Kevin Pollak has taken responsibility. He has become a feature film director by taking the helm of The Late Bloomer, a position that he was offered after auditioning for a part in the film.
Although he directed the documentary, Misery Loves Comedy, which screened at Sundance 2015, he has stayed away from directing “for the longest time because of the responsibility for being the leader and having answers for everything. As an actor, I was a gun-for-hire. It’s a great life, but there’s really no responsibility. You get to play and then go home.”
With thirty plus years in the comedy trenches, Pollak had a lot of time to make mistakes and learn from them. With directing “There was a level of pressure to make mistakes and recover from them than I’ve not experienced.”
Although Pollak “saw the funny” in the script, which had several writers, he did a pass for dialog, a talent he finessed as a stand-up writing punch lines. He also allowed the cast freedom to improvise, resulting in one take – between best friends Johnny (Peter Newmans), Rich (Kumail Nanjiani) and Luke (Beck Bennett) – running for seventeen minutes for what became a ninety second moment in the film.
“A scene can’t become its own short film,” noted Pollak. “The fat version of that scene is seven or eight minutes, and it’s hilarious. My instincts are yelling, ‘Leave it!’ The part of you as a storyteller says, ‘Yeah, but we’re now stuck at this guy’s bedside while these two do a comedy routine.’ Then it doesn’t make sense anymore.”
Pollak let the actors go because he figured if the most difficult problem was in paring back “their brilliance, we were going to be in great shape.” Improvisation did make editing harder, taking weeks cutting, shaping, watching and letting the edit breath for a couple of days before coming back to it and finessing some more.
Pollak’s take away from his directing experience was that shooting and working with actors on set was “by far the most enjoyable part” of the process, despite a short 20-day schedule that finished in 19 days. Editing was the newest part of filmmaking for him, and the most frustrating. Although he could not recall the exact number of weeks spent in post, with his limited directing experience, he felt he was learning every day and would have liked more time for that education.
“I remember feeling like… I was surprised how little time was available. It may have been three months, but it felt like three weeks. I felt there was too much experimenting to do with rhythm, timing and pace when telling the whole story. For the first time, I was responsible for all of these elements.”
Pollak looks forward to directing again. “I love the opportunity afforded the director to be the storyteller and draw upon the talents of everyone else. I’ve been shying away from responsibility all these years, but now that I’ve had a taste, I want more.”