An interview with Baltimore Director Matt Porterfield of ‘I Used to be Darker’ @ MDFF by Teresa McCormick Ertel

I Used To Be Darker, talented filmmaker Matt Porterfield’s third feature film, is gaining attention and will be screened at the Maryland Film Festival tomorrow at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM. Following suit with his other films, this family drama was shot in and around his hometown.

 Director Matt Porterfield.
Director Matt Porterfield.

What does the title I Used to be Darker mean?

It’s borrowed from a song lyric by Bill Callahan of his album Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle: “I used to be darker/ than I got lighter/ then I got dark again/ Something to big to be seen was passing over and over me.”

I understand that some of the film’s appeal includes the music woven throughout, that compliments the plot. Is it all original?

No, but much if it was written and performed by the film’s two lead actors, Kim Taylor and Ned Oldham. The soundtrack also features music from many Baltimore musicians – Dope Body, Dustin Wong, Jana Hunter, Jack Carneal, and Guy Blakeslee.

How did you choose your specific filming locations? Do you find MD to be a filming-friendly space?

The two principle locations used are houses in Baltimore – one in Roland Park, one in Hamilton (neighborhoods with very different demographics). They belong to two of the film’s supporting actors. Other locations are the Prime Rib, the old MVP bus station on Charles Street, a snowball stand in Baltimore, and The Park School. These are all places I’ve always wanted to shoot. We also shot 3 days in Ocean City, where I used to spend summers as a child.

Your film settings are always your hometown of Baltimore. Do you base your characters on people or situations from your life?


Ha, good answer! As you become a more experienced and recognized filmmaker, how, if at all, does this affect the stories you want to tell and how you tell them?

It doesn’t really. I just hope I can continue to challenge myself as my confidence increases.

Do you consider yourself more a storyteller or filmmaker–which drives you more?

Filmmaker. I’m not as interested in stories as I am in real people and places, and in trying to figure out how to create associations and meaning through images.

I’m a native of Maryland and I’m always surprised at the range of cultures, backgrounds, income levels, and demographics in general we are fortunate to encompass. It matches the diverse weather and landscape, too really. Do you feel a responsibility or desire to convey that diversity on film?

Definitely. I would say one of my primary aspirations as a filmmaker is to portray the diversity of the American middle class. And as far as the geography, I think the diversity of the landscape here is a big influence on my work. I particularly like the places where dichotomous spaces meet.

Deragh Campbell. Photo by  Josh Sisk.
Deragh Campbell. Photo by Josh Sisk.

Are you still based in MD? How did you start your film career in a place without much of a film base? How did you initially gather your crew and other creative partners?

Yes, I was born in Baltimore and I’ve lived here as an adult for over 12 years. But I went to school in New York, so I met a lot of the crew I still work with when I was living there in my early 20’s. 50% of the crew on my first feature was NY-based. But I’ve met a lot of talented local artists and craftspeople in my 12 years working here, so now my crew has a more local flavor.

What is your next project?

It’s a film about a guy who can’t leave his house.

I Used to Be Darker plays tomorrow night at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM at the Maryland Film Festival. Purchase tickets here.


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