Susan Kouguell speaks with Jordana Spiro on the release day of her film, Night Comes On, discussing the writing process, and the challenges of making an independent film.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Jordana Spiro on the release day of her film – a day in which the glowing film reviews were pouring in. Our wide-ranging discussion covered the palpable power of sisterhood, the writing process, and the challenges of making an independent film.
ABOUT ‘NIGHT COMES ON’
Night Comes On follows Angel LaMere (Dominique Fishback) as she is released from juvenile detention on the eve of her 18th birthday. Haunted by her past, Angel embarks on a journey with her 10-year-old sister (Tatum Marilyn Hall) to avenge her mother’s death.
In this powerful directorial debut from actress Jordana Spiro (currently starring in Netflix’s Ozark ) Night Comes On had its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival where it won the NEXT Innovator Award. The film is co-written by spoken-word poet Angelica Nwandu, who is the founder of The Shade Room, and features breakthrough performances by Dominique Fishback (HBO’s The Deuce) and newcomer, Tatum Marilyn Hall.
KOUGUELL: Tell me about your writing collaboration with Angelica Nwandu.
SPIRO: Angelica and I did a lot of brainstorming at first, including developing what makes our characters tick. Sometimes we would attack a scene together, sometimes we would write solo and then build on each other’s writing. Sometimes we would just sit together and watch movies and discuss them.
One of our biggest breakthrough moments was when we were feeling a bit stuck with the writing. At the time, the story took place all in one city and we decided to go on a little road trip. Just that little act of getting moving dislodged our “stuckness” and our ideas started to flow. We thought, maybe that has to happen for the characters, too. Angel is stuck, maybe that will get her unstuck, and because of that, the characters went on a road trip
KOUGUELL: You have an extensive background as an actor; how did this influence/inform your writing and directing of this film?
SPIRO: I had been acting in a lot in mainstream television and a lot of what I was seeing was very heavy on exposition. It doesn’t always ring so truthfully when your character has to explain backstory. One of my interests in writing and writing dialogue was to make sure the actors never have to explain.
KOUGUELL: Let’s talk about the trajectory of the project.
SPIRO: It was a long road, as most independent films are. I had been working on it for a while prior to meeting Angelica, and then we started working together and applied to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and from there, I went to the Sundance Directors Lab. Sundance was very supportive. They also invited me to the Producers Lab and through that I was able to apply for a development grant through Sundance and from that they came on as real mentors for the project, not just in grant form, but in support and guidance as well. From there, in looking for financing, we were very fortunate to apply to the Sundance Catalyst program. We were able to access a lot of resources from this program, and really wonderful investors.
We shot the film in June-July, did post thought the fall, and then premiered at the Sundance film Festival.
KOUGUELL: Did you stick close to the script or did you incorporate some improvisation?
SPIRO: We did do some improvisation. For the most part, the script we wrote, is the script on the screen.
KOUGUELL: This is your directorial feature debut, but you had made short films, too.
SPIRO: I went to the Columbia MFA program for directing. I made a short film called “SKIN” — we premiered that film at Sundance. That was a beautiful introduction for me to the Sundance world.
The film opened August 3rd in theaters and on digital/VOD.
Check out all of Susan’s Upcoming Classes!
Seven Weeks to Your TV Spec Script (NEW COURSE!)
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting: Give your Script a Solid Foundation
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting, Accelerated
Writing the Family Feature Film
Writing the Family Feature, Accelerated
Writing the Documentary
Writing the Documentary, Accelerated
Writing the Animated Feature
Advanced Film Rewriting
World Building: Crafting Screenplays Readers Can Step Into