“I knew early on I wanted to be a filmmaker,” said Ryan Polly. “I wanted to be Jackie Chan, but I found out early on that I was much better behind the camera.”
Chan’s spirit of action combined with comedy animates Polly’s Pizza Time, which was filmed in Denton. The 13-minute short, which had its world premiere at San Diego’s Comic Con and won an audience award at the Austin Revolution Film Festival, can now be viewed on YouTube as well as its own site.
The 27-year-old Polly was born and raised in Denton and started working immediately after graduating from Lake Dallas High School. Besides working a marketing job for a small Lewisville company, he also gained experience shooting weddings and corporate events. “It definitely helps with adaptability and being on your toes,” he said. “You’re not in control. You’re just shooting what happens.”
Along with Daniel Routh (the cinematographer on Pizza Time), Polly is the cofounder of Maker Table, a production company that makes music videos and TV commercials, including the customized Budweiser commercial that ran immediately after the Houston Astros’ 2017 World Series victory. Polly had made other short films like the horror fright Monitor, but Pizza Time was always intended as an action-comedy piece about a pizza delivery guy (Ben Worley) who delivers a pie to a house and finds himself locked in mortal combat with a gun-toting contract killer (Eric Jacobus).
The project wasn’t without its issues. After the filmmakers had used Kickstarter to raise money for the filming, the Denton house (Polly called it “a Bond villain-looking house”) meant to serve as the location became unavailable due to the homeowner’s family issues. The cast and crew had already been mapping out the fight sequences at Freddie Poole’s Martial Arts in Dallas, using the house’s floor plan. With 10 days to go before shooting was scheduled to start, a new location had to be found. Fortunately, Polly’s production designer found a new home to shoot in, a mere five minutes away from Polly’s own home.
“It had a different aesthetic, a mid-century style that we could do a lot with,” Polly said.
As a tribute to Chan and other martial-arts stars, his production team filled the new house with a lot of Eastern decor. Meanwhile, the other shooting location for the film was J&J’s Pizza, which stood in for the fictitious pizza chain that shares its name with the film. “I love the small-town atmosphere” in Denton, Polly said. “There’s a creative community, but it’s not part of a big city.”
Polly gives a great deal of credit to his collaborators, especially Jacobus, who doubled as the stunt coordinator and allowed the film to be shot the way the director wanted, with a tripod and no hand-held shots. Polly is now working on a feature-length version of Pizza Time and is hoping to use the short as proof of concept. He recommends that filmmakers find people that they enjoy working with, regardless of skill level.
“We enjoy the creative process together, making stuff and having fun,” he said. “At the end of the day, people will forget your projects, but you’ll remember the moments on set working out stuff.”