Bob Spells Backwards

Filmmakers Josh Polon and Ryan Maxey follow one man with a very special talent – and put it to the test

"I do it 10,000 times a day and I don't know why. I don't know where it comes from. I don’t quite understand it," says Bobby, an avid skater, painter and filmmaker with a unique and self-described all-consuming knack for spelling words backwards. In the short film Bob Spells Backwards, Bobby takes centre stage as he goes about his daily life while filmmakers Josh Polon and Ryan Maxey prod the banjo playing polymath to spell a series of randomly generated words. As we premiere this endearing take on a special talent, we speak with directors Polon and Maxey to delve into the enigma that is Bobby, find out his favourite words and how he’s yet to slip up. Read our interview with Polon and Maxey below.

How did you meet Bobby?

Josh Polon: I met Bobby at a friend's birthday party. We realised we were kindred weirdos pretty quickly, and started helping with each other’s projects. He’s the rare guy who’s serious about movies but still makes absurd stuff just for fun. Like Weeds which we shot in 10 minutes and he edited intentionally terribly and added CGI blood into. It might be the proudest thing I’ve ever worked on.

Apart from his talent what else is it about Bobby that fascinates you?

Josh Polon: He’s curious and fascinated by the world. He always has a great story about some crazy shit that happened to him at 2am on his skateboard. I like how his mind works. He’s my Neal Cassady without the speed. He's a good egg.

Ryan Maxey: And I love his paintings. He comes up with the best titles: “The Spotted Fox Bull, At It Again” or “A Balding Birdman, With a Horse's Leg For an Arm, and a Damaged Right Foot, Playing a Banjo.”

What's a regular day in Bobby's life?

Josh Polon: He’ll wake up and edit a video for some client. Edit a thing of his own. Stare at a painting he's trying to finish, and glue a retainer or some bubble gum onto it. Band rehearsal. Come home and cook an enormous steak. The sheer number of hours he’s spent perfecting his personal spice blend is an inspiration to me.

Ryan Maxey: And he moved to Hawaii about six months ago.

Why’s he in Hawaii?

Josh Polon: I think he just wanted a new experience. He’s learning about lots of exotic flora and fauna to put in his paintings. He’s picking coffee, trimming trees, and volunteering at an arts non-profit. He and a friend just started a new psych/blues/folk band.

What's the most impressive word you've asked him to spell backwards?

Ryan Maxey: The first site we tried gave us a bunch of impossible words that Josh and I couldn’t even spell forwards, like “eveternity” and “verbargaydiang.” Whatever those are.

Josh Polon: I think his favourite word in general is “stromboli.”

Has he ever slipped up and made a mistake and not spelled something backwards correctly?

Josh Polon: Never.

Has Bobby's life changed since the initial film screenings?

Josh Polon: Not yet, it’s only played a few festivals. I hope it gets people visiting his site, watching his movies, and asking him to act in stuff. I hope he someday gets to show his paintings at the American Visionary Art Museum, this "self-taught art" museum that I love in my hometown of Baltimore.

The work you guys do seems to be quite varied, such as you Josh, you work on anything from animated comedy series to a film on Charles Manson – could you describe your filmmaking style? What do you love creating most?

Josh Polon: My favourite stuff is what I make with Ryan, our small portraits that we try to tell in unusual and sometimes mischievous ways. I'm also lucky to produce for directors I admire like Jason Tippet, Jay and Mark Duplass, Albert Birney, and J. Davis. I pick up tricks that I bring back to my Ryan collabs.

Ryan Maxey: One thing I love creating is palindromes. I grew up in a family with a pretty long lineage of palindromists. And Josh and I have always had a strange connection when it comes to wordplay. I'm pretty sure we've never had a text message thread that makes actual literal sense. So enter Bob (palindrome), a dude who spells things backwards... It was a slice of humanity that we had to capture.  

Here's a palindrome I dedicate to our star: Did Bob toot? Bob did!

If you guys could have one 'superpower', like Bobby, what would it be?

Josh Polon: A halfway decent crossover dribble.

Ryan Maxey: Better foot massage skills.

Directed and produced by Josh Polon and Ryan Maxey. Featuring Bobby Howard and Trent ChristensenMusic by Deerhoof. Sound Design by Patrick Janssen