The sentimental nostalgia of a bygone relationship can often warp people’s memories and perception of their true connection with the other person. That’s certainly the case for Chris Stack’s protagonist of Ian in the new drama, Midday Black Midnight Blue.
The actor’s character has isolated himself since the loss of the woman he loved two decades ago, which has further complicated the pain of his grief. It isn’t until he reconnects with family that he starts to garner the motivation to overcome his intense loss and find a way to finally move forward.
Midday Black Midnight Blue marks the feature film writing and directorial debuts of Samantha Soule and Daniel Talbott, who previously worked together on several short films and plays in New York City. Soule also appeared on screen in the new movie as the woman Ian lost.
Soule and Talbott also served as producers on Midday Black Midnight Blue, alongside the latter’s wife, Addie Johnson Talbott, as well as Stack. Soule and Stack’s co-star, Will Pullen, who has long worked with the scribe-helmers on their plays, also served as an actor and executive producer on the feature.
Midday Black Midnight Blue follows Ian as he grapples with his shifting memories of Liv (Soule), a woman he once loved. For Ian, it’s a chance run-in with Liv’s sister, Beth (Merritt Wever) that sparks a journey through which he might be able to reconnect with society and fight his way back to life.
Soule, Stack, Pullen and Wever generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and starring in Midday Black Midnight Blue during individual exclusive interviews over Zoom. The filmmakers spoke about making the feature together to help promote its recent theatrical and On Demand release.
Q: Samantha, along with Daniel Talbott, you made your feature film directorial debut on the new drama, Midday Black Midnight Blue. How did you balance helming the drama together throughout the production?
SS: It’s my favorite collaboration. Daniel and I have been co-conspirators since we were teenagers. We were classmates at Juilliard as acting students. Daniel was a playwright from birth, in my opinion; he always wanted to be creating worlds. I came at it from wanting to be inside worlds that other people were making.
As I’ve grown, that’s changed. During the beginning of the pandemic, I enrolled in school, virtually, again, and started to learn about being a filmmaker. Daniel was my biggest champion in that. He’s the best coach ever; he said, “Just do it right now; just go.”
So we did two shorts back-to-back. I wrote one, and he filmed it in Los Angeles, and he wrote one, and I filmed it in Upstate New York. So we were doing that, after we were co-artistic directors of a theater company in New York for 20 years.
We’re long-term collaborators, so the transition to being co-directors (on the feature) felt incredibly natural. We finish each other’s sentences, and have a lot of the same aesthetic. We’ve also been collaborators longer than we haven’t been; by the time I was 17, I was working with Daniel.
So it was really nature to make this film together. At first, our intention was to just be co-directors, and I wasn’t going to play the role (of Liv). But because we shot it during the pandemic, it made sense for me to do both.
Part of what the story is about is the duality of who we are, so it made sense for everybody to wear as many different hats as possible. Our producers are actors, and the actors were carrying boom mics. So everybody shared tasks, and did things that were comfortable to them and were also new.
It felt like that’s what the story is about – how do we cling to what we know, and how do we get brave enough to stretch beyond that?
Q: Besides directing the film, you also play Liv in the feature, like you mentioned. Why did you decide to also star in the movie? How did you balance your acting and helming duties on set?
SS: We got very lucky that my very dear friend, Merritt Wever, came to play the character of Beth. Her shooting schedule linked up so that she was first up for us. So it was just Chris and Merritt on camera, and I was able to just be behind the camera.
I was dropped into the story again that way, so when it was my time to be on camera, we were in a flow. It felt really natural to slide into that role.
The journey of that story are these dueling personalities. Liv and Ian are entwined and at odds about what path they need to take as an entwined soul.
Since Daniel and I have had such a long collaboration, he has often been my director when I have been an actress in his projects. So it was a really easy flow of being able to drop back into my actor brain.
I think the actor’s job is so often to shepherd the story from the other side of the veil. So the writer-director is on one side, and the actors are inside of the thing, trying to communicate with each other, and care for the project on either side of the wall.
So it felt right that Daniel could shepherd Ian, and I could shepherd Liv.
Between the two of us, we were caretaking the triangle of this story.
Q: Midday Black Midnight Blue also stars Merritt Wever and Chris Stack, who you mentioned earlier. What was the casting process like for the rest of the characters in the drama?
SS: Since Daniel and I came up with this plan to do this in the fall of 2020, we were still in the middle of COVID. So we wrote the story for the people we knew we wanted to work with.
The journey of making this film was very tied with the story that’s in the script. It’s about the question of, how do we heal from isolation and loss? How do you cling to and hold onto the people you love in a healthy way?
All of the cast is our dream cast. We wrote the characters for Merritt, Chris and Will. McCaleb Burnett, who plays Michael, is my partner, and Addie, who plays Joy, is Daniel’s wife. So we brought all of our favorite people together. We were gifted with the cast that the roles were written for; we didn’t do a casting call or audition process – we just straight offered.
Q: For the actors, what was it about your respective characters, as well as the overall script, that convinced you to take on the roles?
CS: Well, Samantha Soule, Daniel Talbott and I are dear friends, and we also worked in the New York theater together for years. Obvious, the theater was a non-existent thing during the pandemic, so we Zoomed about ways we could work together. One of those ways was to make a film.
Then the next thing you know, they came up with a screenplay, and this was the part that was handed to me. I was floored by not only the beauty of the screenplay, but also by the fact that they thought that I could play this part.
The role is so beautifully fraught, deep and complex. So I think it’s one of the high compliments of my creative life that I was handed this by friends and told I could do it. That’s how I came into it on a conceptional level.
WP: I have known Daniel, Sam and Addie for years. We all met 10 years ago doing a play cycle of The Hill Town Plays in New York at the Rattlestick Theatre. We continued to collaborate many times over the next 10 years on other plays, as well as short films and features. So they all became family.
Since we had a really close working relationship leading up to this movie, it felt natural to work together again. So when they came up with the idea for for the film, I think they kind of already knew who they wanted to write for. Everyone in the film is family and friends.
Daniel, Sam and Addie knew each other for much longer, for about 20 or 25 years, so everyone is close-knit. So every character in this film was written with someone in mind.
So they let me know they had this film they were going to make. They also had a part they were writing that they had me in mind for, and it was an automatic yes from me; I would have said yes to anything they offered me in the film.
MW: I’ve know Samantha for years. We previously worked together in 2016 or 2017; we shot something together over many months in Santa Fe. So we already spent time living and working together creatively before.
I think it was in May 2021, when I was at home and just vaccinated, and got a text from her. It said something along the lines of, “There’s no way you’d happen to be free in a couple of weeks and want to come shoot this movie I’m directing in Seattle?”
At the time, I was getting ready to go to California to shoot what I thought would be my first job back after March 2020. It already felt like a big deal because for the previous 14 or 15 months, I had been living a very small life, the way I think most people had been. I hadn’t been going many places that I couldn’t get to easily, even on foot. So the idea of suddenly flying across the country twice at a moment’s notice was very scary.
When I got the text, I assumed I would say no, and I was ready to say no. Her text was even worded in a way that seemed like even she didn’t think I was going to say yes.
But then I read the script, and it was very good. It really resonated with me emotionally. The idea of being very stuck in the past resonated with me.
That felt really familiar to me, as I had been living that way during the first year of COVID. I felt like there were a lot of endings, but no new beginnings. It was a terrible time of loss and feeling stuck.
So I related very much to this story of someone who was living in the shadow of his old life. He was also stuck in his old life, and unable to move forward and let go of something that used to bring him love and joy, but no longer has. So I related very much to that.
Q: For the actors, Samantha and Daniel wrote and made their feature film directorial debut on the project. What was your experience collaborating with them as the movie’s scribes and helmers?
CS: Working with Daniel and Samantha is a dream. We’ve known each other for so long that to be able to create such an intimate piece with intimate and dear friends and collaborators was amazing. We were professional collaborators before we were friends, so our friendship is based on that. So it’s the best-case scenario to work on something with people who you have the utmost confidence in, and are able to push.
We’re also able to fight in moments and disagree. We’re then able to trust that you’re going to come back around and come out the other side with a greater understanding of not only what we’re working on, but also each other. Then the shorthand becomes even shorter. So overall, it was an incredibly rewarding creative process.
WP: Well, Daniel and Sam know each other so well that they basically share one brain. They have this way of communicating between the two of them that they’re always on the same page. That makes, for everyone else on set, a super clear vision of what they’re trying to do and what they want to accomplish.
For me, being so close to them gives us all a shorthand. A lot of times, when you work on a new project with new people, a lot of the time is spent trying to figure out the other people’s artistic language. Usually everyone has a unique way of working.
But for us, we got to dive right in, since we already worked together so many times. So we already knew each other’s artistic process.
I knew what kinds of films Daniel and Sam are into, what inspires them and what they waned for this film…I think that really helped us make this film, which is a really scrappy, DIY, super-indie project. I think you need that clarity and united front to get something like this made.
MW: This is an independent film, and I think it was shot in three weeks. Since I was going to that other job, I only shot my role for this film in three days, and they were the first three days of the shoot. So it was very fast.
I felt like a big responsibility because I knew that I was going to help them set sail on this journey. I felt like the first scene that we shot, which was also the first scene that was shot for the film, was a really big one, and it comes at the end of the film. I felt that was a big responsibility.
But in retrospect, I felt it was lovely to get that scene shot so that I could really be present with the people I was working with. That way, I didn’t have to withhold it for the whole three days and keep it close, as I knew it was on the horizon. Getting that out of the way really freed me up to really enjoy the experience.
This job ended up being a portal for me. It was my first experience stepping back out into the world after living a very small, isolated life myself. I feel very lucky that that experience of taking those first few steps forward, out of the early COVID years, was also a creative experience with Samantha and Daniel.
Q: Once all of the actors were cast, what were your experiences collaborating with them to build your characters’ relationships?
SS: Since we’re such a small film, we didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse together. We shot for 23 days, and it was vast and crazy. But that’s partly why we chose to work with actors who we already have a long-term relationship with.
Chris and I have worked together many times and have known each other for 20 years. Merritt and I grew up together in the New York theater scene, and we also worked together on (the 2017 Netflix Western television miniseries,) Godless.
All of these people who we have long-term working relationships with came into play on this set. That meant that we had a shorthand that we really leaned on. That meant that we moved pretty fast.
A lot of this story is about stillness and space, as well as letting something come in. So you have to be open and vulnerable for that.
CS: Merritt’s a dream to work with. Will is an old friend, so he and I had a shorthand, as well.
Merritt was so generous with her schedule – she took the little time she had before she went to work on another project and offered it to us. So our first three days were 16-hour days, during which time we shot all of her stuff.
So my first day on set as an actor was with Merritt in a beautiful home on Whidbey Island. So any type of nerves I had about whether I was ready for this, or if I had properly put my producer brain away, were immediately dissipated when I looked at her and we started speaking to each other as our characters.
I think both of these characters have a deep history with one another. But they also have a lot of fear that is very much their own, as well as insecurity, sorrow and struggle.
So I think to look another actor in the eye and search for what it is to grasp onto is something that we do as people in times of intense challenge. To look at Merritt in that way, and have her be there in this very present way, snapped me into a place where I knew everything was going to be alright, in terms of making this movie.
But everyone that we had in the movie or around were either dear friends to begin with, or we got very close over the course of the 21 days that we shot.
PW: Like I said, everyone on this film is like family, and we’re all close friends. Everyone’s so close and knows each other so well that there’s a tremendous amount of trust between everyone.
When you’re working with material like this, which is so sensitive and vulnerable, and there’s also difficult content, I think you really need a lot of trust. I went to set trusting everyone implicitly.
I think that gave us a lot of freedom while we were filming to go places that I may not have felt safe going to if I was working with other people. But there was so much trust and safety that it enabled me to go really deep and to the places we needed to go to, in order to tell the truth in this story.
MW: Again, it was a really short, fast experience. But I think Chris is a lovely human and a wonderful actor.
Another great part of this experience was to be able to go be and collaborate with a group of people again. Finding myself in a group of people again, who were hoping and sincerely trying to make something together, was amazing. I’m also very grateful for the fact that it was a group of people who were trying to tell this story of moving forward after loss.
I don’t like to put things in these terms often, but it was somehow cathartic to go through this experience of playing someone who was holding all of that and has to learn how to let it go. Just like Ian, who also had to put things down and move forward, I got the visceral experience of letting everything go and try to move forward post March 2020. It wasn’t by design, but it was a happy coincidence.
Q: During the production, did the cast to make suggestions about the characters and overall story?
SS: Sometimes as a director, and I’ll also speak for myself as an actress, not over rehearsing is the best way to make a film. If you’re willing to see what comes and the camera catches it, there’s nothing that’s as magical as you could have planned. That’s the way we went about it, and it worked out, thankfully.
We wanted everyone to come with it with their own instincts. Chris was the first person we talked to about the project, before we even had a script.
Initially, the story was set in Michigan, where Chris’ family is from. We set the story in the house of his grandmother and great-grandmother. But then we shifted it to Washington, which was right because that’s what the story wanted. A lot of Chris’ DNA is in the story.
Merritt also brought a lot of her own journey. Again, the goal of the film was to bring a lot of space to the table for pain, as I think we’re afraid of it as a culture. I think what Merritt does so beautifully in the film as Beth is that she sees Ian…and I think she saves his life.
I think every one wanted to bring their own thoughts to the film, and I think they did. Every one brought their own clothes that were comfortable and felt right – Merritt was in her own jean jacket, for example. We wanted to be a little bit ourselves and a little bit of our characters.
WP: With Daniel and Sam, as well as with Addie and the other producers, it was all very collaborative. I think they bring people into a project with this mentality that everyone’s going to bring a lot to their roles. So they were really encouraging of everyone bringing a lot of themselves to their roles.
They’re so open to everyone saying, “From where I grew up, it was like this. So I want to figure out a way to fit this into the scene or the story.” They love that and are very encouraging of that.
They’re so open and collaborative, which is freeing for an actor to feel as though they can bring things everyday. Day-to-day, there are tons of changes and editing throughout the whole process, which is incredible.
MW: It was incredibly collaborative. I wouldn’t say the pace was hasty, but in retrospect, as much as the movie is unafraid to take its time, I kept reminding myself, you’re only actually filming for three days.
But everyone was very open. It never felt like a situation where I felt like I had to push back against something. There was never a moment where I felt like there was a problem in the script and I was waiting to address it with them.
I understood what this movie was about and where these people were living. I also understood the painful enormity of the task we were faced with. So it wasn’t as though I had to show up and had to say, “Here are all the problems;” we just showed up and did it together. So it will always be a very special time to me.
Q: Midday Black Midnight Blue was shot in Washington, as it’s mainly set in Ian’s isolated cabin near Seattle. What was your experience shooting the drama on location?
SS: It was incredible! As I said, Daniel and I have never directed or made a feature before. So when we wrote the story, we had no idea if these places even existed.
So we flew out to Washington and spoke with the Washington Film Commission. Amy Lillard (who’s the Executive Director of the Washington Film Commission) took us under her wing.
We filmed on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound, just off of Seattle. It’s a really special community, and we were welcomed into so many people’s homes. Every place we went to wanted to be in the film…It was a deeply moving experience.
CS: The idea was to film it in a place we could quarantine with a small group. We decided that place would be my grandmother’s house in Northern Michigan, which is still in my family.
But then through a long, boring chain of events, that fell through, but we were already in motion with the project. So in order to keep it alive, we moved to the Pacific Northwest, to Whidbey Island on the Puget Sound near the Seattle area. That really increased the volume of the project, in terms of content and capacity.
Something that we realized when we were looking at locations in the Pacific Northwest was that the Puget Sound is a salt water version of Lake Michigan, and the fish are bigger. But the weather is tougher…and everything increased.It increased our capacity, as well, and that’s how we made the iteration of the film that audiences are now seeing.
WP: It was incredible. I’d never been to Washington State before, but had been to Vancouver and British Columbia, which has a very similar topography; the land and trees look very similar.
But Washington is an incredible place, and it’s so beautiful. Where we shot a lot of the film – at least half of it – was on Whidbey Island, which is right on the Puget Sound. That place is so stunningly beautiful. It’s very rural, so we were very isolated on that island, which I think was very helpful for us. So much of the film is about that land and the beauty of that part of the world, including the oceans, mountains and forest all meeting in that one place, so I think it’s an important character in the story.
I’m a runner, so when I had the time every day, I would run through this beautiful place and really get a feel of what it would be like to live there. So we all really got to be steeped in the place, which was really helpful for the film.
MW: I know how corny this sounds, bu it was very restorative. I went from being, for the most part, stuck in an apartment to being in one of the most beautiful, peaceful places in the country.
I don’t think I realized when I said yes to doing this was how many ways this job was going to restore me. I was trying to figure out if this was something that could logistically happen.
Then when they changed the schedule and made it possible, I thought about if it was the right thing to do, as I hadn’t been getting on planes and flying across the country. I questioned if it would be too much for me. But instead, I found that this was a job that gave me much more than I gave it.
Midday Black Midnight Blue is now playing in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles, as well as On Demand, courtesy of Good Deed Entertainment. The dram’s theatrical and On Demand’s release comes after it had its World Premiere at last year’s Seattle Film Festival.