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Q&A with Leland Montgomery, Director of “Black Cat in a Dark Room”

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Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Horror spirit animal?
As a gay man, I’ve always been interested in vampires. This is probably because there’s something inherently queer about vampires – the vampire has always represented a relative “other-ness” that is very much in line with queer culture.

Almost all great vampire movies have gay subtext – Interview with a Vampire is about a gay couple who adopt a little girl to try and fix their marital problems, Lost Boys is about a gang of long-haired George Michael lookalikes who hang out shirtless on a beach and Fright Night is about boyfriends whose plans to renovate a beautiful Victorian are shot to hell when their homophobic kid neighbor won’t stop harassing them.

I think the reasons I was drawn to the subject matter of Black Cat is because, in the end, my horror spirit animal is a vampire.

You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
I think, for me, my issue with bad ideas is that I never realize they’re bad at the time I’m coming up with them. I’ll get this *brilliant* idea that I should do a feature about a breakup and a lake house and it should be moody, and people should cry a lot and I’ll think “wow – that’s really Oscar-worthy! What a great notion! Let’s get Michelle Williams on the phone!” and people will ask me what it’s about and I’ll say “the scenic design is going to be beautiful – think Nancy Myers – and the shots are going to be gorgeous – think Di Palma – and people are going to cry a lot – think Breaking the Waves” and they’ll say “Ok, but what’s it about?” and I’ll say “ummmmm…”

The good news is that I don’t have the resources to chase most of these ideas. I’m forced to stew and think and spend a lot of time contemplating if the lake house movie actually means anything and eventually, I come to the conclusion that no, no it doesn’t.

As cliché and “Save the Cat”-y as it may sound, the way I move past a bad idea is through the logline. If something doesn’t have a logline that feels actionable, then it’s probably not a great idea. And that all goes to character, I think. Ultimately I feel that that’s the best place to start.

Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
I haven’t made a ton of genre films, so I don’t feel that I’m part of the horror community yet. That said I love horror and am deeply deeply affected by it – ask anyone who has to watch me pace, squirm, and do breathing exercises while watching horror classics.

One of the things I love about horror is that you can examine really serious, provocative issues in ways that still engage audiences while entertaining them. I’m excited about working more in this genre in the future.

When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
I tend to look at photographers who I like. So, for example, with Black Cat, I focused on the photos of a guy named Jack Pierson who did a lot of his early work in the ’90s and 2000s about like… gutter punk nightlife in Florida which was kind of the vibe we were going for.

What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Not to sound trite or anything – but a lot of times I feel like I’ve just woken up in one of my films. They tend to be pretty autobiographical even when they’re about super heightened subjects. Black Cat is, in many ways, about working through a terrible relationship I used to be in and the fear I have of my parents dying.

Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
I would have to saaaaay…. Tina from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood who isn’t fully a villain but did kill her father with her psychic powers so that’s something. And then I’d throw in Carrie because I feel like she and Tina would be buddies. And then I’d maybe toss in the Babadook so they can have a GBF to have brunch with and then Laurie Metcalf as Ghostface because she goes hard.

Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Jason
Stephen King
Practical
Post Apocalypse

How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
In Black Cat part of the idea was to ground the story in a recognizable reality, so we leaned into the relatable. We wanted everything to seem, on the surface, pretty unremarkable. The houses, the motels, the parking lot – even the car – were meant to seem mundane and un-special.

The only cheeky design element that we incorporated was Pauline’s fur coat. This was a nod to her sense of theatrics and also her reluctance to play the game of the invisible nurse.

And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
Would it be too meta to say Scream?