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This week I brought on the show, playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor, John Pollono. I wanted to go down the road a little bit about his remarkable journey in the business which expands across theatre and short films.
John is one of the founders of the Jabberwocky Theatre Company in 2004 which became the Rogue Machine Theatre in 2008 where he produced his earlier plays. His big break came with his screenplay for the acclaimed biographical drama film, Stronger which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
The screenplay, based on Bauman’s memoir Stronger, was number two on the Black List (most-liked “motion picture screenplays not yet produced) in 2016.
Stronger, starring multiple award-winning actors, Jake Gyllenhaal, is the inspiring real-life story of Jeff Bauman — an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope after surviving but losing his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and must adjust to his new life.
This project came along for John right after signing with Los Angelos – based Creative Artists Agency. Producers, Alex Young and Todd Lieberman were already familiar with Pollono’s work. And they were on the hunt for something. That was when adapting Stronger became a prospect. At the time, the book was not yet published so he had a chance to review the unpublished book.
Producer Scott Silver was looking to mentor a more junior writer for the Stronger film and fortuitously, John was a good fit having grown up 20 minutes from where the characters take place, he was the best candidate for the job. So, with a follow-up pitch, the book’s film adaptation screenplay was sold to Lionsgate.
Writing Stronger (the film) was a double success for Pollono. Not only was he mentored directly by the incredible Scott Silver and receiving writing directions about theme, structure, etc, but the project brought him some notoriety as well by topping number two on the blacklist a year before production. That script made a big enough splash for his career.
Besides Stronger, Pollono is known for writing Small Engine Repair (the play and its film adaptation), Lost Girls (2013 and 2015) Off-Broadway release, Second Of Rules (the play), Lost and Found (2006), Razorback (play, staged in 2008) and his one-act Illuminati play which won Best Play at the 2010 Network One-Act Festival in New York City.
In his career in front of the camera, Pollono made appearances on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, recurring roles on Mob City and NBC’s This Is Us TV series, and have worked professionally in entertainment Public Relations
Pollono’s love for stories and movies dates back to being a kid who was also a voracious reader — reading every Stephen King book there is. He picked up short story writing at a pretty young age. Obviously, he had a sort of knack for storytelling and started pursuing that path and passion to become a filmmaker and has been fortunate to shadow so many directors who I really admire in the business.
He earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1994 from the University of New Hampshire and did two semesters of film school at NYU on an exchange. His experience in New York City, being surrounded by such a diverse group of artists was the biggest epiphany of his life that helped him decide his filmmaking career.
He’s guest-starred in the television series, How I Met Your Mother and has had smaller acting credits on film and stage.
In 2021 he wrote and directed the black comedy-drama, Small Engine Repair which will premiere this September. The film is based on Pollono’s play of the same name. I can not recommend this film enough. It is easily one of the best films I’ve seen in 2021.
Events spin wildly out of control when three lifelong friends agree to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore. It follows lifelong friends Frank (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Whigham) who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars, and Frank’s teenaged daughter Crystal (Bravo). But when Frank invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control in this exploration of brotherhood, class struggle, and toxic masculinity.
This interview was a pretty cool conversation and I did not hold back getting John to share all the gems of the business he’s learned and fun questions like what it’s like working with Frank Darabont and working on the new Hulk Hogan movie currently in production.
Enjoy my conversation with John Pollono.
Alex Ferrari 0:20
I'd like to welcome to the show, John Pollono. How you doing, john?
John Pollono 0:23
I'm doing all right. How you doing, man?
Alex Ferrari 0:24
I'm doing great, man. I'm doing great. It's any day above of the ground nowadays?
John Pollono 0:31
I know. Right. With the we've lowered the bar. Pretty much.
Alex Ferrari 0:35
All the bar has been lowered since 2019. that's for damn. that's for damn sure.
John Pollono 0:39
Alex Ferrari 0:40
But thanks for coming on the show, man. We're gonna talk later.
John Pollono 0:43
I'm a big fan of the podcast. Thanks.
Alex Ferrari 0:45
Oh, thanks, man. I appreciate it. You know, we were going to go down the road a little bit about your your remarkable journey in the business. And in your you're an East coaster.
John Pollono 0:56
Alex Ferrari 0:57
So I always love talking to East coasters. Because I mean, being an East Coast. There's a different energy with these coasters. Even though you're even though you're West Coast now as I was. But
John Pollono 1:07
it's where you spent the formative years I think is
Alex Ferrari 1:09
I think it is. And it never leaves you. And never never know. If you can live in LA for the next 50 years. I had a I had a good friend of mine, who was a first ad worked on every big movie you can imagine. 20 years he raised in New York, but until he was seven, he was still talking like, you know, when I go to the door, it had the accent he had the
John Pollono 1:27
It's comfort. It's it's what you're used to you do it? You know, I mean, I've been here about 20 years. And I, you know, it kept me at, you know, the first like five or six. I was like, you know, I'm not, I'm not really here. And then you kind of like I kind of love it. I mean, California is great. But California is like a melting pot. It's like people from all over. And I mean, like most of my friends are from the northeast from New York and Boston. And I mean, it's just happened to gravitate towards that. I mean, like I said, My wife's in Dallas. But you know, when we first were dating and stuff, she'd be like, we stopped yelling, and I'm like, I'm not yelling.
Alex Ferrari 1:59
John Pollono 2:01
That's how we Communicate, and then realize when you're from people back home, you're all like that, you know, so it's just that you attract birds of a feather, I guess.
Alex Ferrari 2:08
And then eventually all all East coasters go down to Miami to to retire. So that's Yes, that's it. Isn't that the law? I think that's the law. The law. So, so man, how did you get into the business? How did you get started?
John Pollono 2:24
Like how back do you want to go? I mean, so
Alex Ferrari 2:27
not the womb, but right.
John Pollono 2:30
I mean, look, I always loved stories and movies. And as a kid, I was a voracious reader. And I started writing, you know, short stories a pretty young, I was obsessed with Stephen King. I like read everything he wrote. And I don't know, I just sort of had a knack for it. And then, you know, started doing that kind of thing. And then I wanted to be a director. I wanted to make movies and I, you know, it was a dream of mine. Then I went to university New Hampshire was pretty much all I could afford. But I didn't exchange to NYU. And you do you for a whole summer. It's like two semesters worth of filmmaking classes. And I was just like, it was the biggest epiphany of my life. Being in the city being surrounded by such a diverse group of artists. For the first time in my life, I was around people I could just sit down with and we could talk about movies and stuff for hours, like endlessly. So I was no longer the sort of having to convince my peer group to go watch a movie with me or talk about it. I was just with people and living and breathing. And I was like, This is what I want to do, you know, for the rest of my life. And, you know, I went a very circuitous way. I graduated from college, I lived in Colorado for a couple of years with with a girl we lived in a trailer park and I wrote a bunch of terrible screenplays. And then I moved out to LA with those and you know, in my backpack, and, you know, they sucked, I was writing movies that were derivative of movies, so I didn't quite, you know, like, here's my Indiana Jones, here's my you know, whatever weapon exactly for weapon type stuff. And, and so then I started to take acting classes, and I got more involved in theater and I've been a, you know, in a playwright for, you know, 15, about 1015 years now. And theater was really what, how I discovered my voice, and it's sort of amplified all of that stuff. And, and then in theater and working as a playwright having play after play produced and sort of living in that world. I just, yeah, I've developed my voice as a writer. So then when I started to write screenplays, I had that sort of skill set that wasn't derivative of other movies. It was based on the lessons I'd learned in theater, which were, you know, character and drama and conflict and, you know, provoking an audience and really going to these daring, scary places. And so when I started to use that, in screenwriting, my you know, screenwriting career sort of took off, and then I've just sort of been juggling the two ever since,
Alex Ferrari 4:59
but You but you started but you started acting a little bit before. I mean, you were you your big break wasn't your big break or your first notable role with Frank Darabont and mob city?
John Pollono 5:09
Yeah, that was coincidentally, he saw me in small engine repair of the play in 2011. And I had known Frank, when I first moved to LA, I worked at the mailroom, Castle Rock entertainment. And then, which was really cool. I mean, look, I'm like, in my mid 20s, I'm like, this is great, I made wonderful friends. And then a friend of mine in the mailroom, this guy, filson tanny, who's a great guy, I'm still friends with him, he was taking acting classes at this place. And I, you know, I had acted in NYU and done and I kind of had, like, you know, the bug, but I kind of was too, you know, so much of my life and sort of my upbringing was being sort of closeted about my artistic side, and being afraid to sort of in the culture that I was in, or I was subscribed to the, like, I was too vulnerable. And I just didn't have feel like I had that support system, I had to kind of keep it very down. So that was, I was still in I probably the last 10 years of my career by being too much of a chicken shit to just say, you know what, this is what I am, I am an artist, you know what it is like, you're from Queens, like that tough guy. Like,
Alex Ferrari 6:14
my father was like, you're gonna do what? Like, what's kind of where you gonna make money like they had, he was a factory where
John Pollono 6:21
he just 100% exact same thing, exact same thing. And I had, you know, I've had, you know, 100 jobs in my life, manual labor, construction, irrigate, you know, everything, landscaping, you name it, because that I was afraid to say, hey, look, this is what I want to do. So I took those acting classes. That's sort of how I met it. And then I, but then I became an assistant to the head of PR. And it was like this beautiful family to be part of. I'm still friends with all those people and I so in the PR department, Frank Darabont made a bunch of movies at Castle Rock. So I just got to know him as like, you know, the 27 year old guy who parks his car and talks about movies, he was awesome. He was, you know, one of those filmmakers who you could just talk to, and, you know, I just got to know him through there. So then when I was in this play, and he was obviously new, Jon bernthal, from walking dead, he came and saw it. And he was like, I didn't know you're an actor. And you know, I'm such, you know, I love your that you wrote it. I love it. And yeah, and they brought me in on that pilot. And, yeah, I just got cast in that I think someone else got cast over me, this Irish actor, and he, like, couldn't get his green card. It was like I was pinned for it. And then they let me go, they cast this guy. And then they called and they're like, hey, you're in and I was like, This is amazing. So we shot that pilot, but it kind of sat there for a long time. And then we shot those other episodes. I mean, that was such an amazing experience. And I just adore Frankie. So great.
Alex Ferrari 7:38
So how did you have connections in the Lisa department to get that actor kicked off? Right. Let me say, you know, what, what is it? I have to ask? Because I'm such a huge Frank Darabont fan. I mean, sure. I mean, everyone. This is the show understands my obsession with Shawshank Redemption, considering it's one of the greatest cinematic experiences I've ever had, and continue to have one of the best screenplays ever written. What is it like working with, like, you know, I guess you already knew them a bit, because you'd been working with them. And, you know, as the 27 year old has parked his car, but yeah, it's another thing had been directed by by giant like that,
John Pollono 8:15
well, you know, there's different directors have different ways of doing it. That was one of the things I learned that it's like, what kind of director are you and you know, Frank, he does the work on the page. And he worked, you know, in the case of mob city was written by a bunch of different people, but it was like, his vision, and he was very visual. And so performance wise, you know, he kind of let you do your thing. Like, I feel like I'm a different director than that. I like to get in the weeds with the actors more, but he's not intimidating. He's a super cool guy. He fucking loves film. Like you're saying, he's a student of it. And that really interesting about Frank, which isn't like a lot of directors I've worked with is that if you're like, Hey, you know, my cousin's in from out of town, he wants to see other movies like bring them in. Like I was working as like a freelance PR guy at the time still to pay the bills because I had a child. And you know, we were making shit work I like I said at that was a period of my life where I had like four jobs. One of them was mob city, but you know, and it paid good, but not enough to raise a family in LA. You know, you're always waiting for that bigger break. So but I was I brought all of the PR guys I was working with and gals like these, this another group of friends I had, and he's like, Yeah, he brought them all around the monitor. They're all like, I can't believe this. He completely is disarming. He loves to show you this and ask people questions. Like he loves the process so much. He's very inviting. So you whenever if he has a minute, you can always ask him questions about the camera lenses and this and that, you know, at mob city, he was starting to go more digital, which he didn't think he would and he would talk endlessly about that. I mean, the guy is just like so open about all that and eager to share.
Alex Ferrari 9:53
That's awesome, man. That's all yeah, it
John Pollono 9:56
exceeds your expectations on how cool he is with that particular person. You
Alex Ferrari 10:01
know, I've heard he's been I heard from other people who've worked with him. He's very cool, but it's nice to continuously hear that he is awesome.
John Pollono 10:09
Yeah, now he totally, you know, I think he's very visual and that sort of his lane. You know, I think if you're an actor who likes to be super collaborative in terms of your ideas of the characters, and the performance, and, you know, high of this idea about the scene, and you know, he's not necessarily that director, but he's painting beautiful pictures, and he knows the story, and he knows it. So it's like, you gotta you got to go with the flow. That means all different kinds, you know,
Alex Ferrari 10:35
right. Like, yeah, if you're working with Clint Eastwood, are you working with Tarantino? They're very different flavors of director.
John Pollono 10:40
Alex Ferrari 10:41
Very, very different.
John Pollono 10:42
Yeah, no, totally. And, you know, again, that was sort of I was very intimidated to direct a movie. And one of my things was, like, I was fortunately able to shadow so many directors that I that I really admire. And I saw, well, I had the opportunity of being the actor with them and saying, oh, okay, how can I communicate that and, and additionally, some incredible theater directors as well. So I felt like, you know, it's such a godsend to be able to see someone like, you're saying Frank Darabont work, and sort of cherry pick some of the stuff he does, they'll be like, yeah, I think I want to try that. And some of the stuff you're like, Okay, that's not the director. I am. But, you know, Frank, I think his direction starts on the page. You know, so right. There. Yeah, he's a writer. And I mean, there's so you know, there's so Connect interconnected in many ways, but you know, read his script, you kind of know what he wants from that character.
Alex Ferrari 11:34
Now, when you were, you know, you're hustling as an actor. And then you're writing some screenplays, I'm assuming you haven't written Lethal Weapon seven at this point, you've gone past that. I would write that I was about to say, I would enjoy having you writes. That would be interesting to say the least. But so you start writing. Can you tell me a little bit about how stronger came to be?
John Pollono 11:58
Yeah. So you know, smaller repair at that time as a play was like my writing sample, you know, what they used to get you in the door. And I had just signed with CAA. And they were like, you know, I had written some screenplays. And at that point, I had had some legit screenwriting jobs, but the door wasn't sort of kicked open, so stronger. I had known the Mandeville guys especially this guy, Alex young Todd Lieberman producers over there. They were familiar with my work, I had had enough plays going on that they got to know you, you know, you have a general meeting. And you say, hey, look, you know, I have a play running with you. We want to check it out. So they go see it. So they were like, especially Alex, who was the junior sort of producer at the time, he kind of knew my voice and he was looking for something so stronger came by the book sample they had hadn't been published yet. They were trying to find a writer. It was a it was a really, fortuitous situation. Because just coincidentally, one of my favorite all time screenwriters, Scott silver was a producer on it. And his role was he was going to they were going to hire somebody a little more junior. And Scott was going to kind of, as sometimes happens in these things to kind of oversee it. Like, we like this guy's voice. He's never necessarily written a studio movie of this size, we're going to kind of help mentor him a little bit, which Scott does a lot. And he's amazing at that. So, you know, look, I grew up 20 minutes from where the characters take place. So, you know, I think it was a shoo in and enough of my plays, which had taken place in that sort of those neighborhoods. It was just a really good fit. So I read the book, I had my take on it. And then, you know, I came up with my pitch. And I had never done that quite thing before. But like, these guys were incredible. You know, we sold it to Lionsgate and then, you know, I spent a ton of time with, with Jeff Bowman and his friends and everything. And then you know, and then I wrote it, and then I wrote a first draft that I think really captured, like the rough, scruffy heart of the story that it ends up being and, and then you know, working close with the producers, and more importantly with Scott relief, saying, Okay, well, this is, you know, this seems working, this is not so, structure theme, really nailing down on that writing, writing, writing, and then eventually, you know, it just kind of clicked and it became, you know, that script then being on the blacklist and all that stuff, even before the movie was produced. That script made a big enough splash. I mean, look, sometimes you write a screenplay, and the producer takes it and it's under lock and key. And they they, you know, give it out to a director reading but like, you know, I mean, I have scripts, scripts, I'm certain I've written that maybe, you know, 15 people I've read outside of the company, I wrote it for stronger was one of those that it just went out on the circuit. Interesting. So that's how
Alex Ferrari 14:41
and that's and that's how I got involved with blacklist.
John Pollono 14:44
Yeah, because blacklist is like, you know, Junior execs, assistance, everybody like reading and it was just a caught fire that year. And you know, that he was like I said, before I was made I started to have buzz and people wanted to hire me because they read this script and then like holy shit. And then you know, obviously when you make a movie brings you to a whole nother level. But you know, that's sort of how that that took fire. But just as importantly, from that relationship with Scott, he and I just really clicked and he's from Worcester, Massachusetts. And we've gone on to write a whole bunch of scripts together. And you know, that was as important in terms of my education as being a studio screenwriter is anything is like getting to work with him on all this stuff. And you know, how I like to approach it, how he does, and again, just like working with a director, you kind of cherry pick, I've always tried to be humble and open to that. And, you know, Scott is like, you know, he's one of a kind, and he has his way of doing it. And then when we do it together, so I've really, you know, gotten so much out of that. approach as many of these sort of collaborations as possible.
Alex Ferrari 15:50
Let me ask you, what's the when you were working with Scott, when you were just brought in on stronger? What's the biggest lesson you learned from him as far as either structure or character or approach to the craft? Because you were still, you've been writing for a long time, but this was kind of like you were starting to get into deeper waters here in Hollywood?
John Pollono 16:05
Oh, absolutely. I mean, look, when you write a play, there is, you know, you're, you're in a good way, you're limited by the constraints of theater, right? You know, whereas a movie, you can do anything, you can do exterior, the universe, whatever, there's like too many options. So sometimes, initially, that's intimidating. So theater by nature of it, you're a little bit more contained. I would say the thing that Scott initially, even having written a draft, and knowing like what it's about was the specificity of theme, really being disciplined in being like, he's like, you know, what, what is this about? You know, and using that theme, as sort of a prism to inform the rewrites the structures, what scenes stay, what doesn't like to really be disciplined about about that. And that was something I think I was doing to some extent, subconsciously, some way consciously, but it was always easy to be like, Oh, this is a really cool tangent, which, you know, my whole thing in theater was always like, is it? Is it deepening the character? Is it really funny? Is it thematic? Is it moving the plot? is it doing all those things, but in especially in a film, it's like, really, the economy of making sure it's all cohesive and one vision. And although you may not know, my theme, reading something, or anyone's theme, it's clear when there's sort of an intelligent design behind that, and I felt, maybe that doesn't work for everybody. You know, certainly I grew up listening to, you know, being obsessed with Tarantino and Scorsese and hearing their work process, especially Tarantino saying, like, you know, there's that famous quote he has when he's writing Reservoir Dogs that he's like, Mr. Blonde, took that straight razor out of his thing while I was writing, and he surprised me, I didn't do that. So I still like to create, especially in theater, or I want the characters and situations to surprise me, but it has to be like, let's not go off the reservation. Let's continue saying what we need to say. And that served me very well and continues to,
Alex Ferrari 18:00
I always find it fascinating. And I know, you know, in my own writing over the years, and with with writers I speak to I always, always am fascinated when they say something like Tarantino just said, like, oh, all of a sudden, the, you know, the, and when I was first writing first coming up with stories and things like that, it would be so difficult. I'm like, when when I hear things like that, I'm like, What are you talking about? I don't like they're not talking. These characters aren't? I'm not I'm not just writing down what someone's saying in my head like, and then later, and I don't know what it is that maybe it's being open. Maybe, you know, wherever this magic dust comes in, from our creativity flows through us. I don't know, I opened the door. And all of a sudden, when I did start writing, I was like, oh, oh, I kind of see, I get glimpses of it. I'm not nearly obviously it's as open as Tarantino is, right? I don't think anybody has. But is that kind of the process with you to like, did you? I mean, do you see this actors talk to you?
John Pollono 18:57
Absolutely. I mean, look, I think taking a deep dive in theater, being an actor, being on stage, performing other people's words, my own words, was instrumental in the sort of progression of an artist. So when I write, I know how to write for actors. I know, as an actor, I just know that I know how to, like I'm in the bath water, you know, so you know, there are acceptable characters. And then there are characters that are just servicing the plot. So really sort of interesting analogy when I first started to write plays, for my friends and for you know, my wife, who was a my, my future wife, who was in my acting class, we started a theater company we did this, like theater has brought me pretty much all my core relationships, but you'd be writing something and you know, in the back of your mind, I'm like, Okay, I'm writing this play. Is this character significant enough that I'm going to be able to get my friend to commit to it, work for free, carry equipment around, take work off, do all this shit and If it's not valuable to them as an actor, they're not going to do it. And I found that sort of philosophy works, meaning every character I try to write, you know, sometimes there's like day players, they just got to say a little things, basically extras, but you want them to have some meat, because I know how actors are in terms of give them juicy subtext. And they will bring it to a whole other level. If you don't give them subtext, I don't care how good of an actor there is, they are, they're just gonna invent something or just kind of float. So I do think I specially in my early theatre writing, I would experiment with having characters one way, and then suddenly, yeah, if you write a character who has like, they take a joint out of their pocket, and they start smoking, but they're, you know, but if you set that character up as like a 55 year old, you know, school teacher, whatever, well, that's surprising. But that actor will then stitch that into the entirety of their performance, you know, so you're like, creating these moments that will be organic to it, but it better suit a better damn well suit the story and suit other things, but I like stories in which the characters can continue to surprise me and continue to do things within the reality of what they are. Do you know what I mean? But I like I, I mean, I love how I like my favorite stories have characters where you're a little bit unsure of what are they going to do so so I like building that in and interesting that an actor is going to going to pull it off and have fun pulling it off. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 21:30
right. I mean, Mr. blondes a perfect example of that, like you have no idea where Mr. blondes going. Yeah, it's a great a great, great analogy.
John Pollono 21:37
Well, I mean, look, I I love talentino. But I think Tarantino, I don't necessarily always get the sense, and I'm not shitting on him in any way. But I think his sort of type of movies and it feels like, in a way, only He can do it.
Alex Ferrari 21:52
There's no question. He's just the only thing. Just gonna direct Inglorious Basterds? Like,
John Pollono 21:58
no, I know that. I mean, that's one of my favorite movies. But I don't necessarily get that these his movies have like a theme. In the end along the way of like, where my work is, and where I come from, I don't know if that's dictating him, although I feel deep resonance, and I love his movies and watch them over and over again, because I love the characters and the camerawork, and I get emotionally involved. But whereas if I see like a Scorsese movie, or some other newer directors that I love, like, I really, you know, man, it's, it's so funny. I, I never watched Little Women, the Greta gerwig movie, and my daughter was like, you got to see you got to see it. And I saw it, I was blown away. I was like, I couldn't believe how much I love that movie. I mean, I've watched it multiple times. And, you know, you just never know So, but I watched her movie and I'm like, Oh, she there's clear what she's having to say with this. And it's all cohesive and it all works. And, and again, not that he doesn't do that. But you know, I can I can clearly see a Scorsese movie and say that there's like a dark thematic idea he's working out of it. But you know, whatever, it it's all different. I just think if someone I don't know who else but Tarantino can engage me to that degree without having some sort of more, you know, commentary on the human condition. But but he does,
Alex Ferrari 23:09
but him and he's also just on a whole other level, his own level. And there's just nobody else that that that works the way he does. Like I was, like you were saying like, okay, let's give Nolan Inglorious Basterds, let's give Fincher Django Unchained like that's, I mean, I'd be interested to see those films by the way, I would, surely would be, but they're not. He writes so perfectly. For one I,
John Pollono 23:33
I think, to your point, I think Tarantino's directing starts when he writes, and it's all fluid. So it's not someone taking a script, which, by the way, I mean, I love that process. As a playwright, that's the bread and butter of what playwriting is, is you create something and then you have the the chemical reaction of having a director have their interpretation of that text. That's the beauty of it. Whereas Tarantino, it's like from start to end. It's It's his sort of singular vision, which is really cool. I mean, it's amazing. Everything he does opening night,
Alex Ferrari 24:04
and very few, and very few artists can do it at that level, within a studio system. Like there's not, there's just that there's just not many, that list is very, very short. Now, when you're writing either plays or scripts, do you start with character or plot?
John Pollono 24:21
I mean, or theme? Yeah, no, it depends. I mean, to me, look, honestly, it's different in each situation. Yeah, it's just different in each situation. I think usually, you know, you read that book on writing by Stephen King. Yeah. Such. Yeah, so great. But I think what he said, I think he said, and it's been a while, that clicked so much as he's like, Look, you have this little bubble here, a great idea of a character or a sketch or a scene. And you have this little bubble here and might be a theme and might be this and that and they're kind of all floating around and then suddenly, they click and you're like, holy shit, that's what it is. So to me, it's always been at least two pieces clicking you know, like, first Small Engine Repair it was this I dia of the themes being a father, all that messiness kind of floating there. And then the composites of the character hits all I kind of ragged. And then suddenly they click, and they just stick together. And you're like, Okay, that's it. Now we're off, you know, but all I try to say and try to do is like, if I'm gonna sit there and write about it, it has to be compelling to me, to make it work, to put the time and to really make my work, shine, I have to be compelled by it, I have to be moved deeply by something in it in order to do it. So that's, you know, that's part of that of that whole process. But yeah, sometimes it's Yeah, I think it is like a real interesting character. I mean, certainly with the case of stronger the book was not a great I don't think it was, it was not a deep book. It was he wrote it really quick. It was like an airport book. And in reading that I was like, compelled by what wasn't said, as much as what was said, and knowing the truth of the neighborhoods and talking to him a little bit. I was like, Oh, the story here is like, the subtext of that whole book is what I made that movie about, which is, he feels pressured to be this hero. And we are so much more comfortable when he is in that struggle, that the book is like, hey, rah, rah, everything's good. But then meeting him, you're like, things aren't good. He's really struggling. Let's peel that back. So you know, that was a case of that like an investigative thing. But you know, it's different in every in every situation.
Alex Ferrari 26:33
But now I know a lot of screenwriters listening, dream of being having one of their scripts on blacklist? Can you talk a little bit about what it's like to go down that journey? Because you you kind of skimmed over it a little bit, but like you I think it was number two on the blacklist that year, something like that. Yeah. What is how is the town treat you what was that whole kind of world? And because at that, at that point, you're the belle of the ball. And so many people are,
John Pollono 26:58
you know, look, I when I found out I was in the office with Alex and Todd and and Jake Gyllenhaal and we had Scott silver on the phone, and we were all talking so kind of things were already in motion at that point. And I
Alex Ferrari 27:12
made that project for that project. Yeah,
John Pollono 27:13
just so it was like, I mean, look, I had an early agent. This guy, Ron was the ad Abrams, and he was primarily my theater agent, but he was great. And one thing he said to me a word of advice, which I think is unbelievably difficult to follow. But super healthy. He's like, just be pleasantly surprised when things work out. That's just conduct yourself like, you know, I mean, that's the guy did not I was pleasantly surprised. But look, it didn't change your life. It didn't make things easier. It definitely look I think all of these sort of accolades and stuff. They make things a little easier to do what you want to do but at the end of the day, you're still looking at a blank page, you're still want to create something that you're like you're proud of, and you want to do and those things are nice. I'm always like cautious because if you believe the hype, you also have to believe it when people don't get it and it's a very tricky thing. And you know, I've been doing it long enough to know that things that are trendy or whatever don't that they don't necessarily like you have to believe in a more absolute purpose I think of what is it what is your artistic journey and um, you know, I always go back to punk rock you look at punk rock back then and you're like, you know the shit that you look at and you're like, God Damn, that is like the real deal. Didn't know it's to have those Pat's on the backs then you know what I mean? Like they just didn't mean why was find it funny as I as I started to come and get more serious about film that I would think about, like my favorite movies, my favorite plays, and then you go back and you look and a lot of them got destroyed in either reviews or box office. I mean, look at Shawshank Redemption, it just don't even know. I mean, that's maybe a lot of people's top 10 lists to this day. But to be fair, that
Alex Ferrari 28:57
it's a horrible title. I'd be one of the worst titles of all time, but I don't even know. I don't know what what note Sydney can call that what was it? What was the
John Pollono 29:09
title was Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption? was the name of his like, novella that it was basically Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 29:13
I don't know what I'd call it either. I mean, it's it's a tough thing. But it's like, how do you how do you mark because how do you market that film? Like I didn't even know it's so hard to market it but arguably, what was
John Pollono 29:26
the thing is like, you know, the some of the hardest things to market are that I certainly experienced that a lot with our movie is like, it's tricky. Some things that are super easy to market are not necessarily good. Some things are harder. I mean, that's just the nature of it, and then it comes up and it's there. I mean, you know, this is why, you know, the movies that stand the test of time, they just find their own path, but it doesn't always happen, you know, immediately.
Alex Ferrari 29:49
No, I always love I always love seeing that picture of George Lucas with a T shirt that had a bad review of Star Wars on it. And he just walked out on set with this bad review of Star Wars. Some, I think some guy in variety or something just rip Star Wars apart in 77.
John Pollono 30:04
I mean, you know, I've, it's it's a very complicated thing, the review system may mean, look, I think reviews, reviews exist. I've certainly got some incredible reviews. I've gotten some bad reviews. I've, I've learned from reviews, I've also had been, like, deeply emotionally affected by them. And that's obviously on me. I mean, I think the purpose of reviews is simply like, Hey, this is one person's opinion. Let me see. And by the way, I have reviewers in the theater world that I will read the reviews, and if they love something, I'll be like, I'm not gonna love it, because I know this person's aesthetic. Conversely, if they like shit all over it, I'm like, you know what, there's something going on here. But you know, that's the purpose of it. And you know, God loves people who dedicate their lives to the arts, in any way, shape, or form. But it's just difficult. When you've worked so hard on something to have people. The hardest thing for me is always like, if they don't get it, you don't have to like something. But if they don't get it, you know, I had plays written when I had reviews who were like, they literally didn't get certain plot twists that or machinations to the plot that they didn't get. And that was led to confusion or whatever. And I'm like, I don't know what to do. You know, like, it's there. So those things bother me worse. But you know, what are you gonna do? I don't think I'd ever get a T shirt and wear I mean, maybe if I made Star Wars I would,
Alex Ferrari 31:21
that will again another another person on a very short list.
John Pollono 31:26
Sure enough, my god, did he take a drubbing with those those prequels that he did? I mean that,
Alex Ferrari 31:32
you know, but the funny thing about the prequels is I agree. I don't I don't particularly like them. I enjoy them when I came out. But I was younger. And then I came back and I watched I watched Phantom minutes with my daughter the other day, I'm like, Oh, my God, other than the action sequence with Darth Maul. I mean, it's Yes. It's just not well, I didn't like the way it was written. Forgive me, George. But there's a generation. That's there. Star Wars films.
John Pollono 31:54
No, they love it. I mean, like, the memes are all over the place, they defend it to the end. And, you know, look, man, look, there's a there's a cop, you know, there's a form of art where I don't necessarily subscribe to it. But like, you know, you look at a painting of a stop sign. And people will stare at it for four hours, and it has deep resonance. And it's, that's great. So sometimes the creativity is in is in the reception of it as well as it is in the actual thing. But I just don't think those the prequels were not my favorite Star Wars. And I'm not gonna change my mind on that.
Alex Ferrari 32:27
I mean, we're, we're of similar vintage, sir. So I think we both grew up with the same stuff.
John Pollono 32:34
At so excited, I saw that Ziegfeld theater. I mean, I was so excited to see that I was like, but before the internet really was was going on, like so you read a review in the paper, and the paper was like, Yeah, I don't know about this. And I was like, I don't know what they're talking about. And then you saw it, and you're just like, Huh, okay, this maybe wasn't worth the way but whatever. But like you said, It stood the test of time people thought I have to ask,
Alex Ferrari 32:55
I have to ask you, since you know you enjoy Star Wars, the Mandalorian. I mean, yeah, that's cool, man. They're just they're hitting on all cylinders, man, as well. You know, it
John Pollono 33:04
took me a couple episodes to sort of figure out what it is. And then I was like, Oh, cool. It's kind of like an old 70s spaghetti western, like kung fu type thing. And then I was super, super fun. It's super enjoyable. Yeah, yeah, I really do. I really dig it. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 33:18
Now let's talk about small engine repair, which, you know, tell me how, how, what is it about? And how did it How did it even come to be?
John Pollono 33:26
So small repair started its life as a late night play at a theater company that I was a co founder at, in Los Angeles. And we my wife was a producer of the late night series at that time. And what it was is you have a main stage play. And we had a big like 100 seat theater and then like a 50 seat theater. So in the 50 seat theater, they were doing Sunset Limited with Cormac McCarthy. So to your previous point is how does ideas germinate? So I sat and I watched that play, it was great, it was getting tons of people in there. And the late night plays you just when they walk off, you got to go on, but you need to have a set that can easily function with their set, you need to not reinvent their sort of lighting scheme. Got to make it simple. You know, I mean, I have a lower budget and and you you know, everybody leaves and then you do it. So what that does give you creative licenses to write whatever the hell you want. And to not worry about the pressures of being like a commercial mainstream play. Which theatre especially at that time was always like, the more provocative it was. So we were doing like plays or readings of like Adam Rapp, Sarah Kane, the lebua like really cool, edgy, provocative stuff. So I was looking at the set and I had that like, idea of these characters and sort of the what if scenario for myself was always like, Okay, what if I didn't go to college? What if I stayed and went, you know, became more of the kind of archetypes of some people I knew growing up, you know, in particular, the was like a guy, I had a Harley. And there was a guy who ran a shop at the end of the street on South Willow. And I used to go there and hang out while he do it. And I was just like, oh, that guy's cool. It's like a single set, guy holds chord. He's got his Pitbull on the thing. And he's got the friends keep coming and go, and hey, you want a beer and just doing that. And I was like, Oh, this is a cool set. So then I looked at the current McCarthy's, then I was like, okay, you could turn this into a shot. And, you know, the whole lawn mower kind of thing seemed interesting to me. And then I just started to populate it. And then it was like, thematically what was going on having a daughter, you know, in sort of the environment like you grew up with, to where it's like, you know, what it's like to be like in the tough guy circuit posturing, or whatever, and how you gain status from talking in a certain way. But like how coded that is, but like, I just knew that I've always had a knack for dialogue, and especially that sort of the rhythms of that sort of neighborhood, working class neighborhood. I'm like, I got that. And then well, how do I incorporate what's personal to me, which is like having a foot in both of those worlds, being I consider myself a feminist and having a daughter and being so deeply have the, the, the visceral emotion of that with also knowing I can walk into, you know, the locker room or anything, and I could trade barbs with anybody and talk shit with anybody. And a lot of times, it's about women, and it's misogynistic, sort of the world. So I put those two together and sort of saw the chemicals would go off. And then it was also like, Look, this is the sort of tool set that you have on a play, and again, put up the set, lights come up, do your play, lights go down, like the simpler, the easier it is, so that I knew I was like, I'm going to do a master scene. And I had written other plays that sort of toyed with that formula, I had written a play with a whole second act as one scene and I just really liked that idea of just, you know, drawing the tension out in a one act continuous thing felt that would be very immersive. So that kind of all informed this sort of idea of getting these guys the structure of what it would be, you know, sort of slowly chipping away at an audience's resolve and starting to feel like they're the guys and starting to see through that, you know, the triggering words and start just feeling like you're in a garage, and then have that stuff happen. But and to be you know, the the prerequisite of late night is like, you have to provoke, you have to like, feel something, you don't want to go and sit and watch a play, that just reinforces everything you already believe, like let's emerge from this unsettled or provoked and have a roller coaster. Because it's 1030 people binge drinking, you know, you want to gauge and so all of that stuff was in it. And that sort of birthed the play, which we did very low stakes late night, and it just kind of caught fire. And then it went to mainstage. And it kept moving. You know, Jon bernthal, who was a part of that it was always like, Hey, we're really onto something, sometimes you just have something that in particular, this material. Look, we had a theater lovers there who had seen every play in LA for the past, you know, 20 years, loving it, we had, like, you know, bernthal has a bunch of friends fighters and cops who would sit there never been to a play, and they loved it. So we created this community of you know, gay, straight, you know, working man, you know, working class artists, everything, and it was just great, because everyone was in it and got it, you know, got what the piece was trying to say there. The the the play is in northern movie is written, it's not pandering, it's really like, keep up with us. And you have to use your head to really understand what this is about. At the end of the day. It's like, hit no one's saying the theme. You know, the theme that I was working with, no one sits down and says, Wow, this is a lesson I learned. It's not that, you know, and, and people were getting it and loving it and it kept moving. So john and i were always like, this would be a good movie. Also, as you know, in the independent film world, the more contained your story is, the better it is to keep it at a certain budget. And it was like, Well, shit, that's all it is. And I had to open it up, obviously, to make it a movie. But I tried to be really strategic about that thematic making sure that it's cohesive, but still the majority of the movie, you know, the four weeks we shot three weeks were in the shop, right? And that's where the majority the activity happens. And that keep that kept it, you know, doable. It made it so that we could make the movie for that. So all of the play really informed the movie and that's sort of how it happened. And john and i our relationship and work our careers went and finally having the time and him certainly having the ability to get people really excited to put money into it and you know, make it happen. And then you know, it just kind of clicked we really got lucky until we got incredibly unlucky with the pandemic.
Alex Ferrari 39:46
You're not the only one that's been hit by that, sir.
John Pollono 39:50
People are suffering a lot worse, but I'm just like, and by the way, we were like the pandemic hit and then vertical films bought the film and they're so excited about doing this big theatrical release and we're like awesome because People's masks are off. And then now we're back with a delta. Look, as to what we were saying about before, hey, we made a movie, it's a miracle you put it out, I believe that this movie will find an audience. It just might take longer. And like, I think about myself is like I saw Reservoir Dogs. I didn't see in the movie theater. I caught it on VHS afterwards. And it's like, oh, you know how enjoyable that is? And how many times I watch it. So I mean, I'm hoping for something like that. I just because I mean, I don't know, none of us know, when the movies are gonna come back to normal. Man,
Alex Ferrari 40:31
I don't know, either. I'm looking forward to it. I was able to watch one movie, in that window, where everything is good. And you're like, oh, everyone's back. So everyone could go in. And I watched the movie. I was just like, I'd forgotten. It's been a year since I've been into a movie theater. I was like, oh, man, this is so much fun. And it's the packed house that has everything. And then one.
John Pollono 40:52
Look, man, I'll wear a mask. I'll go to a movie I'll do you know, I'll go see small engine repair in the theater with an audience which is like, you know, that's the hardest thing is like this material is Oh, I've been able to battle tested over and over again with with,
Alex Ferrari 41:05
John Pollono 41:07
You know, man, it's like, it didn't really happen to me until I can have that. So.
Alex Ferrari 41:11
And by the way, john, for my, for my money, one of the best actors working today. He's absolutely remarkable. I mean, I can list off 1000 things that he's done, but I just love his I think that's I think one of the things I liked about both your performance and his in the film is the rawness. there's a there's a, there's a thing about when you have a masculine, like, you know, that and that term, toxic masculinity. But But you know, in the performances, to be a tough guy, but a vulnerable tough guy is not easy. And to pull off both is not easy within within a character and within a performance. And that's what
John Pollono 41:52
No, I mean, that that's him. And I mean, look, I had the advantage of knowing him. And he's one of my closest friends, and really shaping the character in a way that I felt accessed his tool set as an actor in a way, you know, he's played a variety of these characters, but I was like, you can, he can get away with murder, so you could craft his character to be like, his sueno is like, really a study and contradictions in so many things that you say, but uh, beneath at all, john is a human being, but as a performer has a huge heart. And he's tough as hell, and he's got all that stuff. But also, he was fearless in creating this version that sort of subverted a lot of his persona and being, you know, kind of very vulnerable and very sort of submissive in a way that he certainly isn't as a real person, but he has the capacity to do that. I mean, look, that's ultimately, and again, I never want to tell people what the movie is about, I want people to always, you know, come to their own conclusions, but it's certainly a study in I wouldn't even necessarily say toxic masculine, I would say modern masculinity, but in particular, you know, the struggle that we have, like, you can say, coming from a neighborhood where you have your masculine and your feminine, and then you know, and how do those two coexist and really, the movie is looking at the places where they, they bounce up against each other, there's places like I wanted to create, you know, these guys who you wouldn't ordinarily see being so intimate with each other and loving with each other, but then the violence and the undercurrents and just kind of creating a very raw real way now, I love john is one of my favorite actors as well, and but he's like a real guy, like he doesn't have to act or research what that guy is, he has those tool set within him. And it's just effortless. So then you can go a whole other level and start deconstructing it.
Alex Ferrari 43:43
And I don't know if it's the same case in where you came up when you came up from but when I came up in my culture, you know, women, you know, very much East I mean, Latinos are very much east. And you know, and my God, my father was one of the things the first generation that didn't cheat on his on his mom, my grandfather had, like, you know, nomina kids and all that kind of stuff. Yeah. But the women in the side of our, of my family and of all my family throughout my family, close and far, are very strong women, like you didn't disrespect a woman in the family, you might disrespect. You might say some shit about somebody else. And you might say something wrong about the girl around the corner. But you would never disrespect. And so I think that, for me, at least always really guided my path in regards to how I treat women in general because of that, just like you don't do that you were raised not to do that. I was raised by women basically. So I'm yeah, I'm surrounded by women now. Yeah.
John Pollono 44:42
You and I are similar in that sense. And I think that was a saving grace for me is like, you know, I have my sisters and how influential they were to me and not having that, you know, it's funny, man. Later in life. I started to have friends and stuff who had trouble with women and I was like, Oh, wait, you don't have a sister. You know what I mean? Like, I've shared my deepest. See grunts with, uh, with my sisters my whole life. So it was it was very easy to have that that relationship. But you know, and again to back to back up a little bit the play was all men, it was the three guys and then the and then the college guy shows up. And all of the women in the movie were referred to, but they weren't ever seen. So the movie did give a great opportunity in terms of, obviously the power of cinema to punch in on someone's face like Sierra, who's the heart of the movie and the heart of the play her character, even though she's not on stage, it just amplifies all of those emotions that you and I are talking about, where it just further complicates it. And it's not, you know, it's not like a simple cinematic cheat. It's like you they're flesh and blood characters, and they're involved in the in the movie thematically and plot wise, you know, the movie doesn't exist without them. It's not, you know, just lip service. Now, I
Alex Ferrari 45:54
have to ask you the question, man. Sure. Did your first film? So you're directing? You wrote it, and you're acting in it? Are you nuts? Well, it's, it's tough to do one of those things, brother, instead of you did all three?
John Pollono 46:11
Well, look, I mean, here's the truth is, it's hard to take a chunk of time out of your life to pursue a passion project. So to some extent, I was like, if I'm going to do that, I'm going to be all in. Now, I knew I was gonna write in directed, I had played that character, for so long, so many different directors with, you know, Andrew block with Giovanni in New York. And it just, I just understood it inside and out. And I felt this is a very unique once in a lifetime opportunity to play a character whose emotional state mirrors that of a first time director, which is terror, stress, trying to keep all that anger in at any given moment, then I'm on camera, but the character is just manipulating it subtly. The whole fucking movie, he's just pushing it slowly. He's the least flashy of all the things, but he's just sitting there, and he has a check. And he's making sure all the chess pieces click. And that's what it just clicked like that. You know, and I mean, I couldn't have done it without john and Shea. And the key in this particular thing was, I mean, look, it's one of those things, they say that you when you're naive, you you don't realize the challenges ahead. But it was it was very much in having, you know, very, very seasoned producers who had my back. You know, Rick Rosenthal, who's a very seasoned director, Peter has done a bunch of movies, Noah, who was my manager, but he also did that everyone had my back, and the DP and I, Matt Mitchell laying out every single shot. So there were no surprises, we all knew everything ahead of time, and it was all there. And look, in theory, I feel, if you do your pre production really, really well, on the day, you can kind of almost just sit back and let everything click into place. It was all pre production, it was table work, it was knowing every little thing so that in the moment when we had those discoveries. And look, you know how this goes to we didn't have a budget that after every take, we like Frank Darabont did, you know pause it do a playback, look at it, make sure okay, move the briefcase a little bit, that way move that you sent out that time, so you trust your dp that it's going to look good. And then like, instead of doing that, let's just roll again, these are, these are, you know, the best actors that you could get, you know, so then create a system around it, where they can really do their thing. And that's, it was all around that apparatus. So I mean, look, I and again, the script was my direction, like, here's what it is. And look, we improvise, we found a lot of new stuff. But we kept going back to that, that roadmap and all those things and discovering stuff. So it's terrifying as it was, I knew I had done so much prep, that it just sort of had a life of its own and it kind of, you know, it was just happening before my eyes and you can feel it when you're there. This is the muscles you learn in theatre. When you're on stage with someone and something is happening. You can't deny that the air changes. So I just kind of looked for that. And if it felt that way, in the moment, even if I'm on camera or whatever, then I'm like okay, we have captured something is the story beat or whatever. Let's just keep going. And then look, the Edit was an embarrassment of riches. We had the performances when there was nothing, you never had to like, edit around the performance. It was like it was all there. Oh, I'm gonna give him
Alex Ferrari 49:35
Oh, no, I've had that. I've had the pleasure of directing newbie actors and Oscar winning actors and in between the two men. I take the the seasoned actors everyday because if they make your life so easy, a good actor, it just like you don't even as a director just makes you look good as a director when you have that kind of talent in front of the lens and you're not forcing and pulling and tugging. Perform? Well, look,
John Pollono 50:00
I think I think just some great advice I got early on, which is like, hire the best and then get out of the way. And I think that's accurate for, you know, I'm here to support and I would talk and you have character, you have actors like Shea whigham, who's brilliant. And, you know, we sat at the table for months really answering questions and working through it. And then you had, you know, actors like Sierra, who I met a couple of times, we worked a lot talked, and then she showed up, and she had it all worked on, and it was just little adjustments, but I'm not a control freak, I like want to create, which again, I learned a lot of working with David Gordon green and sort of shadowing him on stronger. It's like, he sets the table. And then he lets you go. And it's like, it's it's invigorating, making a movie with him. And I wanted to create that. I mean, we worked our asses off, but everyone was empowered. It's like, every single person contributed to that project, everyone who was there, and, and it was just sort of a communal art project.
Alex Ferrari 50:54
You know, now there's, you know, when when someone's on, when a director is on a project, there's always that one day, at least for me, I'm not sure if it's for you. But that day that everything feels like it's falling apart that like, Oh, my God, this, I don't know, if I'm gonna make it over this day or something happened, what was the toughest day in the production for you? And what did you learn? And what did you learn from it? Well,
John Pollono 51:18
great, great question. So I would say there were a couple of dark moments. That you're just like, the hole opens up on the floor, and you're like, holy shit. And I mean, what it taught me was just take a deep breath, and you'll get through. So I'll tell you one example that ended out being a gift. And then I'll tell you one example, which was a massive challenge. And we had to make it work. So the gift was the opening scene of the movie, or you saw the movie? I'm assuming?
Alex Ferrari 51:46
I have not. I've not yet I didn't get a chance to see it yet. I'm dying to see it. I'm dying to see it.
John Pollono 51:50
No worries, you'll, you'll follow up, let me know what you think afterwards. So the opening scene, as it was constructed, was the sort of no dialogue version that we cut out. So it sort of takes place slightly in the past. So most of the movie takes place in the shop. So we dress the shop to be like it's for sale. It's like the first day at the shop. Frank, the character I play comes back. He's served a couple of days in prison for fighting, you know, his daughters. He hasn't seen his daughter in a little video and seen his friends. He shows up in the front, he's kind of cut up, he's gonna cast it's like telling all the story like no dialogue. And we have the dolly shot, and we had to move it in this cinematic and move it around. And it was a very one of the three or four just really complicated cinematic shots that wasn't necessarily about the acting, it was about the shot, the fluidity, like maybe the credits come in, and all that stuff, like really, like storyboarded mapped out, which we did on like, two things. And, you know, we have the dolly tracks, we have the extra crew, we had all that stuff. And again, the art department dressed the outside of the shop on that day. So like, we can't shoot anything else until that stuff is stripped. And it was, you know, john Byrne fall and Shea whigham show up. And the the younger vert, the four year old version of the crystal character who Sierra plays, is played by John's daughter, Addie, who I know. But, you know, I know we're pretty well known her through the years, but she's there with her dad, and they want to come up, put her down, she runs up to my character, we hug. Look at everybody, and we're like we're going to do and it's like setting up the story. So it's supposed to snow, but not till about one o'clock. So they shot my coverage with the dolly or whatever, coming out of the truck and doing all that stuff. And then they turn it around and it starts to snow. And it's like early, but you're like okay, we can make it work. Dude, it started to snow is strong. As you can imagine, to the point that you can't go in a dolly, they're covered. You can't keep sweeping it. So we lost the dolly. And then the equipment started effect and you're like, holy shit, what are we going to do? And then we did one reverse take with with Addy. And she's freezing when she comes to me because she knows me but she's like, I don't want to go to this asshole is I'm gonna go with my dad. I'm cold. She's four. And you're like Jesus. So that was a dark moment. Because what are you going to do? So then, in the moment, you know, we the priests gather around? What footage do we have? What do we need to retake? and john was like, working on it. And it became like, what moment are we have like, don't invent it. Don't deny it. Let's see what happens. So we have maybe two more takes as the snow was gathering before the equipment was damaged. She comes up, you know, my character Frank reaches out for her and she's gonna go to me. She's like, I want to stay with my dad. I don't want to do it. So I get her and it's heartbreaking. She's crying. She goes back to that. And then I'm like, just being emotive about like, I'm feeling we're all feeling that stress and the tension of it. And then at the end of the day, it's like, you know, Hey, stay with him. It's okay, honey. We did. So we shot you know, without our sort of choreograph, we shot a whole bunch of angles, and we did it and we had it in the can and I was like, Alright, either we're just gonna start later. And I when we were in the house, I shot some pickup stuff, but it's So we had all that footage and like, what is it, it's not going to be what I thought it was. It's not what it was in the script. But it ended up being a gift because now we created the sequence that opens it where my character gets out of jail, he sees his daughter, he reaches out for her, and she hasn't seen him in a little bit. So she's like, Who is this guy, she's upset. And she goes to john, who's the, you know, the surrogate uncle and the other one and into Shay. And then my characters dis distraught by it, and then we go into the shop, and we used like, 90% of the footage that we shot, the editors put together a beautiful, heartbreaking sequence that was darker, and and less fun, but it was so much more deeply resonant thematically, that it informed the whole movie and it it made the movie darker and more beautiful and tougher and way harder. And like I said that was a gift because all of everything feeling on that in the in Addy field she's like, fortunate what's going on all of that tension,
Alex Ferrari 56:01
right on the screen.
John Pollono 56:02
And when you think about that, when you see it, and and how again, that was a you know, it's tough to find every little make sure we had coverage and everything. And we had to digitally add snow on like one shot or whatever, to make it all match. But it's like, I'm like, I can't believe we had that gift.
Alex Ferrari 56:18
Yeah, so that was the that was the gift. What was the Oh my god.
John Pollono 56:22
Well, the the the hardest day without a doubt was the day we shot at a big bar fight. And the our fight choreographers were the coordinator was Eric Linden, who did the Punisher all the fights. The Mark is a big Marvel guy, like he's doubles as Captain American shit, like he is the man. And obviously he knows john. And you know, John's, that kind of guy that everything he works on people, like I'll do anything you work for, because he is that guy. He's so real and amazing. I mean, that's how I, you know, got to know. And so share the script with Eric was like, hey, you're gonna do this, but he was like, hell yeah. And you know, a lot of the Marvel choreography, which is super fun to watch, it's like it. It's not porn, but it's like, pause the story. Let's do this kick ass, exciting fight sequence. Sometimes it moves the plot, sometimes it doesn't. It's thrilling. And it's its own specific thing. This was like, the fights and the violence have to fit thematically and in the tone, and in the world of it. And he was really eager about that challenge. But we had a lot to shoot in that bar. And then this fight, and it was chaotic. And, you know, the DP hadn't really shot a fight scene to that extent. And then we ended up having to reinvent a lot of stuff. And it was, you know, but the guys, we were beating up, I mean, you have john who was an expert at that, I mean, I'd done some of that stuff, but not to that extent, Shea was really comfortable with it. But the, the the the stuff, man, we had were like, you know, just hit me like pretty much just like just really do it. They're all padded up. So we just beat the shit out of each other quite a bit. And it was like, shooting from this angle from this angle. And it was the terror of I don't know, like, unlike other things, you have to get enough coverage on those physical things. Otherwise, they're just not going to cut. Right. Right. So it was chaotic. We shot which I think Eric Linden was like, Alright, here's the solution. Let's shoot one master tracking, that's all the right angles. And and then once you have that, and it took a lot, we're eating time getting that one. But once you have that you can always cut back and forth to it. So this was all like new information and like my plan and with the DP, like all that stuff. It was like, What are you going to do? Like, you can't This is the only day we have on this set. And so we just shot it. And you know, I was terrified the whole time. And having to be physical and doing all that stuff. And I mean, the fight is incredible on I mean, like, I'm blown away about how good it looks, because it has all that shit. But on that day, I mean, I was like, why do I make this movie? What am I doing?
Alex Ferrari 58:59
What am I playing here? I was.
John Pollono 59:03
I literally was like, there's a hole opened up behind me and I'm like sinking and I like what am I doing? I'm sweating in the back of it. Like, this is a disaster. Yeah, but that was the that was the most sort of terrifying moment of me just because it was all of the things clicking together. You had all the extras you had all this stuff. And then I forgot what happened. Like there was a big bus of extras that weren't there on time or something. I mean, it was just like all the problems happening at once.
Alex Ferrari 59:27
Hey, no, no, that's in Martin Martin Scorsese says it very best because if you look at your film, and you don't think it's an absolute disaster, you're not doing something right. There's always a moment there's always a moment that you're like this is a fiasco I'll never work in this I'll never work again. This is the last time you get you get that you get that feeling I had a fight sequence a fight sequences are I mean, unless you're Michael Bay, or or Tony Scott, cameras and money to shoot over 100 cameras in a giant transforming robot. That's a whole other conversation. Yeah, but we I was shooting a fight sequence one day and I had the greatest stunt team and from Kill Bill in the matrix and this insane stunt coordinator from 24. And they they've been working on this fight sequence. And I just but the team I had a couldn't catch up on the day on the on the I was just I was getting my pages. So when we finally got to the fight sequence, they had wirework setup. They had wire work setup, they had rigging setup, and they're like, I'm like, we got to rework this man, we got sorry, we can't, we don't have time for the rigging. So and they, they rework the entire fight sequence just from like, we got two hours, what can we do in two hours?
John Pollono 1:00:36
And did you lose your mind? Or do you just take a deep breath? Or do you Kevin?
Alex Ferrari 1:00:40
No, I know that whole shoot that whole shoot, I lost my mind because the weirdness about that film was that I had some amazing talent, probably some of the best time I've ever worked with. And it was like, the first thing I'd done in Hollywood really, with like, some amazing technicians, some really accomplished actors. And then the support team was not accomplished. And that was the thing so the support team did not stay up at the same level as the rest of them. So the head was great, but the rest of the team wasn't
John Pollono 1:01:13
I mean, isn't it remarkable how it's like you know, it's that analogy they say it's like a it's like a stereo equipment your your stereo is only as good as its weakest component. And I mean, I feel beyond blast at everybody I had but you're like, in retrospect, you're like, wow, with that one? Oh, he's, oh, you're screwed. Meryl Streep there but if your ad sucks, like you're screwed,
Alex Ferrari 1:01:35
I did a whole movie where my audio guy saved me my location audio guys. He was like, it was a completely on location all the time actors running around. In public we were doing kind of like this, you know, let's just running around and kept you know, capturing stuff. And everyone's like, I don't know how the sounds gonna be on like, I here's a here it's fine. I got into post my post sound guys like Who the hell was your location sound guy? Like, Oh, no, you were in the snow. You had 50,000 people running around and all this stuff and it sounds crystal clear man.
John Pollono 1:02:08
And meanwhile on the day everyone's furious at the sound guy cuz he's like way do all this like there's always Oh, it's we had an incredible Wow, just like you but so often people like would be like, waiting on waiting on sound playing like fuck it. You can't make it you know? I mean, and it's waiting on sound. Oh, you're like, Dear God, you say big.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:28
Thank God. He did what he did because it just without it. There's no movie. So it's
John Pollono 1:02:32
Alex Ferrari 1:02:33
it's it's fascinating, man. Um, now I have to ask you. You're working on the new Hulk Hogan movie. Right? Yes. With with Todd Phillips. Is there any spot? Silver's right. Is there anything you can say about it? Cuz I'm a huge fan. And I can't wait to see it.
John Pollono 1:02:49
I definitely can't say stuff on the air. I'm like terrified to I've never I've never worked on anything that was so under lock and key.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:57
How's it how's it off? Okay. All right. Sorry, guys off off air. But, but how's it working with Todd and these great, you know,
John Pollono 1:03:05
I had met him you know, as like a general meeting years ago. And I was like, Oh my god, like we talked. We talked for like an hour. And then his next meeting didn't show up. We just hung out twice. And I was just like, He's such a cool guy. Like, he's so easy to talk to. Very disarming. Just like a cool dude. Like, I mean, you'd love that guy. And then you know, working with him on this now Tom Scott had made the Joker with him Joker movie with him. Obviously, so you can see the kind of people I get to work with, which is so awesome. Yeah. So the guys are obviously have a great you know, shorthand a working relationship. So when, when I'm in the room with the two of them, first of all, it's funny watching them bust each other's balls, but like, you know, because Scott and I have a certain dynamic and then when Todd comes in, it's like, all different. It's really fun. But he's great man. He's a fearless. He's like an artist. He's like, got really, really smart notes. And, you know, Scott's super smart. It's just, it's, you know, this is what I always wanted was to work with people who like really lift you up in your game and help you do things, you know, bring out the best in you. And, you know, I can't speak highly enough about those two guys. And you know, I'm really excited to make that movie and I think it's gonna be awesome.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:17
And it's someone Chris Wright.
John Pollono 1:04:20
really hung out with him. I only hear him through the through the grapevine of every you know, everybody else but I'm a huge fan of Chris Hemsworth. I mean, he's like, just having him in my head as you write called Cogan dialogue is just really fun.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:31
I cannot I'm just I'm a huge help. I mean, I was a wrestling fan and all that stuff. And as you will love the movie, I can't wait. I cannot wait. I'm gonna ask the last two questions. I asked all my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
John Pollono 1:04:50
Well, I think, Wow, that's a deep question. I think the thing that that took me the longest to learn was to because of the way I was raised And where I came from, I think it was having enough confidence to say and do what I wanted. And to not look too outward permission to do what I wanted to do. And as an artist, primarily, I mean, I've, I, like you were talking about is like, I'm really blessed that I've had some really caring people in my life, whether it was the teacher when you needed it. And I mean, quite profoundly, was when I met my wife in that acting class. And I, she's such an incredible actress, she's actually in the movie. And she was just like, sitting down with her. And having her breakdown my early plays in doing it, it was like, do you should do this, like, you're really good at this, it was like I am, you know what I mean? And then have that at that moment in my life, you know, when when you're you don't and then like I said, my biggest regret was always not figuring out earlier to be like, this is, this is what I want to do. And I don't care if you get it or not, I get it, you know what I mean? And then and then do it and, and being comfortable with being vulnerable like that. And, look, it's still not completely easy. I'm putting out this movie, it's the first thing I made. It's, it's, it's latching into all of those things I've worked so hard to get past and you just got to be healthy about it. But you have to find that, that strength to just, you know, be confident enough in who you are.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:19
Very cool. Time, it's still a work in progress. We are all a work in progress. And this is for you. I would like to ask what are three screenplays that every screenwriter and filmmaker should read?
John Pollono 1:06:32
Wow. That's a good really good question. I think one of my favorite screenplays is Chinatown. I think just in terms of being a classically structured, incredible thing. That's so resonant. I love that. I would say the fighter, the original draft, Scotts original draft, which is different than the movie has an entirely different first act. It's such a joy to read. And it's really interesting to read that and then see the movie and see what they kept in and what they change. What what how much that would have changed. It's like a masterclass and that I mean, I think his script would have been equally as brilliant, if not, maybe better, but the movie they had and seeing that I think that that's, that's phenomenal. And then the third, you know, one, look, it sounds corny, but I took that Robert McKee class when I was in my 20s I just had him
Alex Ferrari 1:07:22
on, I just had him on the show. No, I
John Pollono 1:07:24
mean, I picked up at the airport and drove him I like got to because I was there for some Film Festival and we chatted and I was like, fuck is this guy. And, you know, so much of his stuff was like so resonant, but when he really broke down Casa Blanca, you know, I mean, I was like, Oh my god, I had no idea. And reading that screenplay and seeing that movie in also having the Robert McKee sort of book to follow through. That was like a masterclass for me to do that. So I would say those three in terms of my personal like growth as a writer, or were very, very influential scripts,
Alex Ferrari 1:08:00
and when and where can people see small engine repair?
John Pollono 1:08:04
So it comes out in theaters in September 10 and then it's on video on demand and I think early October
Alex Ferrari 1:08:14
Okay, cool. So it'll be it'll be available everywhere
John Pollono 1:08:18
the video on demand Yes, like you know, I guess you know, Apple and all that stuff. I've never really gone through this process but it's like you know, Amazon whatever wherever you get video on demand. Got it there really will be everywhere, which is I mean, I watch a lot more video on demand now obviously. Yeah, but uh and I would just say with the movie to people who your listeners and stuff which sounds like you have a really cool film fans is like you know, try to see it with a group of people that's how it was intended to be it'd be really fun to see it with that and everyone's different reactions and stuff like that. It's definitely a roller coaster I think the movie is more in line of like we're talking about you know, those films that like a Reservoir Dogs or Goodfellas or something you saw and it had that tension that humor but you really enjoyed seeing it with with
Alex Ferrari 1:09:01
people. Gentlemen, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you brother. I wish you continued success on your on your Hollywood journey and storytelling journey, man. So thank you again for making this film and for doing what you do, brother Thank you.
John Pollono 1:09:15
Alright, thanks man you to keep at it and I look forward to the next time.
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