This article originally ran in the January 2017 issue of the Lookout Mountain Mirror:
by Ferris Robinson
If you haven’t heard of "Moonlight," you will. The winner of four Gotham Awards (Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Audience Award and special jury award for Ensemble Performance), it is touted as a frontrunner for an Oscar award, according to Vanity Fair and Huffington Post. It’s received six Golden Globe nominations, including Best Movie and Best Screenplay. If you Google "Moonlight," headlines like "This is Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Moonlight" and "Moonlight Just Got One Step Closer to Winning a Best Picture Oscar" pop up.
The film documents three stages of a young black boy’s life as he grows up in Miami, dealing with his drug-addicted mother and coming to terms with his complex reality of his sexuality. It is a powerful film, thoroughly absorbing the viewer, and screenwriter Barry Jenkins is receiving countless accolades for this piece of work.
However, Mr. Jenkins needed a little nudge, and some support, to write his masterpiece. His pal, John Montague, a Lookout Mountain native and son of Alice and Alfred Smith and Rick and Cannon Montague, was both a friend and a fan of Barry Jenkins. "I love his first film, 'Medicine For Melancholy,' and I was pushing Barry to make a second film," Montague said. But Barry was spread thin with his career in advertising and didn’t have time to work on a second film. His eye keen for talent, John Montague commissioned Barry to take time off from work and write a screenplay. He did. And the result was two screenplays, one of them "Moonlight." "I was blown away by it," Montague said simply.
Plan B, Brad Pitt's production company, produced it, along with A24, and although John is as proud and thrilled over the screenplay’s success as a new father is over a newborn, he doesn’t love being as hands-off as he was at the end. "I'm a creative person, and I like contributing to the creative process. With this particular project, it’s been very hands off. Once A24 and Plan B got on board, I've pretty much just been watching from the sidelines," John said. Of course, without John's hand in this whole scenario, chances are, the film wouldn’t be in existence.
(In a sense, John Montague is a chip off the old block, at least in terms of his love for theatre; his mother, Alice Smith, is an accomplished actress with a gimlet eye for all-things-theatrical.)
After graduating from LMS, then attending Baylor School and graduating from Northfield-Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, he studied theatre at UVA, then performed, directed and taught improve in New York City for eight years. His first project was The Ross Brothers' "Tchoupitoiulas;" he later was the executive produce of "The Last Season."
He is stunned by the response to the film he commissioned, and still can’t believe the way the public has fully embraced it. Landing in a project with Brad Pitt and being the center of Oscar buzz is probably not what most folks plan for. "I expected it would find a smaller niche audience," he said, admitting that "the overwhelming attention and exposure has been surreal." As the first person to read the acclaimed screenplay, he wishes he had taken better care of his copy. "It's a little tattered from reading it!"
Altitude picked up "Moonlight" and will distribute it worldwide. According to Altitude’s CEO Will Clarke, "'Moonlight' is one of those life-affirming films that immerses you in its universal themes and kaleidoscopic view of life but told with such emotional intimacy, delicacy and beauty that no-one could fail to be moved in a way that is surprising and unforgettable. It is pure cinema and a milestone in independent film."
John lives in Arcata, Calif., with his wife, Jessica, and their two daughters, Holly and Lucy. In addition to filmmaking, he tracks the growth rates and keeps records on the tallest and largest redwoods. John serves on the board of councilors at Save The Redwoods League, and is currently building the first ever complete data set of redwoods over 18 feet in diameter. In 2015, John discovered the largest known redwood for diameter (29.2 feet). He also co-discovered the world’s tallest pine tree. In addition to trees and movies, John is also the CEO of Moosetache Games, a card game publisher, and is responsible for the titles Hike and Rowboat.