It was an uncomfortable conversation. And it always began the same way.
Writer/director Kim Cummings can’t count the number of times she had it with her husband—all thanks to her latest screenplay, “In Montauk,” and its protagonist, Julie Wagner.
The similarities between the two women were impossible for him to miss.
Julie is an artist, like his wife. She is independent, like his wife. She is married, like his wife. But she is cheating on her sweater-vest-wearing husband who lives full-time in Queens, with a brooding, mysterious composer on the East End. And she is pregnant, as Ms. Cummings had been before writing the film.
“Look, we’re filming in our apartment and these are people like us, but they’re not us,” Ms. Cummings—who splits her time between Queens and Montauk—explained repetitively to her spouse, Michael Bassman. “You know I haven’t had an affair. I haven’t before, or after, or during my pregnancy. And it’s not an indication of my desire to do so. This is not you. This is not us. This is just a story.”
He would nod, understand and drop the discussion. Until it came up again. And again.
She couldn’t blame him, Ms. Cummings explained during a recent telephone interview. He had every reason to be suspicious, but not because she was being unfaithful. She was struggling with an internal battle of her own. One that defied gender stereotypes. One that came to life when she started her family. One that had the potential to destroy them.
In her case, “the other man” was not a romantic interest, she said. Instead, “he” was represented by the artistic world and a lifestyle she would never have.
“When I was writing this, my twins were 5 and I was feeling really frustrated. I was struggling with being a filmmaker and a mother and a primary caregiver, and that got me thinking about the choices we make,” she said. “This film is very much about a woman making her own choices that may not fit into what society thinks are proper choices for a woman. We see men having affairs on the screen all the time, but for a woman—and a pregnant woman at that—it’s a little bit of a hard pill to swallow. She is not asking permission, and neither am I. You just have to go and do it.”
After taking just two weeks to cast and less than $100,000 to complete, Ms. Cummings began filming in December 2009 with her lead actors—Nina Kaczorowski as Julie Wagner, George Katt as her husband, Josh Cohen, and Lukas Hassel as composer and lover Christian Nygaard—as well as a gaggle of secondary characters. An eight-man crew captured nearly five hours of footage between locations in Queens, Long Island City and Montauk, where they spent a week shooting around town, inside Ms. Cummings’s room at the Royal Atlantic Beach Resort, on the beach and along the coast.
The subject matter might’ve been tough for Mr. Bassman, but December in Montauk was nearly as rough for the actors. In the end, the experience was worth it, according to Mr. Hassel.
“I shot a rugby scene in ‘Borstal Boy’ in Irish subzero temperatures that, up until now, I thought would be my coldest film experience,” he wrote earlier this month in an email. “That was until ‘In Montauk.’ A shirtless scene in 30-degree weather, strangely enough, was not the worst. The day before, we had been shooting on the coast, in howling winds, for a whole day. I had chemical hand, foot, stomach [and] back warmers tucked in anywhere possible—don’t ask!—and, still, I could barely move my lips through the cold. My eyes were running. My voice was trembling and, yet, when we got back to our rooms at night, the warm food and cozy atmosphere among the cast and crew made it all worth it.”
Montauk itself—isolated, freezing, yet picturesque—became a central character in the film, Ms. Cummings said. The scenic locale brought together not only the characters of Julie and Christian, but also the cast and crew, and the director’s family.
Though not at first. A few months in, her children—Celine and Noah—dubbed their mother “Mount Cranky.”
“You know, it was a little tough to hear,” Ms. Cummings said. “I definitely had to step back and take a look and say, ‘Do I like the person I am while I’m doing this?’ It was a lot. And I have to say, despite the nickname, my kids were incredibly supportive. They grew from 8 to 12 during this process—from being very, very needy to sort of understanding what this takes. To the point where my son said to me, when I was fundraising for my post-expenses, ‘I want to donate to your campaign, how can I do it?’”
The 68-minute feature is slated to be released mid-February on DVD and Amazon streaming, the writer/director said. And her biggest fan—her husband—couldn’t be prouder, she said.
“He’s very glad that I made it. It’s a little tough when you’re writing a character so close to yourself,” she said. “Now that I’ve made it, I feel much better about where I am, knowing that I was able to do it.”
Later this year, Ms. Cummings and Mr. Bassman will head out east for their annual visit to Montauk. Their first trip was more than 20 years ago, shortly after they met.
“I fell in love immediately,” she said. “With him and with Montauk.”
For more information about “In Montauk,” visit sirenstalefilms.com.