The Influence and Determination Behind Benjamin Noah’s Newfoundland Gothic Film
Orson Welles once said, “a writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.”
Those wise words from the legend of screen and stage resonate well with one of Newfoundland’s most promising and determined pathfinding filmmakers, Benjamin Noah. Noah is currently ploughing toward post-production of his ambitious second short film, New Woman, a gothic romance set in Newfoundland four years before the Great Fire of 1892.
While he is now quite familiar with the process of drafting an army, Benjamin Noah has wanted to make films long before he even knew how films were made.
“When you are a kid and you don’t understand the complex machine that is a film set, you assume the guy on screen is doing everything,” Noah explained. “So I remember watching 80’s action movies when I was 8 and thinking I wanted to be the guy smashing through a window of a high rise.”
At some point, a young and budding cinephile will let that VHS tape play till the end, and eventually they’ll even start paying attention to the credits.
“I remember seeing ‘a Michael Mann film’ at the end of Heat and realizing there was someone making these films as a whole,” Noah said. “Pacino and Deniro were the guys in the painting, Michael Mann must be the guy painting the picture.”
Noah recalls when he first grasped what a director like Mann had to tackle to create a film like Heat: “the composition, the colour palette, the production design, the camera movements and lenses, the sound design, the music”.
Noah was 12 when he first caught a hint that “a filmmaker needs an army”, but he didn’t step onto a film set until the age of 25.
A Base Coat of Influence
Before moving pictures are painted, there is usually a base coat of influence that primes the canvas for strokes of creativity to flourish.
During the formative years of young and zealous independent film study, Noah felt a lasting impression from the works of specific directors, and found himself leaning toward distinctive filmmakers that “had a particular feel to their films”.”
“You see a Kubrick movie, there is no way someone else directed that. Same goes with Sam Peckinpah and Alfred Hitchcock,” Noah said. “Everything Coppola made in the seventies is strikingly impressive: The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, Godfather 1 and 2.”
For an expansive list of Benjamin Noah’s cinematic influences, find an appendage at the bottom of this page.
It is evident that Noah revels in the old class of “New Hollywood”, or the “American New Wave”, an era of filmmaking that emerged in the mid 1960s where the director took on an authorial role.
“The late sixties/seventies was a time when the director had final cut, not the producer. It just made for so many great films with rich, complex stories and characters,” Noah explained. “They felt more like art than just entertainment and there was lots of grit and grime.”
Noah makes a conscious note that “films of that style that are made today usually don’t fare so well at the box office”, and is fully aware that the sought after products of modern cinema are “big loud 3D blockbusters”, a production approach that Noah believes can give a film a cold and synthetic feeling.
Though there are always exceptions, noted by Noah is his admiration for the work of Christopher Nolan and Denis Villneuves, and their approach to “the blockbuster”, his focus is on the art of storytelling in a manner that may feel lost on today’s moviegoer.
“With most new films I always ask ‘where’s the composition?’ The imagery doesn’t seem to mean much, they feel more like video games to me,” Noah said.
“The art is all gone in most movies that make big money now.”
Benjamin Noah’s passion for the filmmaking process eventually transformed from a fervent interest into a viable career. Since entering the industry, Noah has worked in assistant directing and the camera assisting departments on feature films, TV shows, music videos, short films and web series’ such as Braven, Closet Monster, The Manor and Frontier.
“Once I got my first paycheque to be there I knew there was no turning back,” Noah said.
While work has been plentiful in Newfoundland & Labrador’s film industry these past few years, it was the conception of Ark Film and the no-budget directorial debut of Sundays that has really kept Noah’s creative flame flickering.
“Ark Film originated when I came back from living in Asia,” Noah explained. “The definition of Ark is a vessel to protect from extinction. Good movies will never be extinct, but I wanted to start pushing the envelope in my home in terms of independent filmmaking, specifically venturing into genre filmmaking not often tackled, especially without funding.”
Noah completed his first short film, Sundays, in 2015 without funding. The film was financed on Noah’s bar tending tips. It has since screened in 50 film festivals around the world.
New Woman, much like Sundays, has been largely self-funded, though the budget of executing a gothic period piece with the necessary attention to detail has proved to be much more burdensome.
“Financing the film was basically all of my savings and a big credit card. I’m paying off the final expenses from production this month [and] then I have to come up with more cash for post-production,” Noah said. “I worked two jobs on Frontier and with Key Assets as a youth care worker over the winter.”
“I had one independent investor and a couple small grants show up after we finished shooting. I think word of mouth travelled. 85% came out of my pocket, but to have anyone give me money to pursue my artistic interests is such a gift.”
Navigating Gothic Grounds
For New Woman, Noah wanted to tap into the dark stylings of 19th century gothic fiction, citing influence from some of the era’s classics such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
“I love all that stuff,” Noah said. “So much depth and there’s a richness to the language.”
Every element to the production of New Woman is dripping with unadulterated cinephile affection. Noah admits his creative process is like concocting an “expansive stew” of cinematic influence, but he is quick to point out, “if you love movies, you can’t help it.”
“I wanted to take a note from Kubrick’s book in 1978 and mix that style with Coppola’s Dracula . And then meld that with Immortal Beloved and From Hell,” Noah said, breaking down some of the reference points of his latest creation. “Chop those up and throw it in a bowl with James Whale’s Universal classics of the 1930’s,The Bride of Frankenstein, The Old Dark House… Then switch it all up with whatever style I bring to the table.”
While combing the vivid fundamentals of precisely picked cinematic direction — “the production design of Whale’s films, Kubrick’s camera movements and composition, the music from period dramas like Amadeus and Barry Lyndon” — it may have been the sheer magnitude of research involved in the historical accuracy of the time period that undertook much of Noah’s time and energy.
“I did a great deal of research: speaking to historians, sitting in libraries, making sure every little thing I was putting in there was as accurate as humanly possible,” Noah explained. “It’s a fascinating point in history and there’s an art to the time period itself.”
As with every laboursome task involved in building a picture of this weight from the ground up, the painstaking challenges are most effectively endured when they’re accepted as a part of the same process that Noah fell in love with many moons ago.
As one challenge comes to close, another obstacle imminently appears.
With New Woman shot and in the can, the next mountain for Noah and Ark Film to climb sits dauntingly in the stages of post-production.
“Post for this film is an expensive process as I have a great deal of ambitions therein,” Noah said. “Don’t worry, I don’t mean computer graphics. 99% of the effects are practical.”
While staying committed to “going old school”, Noah is buckling down for a post-production affair that includes cutting and mixing the film, as well as incorporating the sound track and title cards. After that will come the cost of introducing New Woman to the festival circuit. “It’s a lot,” Noah acknowledged of the steps that lay ahead.
“I have very high hopes for this movie,” Noah expressed. “I wouldn’t dedicate 2 years of my life and stop traveling otherwise.”
Benjamin Noah’s Ark Film has launched a kickstarter campaign to try and drum up the final expenditures to see New Woman to its completion. With a goal of $2,700 by Thursday, May 10th, Noah is reaching out to the generosity of his peers, his pals and the public to help ease the burden of finalizing his predominantly self-funded vision. If the goal isn’t met, not a cent raised can be received.
“I believe in this film,” Noah stated. “Our first campaign kind of bombed, but that was in the middle of Christmas, so I’m sending out the good vibes to the universe to help us finish strong on the second attempt.”
Despite whatever the fundraising outcome may be, it is Noah’s meticulous work ethic and sheer determination that will remain the enduring force through any imminent obstacles that rear their heads.
Most importantly, Noah is aware of the importance of those who stood by his vision. It was the team — the cast and crew, the family — that helped hoist his creative ambitions and aspirations over every hurdle, and through the mud of every trench.
For the cause of New Woman, Noah luckily found the army that Mr. Welle’s spoke of.
Before casting the striking onscreen talents of Rhiannon Morgan and Stephen O. Oates, it was a collaboration between Noah and author C.H. Newell that laid the groundwork for the project.
The production process also enrolled a sturdy band of cohorts who supported the project to unmeasurable lengths.
Ben Noah boasts the effort of the cast and crew, and pridefully insists that they get their adequate due.
“The talented Troy Maher, director of photography; the ever-helpful Andrea Dunne, assistant director; Hilary Thompson, my production designer who did an incredible job; the awesome Jennifer Hawley and the very special Sarah Maher, production manager and co-ordinator respectively; wordsmith C.H. Newell, writer; Conrad Layden, the great gaffer; Colin Merdoy, key grip,” Noah vaunted through his roster.
In addition to “a fantastic crew”, Noah was sure to acknowledge the help of “friends, family, and Newfoundland”.
“Movies are strange because you develop all these great work relationships and then once pre-production ends, some relationships end,” Noah said. “Then production ends and some more relationships end. It’s kind of sad.”
“Luckily a lot of my crew are my friends and I keep them in the loop because they want to be there through it all,” Noah said. “I want it to be a family, so I will keep them around and be loyal to them, because they’ve been loyal to me while I had nothing to offer, just a dream. I’m nothing without my crew.”
It is the collective spirit that can carry an individual’s dream, and elevate a concept into a work of art.
“I still get shocked that people are crazy enough to follow me on these ‘quests’,” Noah remarked. “It’s a team effort. I’m also very proud of the fact that we had a near equal amount of men and women on this film.”
Benjamin Noah’s headstrong and unflinching pursuit of fulfilling a cinematic vision and purpose is a testament to the true spirit of independent filmmaking in Newfoundland & Labrador. If one sentiment can survive the production of Sundays and New Woman, may it be that the sweat equity of your passion can pay off, and when it successfully trumps the odds, the finished product that you strive for feels all the more richer.
“I hope some young people read this and decide to just take a chance on themselves.”
In our conversation with Benjamin Noah, we dove deep into his artistic influences. While inquiring about the impressionable films that fuelled his commitment to create, Noah provided us with a laundry list of diverse titles. We decided to append the spiel as a reference guide to Noah’s cinematic spectrum.
“Big films that impacted me as a filmmaker just off the top of my head right now : Unforgiven, The Fountain, Goldeneye, Casino Royale, Lawrence of Arabia , True Romance, Solaris (Tarkovsky), Kundun, Into The Wild, The Wild Bunch, The Last Of The Mohicans, Seven, The Master, Excalibur, El Cid, Pan’s Labyrinth, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Rosemary’s Baby, Serpico, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Batman (Tim Burton), The Fly, Wyatt Earp, Marathon Man, Menace II Society, The Pusher Trilogy, Michael Collins, Blade Runner, A Beautiful Mind, The Innocents (1961), Vanilla Sky, On The Waterfront, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Big Sleep, I could go on and on. There ARE also some real important films that I have only been able to stomach a couple times maximum. 12 Years a Slave, Requiem for a dream. Important films. But you can’t just chuck on Requiem after a 14 hour shift for a laugh.”