Hamish Downie’s Five Questions With Jordan Noel
Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…
Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?
Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all for your hard work.
Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.
TGG: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers and how did you and Hudson Phillips begin collaborating?
JN: Howdy! I’m Jordan Noel. I’m an artist and movie director living in Nashville, TN with my wife and two daughters. I think of myself most
as an artist but I spend most of my time parenting. Especially in the last year. You don’t get to be “#1 Dad” by slacking on that job. (Turns out you get it by declaring it for yourself and then falling short of it everyday… parenting is an inward journey of your own flawed self and soul at least as much as it is the shaping of the next generation.)
Hudson and I have known each other through mutual friends since the 90s but neither of us could tell you exactly how or when that meeting
actually took place. In 2011 we ran into each other at a concert that I’d rather not mention and while catching up realized that I was a
director without a writer and Hudson a writer without a director. I had been directing very low budget, diy music videos for a year or two
at that point as a fun-passion on the side of my artist / graphic design freelance work (where I worked mainly in the music industry). Hudson had written a script that was optioned by Hollywood and then un-optioned at some point. Meanwhile, Hudson was also a freelance designer. To be fair, most people that had previously been musicians in the 90s/00s were now graphic designers. Anyway, HP being HP he said “well, let’s make something together” and I was like “ok! Send me something!” I think he almost immediately then sent me a treatment or maybe even a full early draft of Rooney’s World which became out first short film.
I think HP and I immediately loved collaborating together. We’re both highly collaborative people that desperately want to create art that
is bigger than either of us could do alone — and really bigger than anything just the two of us could make. We love working with a team of make something enormous! That’s part of why filmmaking is so attractive to us. We don’t like the same movies, the same music, the same books, or the same anything really other than being of the same mind as far as collaborating with passionate people to make beautiful things.
TGG: Can you tell us about “This World Alone” and what attracted you to direct it?
JN: I’d love to! This World Alone is a super low budget independent ilm shot in gorgeous north Georgia over the course of 10 straight days in 2017. Following a cataclysmic event, Sam (Belle Adams), a book-obsessed girl in her late teens, attempts to survive with her two mother figures in a world without technology or power. Willow (Sophie Edwards) believes in a world of compassion and empathy whereas Connie (Carrie Walrond Hood) believes in an “only the strong survive,” mentality. Those warring philosophies are put to the test when an accident forces Sam out of her home for the first time and she journeys to a nearby settlement for help. Along the way she meets Dart (Lau’rie Roach), a young man out on a “walkabout” attempting to prove himself to his overbearing father-figure. The two of them come of age together as they face the physical and emotional challenges of a world reclaimed by nature and attempt to stay one step ahead of their mysterious tracker, Levi (Brandon O’Dell).
Hudson and I are both dads but at different stages in the parenting rollercoaster. We talk a lot about parenting. We’re constantly pushing and pulling on ideas to try to navigate a route through them. We talk a lot about the world and big questions that arise while living in it. How best do we raise children in a world that can be so hopeless and cruel? How can we prepare our children for the harshness of the world without deflating their sense of wonder and adventure? To what degree should we keep our children safe from danger? How does religion play a role in raising children? What role does or should violence play? But we’re also two men that in some ways refuse to fully leave our childhood behind. So it’s not just the parenting side of the story that we relate with and are fascinated by but also the coming of age. What do we take with us when we cross the threshold into adulthood? Where and when does that threshold even occur? Not to mention the age-old, brutal, unanswerable parenting question: Is it nature or nurture? I’d have to be nuts not to want to direct a story that is attempting not to answer but to ask and explore these questions.
TGG: We have lots of indie creators who read this website, so I have to ask, what was the leap from short films to feature films like? Also, how do you juggle the demands of family and indie filmmaking?
JN: Believe it or not, the jump was pretty natural. We had been developing and working towards making a feature ever since we finished our first short in 2011. That isn’t to say it wasn’t terrifying, it was. BUT that’s also the beauty of collaboration. It was Hudson’s first feature as well. And a lot of our cast and crew. Crossing that threshold with a family of collaborators made it awesome. The other thing is we kinda just said “we’re doing this” and set the dates and went for it. We shot This World Alone in 10 days with all of us staying in the same house the whole time. I come from the music world and it really kinda felt like tour. A group of folks with different responsibilities spending 24/7 together on a great adventure. Just with a lot less beer.
Juggling the demands of family and art is hard. Really really hard. I don’t do a great job of it, frankly. My wife, Lily, is a food/prop stylist that also works freelance and she’s not good at it either, unfortunately. We’re working on it though. I think it’s all about being present and communicating. Much like directing. (Full disclosure: I’m awful at directing my children. We don’t have the same end goal in mind. Ha!) I try to communicate to the girls when I need time to complete a task for work and then assure them that when I have finished it I will give them my full attention and we’ll do something fun. It doesn’t always work. It did today though! No joke! So I took them out to dinner and we had a really great time. Sadly, it’s impossible to slip a little work in while the family isn’t looking. I’ve tried and failed too many times.
There were several years leading up to shooting This World Alone that my approach to the juggle was to fully do both. I would literally be a
parent all day and work all night. During that time I slept around 3 hours a night. I was also falling asleep at stop signs. It was not a good time. It wasn’t safe or responsible or cool or impressive or an admirable dedication to either pursuit. It was foolish and detrimental to my health and to the safety of those around me.
I’m learning that its crucial to know when to put the work down which includes setting boundaries that you will not cross. Once the computer
is closed or the phone is put down… it needs to stay that way. Being present when you are together is so so so so so important. Similarly, Lily and I have to work double hard to be present and available for each other as our careers and the children are both fighting for our attention. We spend a lot of time talking about what we need and how to support each other. It hasn’t been easy but over the years we’ve learned a lot about how to allow each other to pursue our goals while not being neglected by the other. It’s not a balance we’ve found and then everything is hunky dory. It’s a constant conversation between us to strike a working balance.
One more thing on that… I’ve found that the more I let my kids in on what I’m working on or how the process of filmmaking works the easier it is on them. They seem more willing to celebrate the highs and allow working through the lows when they can grasp some degree of what it is that I’m working on.
TGG: Can you tell us about your side projects, the podcast, “Four Friends Fight about Film”, and your band “Little Francis”?
JN: I can! Although both side projects are very very sleepy right now. The podcast, Four Friends Fight About Film, is Hudson and me and two of our friends/collaborators Lance Herd (writer of one of our shorts, actor in others, associate producer of This World Alone) and Kyle Gibson aka Gibby (writer of things, movie factoid database, and genuinely one of the nicest / most wonderful people you could ever meet). We fight about movies. It’s a ton of fun but also a ton of work. We all miss doing it. We all talk about picking it back up. We just haven’t picked it back up yet. But there are many episodes available wherever you get podcasts that will entertain you for many many hours.
Ah, Little Francis! I always struggle to describe this band. Porch party blues with a snarly punk attitude, kinda? The band is led by singer-songwriter Steven Grubbs (who wrote the incredible Appalachian-inspired death ballad that bookends This World Alone and has also appeared in our short films as a waiter and the world’s worst getaway driver). Steve and I have collaborated in a handful of bands and this is the one that didn’t break up. I play the drumbs (which is a stupid way to spell ‘drums’). There have been a handful of third members since LF’s beginnings in 2007(ish) but the most recent lineup has two third members: Mason Brown (who did post-production sound on This World Alone) and Greg Tankersly (who is a very very sweet boy and we love him very much). The pandemic and my 2018 move to Nashville (from Georgia) have slowed the band down a bit but we did put out an LP, I Will Sink Like All Good Things, in 2019 (that you can sample and buy right here: https://littlefrancis.bandcamp.com/releases and maybe Steve will get it up on Spotify/etc someday).
Here’s a fun video we made for Little Francis’ song “Marigolds”:
TGG: What’s next for you? Could you tell us about “Emily Grey”?
JN: More parenting! But also we’re in the beginnings of pre-production on a feature we’ve been developing called Guacamole Yesterdays. We were
hoping to shoot in 2020 but then the whole world fell apart and our plans with it. In lieu of shooting Hudson has been entering the script into screenplay competitions/festivals and it’s been doing great. We’re super excited about the project and are anxious to be working with a team again. It’s another low-budget big-subject movie but it deals with very different themes than This World Alone. Despite taking place in the near) future there’s no apocalypse involved. At least not a global one… perhaps more inward and personal apocalypses this time.
Emmy Grey is a feature that we’ve been developing for many years and was actually what we were planning on making first. It’s about a girl that goes missing and suddenly shows back up as a young woman 10 years later. She claims she was abducted by aliens and would prefer to be out there rather than down here. We did a table read for it with Belle Adams (who plays Sam in This World Alone) and Re Roach (who plays Dart in This World Alone) but we kept running into it just being too expensive to make. Investors felt that we were all too “untested” for the budget (though we’re still talking about a tiny tiny budget relative to most other films). So we decided that we’d just make a cheaper movie with the bulk of that cast… cue This World Alone! Hopefully we’ll still get a chance to make Emmy Grey someday. It’s a beautiful story and would, I think, make for a really beautiful film.
TGG: Finally, could you tell us how we can support you? (Where can we rent your film, watch your shorts, buy your music, follow on social media etc.)
This World Alone is available NOW to rent and purchase on iTunes, AppleTV, Amazon, Fandango, Google Play, Vudu, Microsoft, and a slew of others. This link will give you a whole panoply of options:
More about This World Alone can be found here: thisworldalone.com
This World Alone social media: @thisworldalonefilm
Also, we’re putting out a podcast about the making of This World Alone and the lessons we learned… but it doesn’t exist officially yet so, um, you’ll just have to keep an ear out for it. Whoops!
My personal website, jordan-noel.com , that I forget I have so I rarely update/manage it. Again, whoops! Expect a couple broken links and missing videos. A very wise and successful artist friend once told me: “If you have time to make yourself a website it’s because you aren’t working.” Or something like that. Honestly, he probably said it way better than that — but the gist stuck with me nonetheless. I ended up having time to make a website at some point anyway. I guess I didn’t have any work. But now I don’t have time to update it. I’ll shut up now.
Rooney’s World: https://www.amazon.com/Rooneys-World-Anna-Cate-Donelan/dp/B018AQJ2F4
Little Francis: https://littlefrancis.bandcamp.com/releases
Four Friends Fight About Film: http://thebrothersray.com/podcast
TGG: Thank you so much for the great responses!
JN: Yeehaw! Thank you again! This was fun.
1 thought on “Hamish Downie’s Five Questions With Jordan Noel”
Thank you Hamish and team for this opportunity to speak at length about myself (ha!), collaborators, and other thoughts! I appreciate you. Keep being awesome!