Producer, financier and now, distributor, Bill Pohlad loves film. He also loves Formula One racing. But he won’t make a movie about this passion unless the right project comes along.
“It would have to transcend my particular love for that sport,” says the Minnesota-born-and-based Pohlad, whose success with “Brokeback Mountain,” “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Into the Wild” have made him and his River Road Entertainment, which he launched in 1987, an indie success story. “Sometimes subjects can overwhelm the story, and story’s what it’s all about for me.”
The son of late Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad, Bill grew up in the Edina suburb near Minneapolis, stirred by the power of film. After writing and directing a feature, and producing/ directing corporate films and documentaries, Pohlad re-created himself as a money guy with “Brokeback Mountain.” “It was an important subject, but it didn’t hit it (you) on the head and was a great love story,” says Pohlad. “There has to be some big emotional reaction for me, that it has substance and will mean something to people.”
Pohlad also emphasizes the need for meaningful interaction between himself and a filmmaker for a project to work.
“Terrence Malick is a great example,” says Pohlad, referring to the acclaimed director behind “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line.” “We met when he was involved with ‘Che,’ and he pitched me an idea that I thought was crazy, and it turned out to be ‘The Tree of Life,’ which we’re doing together now. So it wasn’t a case of ‘Sure, whatever you want to do.’ It evolved over a period of time — the development of the idea and our personal friendship — and then I felt as strongly about it as he did.”
Apparition, the distribution company Pohlad recently formed with Bob Berney, will release “The Tree of Life.” And although it’s been an iffy year for indie film companies — especially ones housed at studios — Pohlad has hope for what he’s trying to accomplish.
“I don’t think it has to do with the material that’s out there,” he says. “When studios got involved, they were coming from a different place. It’s hard for a studio to have the same sensibility as an independent. So it’s just a shakeout in the industry more than anything.”
While passion for material still drives him, building relationships can drive projects, too. He’s producing the upcoming Doug Liman-directed “Fair Game,” which reunites him with Sean Penn, this time as an actor. “I’ve avoided films about the war, but this transcended all that to be about the abuse of power and the relationship between Valerie Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson.”
He’s also producing rock biopic “The Runaways,” which Pohlad initially entered into because of his relationship with Art Linson, with whom he’d produced “Into the Wild.”
“That’s the furthest out from a typical River Road film,” he says of “The Runaways.” “It’s more in the ‘fun’ category, but it’s edgy, too.”