.
We cast Stacy by contacting his representation and making
an offer. He was always high on our list because he
was born in the south (Savannah, GA), and I was a big
fan of “Mike Hammer” in the 80’s.
on the cast and crew was thrilled to hear that Stacy
Keach would be playing the role of Brooks Voight (Sean’s
father), a power player in the Kentucky thoroughbred
world. Keach, a Golden Globe winner and Emmy nominee.
I grew up watching Stacy and must admit I had a hard
time at first separating the man from the myth.
After I got over the initial thrill of knowing that
I was going to work with Stacy, I started getting a
little nervous. His resume is, well, extensive…and
impressive …and, it’s like, ‘Well,
hey, I’ve done one movie before. How seriously
is he going to take me?’”
My anxieties were put aside when we met in the makeup
room before the first day of shooting. Stacy smiled,
shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you so much for
this opportunity,’” and was about as gracious
and kind a gentleman as you could ever hope to meet.
He gave Brooks exactly the powerful presence I was looking
GTM: Tell me what it's like working in Louisville,
the support you receive and what you need to do for
outdoor shoots, etc. Do you have support from the local
STU POLLARD: Louisvillians aren’t used to film
crews coming to town, but instead of being wary of the
“Keep Your Distance’s” lights, cameras,
and production trucks, they were thrilled.
It helps that I had already made a name for myself in
Louisville, largely due to the tremendously positive
local response “Nice Guys Sleep Alone” has
received since its theatrical release in 1999.
For example, I don’t pay for locations.
It’s such a blessing, most of the time we find
a great place to stage a scene and before we can even
ask permission people are like ‘Would you like
to shoot something here?’ Some of that has to
do with “Nice Guys” not having any horror
stories about rude crews trashing locations. If there’s
one thing I pride myself on the production management
side, it’s that our crews obey the golden rule
of locations: “Leave ‘em in better shape
than you found ‘em.”
We rarely encountered stumbling blocks, but when we
did, we could always find someone to make a phone call
on our behalf. That’s another great thing about
Louisville—you never have to look too hard to
find friends in common.
While shooting one day on the side of the road with
a small skeleton crew, a few curious neighbors came
out of their houses and approached, but they weren’t
the usual gawking locals.
“They said, ‘Are you guys OK? Did your car
break down or something?” They wanted to make
sure we were okay. And if we weren’t, they wanted
to help us. That’s Louisville.
GTM: Funding is a major concern for independent
filmmakers: how do you raise your money?
STU POLLARD: Like many indie filmmakers, I took sole
responsibility for creating the private equity deals
that raised the money for both of my films, 1999’s
“Nice Guys Sleep Alone” and the forthcoming
“Keep Your Distance.” I’m a big believer
in first figuring out how much your movie is going to
cost, and then raising all of that money before you
start pre-production, let alone shooting.
not shy about offering up pearls of wisdom when it comes
to private equity film investments.
Here’s just one: If you’re
considering an indie film investment and see that the
deal includes a “minimum cap” (a threshold
that allows the filmmaker/film company to start spending
money even though it is substantially less than the
film’s overall projected budget) you should throw
it in the garbage. You’re talking about a venture
that’s incredibly risky to begin with and a minimum
cap ramps up the risk exponentially. The reason most
indie films don’t make money is that they’re
lousy deals to begin with. Most minimum capitalization
deals are suicidal recipes for movies that are destined
to die slow deaths in post; Movies that will never be
seen because they’ll never get finished.
Most indie film investors are uninitiated; they haven’t
done it before. And while you want to sell them on the
sizzle of a movie investment—it’s sexy,
you’ll meet actors, you can hang out on the set,
get tickets to the premiere—you also have a legal
and ethical responsibility to disclose the harsh realities.
Thousands of these movies get made every year, a few
hundred get distributed, and of those, a tiny percentage
make their money back.
The odds of making a profitable indie film are incredibly
steep. I don’t subscribe to this theory that it’s
always about the next one. Other filmmakers may feel
differently about their work, but I have a very parental
relationship with my films. In their early stages, their
livelihood is completely dependent on me.
A flaw that plagues many indie filmmakers is that they
give up on their films too quickly, especially if they
don’t make a big splash right away. The reality
is that we live in a time where there’s never
been greater opportunities for our work to be seen.
Everywhere there’s a zip code, it seems, there’s
a film festival. There’s been a huge proliferation
of cable channels, the popularity of DVD has exploded
beyond belief, there’s video on demand, the Internet,
the list goes on and on and will continue to grow. Bottom
line, there’s an audience for virtually every
film ever made, it’s just a question of seeking
GTM: Expectations: the film will have its World Premiere
this August RIIFF. Why select RIIFF and following your
screening, how will you market the film and what is
your ultimate goal for its future?
STU POLLARD: I have a soft spot in my heart for the
RIIFF because my first film, “Nice Guys Sleep
Alone” premiered there in 1999. It’s a great
festival that has thrived over the years because it
exists for all the right reasons: It’s run by
and produced for people who love the art form. So many
festivals these days have spiraled out of control so
that it’s become a nasty as opposed to nurturing
environment for the filmmakers. I know as long as George
Marshall is at the wheel of RIIFF, that it’s always
going to epitomize what a genuine film festival should
Having sold “Nice Guys Sleep Alone” to HBO,
Lifetime, WE, Hollywood Video, Netflix and others, there’s
obviously an expectation that we’ll do as well,
if not better, with “Keep Your Distance.”
We already have a great deal of interest in the film
from distributors both large and small, and we’re
hoping that our screenings at the RIIFF will only build
on that momentum. That being said, the goals are pretty
simple: Try and get the best deals possible so that
I can (a) pay back my investors, and (b) give as many
people as possible an opportunity to see the film. If
we can accomplish those two goals, then we’ll
be in a great position to get the next project off the
GTM: Tell us about your past experiences in film marketing
with earlier work. What did you learn from the process?
STU POLLARD: Think like a distributor from the outset:
Even when your prepping, you should be thinking how
can you help a would-be distributor sell your film to
the public? It starts with having a still photographer
on set every day. And in addition to shooting production
stills, they should shoot portrait (poster) stills of
your actors. These days, with the advent of DVD, it’s
essential to have a videographer on set capturing behind
the scenes footage. You may never get all your cast
and crew together in one place again, so production
is the ideal time to get interviews with your key cast
and crew as well.
Be organized. There’s a much-unheralded aspect
to getting an indie film distributed known as delivery.
This means that in order for any distributor to release
your film—in any form—you have to deliver
them not just the finished film, but all the paperwork
and physical elements that went into creating it. You’ll
need to hand over everything from your script copyright
form PA to your outtakes, so it pays to be an obsessive-compulsive
Never give up. The first time we took “Nice Guys”
to HBO, they passed. We went back a second time and
they bought it. When Hollywood Video took “Nice
Guys” out on a rev-share basis, I visited more
than 400 stores and talked to the staff, customers,
and anyone else who listen. I took the film on a college
tour to more than a dozen campuses. To this day I always
look for opportunities to get the film seen.
GTM: What project is next on your plate?
STU POLLARD: Several projects, all of which have special
appeal. There’s a bio-pic about a troubled young
jockey who won two Kentucky Derbys in the 90’s
before dying tragically at 34. A buddy-comedy called
“The Last Camaro” that I’m working
on with New York-based producer, John Finley. I’m
helping produce a documentary entitled “Dirty
Country,” about a rather unique country music
singer-songwriter named Larry Pierce. And a few things
I’m writing as well. I’m not sure which
one will go next, but it’s nice to be associated
with so many great projects.
GTM: What would you tell an independent filmmaker just
starting in the business they should expect and prepare
themselves for in making their first feature? Can you
STU POLLARD: A million things: Relax. But work hard.
Don’t cast yourself unless you absolutely have
to. Never skimp on food for your crew. Don’t yell
at anyone in public. Always fight for rehearsal time.
Tell the truth. Get at least five hours sleep a night.
Story always wins. Wear comfortable shoes. Have fun,
but be serious. Take a five-minute break each day just
to tell your significant other that you love him/her.
STU POLLARD: Keep your cool—everyone’s following
your lead whether you realize it or not. And remember
at the end of the day, it’s only a movie.
But most of all I’d tell them to contact me. They
can email me directly from www.distanceflick.com. I
truly enjoy sharing my experience with others who are
starting out in the business. If I can steer someone
clear of a few of the holes I’ve stepped in along
the way then it makes my journey all the more worthwhile.
GTM: Would you consider shooting in New England in future?
STU POLLARD: Absolutely. In fact, my former agent Boyd
Hancock is now a producer residing outside of Boston
and she just wrapped her first feature, “The House
of Usher.” It shot in Danvers, Rowley and Newburyport,
MA. Boyd mandated from the outset that this particular
project be made exclusively by women, so I wasn’t
eligible to direct it (Usher is directed by Hayley Cloake),
but I imagine we’ll be working together on something
in the very near future.
GTM: Anything you would like to add?
STU POLLARD: We’re really looking forward to releasing
the soundtrack album for “Keep Your Distance,”
which celebrates the local music scene in Louisville.
It features 16 previously tracks from a wide variety
of incredibly talented artists, including Peter Searcy,
Digby, Tim Krekel, The Muckrakers, and Carter Wood.
For more information about Stu Pollard and his latest
film, please visit www.distanceflick.com.
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached