Like many cable channels these days, Lifetime is supporting films that would once have taken the theatrical route. And “Talhotblond” is not your ordinary Lifetime movie. It’s based on a true story that would make James M. Cain blush, about an older man and a young girl who start an online chatting session that leads to a year of sexually-charged deceit and lies and ends in murder.
In 2009, Los Angeles journalist Barbara Schroeder made the documentary “Talhotblond” about the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction case (which her husband found in Wired Magazine); she took home the doc jury prize from the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival. “He said it was about people lying online,” says Schroeder. “I told him, ‘I’ve been a reporter for 15 years, what’s new about that?’ But he just told me to read it and wait until I got to page two.”
At which point her mouth dropped open. We won’t reveal the twist at the center of this story; suffice it to say that all is not what it seems. When 47-year-old Thomas Montgomery, a retired Marine with two children and a wife of 15 years falls in love online with an 18-year-old virgin, he is led to do things that he could never have imagined.It was only a matter of time before this juicy drama went before the cameras. “It was probably one of the best stories I’ve come across in my career as a journalist,” Schroeder admits. “I thought it was surprising that no one had optioned it yet, so I pursued it and started writing Montgomery in prison and got him to agree to do an interview with us.”
Montgomery had avoided a media-covered trial by coming up with a plea deal for 20 years to life. “Even though it was this salacious story and there was a fantasy with this teenage vixen luring men and making one kill the other over a girl they’ve never met,” she says, “I felt it was so profound that the master puppeteer in all of this never was held accountable in any way.”
Motion Picture Corporation of America approached Schroeder and bought the rights to the documentary. They shopped it around to a few studios and eventually ended up with Lifetime and Cox attached as director.
“I didn’t want to make a typical TV movie,” says Cox between set-ups on the Los Angeles set. She is going for an “American Beauty” feel and look that will resonate with a wide range of viewers. “John from CIncinatti” and “Deadwood” star Garret Dillahunt plays Montgomery. That was a key factor in hiring New York cinematographer-on-the-rise Doug Emmett. “I wanted to work with someone who was hungry and excited,” she says. “Our ideas were completely in sync.”
On set the “Friends” and “Scream” veteran, who directed two episodes of her hit show “Cougar Town” (one of several TV series she has exec produced) as well as the short “The Monday Before Thanksgiving,” is focused and collaborative. Her OCD attention to detail — which she claims she’s had forever–only helps with this gig. “I’m such a detailed person anyway,” she says. “It’s kind of perfect for my personality — my brain can’t help but see the aesthetics. I notice every single thing in every corner when I walk into a room, and I’ve always been that way. It’s a great place to be able to translate that to directing. Knowing that that part is taken care of, I can focus on the characters and story.”
“Talhotblond” will appear on Lifetime later this year.