Joanna Funk

music, gardening and my dog

The Occasion #8 — Polaris Banks

Interview with director Polaris Banks for Continuance Pictures

I don’t just want to make movies. I want to make MY movies. I don’t want anything to be between me and what I fell in love with when I was a kid, and every little boy who grows up wanting to be a director says I want to shoot on film. It’s what we think is so cool, and not 16 or 8mm, but 35mm. Ultimately, I don’t want to die not having done what I wanted to do.”

Polaris Banks

A guy writes a feature film. He decides a storyboard is not going to make a strong enough pitch so he wants to make a short film as a proof of concept. Oh, and he wants to build the entire set from scratch, and shoot it on 35mm film, and have a named actor as the lead. He’s also really principled and doesn’t seek out investors because he knows short films rarely make money, so he self-finances his film. 

Meet Polaris Banks, writer and director of short film ‘Reklaw’, which premiered at SXSW 2021.

In ‘Reklaw’, a team of altruistic vigilantes destroy evidence to keep as many people from prison as possible, but when one of their crime scene clean-ups is revisited by the killer, the strength of their convictions is tested.

‘Reklaw’ is highly stylised, with both futuristic and retro nuances, and cost about $200,000 USD to make.

To finance his film, Polaris slept in cars, maxed out nine credit cards and made himself available for medical research. He said this was mostly related to testing generic versions of U.S. FDA approved drugs, although he did mention something about spinal taps.

, The Occasion #8 — Polaris Banks
The Filmmaker spent 6 months to build the set and the film was shot for a month. *Polaris Banks (writer/director) on the left.

“It took five years to make the film. About two-and-a-half to raise half the cash. Then six months to build the set, and we shot for a month. It took another two years to earn the money to pay off the post production. I’m not actually done paying it off. I still have $55,000 to make, to finish it. But I would rather spend three, five, eight years achieving the vision than making something that was close and then trying to explain it.”

Polaris said he had to build his own set because people cannot imagine what they cannot see.

The movie is so specific, and I’m such a specific director, that they cannot know that flavour or that style until they see it. So the things that are essential to show are the things that won’t be assumed.

, The Occasion #8 — Polaris Banks
A scene from REKLAW (2021) starring Lance Henriksen

Let’s take Tim Burton or Wes Anderson. If you take away the art design of Tim Burton is it still a Tim Burton film?

If Tim Burton is pitching to make a movie, and his pitch doesn’t have his art design, his sets and his costuming, then he’s not explaining the concept.

People will not assume that there will be a bunch of curly cues and stripes and make up everywhere. He has to show them that. 

That specific ‘Reklaw’ style sings from a hymn sheet of times past, and shooting on 35mm film was key to the effect.

“I fell in love with movies when I was a kid. Everyone does. The movies in the 80s and early 90s had a different feel, because of film. Video tape, digital, film – they each put me in a different headspace. I think part of ‘Reklaw’ is that it was supposed to feel timeless, and classic. Almost like a throwback to the 20th century, with ideas about justice and what America is. It feels like old-fashioned America, its shadows, its underbelly. If you take the shiny Route 66 poster and turn it over, there’s grime and maggots on the back. That’s where this movie is going.”

“I wanted the art design, music and dialogue to bring the audience to an old-fashioned way of thinking, but then give them a very modern interpretation of justice and morality: that there is no good guy and bad guy, and everyone deserves to be treated with empathy, even the murderers.”

In his early 20s, Polaris stabbed a man when he was attacked in a road rage incident. He faced a possible prison sentence but the man recovered from his injuries and it didn’t happen. Polaris considered what his life would have been like in prison. Documentaries led him to think that most people came out worse than when they went in and that rehabilitation is not genuinely attempted in the criminal justice system.

“I started thinking about how someone could realistically subvert the justice system. I wrote the feature film first. Then I had to research it. Working with characters that fight the justice system, you have to really know how it can be done. Research is also very good for inspiration, and helped me create heist scenes, and jokes with these technologies that they have to use. I did that for almost a year, writing and researching. I wrote scenes and ideas in notebooks. I did what Shane Black does – he overwrites everything. He might write four-and-a-half hours of material and then start cutting it down thinking, ‘I have everything I need and I just have to figure out what can be cut.’ That’s what I did with ‘Reklaw’.”

Once Polaris had the feature he started working on the short, and every cent had to count. 

, The Occasion #8 — Polaris Banks
Polaris Banks on REKLAW(2021) set

“With ‘Reklaw’ I was always figuring out ways to make everything cheaper. Even though I spent a lot on it, I could probably have spent double for how ambitious I was being. I wanted to have the movie ready to go before I started shooting, like an animation where the script is locked in, like a perfect puzzle. When you’re writing an animation you make sure everything arcs, everything’s perfect, all the jokes click, before you send it to somebody to start drawing. You don’t want to say, ‘Oh never mind, stop drawing, I thought of something better’.”

I had to have a stunt coordinator for safety because I was shooting a gun. The stunt coordinator cost $900 a day so I’m like: ‘Right, I’m only doing one day of that guy!’ We did all the stunts first. That’s what I mean by shooting it like an animation where it was all boarded out. It was the way I amplified my budget.”

“I consolidated my cast, because they are one of the most expensive aspects of a film. Especially Lance (Henriksen). He just worked two days. If you watch the film, there’s a lot of Lance’s back, shoulder, things like that that are really my brother and me, doing the scene. That happens a lot with high budget movies. If Wesley Snipes is in a movie and you can’t see his face, they’re not bringing him on set, they’ll use a body double. “

“We did a lot of doubling with everybody. The guy who plays Marshall (Bill Stinchcomb), the guy who I wrestle with, he never met half the cast. If you notice, he’s only in shots by himself or with me, and he has a few shots with Tasha (Guevara). He never met Lance, or acted with Scott (Allen Perry). It was all planned so that I could do Bill for only two and a half days to save my money.”

Polaris’ schedule was tight, out of sequence and shot using the short ends of film. 

“I don’t ‘find the movie in the edit’, like some directors. I can’t afford to just shoot and shoot and shoot, especially since I’m shooting on 35!

I got my film from the short ends and the unused cans from the bigger movies. When they use film and don’t shoot the whole can, they’ll cut it, put it back in and just sell that end. We had an assistant camera person keeping track of footage. I would work with Lance, he would be getting his rhythm, and then… we’d have to stop. If you have 30 seconds left, you go, ‘Okay let’s do that one bit of a line that you’re having trouble with’.”

Retaining continuity was near impossible and the cast and crew worked without context. 

They had to rely on me more than usual, the cinematographer too, because they were working in the dark and they didn’t know the next shot, because they wouldn’t be doing that next shot for four more days. I would be like: ‘Do that a little faster because of what’s coming’. Or, ‘Turn your head a little bit. You can’t see him but Bill WILL be there at that time’. It’s to their credit that the actors were able to pull it off and I, as a director, had to really know my stuff. Also, I was in some of these shots. 

Acting and directing at the same time was a double-edged sword. 

“It was a little tough. When I was in a shot I was also directing it. But luckily my character was very dormant for half the movie! He just had to be there, very chilled, paying attention to things. So in some ways it was harder acting in my own film, but then I didn’t need to explain anything to myself, which saved time. I also didn’t have a lot of money for safety, and there were a lot of stunts. The scene where Bill throws me from the kitchen island to the counter, there was no padding, it was just me doing it and having to catch myself. So that’s another advantage of doing it yourself: you can put yourself in harm’s way (rather than someone else) and not feel bad about it.”

Continuance Pictures co-founders Tristan Barr and David Gim are my executive producers now. They are taking on the project of getting the feature film made. A lot of the time the screenwriter writes in solitude and then a production company picks up a script. Well, I made a short film in solitude to go with my feature film script, and Continuance is taking both. They’ve been doing the circuits for years and meeting people, so they will help me get the movie seen. They love the movie. They have never said, ‘This is an almost good project. Now change it to be more marketable’. They like it as is.

“What’s also great about Continuance is that they didn’t ask me to sign exclusively. They said it’s hard enough to get a movie made, if there’s a team of 30 executive producers all using their networks to try and get this film made, that’s better for everybody. “

Some people fall in love with being on set, and with the process. I like that too. But if I can’t make movies which are my vision and what excites me, then I’m fine just watching movies and just enjoying them.”

“I don’t just want to make movies. I want to make MY movies. I don’t want anything to be between me and what I fell in love with when I was a kid, and every little boy who grows up wanting to be a director says I want to shoot on film. It’s what we think is so cool, and not 16 or 8mm, but 35mm. Ultimately, I don’t want to die not having done what I wanted to do.”



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About Joanna

Joanna is British Australian. Her early career was in financial news in London. That ended in 2008. Joanna moved to Sabah, her parents’ birthplace, where she wrote a blog about musicians, which became a book. Joanna came to Australia in 2012 and started this blog — her second. These days, she writes mostly about music, her garden, and trips to Sabah. Oh, and Wookie the Havanese.

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