A Film Maker For All Seasons: Ed Polgardy Tackles Movie-Making During the Covid-Zombie Apocalypse…

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Modern renaissance man Ed Polgardy is a writer, director, producer, hat enthusiast, proper gentleman and all round cool chap based in LA. In 2020 his frankly ace horror film The Wretched (If you ain’t seen it yet- go seek, it’s class) broke out and hit number one at the US box office and stormed all the best of 2020 polls.

DON ESCANDALOSO catches up with the man himself to discuss, movies magic, philosophy, how to realise your dreams, how to thrive under apocalyptic conditions and last but not least Comics gods Garth Ennis and Neil Gaiman.

I surprise Ed by making a video call, and find him to be without his trademark hat. Not wanting to wrong-foot the fine fellow, I promise to have my Special effects guys CG it in later, and then we dive right in…

DE: It’s been an interesting year by all accounts. Some people sat around losing their shit. Some people saw opportunity in it and made it work.

EP: Yeah, well, we did this movie, and got a lot of heat on it at the beginning of the year. In terms of distribution, we had some nice offers on the table. And then the Pierce brothers who did a really great job writing and directing it, they had partnered up with CAA to rep the movie. They went with the IFC distribution deal. The cool thing about IFC is that they have strong connections to drive-ins.

DE: AHA! I gather drive-ins had something of a renaissance in 2020…

EP: The perfect place to be in a pandemic. People can go safely and see a movie. The drive-in circuit was very good to us. There’s still about 300 drive-ins left in the USA. I loved the drive-in as a kid. And Wretched is a perfect movie for a drive-in, y’know. It’s got a wide demographic, a little romance in it, a very cool creature, and it really took off from there.

We got a number of great reviews here in the USA: NY times, LA times, Variety, and we were featured in a lot of mainstream media: Good Morning America, Wall Street Journal Forbes. Once we plugged into the drive-in circuit, that was the hook a lot of people bought into when they wanted to cover the movie. So, y’know….
But we have a good movie, so that helps.

DE; Damn right.

EP: But that can only go so far. Luck comes in too, but you gotta have something good to back it up.

DE: The Wretched had a lot of familiar tropes and a mix of subgenres bought together in a way that felt really fresh. I’m a big horror movie fan.

EP: Likewise.

DE: And you were in comics a few decades back, is that where you got started??

EP: I started in film actually. I wrote a script when I was 23 that was optioned and went into turn around- but it got lost in production hell and never got made. So I got frustrated, and I decided that I wanted to see something made and actually out there in the public. So that’s when I made up my mind to go with comic books as something tangible to show. I co-created a very successful horror comic called From the Darkness, and it just took off from there.

DE: Tell us about your tenure at BIG Entertainment.

EP: Working at BIG was a creative nightmare, but it gave me the opportunity to collaborate with a number of celebrity concept creators, like Mickey Spillane, John Jakes, Leonard Nimoy, Tom Clancy, Neil Gaiman, and many others. I even got to write the comic book adaptation of Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn for BIG.

As the editor-in-chief, it was my job to put together the editing staff for the company. Christopher Mills, James Chambers, Martin Powell, and Julie Vigil were all very capable of delivering the goods. They were young. They were extremely creative. They were juiced up and ready to roar. But, in my opinion, Laurie Silvers and Mitchell Rubenstein, the co-owners of the BIG E, were more interested in developing hot movie IPs (Intellectual Properties) instead of putting together great comic books. This made it a challenge for me and the editing staff to do our jobs. We were there to create the best possible titles for the comic book marketplace, but the owners’ focus was elsewhere.

Neil Gaiman created three very interesting titles for BIG: Teknophage, Mr. Hero and Lady Justice. Laurie and Mitch took a personal interest in the development of Hero and Justice, without much input from Neil, trying their best to make them “more commercial”. Neil originally said he envisioned Lady Justice as a crime anthology in the style of Sin City, where a “spirit of justice” would enter and possess different women who had been wronged in some way. BIG’s co-owners insisted that we make the Lady Justice female avatars, featured in each story, sexy gun-toting Punisher-types looking for revenge, instead of the wide variety of women Neil had originally intended. Neil imagined female characters with all different body types, where the stories would focus more on the nature of justice instead of cliched bloodthirsty revenge. Mitch and Laurie were constantly pushing for more violence and bigger breasts in those storylines, and it was always a battle to make the main characters in each tale fresh and interesting.

With Mr. Hero, a book that featured a steam-driven robot, BIG’s co-owners were determined to use art in the popular style of an Image comic to make it successful. I remember having Moebius lined up to do the covers for this title, who, in my estimation, was the perfect artist to depict that book’s steam-driven Hero. When Mitch and Laurie saw examples of Moebius’s work, they had me kill the deal with him. Imagine having to go back to one of the greatest graphic storytellers of all time to tell him they didn’t think his style was commercial enough.

But with Teknophage, we were lucky. Mitch and Laurie were never really excited about the concept—an evil reptile, the CEO of a dark corporate empire, who crushed his enemies under the tank-like tire treads of his mobile, skyscraper office building. They didn’t think it was something in the top-tier of their IPs, and they pretty much left the writers and artists alone on that title. So writer Rick Veitch and artist Bryan Talbot were uninhibited when it came to doing what they felt was best for that book, and it really shows in their work. With the exception of Teknophage, it was an extremely difficult situation at the time, but it taught me a very valuable lesson about standing my ground when fighting for the things that make a project unique. So I guess I owe Mitch and Laurie a BIG debt of gratitude for forcing me to develop the diplomatic skills and discernment for creating something magical, versus something that’s just a quick way to make money. 

DE: Oh, so you were something of a trailblazer there. A lot of creators deny it- Mark Millar for example, but it seems recently that the best way to get your idea on screen is to make a good comic book, and it’s increasingly likely to end up on television or in theatres. So you’ve worked with quite a few big names in comics. Jim Shooter at Defiant Comics. And You helped the mighty Garth Ennis direct an adaptation of Stitched, right??  

EP: Funny Story: Garth is a great, sweet guy. I loved working with him. When we were shooting his short film, Stitched, out in the Arizona desert, I set him up with a really good effects guys and what have you. We had this bloody battle sequence with the zombified creatures from the story, and we splashed fake blood all over the walls of the narrow sandstone valley where we were recording the action. After we wrapped and headed back to our base camp nearby, some hikers came running up to us screaming that there had been a “bloody massacre” out in the desert, they didn’t have their cell phones and we needed to call the police!

DE: So with that and other of your productions, you’re quite hands on and on set a lot as a producer, is that right??

EP: Oh yeah, totally hands on, in fact most of the time, I’ll even direct second unit. I go from script to screen. I create the budget like a line producer and then I change hats (laughs).

DE: And one of your trademarks or specialities is getting as much on screen for as tight a budget as possible, right??

EP: Absolutely, it’s my blessing and my curse…

DE: How much was the budget on The Wretched for example?

EP: (laughs) Well, let’s just say it was way smaller than it looks on screen! (Ed mentions the amount, but asks me to keep it to myself.)

DE: Really? It looks five times that at least. That’s impressive.

EP: The great thing about The Wretched: And this is what I like about the Pierce bros; It was mapped out from the get-go. We went out to Michigan a month early, and I was working out the schedule- a twenty-four-day shoot- and the planning was really good. At first, we were snowed in before the shoot was scheduled. I was there mapping out everything, whilst the Pierce Bros and our Director of Photography, Conor Murphy, were upstairs doing storyboards-they boarded the whole picture- Drew Pierce is a storyboard artist by trade and we had everything all mapped out to go – a solid plan which helps a lot. Even if we changed it up, we had had that idea of what was going to work for us. It made it a lot easier. The movie was supposed to take place in the summer.

DE: Yeah , I noticed that. That’s a fresh approach for a horror film, usually they’re all dark and creepy and all those cliches.

EP: In that first scene we shot when they’re having hot dogs on the patio. We were shooting and they had cold breath- like a mist… The secret to that is you put ice cubes in in a person’s mouth and it cools down the hot air so it doesn’t come out like fog.

DE: (laughs) A secret trick of the trade there.

EP: And we did some pick-ups in LA and no-one has noticed that. We had LA insert shots that go right into the Michigan shots, and you just can’t tell. The big scene at the end, with the battle beneath the tree, the first cut was kinda truncated and we decided “We need more here”, so we rebuilt our cave set in LA and shot a whole extra portion of that sequence.

DE: So, you’re picking up a lot of heat from this film, what’s next?? I saw you got something in the pipeline called Kill Everything– that’s a great title for my money. And you’re going to direct it too??

EP: Yeah, I’ve done lots of producing for years and directing 2nd unit and stuff. I’ve got a couple of things I’m gonna get made when the pandemic clears up and that’s where I wanted to go- direct my own projects. Kill is a really edgy picture- Three kids who go on a murder spree to impress these two goth girls who wanna be scream queens. It’s kind of a psychological study of these kids and what makes them tick, how they became desensitized to violence and… I don’t wanna give away too much of the concept.

DE: Which is a shame , because I wanna hear more RIGHT NOW!

EP: It’s totally off the hook, I think it’ll shock people but make them think. It’s got a social commentary, which is really important because we have so many people here in the US- these kids going crazy.

DE: Do you regard it as a horror, a thriller, a mix??

EP I look at it as a really horrific crime thriller. I’m really excited about that one.

DE: So you know what’s gonna happen, right? You’re gonna make the movie, it’s gonna be great, get a lot of heat, and then there’ll be a big school shooting. You’d better get your spiel prepared for that….

EP: I don’t glorify it. At all. In fact, if I’ve done my job on that picture, people should be disgusted by how these kids rationalize what they’re doing.

DE: Well, it’s certainly not going to be a case of life imitating art…

EP: I have a couple of other ones which are more popcorn… Like Spiders of Mass Destruction.

DE: Ooh! That sounds fun too!

EP: It’s a mutant spider attack- Terrosists ship these spiders to LA, and homeland security comes in. What’s cool about that is it’s science versus the military. Kinda like the pandemic.

DE: Sounds kinda reminiscent of 50’s monster movies.

EP: Yeah, we haven’t had a movie like that in while. But updated to speak to young audiences.

DE: So you’re going to be more hands on with that too- Directing?

EP: So that’s where I’m going this year- into directing. It’s a natural transition. After this Corona thing gets better and the jobs come back- which they ‘re gonna in a BIG way- people are starting to run out of content and a lot of the distribution outlets are just going through their back catalogue. Once we’re up and running again there’s gonna be an incredible gap of content.

DE: There’s a whole lot of opportunity that will arise from the last year if you’re smart…

EP: Absolutely.

And that optimistic note is where we will conclude. Clouds, silver linings, eye on the prize and all that jazz folks. Up and at em…

Don Escandaloso

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