A Talent for Storytelling Leads Rich Polt to ‘Legacy’ Filmmaking

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Rich Polt (Jerry Jackson photo)

Rich Polt may have always had the heart and soul of a storyteller, but it took him a while to forge just the right career from those talents.

Growing up in Pikesville, Polt, 45, attended Beth Tfiloh Congregation and The Park School of Baltimore, after which he went off to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., and majored in economics. And although he pursued business, building his own public relations and consulting firms, storytelling was always at the heart of his work. But something was missing.

“PR is a great field and I loved what I did, and it gave me a wonderful foundation in terms of business and communications and understanding how to tell the story, but you always had to make the case to the client for ‘why PR?’ What is the return on the investment?” Polt said. “I didn’t want to have to spend the rest of my life proving to people why what I do is of value.”

What Polt does now, which he feels is of value, is creating so-called ‘legacy’ videos — visual and oral documentary histories — of people’s lives.

“I want to do something that you get on a visceral level, where somebody sees it and they know why they spent money for it,” he said. “You get that with this.”

Rich Polt getting ready for a shoot. (Provided)

In 2015, Polt began making documentaries for free, learning the technical production end, but also testing the waters for a full-fledged business. Last year, he made the plunge, and on Jan. 1, Polt launched Acknowledge Media and stepped back from his public relations career.

“I have always been drawn to narrative and visual storytelling,” Polt said from the living room of his Charlesbrooke home. “I have fond memories of my parents’ VHS camcorder from the late ’80s. I remember patching it into our VCR and making birthday videos for relatives in which I would crudely splice together clips from old 8mm film that had been transferred to VHS, and then I would dub music on top.”

By the time Polt got to college his parents had given him the camcorder, which he used to shoot footage throughout his four years at Bucknell, eventually putting together a tribute graduation video for friends.

“I watched all my raw footage, identified motifs and stories,” he said. “Over the course of a semester I logged like 70 or 80 hours in [the edit suite] while my friends were watching football. For years, whenever we would get together, we would pull out and watch ‘the video.’”

After college, he lived in Baltimore until moving to Boston in 2000, where he lived for about 10 years, returning with a wife and two kids.

“PR was the lion’s share of my professional career to date, but I think when all is said and done, it may have just been a grand detour,” Polt said of finally finding his raison d’etre. “The human narrative is really the one that is of greatest interest to me. I would always counsel clients, ‘Let’s tell the story through the human angle.’ Because I always thought that was the most compelling way in.”

The tipping point for Polt came in 2015 at a family wedding where he met a new in-law who made legacy videos. “That was an aha moment for me,” Polt said. “Here’s somebody who is doing this, and he’s making a living from it. Then I started to research and began to realize that there were people all around the country, around the world, who do this — oral history, ethical wills — this is a cottage industry. You really can create a niche. That was encouraging.”

Buried in his company name, Acknowledge Media, are the words Know Me. And that is what Polt’s work does for the people for whom he creates the legacy videos.

Jerry Brotman during his interview (Provided)

For Jerry Brotman, 78, of Timonium his legacy film was a birthday gift from his son, Eric.

“I thought it was a wonderful idea then, and now having done it, I think it’s an even better idea,” Brotman said.

Brotman recounted stories of his life during his hours-long interview and had some deeply emotional experiences, especially when talking about his late father, team dentist for the Baltimore Colts.

“I saw my first football game with my dad in 1947 when I was 8 years old at the old Memorial Stadium. He had just returned the prior year from World War II. He was in the Battle of the Bulge. I can remember vividly as an 8 year old, I fell in love with football. It’s what my dad and I bonded over,” Brotman said.

“I could have gone on and on and was enjoying being able to say the things that I wanted to say for posterity,” he added. “It is a wonderful idea for the family to have this kind of a legacy. I have a lot of memories of my parents; I have a lot of photographs. But I wish I had my parents on film, I can tell you that.”

Polt doesn’t just show up with a video camera and a flood light. After much research and trial and error he purchased high-end video and lighting equipment and hires a team for each project, including a professional videographer and an editor. In addition, Polt does his homework, first doing extensive interviews with the subject and family before the video shoot. He then amasses photos, videos and appropriate music that are cut into the interviews to create a whole-life story.

Molly Koch gets her mic set up for her interview. (Provided)

Molly B. Koch, 89, of Pikesville, was in the middle of writing her memoir but wasn’t happy how it was going. “Rich seemed to be the perfect answer,” she said.

Koch has experience with public speaking and has won awards and recognition for Jewish education and contributions to the Jewish community, including from the Board of Jewish Education, Women’s Day, the Maryland Senate and Baltimore County Council. Through her company Keep the Connection, she leads workshops for parents and caregivers on strengthening family relationships, so she was no novice in front of the camera.

“He’s very good at making you feel comfortable, and his process is very smart,” Koch said. “He comes and interviews you ahead of time, writes down practically everything that you’ve talked about, and then reads it back when you’re in front of the camera. So, you’re not exactly going cold on it.”

Living a full and varied life, Koch wanted to leave a record for her family and encourages others to do the same. “Writing is one thing and seeing is another,” she said. “Having a talking person might be even more powerful, or moving. Most everybody who has seen [the video] thus far is very happy to have it. So, it means something to them, and that means something to me. A kind of connection forever.”

Polt is also making that forever connection with his family, producing a legacy video about his grandfather from footage shot on that old camcorder 27 years ago.

singram@midatlanticmedia.com

 

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