Filmmaker Stu Pollard comes home with award-winning rom-com ‘Plus One’

scene from "Plus One"

Jack Quaid as Ben and Maya Erskine as Alice in the romantic comedy “Plus One” | Courtesy of RLJE Films

On Thursday, Stu Pollard will be at Baxter Avenue Theatres for a Q&A and a special screening of “Plus One,” a film that won the coveted Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival with help from Pollard and his company, Lunacy Productions.

Pair that with the release of “Rust Creek” — another Lunacy film — in January, and it’s been a big year for Pollard.

Pollard, perhaps Louisville’s best-known native son out in La La Land, has been producing films since 1999’s “Nice Guys Sleep Alone,” a rom-com he also wrote and directed.

Stu Pollard

Stu Pollard

He took a minute to catch up with Insider Louisville to talk about sticking with a film when other backers back out, doing an end-run around the high stakes film festival competition, and why the summer of 1997 kept him so busy and how it affected his feelings for “Plus One.”

“I was a groomsman five times in six months. It was insane,” says Pollard. “I think four of those marriages are still intact, believe it or not.” 

Pollard posits that everyone has a wedding season like that, and those summers are ripe for the film treatment, especially if that film is about two friends who would never ever get together but agree to be each other’s “plus one” at a slew of weddings throughout one hectic summer.

That’s exactly what happens in “Plus One.”

“I don’t care what your age is, this movie is going to resonate with you. It’s about that one summer all your friends got married, and if you’re not one of them, it’s a little hellish,” explains Pollard. “It’s this sort of cross dynamic of — you’re happy for all these people getting together, but if you’re on the outside looking in, you’re sort of like: ‘How have all these people figured it out? How’d they crack the nut of happiness and I haven’t?’ ”

“Plus One” is a film that was brought to Pollard’s studio, an example of one way Lunacy Productions gets involved with films.

“(It’s) a project that came to us from a producer who we developed a very strong relationship with,” says Pollard.

That strong relationship might belie the image of a producer that many film-goers have in their head — a person who just gives the artists money and waits for their cut of the profits to roll in.

“We don’t look at ourselves as just a bank. We look through a lot of material,” he says.

Case in point, “Plus One.” Lunacy was approached to help with the project three years ago, but production stalled when one of the other financial backers backed out. Lunacy stuck with the project.

“So the project went cold for a little while. The good thing about that is … that caused the casting to change, which I think worked for the film’s benefit,” says Pollard. “It allowed us to get more involved with the development of the script. Scripts can almost always get better.”

Eventually, the project heated back up and the cameras rolled. Then, once the film was in the can, it needed a distribution deal.

“‘Plus One’ was financed under a very traditional indie model — the name of my company is Lunacy, and that’s not chosen randomly — where you build the thing speculatively and you hope you can sell it for more than it costs. That’s an extremely difficult business model,” says Pollard.  

Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid in “Plus One” | Courtesy of RLJE Films

Often, indie films find distribution by hitting the film festival circuit. But Pollard says the Cinderella stories of little movies getting big breaks were always few and far between, and now the chances are even slimmer.

According to Pollard, many festivals now are dominated by big movies with big budgets and A-list stars. Companies like Netflix and Amazon lay out serious capital, leaving little indie films out in the cold. So even though “Plus One” got into the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival, Pollard and the other producers made a deal before they took their film to the festival.

“So the idea was, let’s screen this for some buyers in advance of Tribeca and see if we can get a deal in advance of the festival because all these festivals are really crowded,” he explains. “You can have a wildly successful screening — and we did — but there’s just so much good product out there.”

Plus One posterThe icing on the cake, though, is that when they did get to Tribeca, “Plus One” got the kind of attention indie filmmakers daydream about — winning the coveted Audience Award.

In addition to helping “Plus One” up its visibility, Pollard hopes the award and warm audience reception helps its stars.

“We hope both our leads, Jack (Quaid) and Maya (Erskine)’s careers catapult as a result of them both being great in this movie,” he says.

(Jack Quaid is the son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid and has starred in “The Hunger Games.” Maya Erskine recently starred in Netflix’s “Wine Country.”)

Pollard also hopes Louisville audiences take the opportunity to see this film in the theater.

“There’s something special about watching a comedy with a group you don’t get at home watching it on your laptop because laughter is contagious,” says Pollard. “You will not be disappointed. It’s raunchy, it’s touching, I kind of think it’s this generation’s ‘When Harry Met Sally.’ “

There is a special screening of “Plus One” at Baxter Avenue Theatres on Thursday, June 13, at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Pollard. The film opens in select theaters nationwide on Friday, including Village 8 Theatres.