NEPA Scene Podcast Episode 43 - The real ‘Polka King’ story with documentary filmmaker John Mikulak

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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. 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 sad and 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. The award-winning NEPA Scene Podcast covers arts, entertainment, and the issues that matter to Northeastern Pennsylvania. It airs as a live video stream every Wednesday at 7 p.m. on NEPA Scene’s Facebook page and is available afterward on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, YouTube, and nepascene.com. This episode and all previous episodes are available now on NEPA Scene, the award-winning independent arts and entertainment website that combines the accuracy and professionalism of a print magazine with the immediacy and convenience of a blog, offering a wide variety of content to readers in NEPA, Philadelphia, New York, and beyond. The show is made possible by local sponsors Beer Boys, The V-Spot, The Keys, Loyalty Barber Shop and Shave Parlor, Coal Creative, and viewers who tune in every week.

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