Leland Montgomery of Hotter Up Close: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker
Understand that it’s a journey. It may take a long time to get where you want to go, but the best thing to do is understand the journey and have faith that with hard work, you’ll accomplish what you want to in the end.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Leland Montgomery.
LELAND MONTGOMERY is an LA based writer and director. He recently graduated from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with an MFA.
In 2014 he wrote and directed a web series called God Particles which won two IAWTV awards and was featured in LACMA’s Young Directors Night.
In 2015 he wrote and directed a short film called Cruisers which was part of Cinema Diverse — Palm Springs’ LGBT Film Festival.
In 2017 he co- wrote and directed Like Animals which screened at LA Shorts International, The 40th Asian American Film Festival, the San Diego Asian American Film Festival and the New Hope Film Festival. It was also featured on Film Shortage and Omeleto.
In 2019 he wrote and directed Black at in a Dark Room, which premiered at Fantasia Film Festival and went on to win the Wes Craven Award for best horror short at the Catalina Film Festival. In addition to Fantasia and Catalina, it also screened at Hollyshorts, the Sidewalk Film Festival, Calgary International and several others.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
Yeah! Of course! So I’m originally from Oakland, just across the bay from San Francisco, and even though my parents are not artists in the traditional sense (my mom was a teacher, my dad an engineer), they were very involved in the arts scene in the Bay Area. My dad’s closest friends were the founders of Burning Man, and I grew up running through art openings and Warehouse parties. At the time, of course, I didn’t think it was particularly special, but I think it had a really profound effect on how I viewed the world.
I ended up going to college at UC San Diego, where I studied drama and creative writing and made a lot of weird plays, wrote a lot of weird short stories, and took a lot of strange photographs… which I think is the whole point of going to any sort of art school. In some ways, it was the most creatively free I’ve ever felt, and I sometimes wish I could return to those days.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was actively pursuing a career as an actor, and even though I had some very brief, very early success, I realized that it wasn’t making me very happy. I always had opinions about the costumes, set design, and camera movement, and being unable to express those opinions made me feel small. Plus, I kept getting cast in parts that were often described as “Character to extreme character” which is Hollywood speak for funny looking, and my self-esteem couldn’t take it anymore.
Eventually, I found myself at USC film school, earning an MFA in directing. This was a really incredible experience because it allowed me to meet some really amazing people and make some really amazing shorts. I graduated in December of 2019, which was a fun time to come out of grad school because as soon as I had kind of gotten my seal legs BAM COVID. Luckily, that time allowed me to think really critically about what kind of an artist I wanted to be and what type of art I wanted to make.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’m not sure if there was a specific moment that I decided to be an artist — I think that it was hardwired from a young age. Many filmmakers talk about making movies with camcorders and family video cameras, and I never think of myself as one of those people — but I absolutely was. When I was 11, I recreated the opening 5 minutes of Titanic, shot for shot, with Disney figurines and star wars action figures. When I was 7, I dictated Goosebumps fan fiction to my mom, who dutifully recorded every story point. I’ve always felt the need to tell stories — even when I didn’t know-how.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with many different mediums — prose, poetry, theatre, and photography. I think I became so passionate about film because it combines all those fields.
Sometimes when things get hard, I fantasize about giving everything up and focusing on more practical things. Still, every time I start to lean into that, I feel something give me a kick of resistance, and I get sucked back into it, so I think it’s an essential part of me.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
I would say that the most exciting story that has occurred throughout my filmmaking career was an instance a few years ago when I was on location out in the high desert for a movie called Like Animals.
We were about three hours east of Los Angeles with a cast and crew of about 45 people. We stayed in a small hotel and had been given free rein over the whole town. The Mayor… who was also the uncle of one of our producers.
The community had been incredibly supportive of our efforts, and we felt great about dragging everyone so far outside the city. What no one told us, however, was that occasionally the entire town is infested with tiny little flies. We learned this when we arrived, and the WHOLE TOWN WAS COVERED in gross little bugs. They were on the road, our gear, our sheets — everything. We had to contend with them the entire shoot. Luckily, they were so small that they didn’t show up on camera, but they were GROSS.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I would say the most interesting people I have interacted with have been older lighting guys. They are usually the most cynical, the most grizzled and have seen the most. They don’t care who you are or what your job is, but they’re also unexpectedly warm and generous with their expertise.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are a couple of folks who deserve a special shoutout. One of those people is Christopher Matias Aguila, a constant collaborator and my boyfriend of many years. My parents are also very much responsible for any success I have. Carolyn Manetti, a producer and mentor is another to whom I am very indebted.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I think many people turn to the media to understand themselves and the world they interact with. When you don’t see yourself represented in film or television, you start to think that you don’t matter and are not important. That’s why we must expand representation — not only to normalize different experiences but also to help people understand different points of view and make our culture more empathetic.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I would say that the thing I am most excited about right now is the short that I just directed. It’s called Hotter Up Close. We’ve just started our festival run — we screened at SeriesFest, Reel Out Charlotte, Outshine Miami, and most recently at Dances with Films.
Hotter Up Close follows Chris, a queer slacker who is a little adrift on the verge of his 30th birthday. His boyfriend has dumped him, and he has no real career aspirations. He’s on the cusp of being considered “too old” by his fellow gays. To overcome these obstacles, he must go on a journey to discover that he, himself, is worthy enough.
It’s fun and joyous, and we got to make it with all our friends, so I’m thrilled to share it with the world.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
The aspect of my work that makes me the proudest is the community building required to get a film off the ground. To make a movie, you really have to create a village from scratch, and if you do your job as a director, that village will become a place where people feel safe and comfortable doing their best work.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Practice makes perfect. Your first couple of things may not be very good. But you have to keep at it if you want to build up the skills to make something worthwhile.
- Some people have beginner’s luck. The inverse of number 1 is that your first thing might be fantastic. And it may be tough to replicate that initial success. Keep working on it. Not everything is going to be a winner.
- People remember bad behavior. You may be on a small set, but people clock bad attitudes, and bad moods and reputations are pretty easily tarnished by bad behavior.
- You don’t need to have all the answers. Or even many of the answers. I find that the best directors hire people who are smarter than them and who aren’t afraid to ask questions.
- Understand that it’s a journey. It may take a long time to get where you want to go, but the best thing to do is understand the journey and have faith that with hard work, you’ll accomplish what you want to in the end.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
I would say that it’s always a balance. My personal vision tends to come first. But I think all artists need some constraint in order to do good work. For me, that tends to be my producers and core collaborators. But we’re always keeping a mind toward the viewers and, by extension, the financiers. There is no one right answer. To make the best product possible, you must keep all those stakeholders in mind.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It would be a movement of kindness and understanding. We all need to gift each other with a little more grace.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
The Wachowskis. I think they are ahead of their time.
How can our readers further follow you online?
There are a couple of ways! You can always visit my website at www.leland-montgomery.com.
You can also follow me on instagram at @lmontgom1
You can also follow my latest movie, Hotter Up Close on instagram @hotterupclosefilm
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Leland Montgomery of Hotter Up Close: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.