Local Lesbian Filmmaker Works With Oprah

Michelle Pollino produces a new TV show for OWN

Michelle Pollino has worked with plenty of award-winners over the years, like Elizabeth Moss from Mad Men. But the lesbian filmmaker also added Oprah Winfrey to the list when she began producing Searching For for OWN, Winfrey’s latest project – a TV network featuring a slew of famous names, including Jay-Z, Simon Cowell and Queer Eye alum Carson Kressley. Local cable subscribers can access OWN on Comcast channel 17 and 161 on Fios.

Pollino is also currently producing a movie People are the Enemy which is expected to feature a rehabbed Lindsey Lohan when it begins shooting in June. Pollino, who makes her home in Philly, talked with G Philly about what it’s like working for the big O, as well as how the LGBT movie scene has taken shape in the City of Brotherly Love in recent years.

Courtesy of Michelle Pollino

Congratulations on your latest projects, Michelle. What sort of work are you doing for OWN?

I was one of the producers for a show called Searching For about people searching for their birth parents, children and loved ones.

Does OWN have any LGBT programming?

There are several out hosts, like Suze Orman and Nate Berkus. There were also a couple of stories that I produced that had people involved who were LGBT.

How long have you been working with the network?

I started producing for them freelance last March.

You’ve been very busy. I understand another one of your movies is coming out on DVD next month.

Yes. Looking For will come out on Valentine’s Day as part of the compilation DVD called Here Come The Girls 3 released by Peccadillo Pictures.

I know you spend a lot of time dashing between Philly and the West Coast. But how would you describe the LGBT movie-making scene here these days?

Well, good and tough – just like the city. Making any movie is tough because you need investors and finding money is always so rough. It’s the hardest part. It’s easy to create art, but it’s hard to fund it. But luckily there is so much support from the film office, Sharon Pinkenson and the wonderfully talented crews here in Philly.

Is there a small group of filmmakers who are based here?

Yes, as there will always be in any city.

What’s your experience been like as a lesbian filmmaker in Philly?

Good and tough [laughing]. I think sometimes I get lucky, other times I think it’s my energy and stamina that keeps it going. For instance, I was about to move to L.A. this January, but a local company made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I’m going to stay and continue doing more movies and TV shows here.

Where can people see your work?

I’ve had movies and television shows on OWN, A&E, Fox, Discovery, DIY, TLC, PBS, IFC and ABC/Disney.

What projects are you most proud of?

I’m really quite proud of Looking For – for so many reasons – but I’m also really proud of the amazing work we all did on Searching For. And Mayor Cupcake was a film I produced that was just sold to ABC/Disney.

How have you been recognized by the industry?

I was Emmy-nominated by Philly Live. I also received the Best Short Audience Award for Looking For at QFest. And I got Honorable Mention for Looking For at the Indie Film Fest.

Any recognizable faces you’ve worked with over the years?

So many. I’ve worked with Michael Madsen, Vinny Jones, Clea Duvall, Robert Corrigan, Arye Gross, Robert Loggia, Jill Whelan, Elisabeth Moss, Lea Thompson and Judd Nelson.

What other projects do you have coming up this year?

Three so far, including two short films. Regrets is a short gay male thriller starring Peter Patrikios, which is really exciting. And Teach is a drama and an amazing short film.

Who do you consider to be among the best LGBT filmmakers in the industry these days?

Alan Ball because of everything he does. I also respect Lisa Cholodenko for Laurel Canyon, High Art and The Kids Are All Right, and Gus Van Zant when he collaborates.

Anyone you’d like to work with?

Alan Ball, Amber Heard, Sean Penn, Lindsey Lohan, Lauren Graham, the entire cast of Modern Family! [laughing]

What’s it like being a gay woman in the industry? Have times changed or do you face any challenges?

The only thing I don’t like is being put in a box and told what I know and what I can and cannot create. I have all sorts of relationships – gay and straight and everything in between – inside of me. Therefore I have feelings and emotions around these relationships and I take that into my work and create from what I know.

With your foray into OWN, does that mean we can expect to see you on the Oprah show anytime soon?

I have no idea. [laughing]

Here’s clip from one of Pollino’s short films Inner Wang: