I consider myself a modernist filmmaker working in the traditions of observational cinema: posing questions of craft, utilizing formal devices that shatter the illusion of reality, while honoring the potential for naturalism inherent in working with a non-professional cast and real environments. I’m influenced by cinema that maintains an ascetic style of storytelling, blends documentary and narrative technique, and succeeds with vigor and precision at painting rich portraits of human beings in their time.
I USED TO BE DARKER is my most personal film to date, but it’s also my most collaborative. I wrote the screenplay, word for word, with Amy Belk – the world of this film is as much hers as mine. Jeremy Saulnier, my long-time DP, chose to shoot with the ARRI Alexa — handheld, 2:35 — which brings a dynamic energy to the frame, while his painterly approach to lighting design and his willingness to prioritize naturalism enhance the film’s intimacy. Production designer, Bart Mangram — new to the team — created the spaces our characters occupy, which tell us as much about their lives as the words they speak.
If the film I wrote with Amy was written again with Jeremy and the production team, it was written a third time in post with Marc Vives, our editor. Marc shaped the story for an audience out of the images we captured, while Danny Meltzer shaped the sound design that pulls audiences in. Location mixer and sound editor both, Danny’s experience as a field recordist brought real fidelity to the production track, resulting in rich ambience and flawless recordings of the live music our actors perform.
The thing about DARKER I’m most excited to share with audiences is the remarkable cast. Every time I watch it, I’m moved by what they bring to the screen. I see real people I love, not characters from the collective imagination. Though more subtly fused than in PUTTY HILL, the performances in DARKER rely just as much on the real lives of the actors: they drew on their own experiences, their strengths, weaknesses, intelligence and intuition, and found ways to make the interior lives of their characters come to life through a precise combination of words, gesture, and emotion. This is the first time any of the principle cast has appeared in a film, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.
I’m very proud of this movie. It’s firmly grounded in the narrative tradition while pushing outward and turning inward in surprising and formally adventurous ways. Taking a cue from 18th century modes of melodrama, it’s full of big emotions, broad gestures and song, but like the best cinematic realism it also finds time to explore the quotidian. The cumulative effect is dichotomous and dynamic. And the cumulative energy projected by all the creative people who collaborated on DARKER results in an image of the world that transmits as authentic and unique.
- Matt Porterfield