Commentary: Polish brothers dig through 'Manure'

Latest movie being shot at Gene Autry's former ranch

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- The triple-digit heat hitting you in the face is like opening the door to hell and getting slapped. But it's nothing like the heat inside the tin-can oven called a soundstage at Melody Ranch Studios here in Santa Clarita, which lies about 35 miles from downtown Los Angeles and just outside the 30-mile studio zone.

It's here, on the former site of Gene Autry's ranch and home to hundreds of Westerns, that brothers Michael and Mark Polish are hard at work on their latest movie, "Manure." The comedy, set in 1960s Kansas, revolves around two men -- played by Billy Bob Thornton and Kyle MacLachlan -- fighting over the pooh-pooh business.

And everything, from the suits to the leaves to the sky, is brown.

"It's a s*** world," Michael Polish says.

The brothers (Michael directs, Mark acts, both write) wanted to shoot "Manure" inside a studio from the start. Going on location to Bakersfield or Salinas "would have played the comedy more desperate," Mark says.

It also would not have given them control over the color palette. Art direction is something the two take seriously, and they looked at countless brown varieties, narrowing the scale to 10 browns and using a system of color chips to achieve the film's desired look.

"You wouldn't be able to find that control on location," Michael says. "You might be able to do that digitally if you were to color-enhance the movie, and even then you'd still be limited. And it would be quite expensive to change every element, from the costumes to the sky to the ground to the cars."

Exploring the sets, it's not only the browns one notices but also that everything is handcrafted, an entirely painted film on painted stages, something not seen much anymore these days.

"It really recalls a bygone era where everything was done by hand," says Jonathan Sheldon, a partner with the brothers at their Prohibition Pictures banner. "It's going to have a look of an epic '50s film, something not seen since the MGM era."

Shooting in Santa Clarita also is advantageous because, two weeks after wrapping "Manure," the duo will slide into "Stay Cool," a contemporary movie set in a high school. That movie requires practical set, suburban neighborhoods and track housing.

"What being here allows us to do is two movies at once. We can go into the neighborhoods and scout while making this one," Michael says. The duo also praise the city for being fast with issuing permits and, since the movie is set at a high school, providing school access.

"They've allowed us to use them as production facilities, whereas (the Los Angeles Unified School District) wouldn't allow us," Mark says.

Just remember to hydrate, boys.