Talking to Matthew Porterfield About His Third Film, I Used to Be Darker, Now Kickstarting

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07/21/2011 8:59 AM |

Matthew Porterfield, director of Hamilton and the very fine Putty Hill, is no stranger to the vagaries of indie-film financing, as readers of this blog will recall. But hopefully by now, with the critical recognition he’s earned with his previous two films, he’ll be able to start production on his third film with at least some idea of where the money’s coming from. I Used to Be Darker starts filming on August 1st. Porterfield is on Kickstarter now, trying to raise $40,000 by August 13th.

I Used to Be Darker was cowritten by Porterfield and his partner Amy Belk. Shot, as were his previous films, around Baltimore, the film will star the musicians Ned Oldham (Will’s brother) and Kim Taylor as parents whose marriage is ending, and the newcomers Hannah Gross and Deragh Campbell and their daughter and a new friend. His Kickstarter pitch, framed by Porterfield getting new ink (a tattoo parlor was also a crucial location in Putty Hill) is below; we also had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the project:

Your first two films you’ve written on your own, and they’ve felt in large part like open-ended sociological inquiries. What was it like working on a screenplay with a writing partner? Will this film be more scripted than your previous work?
It was really fun writing with a partner. It felt like the most completely natural extension of my relationship with Amy Belk, whose writing I happened upon years ago randomly and fell instantly in love with. My first film, Hamilton, was fully scripted but sparsely so—I thought of it almost as a silent film when I was writing it. Putty Hill was entirely unscripted. I Used to Be Darker is fully scripted, but the dialogue evolved so organically as Amy and I wrote it, and has evolved further through collaboration with the actors, that not a word feels unnatural or unnecessary in their mouths. People do a lot more talking to each other in this film than in my previous films, which is interesting to me. I feel like the characters are at points in their lives where they’re worn raw, in a way, or cracked open. They have something to say. Still, for me, words are a groping towards expression, and always secondary to gesture and mood.

You’ve been so good at finding people—nonprofessionals, mostly—to be (emphasis on be) in your films. How did you know these musicians; and how did you find the two younger actresses, and to what extent did you write around them?
I’ve known Ned Oldham for years. He used to live in Baltimore and play with the band Anomoanon; now he’s in Charlottesville, VA, playing with Old Calf. His brother, Will, is not only an excellent musician but a prolific actor on the indie scene, and I had a hunch Ned had it in him, too. (I was right.) Amy met Kim Taylor back in the 90s when they were teenagers at a tiny religious college in Florida. Kim failed out the year after Amy got kicked out. They tell a lot of good war stories about those days when they get together. When I met Kim and saw her perform, I knew almost immediately she had what I was looking for (good thing, since we’d written the part for her). We had Old Calf’s Borrow A Horse and Kim’s Little Miracle on heavy rotation while we worked on the script. The music, what it reveals about who they are, is essential to the film.

I met the two younger actors, Hannah Gross and Deragh Campbell, when they came to Putty Hill at Cinema Village in March, but we didn’t keep in touch. It was extremely lucky coincidence or serendipity when I later auditioned Hannah on a tip from a professor friend at NYU, where Hannah’s in the Experimental Theater Wing. Her connection with her character Abby is uncanny. She led us to Deragh, who plays Taryn, our Northern Irish runaway. The two of them have known each other all their lives. Their parents are best friends and Canadian acting royalty. Deragh’s mom was a teenager in Belfast during The Troubles. Their experiences parallel the lives of the characters they play on screen in a way I can only marvel at, and be grateful for. Check out their childhood pics on our Kickstarter page!

Can you tell us about your other tattoos?
I got my first tattoo when I was sixteen. My friend did it. It’s a blow-out comb (shout out Digable Planets). Before the I Used to be Darker tattoo, the most recent is a silhouette of Nancy Drew, girl detective. That one’s for Amy. I’ve got 10 in total, one of them is over my heart, another features swords. Lucky numbers, ex’s initials, fiery sentiments… I like tattoos for the story they tell.

What happens if you’re two weeks into the shoot and haven’t gotten fully pledged by the end of the Kickstarter campaign?
Every day we’re hustlin’. That’ll be true then, too. But we had an overwhelmingly good experience with Kickstarter finishing Putty Hill, and we’ve got a lot of faith in grass roots efforts and a supportive, widespread creative community. People are awesome. The growing list of names should have its own inspiring soundtrack. Every pledge that rolls in is so generous, whatever its size, and means so much to us.