We wanted to tell an honest story about divorce, each of us having gone through it ourselves, and Matt twice, if you count his parents, who separated, like Bill and Kim, the summer he returned from his first year of college. We wanted to honor our experience, what we learned about how complex and full of life even the dying of a marriage is, how it is a beginning as much as it is an ending, for the couple concerned, and also for the people whose lives they touch. And, as important as it was for us to tell an honest story about divorce, it was equally important to us that the story not be narrow in scope. What really amazes us about relationships is how everything is happening all at once. The community, the family, changes when two people separate, but it does not stop, even for a second, having troubles and triumphs of its own.
How to tell it right? How to account for melody and harmony, discord and resolution, improvised riffs and aching silences?
Music plays an important part in the film. The title comes from Bill Callahan’s song, “Jim Cain” on his album Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. (That album got us through some hard times.) The line goes, “I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again / Something too big to be seen was passing over and over me.”
Going through the dissolution of a relationship means a lot of groping in the dark for a light switch – anything that might illuminate, might make the darkness more bearable. Pinned to my bulletin board is a little scrap of paper asking the question: When you are uncertain about what your heart feels, do you sing songs that help you transcend the need for certainty? We wrote the parts of Bill and Kim as working musicians because we wanted them to embody this in an active, creative way. We tailored the roles for Ned Oldham and Kim Taylor because their music and presence do so powerfully.
Several drafts in, Matt discovered Hannah Gross and Deragh Campbell, young actors whose relationship in the real world mirrored that of Abby and Taryn in a way that got us really excited. Their screen tests were explosive. Their understanding of their characters was uncanny from the start, nuanced and deep. As we continued to refine the script, mining each scene for the truest, most powerful moments, communicating with our principal cast became an essential part of an already dynamic collaboration. For we wrote DARKER together, lived every line of it out loud, over and over, this way and that. Sometimes we played ping-pong while we wrote, or drove around scouting locations with a laptop burning my knees. We knew it was at its rightest when it made us laugh or cry (although not necessarily every time we made each other laugh or cry).
We believe I USED TO BE DARKER is a visually and sonically beautiful, emotionally powerful film. We hope it will shine bright as a reflection of life on screen and inspire new ways of seeing the most difficult aspects of relating.
– Amy Belk