Interview with Nicole Groton, Director of “Darkness in Tenement 45”

Nicole Groton has worked within the Hollywood system for years in various functions, working on films like “X-Men” and “Zombieland: Double Tap.” Ms. Groton recently released her second film, and first feature film with “Darkness in Tenement 45,” a horror thriller set in a closed in New York apartment building after a biological attack from the Soviet Union. We spoke with Ms. Groton on her newest genre entry.

Thank you for taking the time to do this! How did the film come about? What was the inspiration for the story?
I knew I wanted to write a story centered around power with two female relatives at a divide. At first, the themes were focused on religion but something about that just didn’t feel quite right so I shelved the project. Then the 2016 election ramped up and I saw all of these themes from my script pop up: power, corruption, generational divide. I pulled out the script and the rewrite poured out of me.

As this was created before the major pandemic we currently find ourselves in, how do you think your film applies to the current real world situation?
When writing this film, I truly never thought that the U.S. was capable of having something like this happen. Call me naïve. Our film focuses on two groups who stubbornly deal with the mysterious disease outside in entirely different ways, which is eerily relevant to today’s issues. The film’s similarities are both micro – running low on toilet paper – to macro – questioning the authenticity of the disease – but I hope the importance of where you place power is the biggest takeaway of all.

Following this very real pandemic, what would you change in your film, if anything?
The producers and I had several early conversations about what life would be like under quarantine but none of us ever guessed that the mask debate would be a thing! If I were to make the film now, I would probably need to include that concept at some point.

Why is the story set where/when it is? Why not do a very modern story set in current day Los Angeles or NYC or…?
Honestly, I don’t know if I ever thought present-day America could experience the same paranoia and fear that we saw throughout the Cold War. Clearly, I was wrong. I knew very early on that the film was going to be set in a 1950s New York City tenement building. I was fascinated by the parallels of the Cold War and the 2016 election and loved the visuals of school’s practicing bomb drills and propaganda pamphlets warning about the USSR. Then I thought about the type of home that would choose to hunker down instead of evacuate during such a dangerous situation. I thought of low-income homes in New Orleans who stuck out Katrina simply because they had few other options. It eventually led me to the tenements in New York City where space was cramped, food was limited, but other choices were non-existent. It fit perfectly into my story.

In general, what would you say are your influences when creating stories, films, art?
So much inspires me that it’s hard to pin down! Oftentimes there’s a single image that sticks with me and later I discover it has a connection to a theme that I’ve been dying to tell. For this movie, there was a lot of inspiration drawn from the street photography of Vivian Maier. That mixed with watching Dogtooth led me to the Tomas storyline, which actually inspired the entire screenplay. Later I would pull from videogames like Bioshock and David Fincher films for color and style. I also always write to music so curating a playlist for tone has always been an important part of my process. Oddly enough for this film I mostly listened to a live concert from Lady Lamb.

What do you have in the works that you can tell us about?
I have two projects that I’m working on at the moment. The first is a surreal drama that follows a lesbian in her new conservative Florida neighborhood through a series of back-to-back hurricanes. As the destruction ensues, a mysterious plant in her home provides her with more and more help…until her neighbors discover it.

The second is a psychological thriller a la “Black Swan” that follows a tap choreographer as she preps for her first big performance. When outside pressure and financial strain become too much, she turns to extreme measures that leave her with hallucinations that blur reality.