Director Michael Polish
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What was your first encounter with the work of Jack Kerouac?
For me, it was in college, when I was at CalArts. But [On the Road] didn’t feel like the Bible, like some kids thought. Being on the West Coast, we were always out doing crazy stuff. I rode a motorcycle for years. It didn’t seem as adventurous to me, although I loved the way it was written, and I really responded to this conscious thought of feeling in the way Jack did his prose. That was really inspiring for writers.
Big Sur is Kerouac’s autobiographical novel about grappling with fame and addiction after his classic On the Road. How did you end up pursuing a film adaptation?
The Jack Kerouac estate was looking to turn his books into movies. I knew [On the Road] was in the works. When I met with the estate, they were looking to [adapt] the book The Dharma Bums. I said, “I think I’m more inclined to do something like Big Sur.” They said, “Do you want to give it a crack?” So I read it and adapted the novel and it seemed to be a perfect fit, the way I wanted to do it.
The movie, which was released in theaters and on video on demand in November, plays like a love letter to Big Sur itself. How familiar were you with the region before shooting?
I was familiar with Big Sur quite a bit from traveling there and staying overnight there years before. When I ended up adapting the book, I went there during preproduction for scouting a couple months in advance. We were able to really stop and look at what was going on in terms of how we were going to access some of those shots—how much time we could spend trying to get a landscape shot, having the fog fingers come in and out. It was more about, “How do we find the time to try to capture this [location’s] character?”
Growing up in and around Sacramento, what ways did landscape influence your development as a filmmaker?
I think it was just being able to roam. You have a place like the American River. You have surrounding places like Auburn and Lincoln and going out to Placer County, and you also have a rich history in Sacramento itself when you think of the frontiersmen and the pioneers that came here and built Sacramento. There are little pockets of inspiration. The freedom to roam growing up there is the freedom to imagine, too.
You grew up in Placer County with your twin brother and collaborator Mark, right?
Yeah. I went to Rocklin Elementary and I went to Roseville High. That’s where I graduated.
Roseville High has quite the list of illustrious alums—there’s NFL star Tedy Bruschi, the gold-medalist sprinter Evelyn Ashford, auto racer Scott Pruett…
I know! There’s something in the water there. Tedy Bruschi was a year below me—two years below me? There’s all kinds of kids coming out of Roseville.
You were born in El Centro in 1970. What brought your family out here?
My dad was a pilot for the DEA. He was actually a drug enforcement agent in Sacramento. And he was one of the first agents. And they were building offices all over. I think they were still growing in the ’70s. It started in ’73, and he was one of the first agents to be hired. And as the offices grew, they sent agents all over and one of [the places] was Sacramento.