Bob Spells Backwards (dir. Josh Polon & Ryan Maxey) + Interview
A couple of years back at FP7, we screened the beautifully hazy doc, Only the Young, about three teenage skaters wrestling with adolescence in California. Upon hearing producer of the film, Josh Polon had directed a new short (I'd seen some of his earlier stuff which is great), I was intrigued. Bob Spells Backwards is short and sweet, and doesn't disappoint. I caught up with Josh to ask him a few questions about the film and to find out what other interesting projects he has in the pipeline...
SG: So how do you know Bobby, and did you realise straight away that he’d be a good subject for a short doc?
JP: I met Bobby at a birthday party a few years ago and realised straight away we'd be good friends. He acts in a bunch of his own and friends' short films, but it wasn't until last September that we thought about a doc together.
My partner Ryan Maxey and I were looking for a good subject for a 2-minute doc, just to see if we could tell a story that quickly. And around that time Bobby told us he was moving to Hawaii in a few weeks. He proposed the idea: “What about my spelling thing?”
SG: It’s quite a unique talent he has, but was he reticent to be filmed at all?
JP: No arm twisting required. He loves hamming it up on camera. He broke his favorite board on take #20 trying to perfect a trick for us.
SG: Now the film is available online, what’s your plan for it? Is it a case of putting it online, letting it fly free, and moving on to other projects? Or will you be nurturing its online (and offline) presence for a while longer?
We're setting it free and moving on! Vimeo Staff Pick was our wildest hope for Bob Spells, so we're content.
SG: Both BSB and your last film Best Sound screened at SXSW – how important has that been for you with the attention they’ve garnered at the festival?
JP: I owe a ton to SXSW. Starting with Kevin, a doc that premiered there in 2011, everything I make is to get invited back. Every March you get to binge and be inspired by all these great new films, and the filmmakers you meet become your future collaborators back home. It's a special place.
SG: Before BSB, you produced the acclaimed feature doc, Only the Young (which screened at Flatpack in 2013). The film was really well received – has that been a key enabler for your other projects since?
JP: Only the Young has majorly influenced my own directing work. Ryan and I rewatch it a couple times a year. The mix of naturalism and beauty that Jason and Liz pulled off is something we reference (and envy) regularly.
SG: You’ve currently got a couple of projects on the go - Simply Sylvio is one of them. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
JP: Sylvio Bernardi is “just an ordinary gorilla” who expresses himself on his popular Vine account, @SimplySylvio. Along with filmmaker Al Birney, filmmaker/actor Kentucker Audley and Viner/author Meghan Doherty, we're adapting Sylvio's story into a feature film.
SG: And María 95 is another film in production, but this time you’re directing rather than producing – what can we expect from it? And when can we hope to see it?
JP: María is a short detective-story documentary about a high schooler, and probably the most unusual thing I've made. It's a mix of funny and extremely dark and unsettling. I've submitted to a handful of festivals, so we'll see who bites.
SG: And is there anything else in the pipeline that we should look out for?
JP: We didn't plan it, but after making Best Sound and Bob Spells we realized they have some uncanny similarities. They both feature pairs of chairs sitting in domestic spaces. They star our friend Trent. They both play with what is or isn't a “truthful” way to tell a non-fiction story. And they share the same initials... so it's a B.S. trilogy! We're planning the final installment right now.
Josh has produced with the Duplass Brothers since 2009. Most recently he produced Animals., an independent animated comedy that premiered at Sundance and sold to HBO in May; Manson Family Vacation starring Jay Duplass and Linas Phillips; and Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims' Only the Young, which won awards at AFI Fest and Cinema Eye Honors and played on PBS’ POV.