In The Motel Life, Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff play two brothers, Frank and Jerry, who are living a lonesome country tune's tale, with specific accents on their bad luck. When Jerry becomes involved in a hit-and-run accident, the two flee their Reno motel for some type of other home, continuing their existence as whiskey-drinking, fantasy-drawing vagabonds. Dakota Fanning stars as Hirsch's fixation, Annie James, and Kris Kristofferson appears for a few scenes as their working-class daddy figure Earl Hurley. The Motel Life is based on the novel by Willy Vlautin. Featuring two raggedy performances from the nicely paired Dorff and Hirsch, The Motel Life is a drama that functions well with its influences, namely the Coen Brothers' romanticism of cold, bad luck, and bits of Paul Thomas Anderson's own debut Hard Eight.
The Polsky Brothers made their break into the business with their producing work on the 2007 Jesse Eisenberg film The Living Wake, and two years later produced Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans. They share a Primetime Emmy nomination with Steven Soderbergh for the nonfiction HBO special His Way, based on famous Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub. The Motel Life won the "Audience Award" at the 2012 Rome Film Fest.
In an exclusive interview with the Polsky Brothers during this past October's Chicago International Film Festival, we discussed their directorial debut, the pairing of their leads, a particularly impressive shot in the film, and more.
The Motel Life opens in Chicago on November 8.
Your film is set in a chilly Reno, Nevada, and features at least more than one scene in which a character almost slips on ice. Who slipped on ice the most during production?
Alan Polsky: Maybe me? I don't really remember. Neither of us hurt ourselves.
Gabe Polsky: But somebody in our crew slipped and that was it. He was in the hospital. I think it was the guy that was doing the food.
How did Hirsch and Stephen Dorff get cast together?
Alan: We cast Emile first, and then we were looking for someone that had good chemistry with them as well as physically, that you would believe they were brothers. Physically they're about the same height and are built the same, their ages are pretty much the same. But we really liked how they looked together, and when we read them together there was a natural chemistry and Emile felt it too. When we were casting Jerry, we were lucky to have Emile reading with us. Stephen rose to the top of the pack, and it was good.
Gabe: They knew each other before, and were saying that a long time ago they should make a movie, and be brothers together.
Given his work in this movie and also in 'Somewhere' from a few years ago, do you think we are in the middle of a Stephen Dorff renaissance?
Alan: I hope so. He loves these kind of movies, and I would love for him to have the opportunity to play more characters like that. I hope so though, I hope this gets him more roles that he enjoys.
Herzog receives a thanks in the credits of the film.
Alan: Well, Werner Herzog has been a huge supporter of ours since we made Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans. He even did a Q&A with us just last week for The Motel Life, and introduced the film.
Gabe: He has always just been a supporter of us. We showed him a cut, and he was always there if we had a question.
What did you learn from watching him on the set of 'Bad Lieutenant'?
Alan: I think it was more just through osmosis, just watching him. And it's an attitude. He has something interesting to say about work. On Bad Lieutenant, he never had a director's chair. He just said, "I don't need a chair, I'm in it." So with Motel Life, we did the same thing. There's little things like that I think are cool that you are probably not going to get from Oliver Stone, but from Werner Herzog, you will.
Gabe: It's probably because the movies were shot so fast. The Motel Life was shot in 24 days. BL was like 50 days, 45.
What are your favorite Herzog films?
Alan: I'd say Strozsek. And I love Grizzly Man.
How'd you guys get into producing?
Alan: Gabe moved to Los Angeles, and was starting to work for a few producers. And I was still in school here, in Chicago. And then I came out and spent some time with him, and we just started talking about it and the business and what it takes, and the different opportunities that were out there. That was it, and it was like, if I'm going to do this, I am going to do this now.
There's a distinctive long take in the film that seems to have been inspired by the same "If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this now" mentality. How did you guys pull this shot off?
Gabe: Just a Steadicam, more or less. We set up the shot, and rented a casino, and had to deal with the casino people.
Alan: We had the whole casino for weird hours in the middle of the night. They gave us the whole casino.
Gabe: And we just mapped out the shot, and lit it, got everything ready ...
Alan: Yeah we choreographed it, and shot it with a video camera first to make sure everything was there, and then we did it within four or five takes. I think the take that is in the movie is take three.
The shot reminded me of a moment in Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight ...
Alan: The two guys that we love and are influenced by are Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, and they always have those fun Steadicam shots. But Scorsese had three days for his shots, and we had five hours. It was was a very fun shot though, and I was very excited to have that beer at the end of the day [laughs].
Favorite Willie Nelson song?
Gabe: "Friend of Mine" from the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack.
Alan: All of 'em. I like 'em all.
Quick Questions with Alan & Gabe Polsky
Favorite fruit? Alan: I would say apples. Gabe: Kiwi.
If you could be someone else for 24 hours? Alan: I would want to be some sort of rock star from a period more '70s. There's a lot of good guys to choose from but I think maybe Pete Townsend? I think he'd be fun, his onstage persona. Gabe: Stanley Kubrick, when he was making The Shining.
Favorite blockbuster or summer movie? Alan: The Dark Knight. Whenever anyone asks me my favorite movies, I clam up a bit. I just saw Gravity, I liked it. I liked Pacific Rim, it was a filmmaker making that movie which I thought was cool. Gabe: Inception. I haven't seen Gravity yet.
Age of first kiss? Alan: Mine was in the 7th grade, so I was probably 12? Gabe: Same.