"Baggage Claim" may be director David E. Talbert's movie, but the characters and situations, he freely admits — they come from his wife.
"Most of my best ideas come from my eavesdropping on my wife's conversations with her girlfriends," the Prince George's County native and Morgan State University grad says with a laugh, talking over the phone from a hotel room in New York. "My wife's girlfriends get mad at me most of the time, because they know they can't say anything around me, they know some version of it is going to show up in my plays or movies."
Clearly, Lyn Sisson-Talbert (who gets an executive producer credit on "Baggage Claim") has some interesting friends, or at least some who get themselves into interesting situations. "Baggage Claim," Talbert's second movie as writer-director (his first was 2008's "First Sunday") focuses on Montana Moore (Paula Patton), a beautiful, clearly together flight attendant who is nothing but unlucky when it comes to love. Faced with the dilemma of attending her younger sister's wedding without even being in a serious relationship, she enlists her friends in a mission to find a worthy fiance among her old flames. The plan: Arrange her flight schedule so she's on the same planes as they are, in hopes that something gets re-kindled.
The inspiration, Talbert says, came from a woman who was all aglow about a budding relationship she was starting — a relationship his wife saw for what it was from the get-go.
"One of her girlfriends called her up and said she had met this amazing guy in Chicago, and the guy was flying her out there for Thanksgiving. And this is a girlfriend who goes from one unfortunate relationship to the next. But she's so excited.
"She calls my wife an hour later and says, 'We had a great time. He put me up in this great hotel.' And my wife's like, 'Hotel? Why would he put you up in a hotel? Why wouldn't he take you to his house?
"An hour later, the girlfriend called back. She had gone to his house and discovered that he was married."
Thus was a novel born, one that Talbert later adapted into the "Baggage Claim" screenplay. "I just wanted to create a character who is very hopeful and in search of the right guy," Talbert says, "but just goes from one kind of eventful, crazy dramatic experienced to the next."
One suspects, however, that Talbert finds ideas all over the place. In a career dating back to the mid-'90s, he's written 14 plays and received 24 NAACP Image Award nominations. Hard to believe his wife's friends inspired all of them.
In fact, Talbert acknowledged, he owes his career to a different woman, one he met while studying at Morgan. The experience wasn't all positive, but its legacy endures.
"My first writing was poetry," he says. "I had a breakup with my college sweetheart, and I called her up one day and asked her to marry me. And she said, 'I'll call you back.' So I called her a couple days later, I said, 'You didn't answer me.' And she said, 'I said I would call you back.'
"That's when I started writing poetry, as I was waiting for that call. One day, I actually stopped crying and looked at the poems. And I said, 'Wow, these aren't that bad.' From there, I started writing short stories, and then transitioned into plays."
That may explain why, despite the heartbreak, he retains fond memories of his time in Baltimore, where he not only studied at Morgan, but also spent time as a DJ on Morgan's WEAA-FM, and later at what was then V-103. Whenever he gets within 200 miles of Baltimore, Talbert says, his mouth starts watering in anticipation of a Phillip's crab cake.
Clearly, Talbert's not exaggerating when he says Baltimore remains one of his favorite places. Although "Baggage Claim" was shot in Los Angeles, it's set in Baltimore. The Inner Harbor skyline pops up on occasion, taxis have "Baltimore" written on them and characters refer to the city as Montana's home base.
"I always want to put a different spin on Baltimore," he says. "You see so much about the crime, or the violence. But Baltimore is a beautiful place, and it's got beautiful people. There's a lot of love and life and hope that's in the air in Baltimore. That's what I experienced there."