July 11, 2019
ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Noah wagner
NFFTY has grown into a wonderful community of over 2,500 filmmakers from around the world. Alumni have experienced successes in many areas of the media industry. To celebrate these achievements, we are highlighting NFFTY alumni here!
Noah Wagner, award-winning director, writer, and filmmaker, is a NFFTY ‘14 alumni whose most recent sci-fi short WATCH ROOM premiered on DUST. An NYU graduate, Noah’s work has appeared on HBO, NBC, BBC, Vimeo Staff Picks, and The New Yorker.
Noah is also a member of NFFTY’s Alumni Advisory Board, and worked with NFFTY Creative in 2015, directing Expedia: Sight UnScene New York City. His films have screened at several festivals, including the Cleveland International Film Festival, Nantucket Film Festival, and Sonoma International Film Festival - where WATCH ROOM took home the Jury Award for Best Dramatic Short.
OUR INTERVIEW WITH NOAH WAGNER:
You recently partnered with DUST to release Watch Room, what was that process like, and how do you choose where/how to premiere your work?
DUST and their parent Gunpowder & Sky have been excellent partners in releasing Watch Room. DUST’s leads, Eric Bromberg and Anna Levine, are huge sci-fi fans, and their passion for the genre, its filmmakers, and most importantly its audience, is very evident.
The way they discovered our film was quite circuitous. Nearly 9 months before we even world premiered on the festival circuit, I had been staying with some friends in LA (before I ultimately moved there). They liked the film and recommended I meet a producer friend of theirs. That producer liked the film too, and a week later unbeknownst to me, he was getting lunch with Eric and thought Watch Room might be up their alley. He sent them a link, and fortunately they were into it!
As for premiere methodology… I think for every film it’s different, especially as the streaming landscape changes so rapidly. I don’t even think DUST existed in the very early days of making this film. There are just more and more options every day (and more and more films). So I think it’s a combination of taking into account where you are in your career, who sees your film, who you want to build relationships with moving forward, and most importantly, where you have the best chance of reaching the most members of your audience. So with Watch Room and DUST, it was kind of a no-brainer.
How does your creative process differ when you’re directing your own personal projects versus commercial/client-based projects?
The main difference is probably pace. I usually approach both through a similar lens, and am always refining my process as new projects force me to jump unique hurdles. But when I’m hired to direct something, the deadlines are real, and I have to meet them. I actually really like this, as it can be easy to rationalize putting off a personal project for one reason or another… so it’s good muscle memory.
The other is who I’m answering to. With a personal project, my collaborators and I are the shepherds. But on something client-based – especially if it’s a new client - it’s essential I understand their ultimate goal and vision with the project – the rules of the sandbox, if you will.
What was your experience like creating content for HBO?
I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I started fresh out of NYU, so the lessons I learned there really laid the foundation for how I’ve approached my career since. There is an obvious standard of excellence at HBO, so being a part of it, I had no choice but to learn how to meet that standard consistently. And so through a bit of trial-by-fire, that helped me gain confidence as a younger creative person.
I also worked with some insanely talented, creative people, from whom I was fortunate to osmose new ways of approaching storytelling, as well as how to think about trailers and marketing – two incredibly useful skills that I never could have learned at film school.
It was also awesome to be working on shows that I was already a huge fan of. Actually being on set to capture BTS, or interviewing talent, or contributing content to the world of a show like Game of Thrones or Westworld or Silicon Valley was totally surreal… but it also helped pull back the curtain a little bit on how the biggest and best shows really worked, which made that world feel more accessible.
What was your experience like crowd-funding Watch Room? Any advice for young filmmakers that are interested in this tactic?
It was a full-time job, on top of the full-time job that actually employed me. But it was worth it because it brought our nascent team together early on, helped us refine an early sense of tone and spirit for the eventual film, and if done right, it doubles as marketing for your film. And it enabled us to make our movie, of course!
I have two pieces of advice. First, if you’re going to do a crowdfunding video, make it good. That doesn’t mean you need to pour money into making it – in fact, lean into your limitations. In other words – be creative with it, and make sure it’s of some degree of quality. Because if your video feels lame, why should any prospective donor think the film itself will be any different?
Second, grassroots efforts are better than email blasts. Do your blast, but follow up with individual emails. Take the time – asking someone to donate to your film is a big request, no matter how much money you’re asking for. That personal touch will go a long way. Not only that, in our case it gave me an excuse to get back in touch with a lot of old friends and people I hadn’t spoken with in a while, some of whom honestly didn’t even donate. But friendships were rekindled, so it still pays off!
What do you look for when building a cast/crew?
People I admire and respect, and who are more talented at their craft than I am at mine. Good communication, humility, and ideally a good sense of humor. Patience. Diversity of thought, always. Good problem solvers. And above all, making sure the department heads embody these qualities, because I think many on-set issues trickle down from the top, even if they don’t start there.
How has NFFTY impacted your life or career?
I didn’t even know about NFFTY until my final year of eligibility, but it’s funny how life works. Some of my favorite festival friends are people I either met at NFFTY that one year, or friends of friends who just so happened to have also participated in NFFTY. I think it’s a subconscious badge of honor that says you’ve been passionate about movies and storytelling from an early age too. NFFTY Creative’s partnership with Expedia was also one of the very first commercial projects I ever did, which was incredibly important when I was just starting out and has been useful in getting subsequent jobs.
What's next for you?
The feature version of Watch Room (titled A History of Gods), a magical realism feature about true love called The Dirty Oyster, a kids sci-fi show called Cypher, an unscripted show about competitive eating, and continuing to pursue commercial work.