Please introduce yourself. What do you do? Why? What do you want people to know about you?
My name is Noah Way and I’m a director, writer, and artist originally from Chicago. I grew up doing theater in… fun fact: the same program as four-time Oscar-nominated actress, Michelle Williams! Just different decades. But nevertheless, theater is where I began my love for art and creating. It was one of my only outlets for a kid with no interest in sports. I also spent a lot of my free-time making short films with friends or stop-motion films with LEGO’s in my basement.
Acting and being on stage was a blast. It’s where I first started allowing my artistry to flourish. But even from a young age, I found myself gravitating towards the magic of film. I grew up in an ultra-conservative environment so I did not have access to much “cinema” and wasn’t allowed to consume a lot of what my peers watched, or other well-known directors were watching in their youth, as I’ve read.
I was homeschooled– which provided a lot of flexibility. I was a very diligent student, which allowed me to begin college at the ripe age of 16. I know adults that struggle with what they want to do still. So at 16, I couldn’t imagine what to pick. With a lot of outside influence and pressure that went into my decision, I bargained to get a degree in Acting, with the compromise of a double-major in something “realistic”. So I chose Communication with an emphasis in Media Studies.
I used the training I received in acting for pedagogy in my directing craft. It was actually a great way to learn about that skill. I watched my theater professors consistently and how they worked with my peers in scenes or plays. I learned lots of exercises and acting methods that I now use when I work with actors, that I’ve found they don’t teach much of, if any, in directing school.
But that being said, I felt underwhelmed and under-prepared for what I wanted to do in the world: make movies. So I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a graduate degree at film school. For the first time, I was meeting people who were as ambitious, thirsty, and dedicated to their careers as I felt I was. I had some awesome experiences working on sets, pilots, and shorts. I was surrounded by people at a studio or on location in Silver Lake that I had grew up seeing on TV. It was surreal– and I couldn’t get enough of it.
At film school is when I started to learn that my tastes, interests, and style differentiated from the “norm” and curriculum I was surrounded by. I loved hanging out with the screenwriters, producing majors, and a few of my fellow directing cohort members– but there’s only so much of a “film bro” squawking about $50,000 RED setup you can take. My preference and focus was always on the script, dialogue, story, and finding a rhythm with the actors I worked with, helping them deliver the performances we wanted to accomplish together.
After enough time, I had to make the call and jump to the next level of where I wanted to be. I’d been making shorts in my backyard since the mid-2000s. Now I was making them in sound stages. There was part of it that still felt underwhelming. So I penned a brand-new script. I believe it was the 11th or 12th feature I had written. I called up the only producing mentor I ever had in Chicago, John Burke, and asked if he wanted to bring his expertise to my project. He graciously obliged. I wrote, directed, and co-produced my first feature film. It was literally one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done to-date. I was broke. I was exhausted. I would break out in hives constantly. There’s a filmmaker, who I’m blanking on, that summed it up perfectly: “if we remembered how hard it was to make a movie, we’d never do it again,”. But it ended up happening! And I was fortunate enough to have it premier on such a public platform, Amazon Prime!
Making my first movie shifted a lot for me. I now just wasn’t the kid in film school, the movie-buff, or the guy who had a “pipe dream”. I was out there doing it. I saw the naysayers treat me differently after that. I suddenly had an ethos that couldn’t be destroyed with an eye roll or scoff.
Finally taking the calculated, yet risky leap, led to meeting a new executive producer, more artists who were trying to accomplish what I was too, and getting offers to direct commercials and assist others with getting their projects off the ground. It’s amazing and weird how I’m still at the beginning of it all, though.
What qualities make you different and unique from everyone else in the industry?
That’s such a prompting question I don’t think I’ve ever been asked. I’m not sure if I should be the one to answer that, the audience, or peers. I’ve said it a few times before, but one of the major things I believe for art– is it’s not purely for escapism as it’s often used for. I’ve been studying a lot of [John] Cassavetes work as of late, and he is a director and writer like none else. And I think that’s mainly contributed to the fact that he was an artist at the end of the day, before he was any other label. That’s what I strive to be.
I want my stories, rather than to apply a method of escape, to hit differently to others. I have never been affected by explosions, car chases, or superheroes in space. So I don’t feel I need to center my art on subjects of that nature. I have, however, been affected by loss, love, heartbreak, dysfunction, existential crisis, and all those beautiful things related to the human condition. Life is the well that the artist draws from. I let experience become the colors on my pallet that I use to paint with on the canvas of my work.
Because I came from the world of theater and a deep love for film; I’ve always been interested in blending the two mediums and experimenting with genre-bending. The temporality of theater and the permanence of film, although an oxy-moron, is something I’ve always yearned to combine. The way I shoot my films and the way I direct my actors is very similar to theatrical productions. I love rehearsals. I love experimenting with actors and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. The repetition. Predominantly, for film, there’s little-to-no rehearsal process. I can’t work like that, nor can my actors, who are predominantly versed in theater. There’s something special that happens in doing a scene dozens of times before it’s finally filmed. I never ask my actors to do “this” or “that” because it looks good on camera. I want them to be natural and totally unaltered by a camera’s presence. The lens and the cinematographer’s job, to me, is to capture the actor in its rawest form. Be a fly on the wall to something completely, wholly natural that’s being consumed by a voyeuristic audience. There’s often a divisiveness with theater actors versus film actors. But I think a true performer is able to just “be” whether that be on stage or screen– that’s what I encourage with my collaborators. I haven’t seen much of that in film other than the pioneers of the French New-Wave era of filmmaking who basked in the reality of humanity and allowed humans to tell honest stories that didn’t feel like movies, but just felt like people existing— and the audience lucky enough to see a snapshot into their lives.
As for genre-bending, I think that life is too complicated to fit into one, single genre. Life is never just dramatic, or never funny. But often it’s dramatic with some comedic moments sprinkled in, or vice versa. I believe my work reflects that. I’m also really into the creation of my own genre, which I’ve dubbed “coming-of-self”. It’s like coming-of-age, but with a twist. We’ve all had a coming-of-age– but as we grow older, we realize those events are not just reserved for when we become a teenager, or a legal adult, or whatnot. There are moments time and time again, throughout the course of our life, that change who we are, how we think, what we do, and more. I believe what sets me apart from the current zeitgeist is that it focuses on our coming-of-self moments.
Describe THAT moment when you realized you’re doing what you were born to do.
Oh goodness! Madonna once said in an interview that she feels like she’s accomplished nothing in her life. Yes, the one who is worth $850M. The one with all the awards and accolades. I don’t know if I will ever reach a point in my life to say “I’m doing the thing”. I think part of my journey is trying to find that bar that’s constantly unachievable. So all I can go off of is what makes me feel good and that makes me feel like I’m accomplishing what I’m supposed to on this earth.
For me, I don’t have a goal. I don’t have a level I’m trying to reach. Which is both tourting and insufferable. But what I do know is that the only time I’ve felt productive in this world is when I’m focused on writing. The only time my OCD has subsided is when I’m working on a project, because my mind is focused on the technicalities and tasks-at-hand, not on the other thoughts trying to plague my brain. If I’m working on a screenplay, or the hundreds of necessities for pre-production, I’m not focused on anything else but that. My work keeps me sane.
I don’t mean to be edgy with this answer, but I don’t know if I’ve had that moment yet. During graduate school, I was extremely lucky to receive a job from one of the major studios in LA. It was all I ever dreamt. Something big enough where I could have turned around to the people who made fun of me in my upbringing and said “I did it, everything you never said I would be: I am”. I was freelancing as a production assistant; working on sets; with celebrities and veterans from the industry; attending after parties with people that would have made middle school me scream; but I didn’t feel fulfilled. The studio gig was, in essence, clerical and minimal. Getting coffee, making copies, taking notes, and being a small, meaningless cog in a big machine that wouldn’t have noticed me if I left. So I did.
That was one of the most pivotal points in my life. Part of me looks back and wonders if it was self-sabotage. The other parts of me look back and know I would’ve never manifested into the artist I am now. I surely wouldn’t have ever had two films and more under my belt. The experience was the antithesis to my dream, if you will. It was a very weird, bizarre feeling that took a lot of time to comprehend and grasp. Just because I was successful, didn’t mean I “made it”. But the entire experience caused a lot of inner-turmoil and inventory as to what I wanted and was supposed to be doing with my life. It made me reevaluate who I was doing this for; something I still struggle with to this day.
The most joy, peace, and success I’ve ever found is doing my art; however it’s meant to be; wherever it’s meant to be; with whomever it’s meant to be with. That’s what’s made me feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. Sans the critics; smoke and mirrors; or surface level success Hollywood presents as a carrot above your head to keep you in an ouroboros.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to go through and how did you grow through it?
The biggest obstacle I’ve ever had to go through is the people in my life who were supposed to be my cheerleaders and supporters– being my biggest roadblocks and preventions to my success. As I mentioned previously, I grew up in an ultra-consevative religious environment and climate which was in no way supportive of my endeavors as an artist. Where I come from, nobody did anything like I did. If I followed the career path I was “supposed” to, I would have ended up as a pastor. My current career lands in the vein of: doesn’t exist; impossible; and not appropriate or honoring to God. As far as I was told, the best I could have ever done in life was maybe work for VeggieTales.
One of the last times I visited my home town, I was in Chipotle grabbing some lunch. The woman in front of me, just so happened to be the mother of a child I taught in Sunday School, as a middle schooler. She recognized me and struck up a conversation. “You’re a director and whatnot now,” she started. “I am.” I responded. “What a shame.” She said, the words still clear as day in my mind. I asked her to clarify. She continued: “You could have done so much in your life. You helped with the kids, you worked with the church, and here you are. Making… movies.” She emphasized the word “movies” as if it was a curse word. I pretty much went dark after that and didn’t know what to say.
Those were the people I was surrounded with 24/7 from the time I was born, until the day I moved to Los Angeles. The degrading, derogatory, unsupportive comments. I have a million stories like that, which eventually I plan to share. Those people, I’m sure, felt like they were “helping me” but should truly be ashamed for their actions. They didn’t have my best interests in mind; they had theirs.
This complex all started from an extremely early age. Even being homeschooled, I was forced to overcompensate my abilities in order to prove I was as smart as my peers in public school. I hate to admit it, but a lot of what drove my success, for a very long time, was to prove people wrong. It’s what drove a lot of my work. I made my entire first film to just show people I was legitimate. To show I could do the thing they said I couldn’t.
I remember when I had a screening of my first film in my hometown. People had been directly messaging me, complaining they didn’t have Amazon Prime, so they couldn’t see my movie— kept asking when it would be like a “real” movie in the theaters. So I found sponsors and spent a lot of money to have a showing in a very iconic, historic theater in my city at the time. I went on radio shows, I had interviews in newspapers, and posted everywhere online. I was trying to do what “the people” asked for. And, to my chagrin, during the showing, while on stage, I looked out into the audience and saw hundreds of folks. You think I’d be happy at the turn out. And I was, I’d never be ungrateful. Yet, a bittersweet aroma filled the air, as there was hardly anyone in attendance who I knew in real life– which was mostly filled with strangers, friends and family of the cast, or people who knew of me. Call it an illusion of grandeur if you must, but that moment, the premier, felt like the most important, prideful, exciting thing in my life that far. So I was hurt. It felt like I never got to see the impact of the “I told you so” I desperately sought.
I was focusing a lot of time and energy to prove people wrong about what they had said to me in regards to my life, career, and aspirations. I was letting that fuel me and it was what used to drive a lot of my early work. Which was a double-edged sword in a way, because although it caused me to be extremely productive, it wasn’t the correct motivation. As artists, we make stuff for ourselves, yes, but also for others. Which I was doing, so it was complicated, but I needed to think about my intentions. There was something that changed in me when I stood on the stage, holding a microphone, seeing the sea of people in red velvet seats– and barely anyone who I made the film for was there. I was unfathomably grateful for the support and those who I did know love and support me present that evening; but that’s when I realized I couldn’t spend the rest of my life and career in attempts to appease, satisfy, or placate. There would always be something I could have done better in their eyes, or should have done instead– so I had to call it quits in that regard and reevaluate my priorities as to why I do what I do. That was a challenging adjustment. But the art I’m creating is so much more of the soul now. I believe it speaks to people far more than anything I was creating previously– and it’s much more intune with what I am trying to do and share in life.
Who are the TOP 3 people you’d want to meet that could elevate your career or business? Why these specific individuals?
Oh! Damn. Can I answer this like that famous dinner party question? Alive or dead? One of my all time favorite actresses in the world is Parker Posey. The lovely, talented indie darling. I first found Parker’s work when I saw Superman Returns in the theaters when I was a child. I was instantly drawn to her. This was before IMDb was my most used app, so there was no way for me to know what else she had accomplished. But I remember my mother getting me the DVD and I would fast-forward to her scenes and watch them over and over. As I got older I began enjoying more of her filmography. Time and time again I was in awe. I have her memoir “You’re on an Airplane” on my nightstand currently because it’s one of my favs. She would speak so openly and honestly about the artist’s struggle, and how any person could look at her career and think she’d made it. But she expressed that she didn’t feel that way, exactly. She still wondered when the next part would come, or if she would work again after wrapping a project. That spoke to my heart. She was so relatable and transparent. I can tell she was really all about the magic of the work and had no interest in trivial, superficial aspects of this industry. In an interview at a film festival, like circa 2012 she once said she never had a part written specifically for her. I was shocked! So of course, I had to write one. Something I’ve never seen her do before. And only she would be able to do justice to. I would love to collaborate with her!
Additionally, I’m a big fan of Connor Jessup. He was in Falling Skies and Locke & Key, but I’m obsessed with this film he did called Closet Monster by Stephen Dunn. I saw a limited release screening in Los Angeles when it first came out and afterwards, I was scrolling through Twitter looking for reviews and to my bewilderment, Connor and Stephen were at the same theater as I was, doing a Q&A. Just… the screening before mine. I couldn’t believe I missed them. But nevertheless, I’ve always been enamored with Connor’s choices as an actor– and the roles he chooses to play. It’s cool. From the interviews I’ve seen/read, it sounds like we have a very similar ideology on filmmaking. It would be an honor to work with him. Plus, in many screenplays I’ve written, he’d kill as several characters in the world I’ve created. Lots of depth and substance to roles I think he’d enjoy.
Lastly, I would give anything to shadow anyone from the French New-Wave era of film. Specifically Agnes Varda, Truffaut, or Jean-Luc Goddard. There’s just not many people creating content like theirs. All those incredible auteurs believed content was style; not lighting, design, or vibe. And in a landscape of smoke and mirrors– I love how they relied merely on the human condition and people versus plot and characters. I just know a single conversation with any of those geniuses would be more impactful than any schooling or class I’d take. Some honorable mentions would have to be the pioneer of visual poetry, Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman.
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