December 16, 2009
The Next Moguls?
Bickering brothers Alan and Gabe Polsky bring a literary sensibility — and cash — to Hollywood.
In Hollywood, a good entrance is paramount.
Two weeks before the theatrical release last month of their first feature film, “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” producers Alan and Gabe Polsky threw themselves a coming-out ball.
As newcomers in Hollywood, the Polsky brothers sought a venue that would send all the right messages to all the right people: Bungalow One at the storied Chateau Marmont, the legendary hotel steeped in Hollywood history and glamour, where they could earn cachet simply by being seen there.
Not that they needed attention for their parties. Alan, 33, and Gabe, 30, the only sons of Chicago energy magnate Michael Polsky, were already generating buzz in Hollywood for snapping up a snazzy list of properties that looks more like the work of old pros.
Since they founded Polsky Films three years ago, the brothers have purchased life rights to an Albert Einstein biopic from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (“something on the scale of ‘A Beautiful Mind’ but it has to be different,” Alan said), and made a similar deal for a film about Sigmund Freud. They’ve also acquired a respectable list of literary properties — including John Williams’ revisionist Western “Butcher’s Crossing,” with Sam Mendes attached to direct; Daniel Keyes’ novel “Flowers for Algernon,” which they’ll co-produce with Will Smith’s company Overbrook, and Willy Vlautin’s “The Motel Life,” starring James Franco, who may also direct. There’s also a rumored documentary on uber-producer Jerry Weintraub, that one inspired by a March 2008 Vanity Fair article, and another on “one of the biggest comedy actors in the world” — though that’s all they’ll say on that.
With all this on their plate, the industry trade Variety had the foresight — and faith — to name the Polskys “ones to watch” in the producing category earlier this fall, firmly placing them in the spotlight before the entire entertainment industry.
“Hollywood has this long list of people coming in with money and then leaving with their tail between their legs,” Variety film reporter Tatiana Siegel said. “What’s different about the Polskys is that they seem to have really fine literary taste and also a commercial sensibility. If you’ve optioned a book that Will Smith wants to work on, you’re in good shape. They have really good literary instincts and that brings in A-list talent.”
Hundreds of Hollywood’s newest arrivals, along with some established agents, screenwriters and executives, came to the party to celebrate the Polskys’ box office initiation. It was a lavish affair, with two open bars, a popular DJ and catering from Joan’s on Third. Friends flew in from New York, Iowa and Chicago, including Alan’s cohort from business school as well as from his stint in finance.
Alan stood at the center of the party dressed in an expensive suit, his shirt loose and unbuttoned at the neck, and sporting a messy mop of hair (some might say ‘Jewfro’) that matches his exuberant personality. He was a little bit drunk that night, a social force swirling around the room, while Gabe, the more reserved of the two — and the more clean-cut — hobnobbed with a pair of screenwriters by the door. Because they each seem to operate in their own orbit, though with markedly different styles, their partnership draws inevitable comparisons to a legendary sibling duo.
“They’re like the Weinsteins,” Polsky assistant Liam Satre-Meloy said over the din of the party crowd. “They fight — they don’t care who’s in the room — they’ll just start punching each other. It’s mind boggling that they could work together.”
While the Polskys might agree with the latter part of that description, they say they don’t see themselves heading down the same path as the Weinsteins, who ultimately loosened their creative grip to focus on financing. At least for now, these brothers’ clear goal is to be a creative force; a team that dreams up ideas and matches those up with talent.
Their mother, Maya, who had accompanied her sons to the film’s Venice Film Festival premiere in September and made her Chateau debut in a fiery red princess dress, is cautious about their foray into Hollywood. “I hope they have their heads on straight,” she said in a thick Ukrainian accent. “This town can be a little bit crazy.”
And, yet, the Polskys seem completely at ease here. Their drive to ascend to young Hollywood’s highest social perch from the start is an indicator of their grand ambitions in moviemaking. So what if they’re relative amateurs: the Polskys are aiming high with a sophisticated production slate, and as heirs to a massive fortune, they have the capital to compete in the market.
Critically, they’re off to a roaring start, though everyone knows that Hollywood can be a fickle friend. “The Bad Lieutenant,” about a druggie cop chasing down the murderers of five illegal immigrants from Senegal, is directed by Werner Herzog and stars Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes and Val Kilmer. It opened to admirable reviews, described by New York Times critic A.O. Scott as “it’s own special fever swamp of a movie ... a pulpy glorious mess.” Yet it opened only in limited release — a mere 27 theaters, according to Box Office Mojo (at its widest release, it played in 96 theaters) — and, as of Dec. 15, its total worldwide gross had brought in only $1.8 million.
That kind of return has sunk many a new career, but the Polskys don’t appear too concerned. Besides having their own money, they have another of Hollywood’s most coveted assets: youth.