Writer/Director Daniel Poliner talks ‘Jack, Jules, Esther and, Me’

Daniel Poliner at Austin Film Festival (Image Credit: Nadine Latief)
Daniel Poliner at Austin Film Festival (Image Credit: Nadine Latief)

Daniel Poliner, an award-winning independent film writer and director, has been making films for over ten years and recently completed his first feature film: Jack, Jules, Esther, and Me. He was kind enough to share it with me and agreed to an in-person interview at a quaint coffee shop in Brooklyn, NY so TDQ readers and I could get to know a little more about the film. Read on to find out more about Daniel and Jack, Jules, Esther, and Me!

The Daily Quirk: Can you give readers a brief plot overview of Jack, Jules, Esther, and Me?Daniel Poliner: It’s a funny, romantic and hopefully heartfelt story about four friends in New York City the weekend before they leave for college.  Two are rich and two are poor, so it’s also a little bit about the different futures they have.  The main story revolves around Luis, the ‘Me’ in Jack, Jules, Esther & Meand this elaborate plot he concocts to woo Jules, a girl he’s been in love with for years.  The story starts there and, I hope, expands to ask questions like ‘will we be friends next year; and ‘were we ever friends?’  I love stories about transitions.  They are always so hard for me personally, so maybe that’s why they appeal to me as a filmmaker.  This one hopefully catches that moment in time so many of us have experienced as we’re gearing up to start to college, where we’re saying goodbye to one life and starting a new one.

TDQ: What inspired the story for Jack, Jules, Esther, and Me?

Jessica Rothenberg, Alice Lee, Aaron Sauter and Alexander Flores in JACK, JULES, ESTHER, & ME (Image Credit: Daniel Poliner)
Jessica Rothenberg, Alice Lee, Aaron Sauter and Alexander Flores in JACK, JULES, ESTHER, & ME (Image Credit: Daniel Poliner)

DP: [Laughing] Here’s the truth: my wife got pregnant and she kind of confronted me.  I had made so many short films but had had a lot of my feature screenplays optioned but not made, which had been a monkey on my back.   And so she was like, ‘Before the baby comes you really need to make a feature.  One way or another we have to do it.’  She was probably three months pregnant at that point. She ended up producing the movie with me.  I really quickly, in a way that I’d never done before, went through a process of rapid brainstorming and tried to focus on what I could afford to shoot with locations I could get for free.  I was looking for something that was important to me and would allow me to speak to from my heart.

So I took some characters from a much bigger story I’d written about college and imagined them younger and getting ready to start college.  I work as an SAT tutor to supplement my filmmaking, mainly with pretty well-to-do kids in Manhattan and my wife works with a really different set of kids at PS 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  And so I really wanted to have characters who lived in both of those worlds and watch their lives interconnect.  Once I had that idea, the romances and comedic moments developed pretty quickly.

It was crazy and it was fast and it was a good exercise for me because I’m used to writing eighteen drafts and having multiple readings.  I bring in actors I know and workshop it and bring it down. Honestly, my typical first draft used to be like 300 pages and then I’d keep trimming and revising until it was 100. With this one we were literally…from idea to production within three months, so there was just not time for me to be precious.  The whole experience helped me a lot as a writer.  I just finished a new script and I found the whole process so much easier because of what I’d learned making Jack, Jules, Esther & Me.

TDQ: Do you identify with any of the characters on a personal level?

DP: All of them to a great degree. Some of it comes from the fact that probably one of the most important people in my life is my grandfather. He was born in Russia and I spent a lot of time with him growing up.  So the immigrant experience was something that was ingrained in me.  I remember my grandpa coming to my college graduation at Wesleyan University and what a big deal it was for him. He was a butcher and a grocer and used to sell goods to Wesleyan so for him to be there and see me get my degree… I still get choked up thinking about it.  I named the main character, Luis, after him.  All along, as I was writing the script and making the movie, I kept telling myself that I wanted to see Luis say goodbye to his parents at college.  I knew I wanted to see him start that new chapter and see them be so proud of him.

Jack and Jules are loosely based on a couple students that I tutored. The thing that I’ve learned from teaching is that no matter how well off the kids are, they are all great kids and they have their own issues, no different than I did.  Working with kids one-on-one has really helped me understand how they think and what their dreams are.

TDQ: I was going to ask ‘Be honest, do you know a guy like Jack?’ but I guess you already answered that with your two students.

DP:  Yup.  And I did show my main inspiration for Jack the movie and he loved it.  I love that Jack character because he’s trying so hard to be a good friend to Lou and to get out from his parents’ shadow, but he keeps digging himself bigger and funnier holes to climb out of.

TDQ: The film was premiered at The Austin Film Festival. What was that like?

DP: It was really great.  Our shows all sold out.  I figured we’d get mostly younger people, which we did get a lot of, but I was surprised how many people in their 40s, 50s and 60s were in the audience.  It helps a lot that the story is funny and romantic and about New York, but maybe also that the themes in it are so universal is a big draw.  I’m excited for that as we gear up for our release.

Alice Lee, Aaron Sauter, Alexander Flores and Jessica Rothenberg in JACK, JULES, ESTHER, & ME (Image Credit: Daniel Poliner)
Alice Lee, Aaron Sauter, Alexander Flores and Jessica Rothenberg in JACK, JULES, ESTHER, & ME (Image Credit: Daniel Poliner)

TDQ: Which leads to my next question, FilmBuff picked it up?

DP: They did!  They’re releasing it on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, cable-on-demand and a bunch of other platforms starting today! So excited!

The other really cool thing is that the Mayor’s Office for Film picked our movie as part of its “Made in NY” campaign, so we’ve got 250 posters up on NYC subways and bus stops.  Those start appearing later this week.  Can’t wait to see them.

Also, Indiewire just featured us as one of it’s “10 Movies to Watch in December” which is a real thrill.

TDQ: And just for fun- name some people in the industry that you’re dying to work with.

DP: Well I could start with actors like Richard Jenkins, Julianne Moore, Sally Hawkins, Rebecca Hall, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson…the list would go on forever.  But I think on a wider level, what I really dream and hope I can make happen sooner than later is to collaborate with manager or producer in the way some of my heroes like Mike Leigh and Woody Allen have been able to do.  I think I’m a decent producer of my own work, but I would be an even better director and writer if I could collaborate with a producer who could do some of that fighting for me.  That’s my new year’s wish!

The Daily Quirk would like to thank Daniel Poliner for taking the time to chat. To find out more about Daniel, check out our previous interview and visit his Official Site. You can watch Jack, Jules, Esther & Me on iTunes and Amazon. It’s available on demand with Time Warner, Cox and Comcast cable and with many other platforms.  Check the Facebook page and Official Site for more info.

 

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BreAna Hansen studied Film & Media Studies at the University of California, Irvine graduating Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa. She won two UCI screenwriting awards while earning her Bachelors and continues to develop screenplays in her free time. BreAna is a member of Women in Film Seattle and the Society for Cinema & Media Studies. She is also the creator and principle writer of A Girl with Glasses, an entertainment blog.

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