Interview: Walter Woodman, Patrick Cederberg & Matthew Kinch of Noah
Three college aged friends created the splendidly unique 17 minute short film which takes place entirely on a teenager’s computer screen. The audience is essentially looking over the shoulder of Noah the whole time, watching what he says, deletes, and thinks about. Noah explores how quickly relationships can begin and end in a world where communication with anyone is just a simple click away.
We spoke to with the film’s directors and writers about how communication has evolved, online “body language”, Chatroulette, showing characters contemplate over what they might say, the process of building a fake Facebook world, and more.
The film contains an unique way of showing how technology and social media have affected relationships and dating. Can you describe where this idea originally came from?
Patrick: Walter had written a script at the university about a guy named Noah who goes on Chatroulette, but in the second half of the film he leaves that realm and goes out into the real world and finds the girl that that he talked to on Chatroulette. He brought that idea back to us and we discussed how it kind of falls off a little bit once he leaves the computer, [so we thought] why don’t we try to box ourselves and try to tell a story that way. From there it was just a lot of late night discussions about the weird shit we did on the computer as kids and how gross a lot of it was.
It is impressive that with just 17 minutes you guys were able to use several different methods of communication; Facebook interactions, text messages, video chats, and online messaging, how much of the dialog was scripted?
Walter: When the actors first performed the dialog, it felt really, really bad. Especially when we were doing the Skype takes we were getting them down so they were reading the lines as written [in the script] and we thought, “This sucks, it’s really bad.” So we told them, “You know where we are going, you know points A and B, how you get there is completely up to you.” So a lot of the dialog was improvised based off the script. There were certain lines that we felt were pertinent to be in there, but even those often came out better from improvisation than the way I originally wrote them.
We didn’t have much equipment, but when we were carrying sound equipment I made sure that the actors carried the equipment as well because I feel like often times in movies actors are seen sort of as separate from the process. It’s like the talent and then the directors and the crew. What we tried to do is make sure that they had a voice as well. So they could let us know if they thought a line didn’t seem to work. I think if you treat actors with respect they will give you a better performance because they feel like they are actually contributing to the story and not just puppets reciting the words you designed for them.
Speaking of actors, how did you cast your leads?
Patrick: We actually did it all online through the site Mandy.com, which is essentially a Craigslist for actors. We had one day of auditions were we brought in a lot of people for Amy (Noah’s girlfriend) and Lilly (the Chatroulette girl at the end). The second they both came in we were instantly like, “You guys are in.”
Noah was a little more challenging because he was more of an amalgamation of all of our personalities. It is the toughest thing to look one guy and think he would perfectly represent all of us. (laughs) His audition was done over Skype so we could see how the actor would look on a computer screen since he only appears on the screen.
At one point in the film the actor playing Noah picks up a guitar and sings. Was that something that was written into the script and put of the casting process, or just something that was improvised?
Patrick: That’s weird! I never thought of that before. (laughs) The guitar was in the script but we never had him sing during the audition. It was more of a fluke that he came into the process [coincidentally] knowing how to play the guitar.
My favorite part was how the film showed the thought process of someone becoming insecure about losing their girlfriend. The one scene that sticks out the most is when Noah is circling the “Send” button on the page, contemplating whether or not to send the message. It is something that we have all done before.
Matt: Before the film was even written we were having conversations about how communication has evolved over the last 100 years. Right now we have body language and that is such a huge component of how you interpret what I am saying. What is the equivalent to that in the digital world? That hovering with the mouse is a new sort of [non-verbal] communication technique. Another example is when he was texting with his girlfriend and how he did not respond back immediately. If you don’t respond back in a certain amount of time you are actually saying something [just by a lack of response].
The result of the film shows the lack of communication between the two characters in a relationship in a world where communication is literally a click away. Was the intention of the film to show the breakdown of communication?
Walter: A lot of times when computers are used in movies you see what the character is Googling, but our big thing was what if you also saw what they deleted. So you do see what he wrote, but [more importantly] what he didn’t write. Too many times in movies you do not get to see their contemplation actions.
Patrick: This story allows for showing the processing of thinking because it’s easy to do on a computer.
Noah was completely done through screen capturing, how long did it actually take for you guys to do the whole thing?
Patrick: It took a couple months to build the groundwork for the film; building fake Facebook profiles, fake relationships with people. It was actually my Facebook page that became Noah Lennox, so I had a lot of friends ask me, “Who the fuck is this? And why do you have pictures of Patrick?” (laughs) We also had a lot of tertiary characters that played their way in through News Feeds and such.
The second part is when we actually got our actors in and we did the Skype calls and Chatroulette sequence. We did that with a big screen capture and then we edited that in to the final process, which was sitting the apartment doing the actual screen capture and doing the sort of “acting out” of everything that was going on.
So you guys did a lot of the scenes in real-time then?
Walter: Patrick and I each had a smartphone and three or four laptops open that were dedicated to each character. So I would be Amy, Dillon and Kanye then we would have one computer that was screen capturing. It took us a couple nights to get it down perfectly takes as Patrick created a step-by-step process.
Patrick: Yeah, a step-by-step script for each of us on what to do and when to send messages. It went pretty smooth, I was expect that part to be a weekend process.
Walter: There are some happy accidents in there too. Actually, one of them happens to be one of my favorite moments in the film. Something I would not think anyone would notice, but Amy’s face is seen the picture in Noah’s wallpaper of the desktop and Patrick just so happened to extend the screen over just because it didn’t look good, so he ended up extending to over her face [on accident]. It worked out great because it is like Noah did not want to look at her so he covers her up.
How did you guys handle the randomness of Chatroulette? In case some of our readers do not know what Chatroulette is, it is a site that randomly pair with people around the world that are equipped with webcams. Conversations vary in length as you can easily skip to another random person. Because of the amount of inappropriate content, it is also known as dickroulette.
Walter: With the Chatroulette videos it was basically us just asking our friends to open up their laptops and pretend as if they were actually on Chatroulette.
All of those clips of Chatroulette were of your friends?!
Walter: We cannot legally say which ones were our friends and which were not.
Patrick: Some of our friends are dicks. (laughs)
(laughs) Well, our readers can interpret that however they would like. Since winning the Best Canadian Short Film at the Toronto International Film Festival and continuing the festival circuit, have you guys had any time to think about your next project?
Patrick: It is kind of precarious to bring up because nobody wants to hear it from filmmakers, but we are making an album. We are all in a band together.
Walter: We are doing that and we have a couple ideas that we have signed a company called Anonymous Content.
Patrick: Music videos and commercials are definitely areas where we would like to sharpen skillsets in a little more.