Developing Your First Feature as an Independent Filmmaker

Field Notes: Noam Kroll, Filmmaker

You don't have to wait for anyone's permission to be a filmmaker.

In the world of filmmaking, there’s no one path to success. For Noam Kroll, his journey began as a child, stealing his parents’ camcorder and making videos with his friends -- until one day, he realized he could make a living from it.  Bypassing film school, Kroll built his own business from the ground up -- starting with small jobs from friends, all the way to producing and filming for big brands, directing his passion projects and now, working on his first feature film. We chatted with Kroll about his unconventional path to success, desire to help other filmmakers like him and his experience so far in making his first feature film, Someone Else’s Eyes.

Marmoset: Just for a little bit of background, how did you get into filmmaking? What's your story?

Noam Kroll: It's kind of the cliché story that a lot of filmmakers have of starting when you're a kid, picking up your parents' camcorders and making films for school projects. Recently in another interview I was asked the same question, and the response that I always tell people -- I think this is maybe helpful for younger filmmakers that are starting -- was: I honestly didn't really realize that I could do it professionally at a young age. I just started making films. I was really interested in movies, but I never thought of it as a career path.

At some point while I was studying psychology at school in college, I eventually started picking up these jobs on the side. I was still making short films, and a friend of mine had started a tiny little production company producing real estate videos and things like that. He asked me to help him with that. I clued in at that point and realized, “oh I guess I can actually do this and make money doing it.” I worked at a small post-facility for awhile, and then I started my own business. I now have my own business, but I still freelance. I have a blog as well. It's all evolved pretty organically.

When you started out, did you imagine the blog as being a resource for other filmmakers, or were you chronicling your experiences and hoping that they resonated?

It was a little bit of both. I always wanted it to be a resource for other filmmakers, but I wanted to deliver that message in a way that was housed in real-world experience. It was, “here's a mistake I made on set,” or “Here's something I learned on set.” That was important to me. There's a lot of great blogs out there. Some of them are focused primarily on strictly education, and there's not that much real-world stuff in there. Those are great, I've learned a lot from those kinds of blogs, too. The ones that I find resonate the most with me are the ones that have a bit of a story to them, and somebody says, "Hey, here's what happened when I made this film," or "Here's a mistake I made."

You're working on a feature film now. Is this going to be your first feature-length film?

This is my first -- what I'm considering my first -- real feature film. I did make a feature-length film years ago that I always describe to people as my film school. That was before I knew really what I was doing. I'd made one or two really small shorts at the time. I'd put together a little bit of money just from myself and family and friends. It was a very, very small amount, but essentially kind of a credit-card sized feature. The goal of that was really just to see what would happen, it was kind of an experiment. From deciding to do it until finishing it was maybe six months. That film was called Footsteps.

We eventually sent it to some festivals. It got into some, it didn't get into others. It got an award or two. I was very proud of it, I was very happy that I accomplished that, but I didn't feel that was what I wanted to release as my debut feature film, if that makes sense. I didn't really aggressively pursue any sort of distribution or anything. Which is why the film I'm working on now is really what I hope will be my first publicly released feature that is actually done with more substantial resources and budget and all that kind of stuff.

Let's talk about the film. What's the idea behind it? How did you evolve it?

Sure. The film is called Someone Else's Eyes. It's a dark, psychological drama that's centered around a fashion model who is at the end of her career. It's very much a character study that tracks the last few months of her career, as she's slowly unraveling and falling apart. She's someone who suffers from depression and body image issues and all sorts of things. It all comes to a head as her career is coming to an end. She hits this pivotal point in her life, where she doesn't really know who she is anymore without being a model, without living that life in the industry. It's a really, really interesting personal story. Very subjective, all taking place from this first-person point of view. I think it'll be really interesting.

Have you, even in the development stages, realized that there are some different challenges going into a feature than you've experienced with your short films?

Definitely, yeah. The one good thing that I've learned from doing my film Footsteps -- which, again was a feature-length film -- was, I know how hard it is. I think with a short film, you always have the benefit of time on your side. Maybe you're shooting for a day, or two days or three days, but that's probably it, unless it's a really, really big production. That's a lot easier, because if you have a really difficult few days, even if you're shooting 18 hours day, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, because it's only one weekend of your life. When you're making a feature, it's weeks -- it could be weeks and weeks and weeks of shooting. On top of that, you have the added pressure of knowing there's a lot more riding on it, because if you want to sell the film, which is important if you want to make another film, it has to be that much better.

With a short film, worst-case scenario, it doesn't get into some festivals, people don't love it, then you can go make another short film. With a feature, especially if you have investors, or creative people that have stake in the project in whatever way, you have them on your side as well. You have them to be accountable as well. I think just the mental pressure, on top of the added stamina that you need for it, definitely makes it a much more tricky format to tackle.

You touched on funding and financing a little bit. How are you going to approach that with this big endeavor in front of you rather than the shorter films?

The interesting thing with this is, I'm so used to making films for basically no money that raising any budget for this is going to start feeling like a lot. I've shot commercial projects that have had fairly large budgets, but on the narrative side, I'm used to dealing with very, very low budgets. That's liberating in this case, because without even realizing it, the script was written in a way that's extremely budget-conscious. This could be done for a very low budget, or it could be done for a more substantial budget

The goal initially is to crowdfund. We're going to be launching our campaign. The goal is to launch it at the very end of November through Seed and Spark, which is a really, really awesome crowd-funding platform. The reason we wanted to do that, as opposed to just going through private equity, was because I think for this story, it's the kind of story that don't want too many cooks in the kitchen for it. With this particular story, that could be not such a good thing. That doesn't mean that would be the case for every film. The ultimate goal with this would be to really make it a community-driven film, get people in the film community, hopefully some followers of my blog that are interested in seeing some more work, supporting it. Kind of take things from there.

You talked about your commercial work and dealing with those budgets. Are you still going to do commercial work on the side when you're shooting? How are you going to balance those two worlds?

That's a great question. I've thought about that. I would love to not deal with any commercial work while I'm actually shooting the film. I think what I'll try to do is almost treat it like I'm on vacation. This year I went away for a couple of weeks on my honeymoon, and it was the first time probably in the last several years I'd gone away for more than two or three days without actually working. Thinking of it now, when you ask that question, that's almost how I think I would approach going into this. I think it deserves that attention, and it also is possible. I know that -- just like I did when I went away earlier this year -- I may have a couple dozen projects on the commercial side on the go, but if I'm strategic and try to tackle as much as I can before that period of time and as much as I can after that period of time, hopefully I'll be able to clear a solid few weeks to just get my head in this project and really commit to it.

What would be your #1 piece of advice a young filmmaker starting out, and aspiring to make a living in their craft?

You don't have to wait for anyone's permission to be a filmmaker or to start working. I think a lot of filmmakers take the path of trying to work their way up. There's nothing wrong with that, but from my experience, what I've seen, a lot of filmmakers will start as a PA, and they'll work their way up over years and years and years in a production company.

Eventually when they want to direct a film, they realize that the only way that they're ever going to get a job directing a film is by directing a film. They'll surely have learned many, many, many great lessons along the way, and probably met some great people, but they're still going to somewhat need to start from scratch in terms of going and making a film.

My advice, if you're anything like me, is to start your career by making your own films. Make mistakes, screw up if you need to, but just keep making films until you start to get a little bit better and you start to learn more. That's still what I'm doing to this day -- I still make films to learn things from. I still make mistakes on films. I'm sure that will hopefully continue for the rest of my career. I think that's really the only advice that I could give at this point.


Posted on November 18, 2016 and filed under Filmmaking.