‘My Bad Dad’ sets entirely new standard for term ‘family film’

Malibu teacher and writer Clive Miller, longtime friend of the producing family, plays a significant supporting role in a unique film.

By Ward Lauren / Special to The Malibu Times

“My Bad Dad” is a motion picture that gives a whole new meaning to the term “family film.” It is not only about families and for families, but made by and starring the entire Polhemus family of Venice, Ca.

Dad Mack Polhemus wrote and directed the film; mom Ann Boehlke Polhemus produced and stars in it along with their three children, Emma Polhemus, 5, Mary Polhemus, 3, Josiah Polhemus, 1, and uncle Joe Polhemus. Also featured in the cast are Camilla Polhemus Ford, Elizabeth Polhemus Vezzani, Robert Polhemus, Carol Schloss Polhemus, and Andromeda Polhemus.

With all this, however, “My Bad Dad” is no home movie. Husband and wife team Mack and Ann Polhemus are professional filmmakers who saw the potential talent of their own children and built the film around them. Indicative of its professional status, the unique film is in award competition in the Dances With Films Festival currently at the Laemmle Fairfax Theater.

The event will also be significant for 10-year Malibu resident Clive Miller of Las Tunas Beach. The family-oriented Polhemuses, it seems, have an equal regard for long-term friends of the family, of which Miller is one of the treasured many, as well as being Mack’s godfather. Consequently, he has a featured role in the film, a kindly judge who turns things around and brings the film to a believably satisfying ending. (Miller’s wife, Sophia, and her 93-year-old mother had background roles as jury members in the film.)


This is only Miller’s second experience in movies in his long and varied career, which has centered primarily on teaching and writing. He taught English at Stanford until 1973, during which time he became close friends with Mack Polhemus’ father, a fellow professor. Mack’s brother, Joe Polhemus, star of the current film, made a 20-minute film that won best screenplay and best film award at the Hollywood Scarefest a few years ago. He cast Miller as an evil ophthalmologist, and shot the entire film at Miller’s home in Las Tunas.

Miller does not see motion pictures as a new career, writing being his major interest. While still in college he wrote a novel, “This Passing Night,” which was published in the U.S. and England. As an English teacher at the Claremont Colleges in the ’70s and ’80s, he wrote for the Claremont Courier, covering the Los Angeles classical music season. He also periodically writes about opera “because I love sex and violence,” he said, tongue-in-cheek.

Working with the Polhemus children on the film was “a delightful experience,” he said. “They are the most natural kids you ever saw. They’re so nice. The whole family, they seem to be able to deal with everyone, whether it’s family or strangers. They’re like, well, among the last gentlemen.”

The story line of “My Bad Dad” is that of a troubled ex-con who finds he has inherited his ex-girlfriend’s three children. Hardly ready to accept the demands of fatherhood, he does everything he can, under the watchful eye of a social worker, to prove that he is a misfit parent in hopes the children will be transferred to a better home.

The problem is the plan works. When the children are taken away he realizes how much he has grown attached to them. Somehow they have managed to turn his life around, reforming him from one bad man into a loving, caring father.

Ann Polhemus admits there were some difficulties working with the youngsters, “especially the one-year-old. He still took naps and was very unpredictable. We’d start with him, try to get everything we could in the scene as it was supposed to be. Then, when he pooped out we’d work with the middle one, who was three.

“She did a great job. When she got tired we’d move to the five-year-old, who was the ringer who would come through in the pinches. Basically, we tried to keep the kids happy, emotionally and physically.”

Director Mack Polhemus said, “Everyone was supportive and sort of acted as babysitters on the set, my mom especially. She was able to get the kids to do certain things that they wouldn’t always do for me. And Clive, he’s a genius. I’d certainly use him again in another film. Even if there weren’t a good part for him I’d try to write one, just to have him around for a day.

“I guess the most difficult part of the filming was that Josiah [the one-year-old] couldn’t talk that well,” Mack said. “It was kind of like getting a parrot to say something. We would repeat a line over and over, and then, if we were lucky, we might get a one-syllable response.”

Because the children were unpredictable, accidental comedic bits became the norm, Polhemus said, as when Josiah drank out of the dad’s beer can and the cameraman happened to get it on film.

“It was only a prop so there was no beer in it, but it symbolized a typical parenting moment when kids get into exactly what you’ve told them is off limits. So I added a scene in which the social worker pops in and reacts in horror.”

Although the older girls were more adept, they were unclear about shooting out of sequence, Mack said. “At one point Mary, age 3, asked, ‘Why do I say goodnight right now when it’s daytime?'”

“I suppose making independent films and raising children have some similarities,” Mom Ann said. “You’re always trying to avert potential disasters. And just like when you love your kids most when they’re safe and snug in their beds, you love it when the film’s in the can, complete-a compact bundle of magic.”

“My Bad Dad” will screen July 27, 7:15 p.m. at the Laemmle Fairfax Theater, 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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