Ketchup Entertainment releases Big Sur at Cinema Village on November 1st, 2013.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to figure out what to omit from the novel by Jack Karoac?
Michael Polish: I read the novel twice, and when I saw too much grey, I thought that we were going into an area that won't be filmable. Jack Karoac would go into 10-page rants which were beautiful, but didn't translate to film---not that anything could be translated into film anyway because the big thing is that it's not filmable.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What makes Karoac so relevant today?
MP: Just read all the blogs filled with ramblings and self-consciousness. People don't realize that when you sit down to read these blogs and they're all Karoac-types. There's not as much language-spinning, but there's self-deprecating, what's going on in the world, and run-on sentences which makes Karoac all the more relevant.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you decide to not include exposition in Big Sur?
MP: Karoac is at the end of his life, so you bring your baggage to it. A great example of that is The Passion of the Christ where there was so much unsaid and you saw this guy being tortured. It's a perfect example of a movie that didn't explain anything and you were like, "Of course. Yeah!"
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think it makes a big difference to see Big Sur on the big screen?
MP: Every one of my films should be seen on the big screen. When you render it down to TV, you never know how it's going to be viewed. Nowadays people watch movies on their phone, so once it's in their hands, it's going to be tough.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would Big Sur work in black-and-white?
MP: I've done a black-and-white movie before. It would have been very Ansel Adams-like. Filmmakers don't have a choice when it comes to that. A filmmaker would make a black-and-white film any day of the week, but when it comes to distributors, it's the kiss of death. But I filmed For Lovers Only in black-and-white and it was one of my most successful movies.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What questions would you ask Karoac if he were still alive today? What might he comment about modern society?
MP: I would probably not ask him a question. I'd probably say, "Let's go grab a drink and chat about what's going on now." He would probably say, "What the fuck is Twitter??" It would probably just drive him crazy.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think there's a fine line between genius and madness?
MP: Yes. I walk that line all of the time. It's a great marriage that you walk all the time because you have to be crazy enough to get people to sit on a cliff for 30 days to make a movie. Then when you see the movie, you notice the genius part if you like it. Kate Bosworth said to me that I was called a "mad genius" in a review. I could deal with that.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the discipline to keep the film under 90 minutes?
MP: I thought that Karoac's rhythm was there up to that point. If it was 91 or 92 minutes, it would have been exhausting. When you're forced to watch Karoac rather than read him, there's a limit.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that making a film is as complicated as composing a symphony or building a house?
MP: It's very similar to writing music or building a house. You change things around and then you screw people's idea of what a symphony or house should be. You always try to find a balance. The main core in Big Sur was Karoac's voice.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think over-analysis of a film tends to ruin one's experience of it?
MP: I think when you're young and analyze films it's always better than when you're older and analyze films. When you're young, you're more impressionable and there's a "I want to know the magic" aspect to your curiosity. When you over-analyze things as an adult, I think you're just tearing it down.
NYC MOVIE GURU: If Big Sur were re-cast with actors from the Golden Age of American Cinema, who among those actors/actresses would you choose?
MP: Kate Bosworth would probably be a cross between Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. If there was a hybrid, that would be who I would re-cast. Even though she's English, I would also cast Julie Christie. She could've also played the role of Caroline. For the role that Josh Lucas plays, I would put Paul Newman there. For the role of Jack Karoac, I'd obviously go with Marlon Brando.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How does it feel not to make a movie that, unlike most Hollywood films, can't turn into a video game?
MP: After the screening at Sundance, I got up on stage and said, "This will not become a Disneyland ride." It's a ride within itself---a mental state.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you see the difference between the film industry back in the 90's and today?
MP: I did Twin Falls Idaho back in 1998 and that got a proper release---even though it was a movie about Siamese twins. Vanity Fair covered it, New York Times covered it and so did Esquire. It was normal to see films like that get a wide release. With a film like Big Sur, you get the 12-city, 20-city, 40-city roll-out, but most people can go to VOD now and watch it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think it would take to crack the ice of a new Golden Age of American Cinema?
MP: You need the support of audience members. Social media would very much help achieve that.