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One of our favorite things is when actresses we love take a break from the big screen and step into something more intimate. Recently, we saw one of our favorite leading ladies, Raven Goodwin, in In Sudden Darkness.
Goodwin stars as Erica Moore, an NYC-based mother of two, and a partner who simply finds ways for her and her family to survive the infamous 2003 blackout that spanned across the northeast. We got the chance to chat with the film’s writer and director, Tayler Montague, on her directorial debut!
Montague is a 23-year-old native New Yorker who is a history buff, and a certified “around the way filet.” (We’ll get to that later on *wink*)
Her love of film stemmed from movies like Sparkle (1976), The Last Dragon (1985), Dreamgirls (2006), Crooklyn (1994) and Dead Presidents (1995), which stay on repeat for her.
She reflected, “there’s a lot in between there; it’s constantly shifting as an adult, I’m starting to really fall in love with the New York independence of the eighties. So your Bill Gunn’s, your Kathleen Collins’. Personal Problems, Losing Ground, and stuff like that.”
Tayler had the best energy when we hopped on our phone call and we’re excited about introducing this rising filmmaker to the masses—a title she still isn’t used to.
She stated, “in a lot of ways I’m still coming down from the high of making this film which has been a really wonderful experience. I just had a dream and a story I wanted to tell.
Now I’m like, “Oh, I can actually make another one.” And just continue to make and potentially be a filmmaker. But I tell people all the time, it comes as a surprise to me when I see filmmaker next to my name because it feels so surreal sometimes.
I’m over the moon about it.”
Tayler on Breaking into the Film Industry
However, she did have offer some great advice for those wanting to enter into the film industry. The top two things you need are a network and funding.
Tayler mentioned, “this film came together with the building blocks of the people I met along the way. Which sounds corny, right? To be networking, but that’s really a part of it. I did Critics’ programs, which put me in a position to go to these festivals, to shake hands, to meet people within my industry.
I slowly built a rapport/reputation, and when it came time for this product to come together, it was really just looking through that Rolodex and pulling favors and calling people and saying, I finally have this opportunity.
Even when I was a critic and a programmer, I was very upfront about one day I would like to make the league. I talked to others about their experience, what should I know, and I consulted other Black female filmmakers about their careers.
Also, making films is really expensive. So, I can also talk about, “Yeah, you can network and everything like that.” But at the end of the day you need the money. But I think the most accessible thing, any person who wants to get an entry right now can do, is try to network and maneuver their way through it.”
Why ‘In Sudden Darkness’ Caught Our Eye
A key factor for why we loved In Sudden Darkness was its authenticity. In relation to Black love and life as a true NYC woman, she stated that authenticity was the “ultimate goal.”
Tayler continued, “I just feel New York is a city that’s constantly changing. We’re in the midst of dialogue right now about ‘it’s dead, it’s this, that and the third.’ And you had your narratives about Black New York with your Spike Lee’s and stuff like that.
I grew up watching those films and [felt], “well, it’s my turn at bat.” I get the opportunity to make a film that’s as much a love letter to Black love in 10 minutes and family and care as it is to geography.”
In this candid chat, we highlight community, “doin’ it for the big girls,” representation, and any burning question about her amazing film. Dive in!
Tayler Montague Talks All Things ‘In Sudden Darkness’ and Inspiration
The Curvy Fashionista: For starters, I want to say I loved your short. Because I guess, some festivals usually give you a limited time to watch it. I probably replayed it five times. I’m not going to hold you.
Tayler Montague: Oh wow! Thank you!
TCF: Out of the other shorts were there, I was like, “Oh, I need to watch this again.” It was really good. So I’ve seen it clearly and I love it, but for new viewers, tell us what the film was about.
TM: Sure. In Sudden Darkness is about the blackout of 2003, which kind of takes place in the Northeast, but I experienced it with my family in New York City.
So, I decided to tell a story about a family, based in the Bronx, whose world has kind of shifted a little bit when the lights and the power suddenly go out and it’s completely out of their control.
TCF: Why this particular concept?
TM: Even though the film is not autobiographical, it was pulled from thinking about formative experiences that I had as a child and what it would mean to tell a coming-of-age story.
I had just graduated from college when I first really started thinking about In Sudden Darkness and it was just a small idea that kind of came to mind while I was reflecting in the past 22 years in my life.
I was like, “What if there was a movie about the blackout and what if it was told from the perspective of a young girl.” Then, I just built it from there.
TCF: What made you get into film? Did you study film in college?
TM: I did not study film in college. I studied communications. I went to SUNY Purchase with an interest in film, definitely and just an interest in the arts, in general. The thing about SUNY Purchase is that it’s a conservatory school.
So, if I’d decided I wanted to study film, I would have had to start from scratch and that just wasn’t an option for me. I couldn’t afford to start school over. So, I made my own film school and dubbed it, The Montague Film School.
But it was really just expanding my film education— be it through my criticisms or my programming, and then eventually finding the footing to write something and direct it. It was a dream come true to be able to make this film.
TCF: What was it like directing yourself? I know you had a small role in your film.
TM: It was very interesting. Kind of running to the monitor and then running back. It wasn’t tedious or anything. I really relied on my [Cinematographer] Mia Cioffi Henry, in those moments.
TCF: Was it intentional for you to write a role for yourself? Or was it something fun that you kind of thought of last-minute as you were writing the script?
TM: I think a bit of both. I wrote the script and I knew I needed to have this outside person come in on their world to remind you that they’re tethered to a bigger community.
There was always going to be a “Gina” because there always needed to be some kind of commentary within the film that what they were experiencing wasn’t happening in a vacuum.
And that people check in with other people in times of need.
TCF: What does community mean to you?
TM: Community means so many things to me and it’s constantly shifting. Community, first and foremost, is my family, which I think you can get through the film. I’m someone who deeply values my family, my loved ones, my mother, my father, my brother, my grandmother, and my cousins.
When I was growing up, all my cousins and I lived in the same building. I walk around a corner and I could point at three people I’m related to.
That really shaped my existence in terms of feeling safe and feeling comfortable and feeling like I was in an environment, which I was loved even when I left the house.
Community is your teachers, your friends, it’s everything. Community is also knowing that when I leave my house to do something, like make a movie, I’m coming into someone else’s space and I need to build community and communion with them, so they don’t feel I’m infringing upon or being disrespectful to their communities. Community is having people I went to school with working on this film.
This is a film that is about community and behind the scenes in front of the camera, all the way from the top to the bottom.
TCF: I get that, especially the close-knit bond that Jerome has with his friend Greg, and even the neighbor, Gina who came up to the check on them during the blackout.
TM: Yeah, we always had meetings and ate together and communed together. Had long conversations, phone calls, coffee dates and made sure we were really on the same page about what we wanted to do. Even down to the cast.
The cast and I all got dinner and it was really important that we hone in on family. This is a family. It has to feel like a family.
TCF: I’ve heard that short films can be very pricey running upwards of 40K sometimes. What was your budget like and how did you fundraise?
TM: I actually didn’t fundraise. I made it through Zaza Productions, which is a production company, ran by my producer, Eliza Soros. She invested in my vision.
So that’s really how it came together, which I know isn’t always the case.
But I mean, it was really just a perfect summer. Her and I met, immediately clicked over coffee and we just kind of were like, “Let’s just hit the ground running.” I believe it’s her first film that she produced. I know she’s done music videos, art projects, and things like that.
She’s very experienced. For us, we’re two kind-of newcomers in the game who partnered up and spent the summer knocking out this movie. I have her to thank completely for that.
TCF: Community at its fineness.
TCF: So, let’s dive into representation. With people constantly demanding Hollywood to cast plus size, dark-skinned women in leading roles, what were your thoughts on this? And when you got Marcus [Callender] and Raven to star, was that intentional?
TM: It was inevitable that my lead would be a plus sized, dark-skinned woman. It’s in the script.
I don’t think it was necessarily one of those things where I was like, “Okay, I’m going to be subversive and push boundaries.” If anything, it was more so a reflection of my real life and the woman that raised me, first and foremost.
My mother’s a dark-skinned, plus size woman. And [so are] the women that I grew up around and within their images, I learned to love myself because I’m a plus size woman.
I’m Brown skin, but I do it for the big girls! I say that all the time.
TCF: YESSS! Do it for us!
TM: *laughs* So, that was always in mind. And when I started writing, I was like Raven Goodwin is a dream. Right?
At the time, I didn’t know that she would come on board, but this is the ideal person that I want to play this role. And not just because she’s dark-skinned and plus size, which is part of the reason, but also because she had a track record of playing mothers on TV. [On] Being Mary Jane, she played a mom— with such nuance to that experience.
I thought, “Oh, I need this person. This is Erica.” And I was so thankful that she came on board. She came on board about a week before we were set to shoot too. I was really holding out hope.
TCF: Oh my God. Look at that!
TM: It really came together. When I say that Raven is everything to me and she knows that because I’m always like, “Oh my God, all right. Look— for real.” It meant everything to me for her to come on board.
She’s a big part to help to actualize the vision of the film as well as Marcus. Marcus is a TV actor [Power, The Breaks, Wu-Tang: An American Saga.] Marcus has been on shows and is an actor’s actor, which people remark upon when they see the film. And he agreed to be in the film pretty much after reading the script.
We got coffee and he was like, “I’m on board.” He was the first person I casted. I saw him in play prior and I thought, “Oh, I really his versatility as a master within this play. So, I know he’s going to kill it, if I ever write something.”
Three months later, I was writing something.
TCF: That’s amazing. I love this story and how it all came together how it was supposed to. I love that.
TM: Girl, I’m so thankful.
TCF: Now, you know I have to ask. You’ve dubbed yourself “an around the way filet,” please explain what that means!
TM: *laughs* What I basically mean is that my mom was an ‘around the way girl’ in the eighties and I’m in that lineage. I’m in that kind of line of Black women, working-class Black women, who are from around-the-way.
Women who love their community, who love where they live because that’s just as important to me as telling stories about working-class Black life.
You know what I mean?
TM: I’m not rich. I come from a working-class community; everybody here work. Everybody here know each other and show each other love, mad love. And to me, I’m a product of that love.
So, when I say I’m an around the way filet, it’s to make sure I keep myself grounded and where I come from. A lineage of a very particular Black womanhood I think— one that’s urban.
Bamboo earrings and all that. The Mary J. Blige type.
TCF: Yeah, I get the gist of it. Absolutely. That’s a mood! Do you see yourself expanding In Sudden Darkness? Or was that its own complete story?
TM: I don’t like to speak indefinitely, but I can pretty much assure you that In Sudden Darkness is it. I don’t plan on making it a feature.
I think it’s a perfect 13 minutes. It’s really self-explained, I don’t think it should go beyond that.
In Sudden Darkness is currently on the film festival circuit and will be showing during the A.F.I. Virtual Film Festival this week.
Have you seen In Sudden Darkness?
If so, what’d you love? If not, tell us what you’re most excited about!