Sound Stories #30 – The Life of an LA Filmmaker

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    Filmmaking offers tremendous opportunities for expression, but it also presents intense challenges.

    Noam Kroll is a Los Angeles-based, award-winning Film and Commercial Director, and founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. He discusses how he got his start, moved to L.A., landed some of the world’s biggest brands as clients, and continues to ‘do it all,’ by creating films for both his clients, and for himself.

    Noam Kroll: http://noamkroll.com/
    Creative Rebellion: http://www.creativerebellion.com/
    Show Don’t Tell Podcast: itms://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/show-dont-tell/id1228448011

    TRANSCRIPTION SOUND STORIES #030

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Hi there. And welcome to another episode of Sound Stories, an inspirational podcast for creative professionals and storytellers who want to improve their lives at home and at work. I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli, your host and co founder of Voices.com

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    As a storytelling format, filmmaking offers tremendous opportunities for expression, but it also presents intense challenges to those who are bringing the narratives together. And then added on top of all that, the ups and downs are the other creative struggles for those who work in film, specifically the struggle to balance the need to produce work that’s commercially viable along with the desire to use the medium for creative expression.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Noam Kroll is a Los Angeles-based, award-winning, film and commercial director and founder of the Boutique Production House, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals on network television and in various publications across the globe. Passionate about sharing his knowledge with other filmmakers, whether they’re beginning or established Noam is also a prolific content creator and educator.

    Noam Kroll:

    I was always kind of interested in film from a young age. It’s kind of the typical story. I guess, a lot of people that are doing this will say they were always tinkering around with cameras and this and that. And I always, I was always just shooting little films. And I guess around 21, 22, I just started to kind of realize that it was possible to actually make a living making content. At that point, I hadn’t quite made that jump to working more on narrative projects other than if it was just a personal kind of fun project for myself. But as far as seeing a path to just have a career and make a living, I saw a lot of opportunities for freelancing jobs and just ways that I could actually take a camera and editing software and do all this stuff that I’m already doing, kind of as a hobby and actually make a living doing it.

    Noam Kroll:

    So it started off very much as almost an experiment to see, this didn’t really feel like a real job to me. So how long can I kind of do that on a freelance level? I realized that the entrepreneurial side of me also wanted to have my own production company. So not just be kind of a gun for hire to go and shoot and edit something, but actually to have a production company. So that’s where Creative Rebellion started. There’s a lot of business in the art and there’s a lot of art in the way that you do business. So I think there’s a ton of crossover there. And honestly it just gives me so much satisfaction as a filmmaker who struggled to kind of learn the ropes as I was starting to help other people along the way and see them reach their goals as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Part of that kind of why you’re doing what you’re doing must have really inspired the work that you’ve done and helped you to get the attention of bigger brands to attract them to work with you. So what is it that you do differently that helps you to get those bigger clients?

    Noam Kroll:

    You know what? I think it’s evolved over the years. I think in the early days, what it was was just doing things in a way that is not only hopefully creatively on par with what they’re looking for or exceeding their expectations, but also being able to do it financially in a way that is affordable and that is kind of a no brainer. Because at the end of the day, if you want to work with a client, no matter how big or how small they are, budgets are always a concern. And if you are able to deliver the quality that matches or exceeds what that client is looking for and do it at a price that is significantly less than what they expect to be paying, from my experience, they’re going to take a chance on you. And that kind of mentality has really been something that I’ve always to this day, I really still try to employ with all of my projects.

    Noam Kroll:

    And if we’re bidding on a job, what is the angle that we can bring that someone else is not bringing? And oftentimes that has been a result of my experience or my team’s experience that I work with, our background in film and in narrative productions. Because for instance, if you’re doing a corporate spot, most corporate video companies kind of have, and I can’t say all, there’s some really great ones out there, but a lot of them have a very kind of set kind of formula that they work with and from a budget level, on a creative level and it works for them. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    Noam Kroll:

    But when we would come in, we’ll say, “Look, we may not have done a ton of videos in your exact space, but we’ve done cinematic projects that are not only commercials, but also film work. And we’re going to bring a lot of that, which is traditionally, at least considered to be a little bit of a different tier of production work from a crew’s standpoint and production value standpoint. We’re going to bring that to this much smaller project or this corporate project or this commercial.” So I think on the creative side, that’s been definitely one of the keys.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Wow, you sound really organized. I don’t know you very well, but from what I’m hearing, there’s a lot of lean kind of like you’ve planned to be very efficient, but you’re also using your creative skills to make something that might be a smaller production to kind of give the impression that it is a much larger one in terms of its production values and just the way that you go about it. So in that same vein Noam, can you tell us about one memorable project or perhaps it was something that you remember about the way that you became the artist that you are now that you might want to talk about?

    Noam Kroll:

    Sure. So probably the most memorable project that I can think of is by far the least glamorous, the projects I’m least proud of to show anybody today, but it’s memorable because I learned the most from it. And it was one of the very first jobs I ever did, which also happened to be a TV commercial. And it was a local again, this was still while I was living in Canada in Toronto, it was a local commercial for a health food company. And it was the first time I got to direct something that was actually going to be on TV. It was again, that may sound cool and great, which it very much was at the time, but in retrospect it was not, we’re not talking a Superbowl commercial. This was very much a local market spot. But it was just so rewarding because for the first time I actually got to see that I could work on something that is going to be broadcast.

    Noam Kroll:

    And just having that kind of mentality when you’re working on a project for the first time, it really just changes the way that you feel and the way that you realize that your work can reach people. And I think when you have that understanding, it shifts the work itself. So every shot that you frame, every choice that is made from a creative standpoint, you know that at least to me, it had that much more importance to it because it was going to reach a real audience.

    Noam Kroll:

    And a lot of the things that I did over the years from a practical standpoint, I learned on that shoot. We did everything from working with my first rental house to my first green screen shoot, understanding how to pull a key, which means removing the green screen and post, scheduling and doing a shot list, all this stuff that now I kind of do day-to-day on projects, I’d never done any of that before. So it was really a great learning experience to have to do it on a professional level. And I remember we rented the camera. It was a really cool at the time, one of the first HD cameras that you could get and we had it all weekend and we had to shoot just one day. So I ended up shooting a bunch of stuff with a friend of mine, little experimental, short film on this side. So that was kind of a nice bonus too.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    I love how that initial experience taught you so much about what actually goes into the process and everything you just listed. I can only imagine how and how nerve-racking and how much pressure you must have felt too, to know that, “My work is going to be watched by real people. It’s going to be on TV.” But as the time has gone on, and certainly as your client list has expanded, no doubt you’ve had even bigger opportunities to shine on TV or film or whatever it might be. Can you tell us about a more recent project that you’ve been working on where you’ve had the opportunity to showcase your work in front of the greater audience?

    Noam Kroll:

    Sure. So I think two that come to mind where we did a project with Google, which was a lot of fun and they came down from, we’re in Los Angeles, they came down from Silicon Valley and we did a shoot with them. And that was just really great to work in that world a little bit. Because I have some other clients in the tech space, but I’d never worked with a client as large as Google. I’ve had some other very big companies I’ve worked with, but there’s certainly, I guess, one of the largest in the world now. So it was a really kind of crazy experience just to work with them and understand how their different teams and departments work. And that was just in itself as just in terms of an experience and in a client building relationship and all of that, it was really, really great.

    Noam Kroll:

    And then this year, one of the highlights commercial wise was a project we did for NBC Universal. So they wanted to do an ad campaign for one of their networks. They’re actually what’s called channel IDs, which are the little like 15 second tags to kind of promote a network. And they wanted to do them in a really full blown way where it was really stylized and there was a lot of different IDs that they wanted to create. And because they were going to be broadcast internationally, they had to have a really a high amount of production value, but had to also be very much on brand with what they were doing creatively on the network, which is it’s the type of network that shows a lot of CSI and crime scene kind of shows. So we ended up shooting these really cool, beautiful, little vignettes that were stylized, so they could actually look like they would have almost been in one of these shows that they’re airing.

    Noam Kroll:

    And it was just really fun because normally when I’m shooting something, especially on the film level, I’ll shoot 10 pages of material a day, which if people don’t come from a production production background, that is a lot of material in a day, whereas on this we’re shooting for 15 seconds, we have four days to shoot this content. So it was really an amazing experience just to let it breathe and to see, what can we do when we’re not jamming as much as we can into a crazy 12 hour day? And instead we’re going to get a lot of really, really great content, but we have so much time to do it. So again, creatively, that was a lot of fun and they were just such a great client to work with as well.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Well, fantastic. And all the work that you’re doing, even though it might be fun and rewarding, nothing worth doing ever comes easy, right Noam? So in your line of work, what would you consider to be the most challenging part and how do you deal with it?

    Noam Kroll:

    Well, I think the most challenging part is sticking to it and this is coming from the film side. So we’ve been talking a lot about the advertising and creative side, but for me personally, as much as I love doing kind of work and will continue to do that for the foreseeable future, my main focus creatively speaking and for the long-term is on content creation, so writing and directing narrative feature films. So that everything else that I do really is in support of that. So whether it’s doing a commercial, running a blog, having a podcast, all of that is to allow me to continue to make films and that’s just kind of part of the same continuum. So I think speaking from that point of view as a filmmaker, the hardest part is just sticking to it and finding a way to kind of make it work because there’s so many talented people that I’ve met over the years who have kind of, I guess you could say, stopped, just stopped doing what they were doing or shifted or moved into a totally different industry and essentially have given up.

    Noam Kroll:

    Not because they weren’t talented enough, but just because the grind of having to kind of do everything, do a lot yourself and just do so much stuff that is not really what you want to be doing day-to-day, but you have to do. You just have to be kind of willing to deal with all of the little nuances of running a business while you’re also being creative and sticking to it over the long haul while people are telling you to some degree, either directly or indirectly that it’s not good enough for maybe you should try something else.

    Noam Kroll:

    So I think the number one advice I always give to filmmakers that are just starting out is just keep doing it because 90% of the people that you know are going to quit within five years. So if you’re the one that keeps doing it, you’re just going to keep getting better and better and better. And you’re going to prove nobody’s perfect when they start, but you’re going to keep improving and you’re going to keep forging new relationships and new connections. So if you can crack that code of how do you stick to it on your own terms and it’s different for everybody, then I think you’re going to be in good shape.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Well, I love that. A lot of life is just showing up or in this case being persistent, right? So, and as you just mentioned Noam, your work tends to fall into the two buckets. And commercial work we’ve talked a lot about, but you have this real love for filmmaking and it comes across in your own personal website that is separate from Creative Rebellion and in the kind of the work that you do to help educate other people. So I’m just curious here, you have two areas that you love to work in. They may overlap a bit, but they could be different in other ways. So how is it that you can mentally make the switch from being Noam, the commercial producer and Noam, the artistic filmmaker?

    Noam Kroll:

    Well, I think one thing I’ve learned over the years, just I think it was actually Robert Rodriguez that said this. So I’m kind of maybe stealing it to a degree from him, but he said this and he’s for anyone listening that doesn’t know him, he’s a very well known filmmaker and got his start making very famously, making a movie for $7,000 in 1992, and nobody had ever done that and it blew up at Sundance. And I really admire his work ethic because he works exceptionally hard, but he also does things kind of his own way and he kind of blazes his own path. And I think one of the things probably that I learned from him recently is that when you’re a creative person, really, that comes before everything else that you do. So it doesn’t really matter if one day you’re wearing the hat of a producer, one day you’re the CEO or one day you’re the director, or you’re the PA, or you’re the craft services, person cooking lunch for everybody.

    Noam Kroll:

    It’s just what satisfies a creative mind is being able to exercise their creativity. So I get just as much satisfaction at the end of the day, taking my guitar and strumming a few chords on it as I do directing a scene or producing something with a client. It all kind of comes from the same part of the brain and at least how I feel. And I think that making that switch from one to the other, I think a lot of it, doing it successfully, often comes down to not really looking at it as making a switch and just looking at it as I’m still doing the same thing, I’m still being creative, I’m still solving problems and I’m still creating opportunities to be creative and to make art. But now I’m just funneling that energy into a different challenge or a different problem.

    Noam Kroll:

    And in my previous years, I’d made the mistake of really drawing a line in the sand and saying, “You know what? Today I’m only going to work on a commercial job. I’m going to produce, I’m going to think about the bottom line. I’m going to do this, that,” and that’s just not really how I work best. I can’t speak for everybody else because I’m only one person kind of giving my advice on this but for me, I find that to enjoy anything I need to find the creativity in it. So as long as I’m being creative, then it’s sort of an effortless transition between writing a feature film script or sitting in a client session editing a commercial.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    That reminds me of something I recently read. It was a actually in David Ogilvy’s book, Confessions of an Advertising Man. And something that he said was that if you’re going to make something, then you really have to love it and believe it for it to come across authentically. And so are you able to work on a project that you aren’t passionate about? Can you still be a creative professional when that work that you’re doing is commercially viable, but your heart’s just not in it?

    Noam Kroll:

    Well, that’s a really great question. And I guess the short answer is no, I couldn’t do that if it was a film project, because that is what I consider to be just the artwork that I do. And I would want the integrity behind that to be something that reflects what I’m passionate about, what I believe in and what I love as a creative person. However, 95% of what I work on is not passion projects. So these are commercials, these are branded content pieces, things like that. I can absolutely tap into that kind of creative energy without having to love it to the same degree that I would on a film. And I think that’s for two reasons, the first being, I’m not thinking of it as part of a kind of a body of work of. I’m still relatively early on in my career who knows what will happen with my film work in the coming years or not.

    Noam Kroll:

    But on my own terms, however many people see the films that I make I still want to make sure that I’m happy with them and that they represent what I wanted to say and that they’re meaningful stories. Even if I may not be passionate to the same degree about that commercial or whatever it may be. I may not love it to the same amount that I’m going to love a film project. I’ll still love the creative process. And that is where I can put on another hat and say, “Oh, let’s just be a creative problem solver,” as opposed to if I’m thinking of it through a directorial lens and an artistic lens exclusively, then that comes with a little bit more of a challenge for me personally in terms of having to really love something and commit to it. So again, I hope that makes sense. I know it’s a little ambiguous.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah, well, the authenticity does shine through and of course you’ll be far more invested in something that speaks to you personally, right? Like be it, that piece of commercial work may actually speak to personally depending on what it is and the brand that you’re representing. And I know that you dedicate a lot of your time and energy to helping others to kind of discover who they are as creatives and especially those who are working in film to help them to get better at their craft. So just a question to you here Noam, but what motivates you to extend yourself in this way, through your blog and your podcast?

    Noam Kroll:

    Well, I’ll tell you it’s changed also over the years. What motivates me now is knowing that from a selfish perspective, that it actually, as much as it benefits other people, it benefits me as well. And I’ll explain why. And it’s obviously my first and foremost goal with my blog is to educate other people, but I’ve realized over the years, how much when, it’s kind of a cliche thing to say, but when you do help other people and you help educate them, it really just the, whatever you want to call it, the karmic effect of that does come back and it gives you a lot of joy and pleasure to help other people. And it also from a practical standpoint has a lot of great advantages in terms of just meeting people and building a network and building a fan base for audiences.

    Noam Kroll:

    But when I first started, I didn’t really think that way or understand any of that to be completely honest. I was moving to Los Angeles at the time that I started my blog and I’ve wanted to live here essentially my entire life. And didn’t really know anybody here. Me and my wife were moving here together. Other than each other, we pretty much didn’t know anybody. So I thought a blog would be a really great way of just getting my name out there a little bit as I’m meeting more people. If you Google me something will come up. There was some kind of online presence just to at least compensate for the fact that at a whatever age I was, 27 years old, I was going to be moving to a new city and starting fresh, not knowing anybody.

    Noam Kroll:

    So that was how it started. But then a few years into it, I started realizing, “Why do I keep doing this?” At that point, I wasn’t selling any products or monetizing it at all. I was just, “Why do I keep doing this?” And I realized, I just really enjoyed, again it’s sounds not selfish, but it’s kind of selfish, but I enjoyed sharing with other people because I felt a personal satisfaction in that. And I also learned so much along the way by sharing with them and answering their questions and having to do research myself and expand my own knowledge. And I’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities come from that on a business level too. So it’s just been very full circle.

    Noam Kroll:

    And I listened to interviews with a lot of CEOs and business leaders, I read a lot of books on entrepreneurship and one of the most common threads that I see with really, really successful people in business is that they spend a lot of their time, effort and even money giving to other people because they understand that that is a very cyclical thing. And that it’s just kind of part of the equation and hopefully if I continue to grow in my career, I know there’s no question that I’ll always continue to give back in any way that I am possibly able to.

    Noam Kroll:

    Probably the most important thing that I try to drill home in so many different ways on my blog is just how do you actually go from having this kind of dream or goal of making a movie to making that film? And I still do sometimes do some blogging on more technical stuff like cameras or color correction or that kind of stuff, because it is practical and people seem to enjoy that. But what I get the most joy from and what I’m kind of, I guess, is most in line with my ideology and mentality right now is just the notion of how do you make something if you don’t have any resources, experience or money, but you have this big goal of making a movie?

    Noam Kroll:

    It seems like this impossible thing. How can you do it on your own terms with no resources, with no money? And how do you just become resourceful and make it happen for yourself, regardless of how many people want to tell you that you’re not allowed to or able to do that? So I think that’s kind of the broad topic that I really love to explore in many different ways.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah. Getting started as a filmmaker or getting started in filmmaking, what is one storytelling technique that you can’t do without? And why?

    Noam Kroll:

    I think from a technical level, one of the things I really like to focus on is I guess what I would call sort of the art of coverage. So when you’re shooting a film or a commercial or anything, coverage essentially refers to all the shots that are not your main shot. So if you have a shot of two actors sitting at a table having a conversation, you might have what’s called a master shot of that scene that just is a wide angle of the whole thing happening, but then your coverage would be the closeups of each actor or the coffee being put down or the check being signed or whatever it may be. And that coverage, finding a lot of different techniques for how to use coverage effectively is something that, it may sound a little dry, but it’s actually really exciting for me because it’s what I think separates a lot of the films and the work, even commercial work, that is shot and directed in a really, really unique way. And that just grabs your attention as opposed to something that you can kind of go either way on.

    Noam Kroll:

    So I think on the practical end really just honing that craft of understanding coverage. And on the process end, making sure that you have a good mechanism to get those stories written and shaped in the way that you want them to ultimately appear.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Well, thank you. That’s all brilliant. Now I’m sure others are wondering, and certainly I am, but how is it that you stay inspired? Where do you derive just kind of, I guess, inspiration or the fire in your belly from, and also, could you give us some examples of books or works that you’ve consumed that have helped you on this journey?

    Noam Kroll:

    Sure. Well, I think it comes somewhat from within, I think most creative people, it’s sort of hard to put your finger on where it comes from, but there’s just something, this nagging feeling that’s always like, “You’re not working on something creative now, why not? What should you be working on?” And I don’t know where that comes from. I think it’s just something that many of us probably have to some extent. But I think in terms of going a step further, because there are certainly days where I’m just discouraged or tired or don’t want to work on something. And I think where I find the inspiration in those moments is certainly first and foremost, just other films. If I just put on a really, really great film that inspires me, nothing is more powerful to me and my process than doing that.

    Noam Kroll:

    And I most recently have found that in older films, so classic films or foreign films, specifically French cinema, the French new wave is a really, really big influence on myself. And the way that I love how they again, kind of broke the rules and had this very, almost in its day, sort of punk rock attitude to how they made movies, totally broke the rules and changed the face of cinema forever. And that still exists in French cinema today. So I think, I can go and watch a film like Breathless from 1960 and that will inspire me any day of the week.

    Noam Kroll:

    And then, yeah, and then there’s always books. So I mentioned Robert Rodriguez before, but he has a book called Rebel Without a Crew. And it feels like he just, everything he is saying, it just resonates with how I feel as a filmmaker about just doing it. Don’t worry what anyone says or thinks, just figure out a way to do it. And you just see him actually through this series of journal entries that are his real journal entries when he made his first film, you see how he crafted this, really this masterpiece when he was like 23 years old. So those are great.

    Noam Kroll:

    And then there’s podcasts. Every day, I either sometimes multiple, but I either watch a movie, listen to podcasts on screenwriting or filmmaking and try to read something. So it’s a kind of a combination of all of that.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Well, you think of it, it’s like a smorgasbord almost. You’re going to take a little from that column, a little from that one and it really does in certain ways, take a village of media to raise or to keep an artist, a creative person inspired and motivated. So thank you for sharing some of those go tos. I’m sure everyone’s going to be Googling Breathless to see what that film is like, and if it will help them. And also just podcasts and being able to engage all your senses, you’re watching, listening, reading, etc. So we’ve had such an awesome conversation. I’m so glad that you shared what you did. Now, where can people go to learn more about you?

    Noam Kroll:

    Sure. So my blog is where I’m most active, so no NoamKroll.com. It’s spelled N-O-A-M K-R-O-L-L.com. And I try to post a couple of times a week. I usually post one article on there per week on filmmaking. And I do a podcast every Thursday. I also do a newsletter on Sunday where I send content that doesn’t exist on my blog. So if anyone’s interested in filmmaking tips and advice, you can sign up for that also in my site. And my company site is CreativeRebellion.com. And I think that’s it. Social media, it’s just, it’s easy. If you can figure out how to spell my name, it’s easy. N-O-A-M K-R-O-L-L. I’m on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. So I think that sums it up.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being with us today, Noam.

    Noam Kroll:

    Thank you so much. This was so much fun.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Thank you for joining us for this episode of Sound Stories. If you like what you heard, you can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening. We hope to have you back for our next episode of Sound Stories.

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    Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Voices.com. Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.

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