MY BAD DAD Production Notes Page
My Bad Dad
A film for the whole family … made by a whole family!
Production Notes

“My Bad Dad” is a family comedy about a troubled ex-con who finds his better self through the love of his young children. Although the dad’s reformation is the focus of the plot, the children are the real stars of the film. It is no accident that these children execute amazingly natural performances despite being only 1, 3 and 5-years-old during filming. They felt right at home on the set with their real mother the producer and their father the director.

In fact, the entire cast is made up of family members: the ex-con father (Joe Polhemus) is the director’s brother; the elderly parents (Elizabeth Polhemus Vezzani and Arnold Vezzani) are the director’s mother and stepfather; the children (Emma, Mary and Josiah Polhemus) are the director’s children; the uptight foster mother (Ann Boehlke Polhemus) is the children’s mother; the social worker (Camilla Polhemus Ford) is the director’s sister; the brazen boozer (Andromeda Polhemus) is the director’s half-sister; an ancient biker (Robert Polhemus) is the director’s real father who makes out with his biker chick girlfriend (Carol Schloss Polhemus) the director’s step-mother; and finally the Judge (Clive Miller) is the director’s god-father.

“As anyone who has young children knows, I had no time to do anything else,” explains director Mack Polhemus. “I became increasingly frustrated that my professional film career had been reduced to videoing babies’ first steps, school sing-a-alongs and birthday parties. Then I thought if you can’t beat them, join them. So I wrote a low-budget film in which the kids would play an integral part and always have someone—an aunt, uncle, mother, grandmother or dad—to watch over them while I was occupied trying to make the rest of the movie.”

The story revolves around low-life, boozing, ex-con Joe Barring. When his ex-girlfriend dies, Joe is entrusted with the lives of three young kids. Under Joe’s ‘care’, the kids play with a feral dog, ride on the back of his motorcycle and drink out of beer cans. Another name for this type of parenting is called, ‘child endangerment’. A social worker intervenes. The kids are taken from Joe’s home and put into the perfect foster home where they are raised by Ann and Robert Ross. But the kids would rather suffer the slings and arrows of Joe’s outrageous parenting than stay in the stuffy, noble home of the Ross’s. They find Joe and attempt to salvage him from the wreckage of his own life and reform him from one bad man to one ‘baaaad’ dad.

Although there was plenty of familial support on the set, filming the kids was a challenge, according to Polhemus. “One-year-old Josiah would literally run away from the camera, cry randomly, or just plain throw whatever object was closest to him,” he said.

“But I guess the most difficult part of filming is that Josiah couldn’t talk that well,” added Polhemus. “It was kind of like getting a parrot to say something. We would repeat a line, over and over, and then, if we were lucky, we might get a one-syllable response like ‘huh?’”

“I broke out in a cold sweat when we were doing a sit-down dining scene and Josiah threw his glass off the table,” said Polhemus. “That’s when I realized it wasn’t a matter of getting the kids to say lines or keep to the plot, it was more like, what plot can I make up around the kids’ actions. So we ended up using many ‘improvised scenes’ including when Josiah breaks his glass, throws food on the floor or smears egg on his grandfather’s mouth.”

Because the kids were unpredictable, accidental comedic bits became the norm. When Josiah drank out of the dad’s beer can, the camera man managed to capture it. “It was only a prop so there was no beer in it, but it symbolized a typical parenting moment when kids get into exactly what you’ve told them is off limits,” related Polhemus. “Because Andrew (the camera man) got it on film, I added a scene in which the social worker pops in and reacts in horror.”

In another scene in which a stray dog dies from the grandmother’s inept cooking, the kids picked up and played with the fake dead dog as if it were a stuffed animal. “It looks ridiculous and I don’t know if it makes any particular sense in the scheme of the plot, but it was a priceless visual moment that I had to incorporate into the final version.” said Polhemus.

The older girls (Emma and Mary Polhemus) were more adept although they were curious about shooting out of sequence. At one point, Mary (at age 3) asked, “Why do I say goodnight right now when it’s day time?” Emma had no trouble with lines and whenever the other kids could not do a line, Emma took it. She has since continued her acting experience in school plays and appearances on E.R. and Criminal Minds.

“I suppose making independent films and raising children have some similarities,” concluded Ann Polhemus who plays the stuffy foster mother. “You are always trying to avert potential disasters. And just like you love your kids the most when they’re safe and snug in their bed, you love it when the film’s in the can, complete--a compact bundle of magic.”

“My Bad Dad” is the second independent feature from award-winning filmmakers Mack Polhemus (writer/director) and Ann Boehlke Polhemus (producer/star) whose first feature The Scottish Tale won awards at over 20 national and international festivals and became a high-grossing rental at the Hollywood Video.

Mack Polhemus is a graduate of U.S.C’s screenwriting program. He has optioned a screenplay to Disney, and sold television scripts to “Acapulco Heat” “Sirens”, “Renegade” and “Baywatch”. His cartoon strip on independent film-making called “The Wize Brothers” ran for a year in what is now Los Angeles Magazine. He lives in Venice and works with children of all ages at Los Angeles County Hospital.

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