An Interview with Natalie Polanco: Hustling to Leave Her Filmmaking Footprint

Rose Alarcon

Y Not You Media had the privilege of interviewing the New York City filmmaker and owner of N. Polanco Productions, LLC, Natalie Polanco. With passion and determination, she forged her own career in the entertainment industry, unwilling to succumb to the setbacks and difficulties of breaking into the industry. Natalie is not just an impressive content creator in her own right but also dedicates her company towards educating less experienced filmmakers in need. Like all of us, Natalie has big dreams, but it’s only a matter of time before her constant hard work pays off.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a filmmaker and content creator who runs a New York City based production company called N. Polanco Productions, LLC. As founder of the company, my job is a hybrid between the the traditional film roles of screenwriter, producer, and film director. I started my company three years ago and I have been working nonstop ever since. The first short film that my company produced, “Libertad,” was chosen as a semi-finalist in the HBO-sponsored Official Latino Short Film Festival of NYC. Since that first project, I’ve worked with dozens of NYC creators on all kinds of long and short-form video projects. From fictional stories to podcasts to branded content. We do it all. My company is also committed to providing education and opportunity to new filmmakers and producers. As creative consultants, my team helps indie creators put together their ideas to form marketable stories. Furthermore, we help find a way for them to obtain funding, so their projects are sure to be noticed and viewed. I truly love what I do. Even through the ups and downs, I wouldn’t change my job for the world.

What made you get into doing what you do now?

I had a somewhat unorthodox start in the film world. I didn’t go to film school until I was a few years into the business. I started as a self-taught screenwriter who had an idea to develop a television show about pyramid schemes. I spent about four years (most of my early twenties) selling for this type of company and thought my experience would make a funny concept. However, no one wanted to take a chance on an unknown writer, so I decided to fund and produce the series myself. I reached out to some friends who had just graduated from film programs and became a sponge. I learned everything I know on the job, from great people who were kind enough to take me under their wing. With their help, my series drew enormous support. “Pyramids” is now being developed into a feature film. From there, I dove headfirst into starting my production company. I guess you could say I kind of got addicted to the life. I have since produced several short films, web series, podcasts, and other forms of commercial video content.

What differentiates you from others within your industry?

The rise of social media has made everyone think they can be a content creator. Everyone with a camera wants to be photographer. Everyone with an opinion wants to start a podcast. Every writer thinks their life story is going to be the next big hit in Hollywood. The problem is, most of these “creators” lack execution. The difference with me is I am willing to put my money (and my actions) where my mouth is. Many creatives get caught in “the dream” of one day having their passion projects produced, but few take the initiative that’s necessary to stick out among the crowd. I once met a screenwriter like this. Every tweet she posted was a complaint about why the “gatekeepers” in Hollywood wouldn’t give her a shot and produce her brilliant scripts. While I understood her frustration, what I didn’t understand was why she dwelled on it for so long. I didn’t wait for someone else to give me a shot. I made my own lane. I have poured thousands of dollars into my crafts – whether it be towards the projects I have produced or the education I have invested in to develop my skills. This commitment to doing it myself is what sets me apart from many of the “dreamers” in my field.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Making my Oscars kiss each other on a red carpet. Ha-ha. What I mean by this is that I see myself building a reputation as a maker of great films and content. I want to make one of those great films that defines a generation and really resonates with people. And if Hollywood decides to give me a few awards for it, I wouldn’t complain either. I also see myself expanding my current production company in order to help fund other people who really deserve their shot to break into the industry. This business can be very selfish. People can and WILL take advantage of you if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s why education is key for me and why I currently use my company to teach other indie filmmakers to fund and produce their own projects. In a few years, I see myself doing this on a grand scale: teaching people how to turn nothing into their own piece of creative content… and not get exploited in the process.

What challenges have you faced while building your business and brand?

The biggest challenge for me was the lack of security. Deciding to become a “career-creative” – someone who does this full-time without the safety of a 9-5 – is not for the faint of heart. It takes a special kind of crazy to willingly leave a secure position (with benefits, paid time off, etc.) to try to make a living off of your creativity. It’s kind of like the type of crazy that it takes to start a business for the first time. I had to come to terms with not turning a profit every month and with working my face off as to constantly find opportunities in my field, so the money didn’t dry up. When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, this reality became uncomfortably clear. Since the city was on lockdown, no one could film. Most of my money was made by working on sets, so the shutdown really affected everyone in the industry. The well of gigs we depended on dried up SUPER FAST. Almost overnight. It left me feeling like my hands were tied, but I’m appreciative of it now.

What have you learned from these challenges?

This pandemic, above of all else, has given me the opportunity to step back and game-plan my next five years. It’s just like writing a script, where you’re taught to begin with the end in mind. The same is true for life. Prior to the pandemic, I was in such a “go-mode.” I’ve only been working in this field for about three years and every moment of that time had been spent taking every job and creative opportunity that came my way. There’s real value to this, don’t get me wrong. Collecting experience is important when starting out. However, the pandemic slowed the entire world down and it allowed me to finally slow down as well. I could finally take a pause from the constant grind, and all of a sudden, the next ten years of my life became abundantly clear.

What advice would you give to others while on their journey?

Be smart with your twenties. Don’t buy that BMW because you think it will help you get girls. Buy that shabby Honda instead. Don’t get the big lofty apartment in Williamsburg yet. Room with friends in the Bronx or live with your parents. Keep your expenses as low as possible. If you live like this, you give yourself the freedom to take all the risk you want in your 20s. You can be fearless on your journey. You can take every chance. Work for “the experience,” not because you have bills to pay. Throw 10 grand into a passion project just to see how it goes. Just be in constant action mode, like those racehorses with the blinders on. Don’t listen when someone tells you they dislike your work or when everyone is losing their senses because of a pandemic, just go.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

There’s a lot that I would tell my younger, 18-year-old self. At that age I thought I knew it all. I had these big, lofty, goals about one day becoming a millionaire or creating something that would change the world. “Dreaming big” was never an issue for me. It rarely is for most young people. But at that age, I had absolutely zero conception of the “how.” I would love to sit my stubborn teenage behind down and teach her the importance of tangible, practical micro goals. I’d make her say, “okay, today I will create a website to showcase my work.” Then tomorrow’s goal could be, “today I will send that website to a potential agent.” I’d make her repeat that process every day for a few years until she is walking the red carpet with an Oscar and has a seven-figure bank account.

What is your why?

My “why” is tied to my drive to leave a positive “footprint” wherever I go. This can be achieved either through my physical presence in someone’s life, or through someone experiencing the art I’ve made through my words and my films. Great films leave an impression on you because they stick in your brain long after you’ve left the theater or shut off the TV. You remember those famous lines and apply them to your life. That’s what I strive to do with my work. I live to inspire people, to push them to always think harder, feel deeper, and just be all-around better human beings. The best way I know how to accomplish that “why” is to hold myself to that same standard as well.

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