NEPA SCENE PODCAST: Telling the real ‘Polka King’ story with documentary filmmaker John Mikulak
Recorded and produced every week by Internet marketing company Coal Creative in their production studio in downtown Wilkes-Barre, the award-winning NEPA Scene Podcast presents honest, uncensored interviews and in-depth discussions about local arts, entertainment, and the issues that matter to Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The live, multi-camera show streams in high definition on NEPA Scene’s Facebook page on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. and is hosted by Rich Howells, editor and founder of NEPA Scene; Brittany Boote, owner of Boote Photography Studio in Forty Fort; and Johnny Popko, host of Alt-Natives on Scranton radio station Alt 92.1 and senior marketing consultant at Alt 92.1, Rock 107, and ESPN Radio. Viewers are encouraged to tune in during each hour-long episode and interact during the Facebook Live stream so that the hosts can address comments and answer questions as they come in.
In Episode 43, we sit down with John Mikulak, an award-winning director, producer, and filmmaker living in Waverly who made the documentary “The Man Who Would Be Polka King,” which inspired the new movie “The Polka King” starring Jack Black that premieres on Netflix this Friday, Jan. 12.
His original 2009 movie will also return to Netflix on Jan. 12, and he has some interesting stories about making the film about real-life Hazleton polka legend and convicted con man Jan “Lewan” Lewandowski as well as the long journey to getting it made into a Hollywood production. While this episode was recorded, several local musicians (including some who played in Lewan’s actual band) were in New York City performing with Black on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” which aired later that night (and can be seen here).
Before and during the interview, we drink crowlers from Beer Boys of Not Today Satan IPA, Wonka Bar Milk Stout, and Miss Betty by Mispillion River Brewing Company.
John sums up the crazy true story of Polish immigrant-turned-eccentric-polka-singer Jan Lewan for those who never heard it and we talk about how his interest in journalism transitioned into filmmaking and multimedia production, how he first heard about and met with Lewan, why he initially turned him down when asked to write his life story and why he later ended up making it into a documentary, how he was able to finance this indie project and the years of work he put in, what it was like chronicling this story from all sides and talking to the angry victims of the Ponzi scheme, what he learned from the darker parts of this crime, Lewan’s Donald Trump connection, how Hollywood became interested in adapting the story and the many different versions that never came to be, visiting the set and meeting stars like Jack Black and Jason Schwartzman, attending the Sundance Film Festival premiere, Netflix buying the movie and how he feels about streaming versus traditional theatrical releases, his original Troma movie “The Deviants” that takes place in NEPA, his short videos about local people and his recent work for WVIA that tied into Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” series, advice he would give to aspiring indie filmmakers, and more.
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