We recently interviewed filmmaker, Michelle Noland, about her journey into the land of creative discovery. It is fascinating to see how God leads each person.
Editor – Michelle, you studied film in college and have been interested in producing media for a while. Tell us when you first realized you had an interest in this, and what motivated you to go in this direction.
Michelle – My career as a filmmaker began when I was around eight years old. I didn’t know it at the time. I had plans to become a veterinarian so I could play with all the adorable baby bunny rabbits and puppies I could find. Real important business for an 8-year-old girl, you know? My older brother, Jonathan, who was turning 10 at the time, wasn’t into bunny rabbits much. For his birthday, all he wanted was a camcorder. So that’s exactly what he got. Little did I know that his constant experimentation with film would include me as the star of all his projects. The casting made sense—my availability and willingness to go unpaid fit perfectly with a 10-year-old’s budget and resources. Even my parents, grandparents, and cousin got in on the action. It was a lot of fun.
My parents were creative people, traveling the US and Canada performing music, building products from scratch, and drawing beautiful pictures. They always encouraged my creativity, although at times, they may have had some doubts about how lucrative a career making films would be. They never pushed their own agenda on my life in terms of a job. But with the dawning of YouTube and Social Media, content creation became less of a risk financially and more of a reality for me (I think my parents felt the same way).
As my brother and I became teenagers, our filmmaking also advanced. With green screens, professional editing software, and a High Definition camera, we explored new possibilities as filmmakers. My brother began to learn animation, and I found my niche as a producer and writer. At this time, we began attending Whittier Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and the members there were quick to discover the work my brother and I were capable of doing.
The Youth Department commissioned us to create some promotional materials for an upcoming youth rally and Resurrection Service. After completing these short films and seeing the audience’s reaction, something clicked inside of me. I realized then how powerful storytelling through film could be and began to wonder if this is what I was meant to do all along. I was, in fact, doing this all along anyway. Why not get paid for it? The thought both scared and excited me.
In March of 2013, I took my first film class at La Sierra University. It felt like the stars had aligned. The Film Department had just launched at the beginning of the school year, and I was ready to start my journey as a first-generation college student towards obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree in Film & Television Production.
Since then, I’ve graduated with two award-winning short films, a PBS deal, and over 15 official selections in various film festivals worldwide. I’ve traveled around the US and Canada, shooting interviews for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists’ web series, “I Am A Steward.” I’ve worked on Loma Linda Church’s feature film, “Melody,” and was an assistant editor for a short film featuring Oscar-winning actress Melissa Leo, all while being a freelance filmmaker for various non-profit and for-profit organizations throughout California. I currently co-host a storytelling podcast with my husband, Jesús, called “The Musty Creative”—where we share the journeys of other creatives with the world.
There were so many people in my life who encouraged me to pursue film, who believed in my talents and my passion. Without those voices telling me I could do something so creative, yet meaningful with my life, I don’t know if I would have fully committed to it. My insecurities often told me the opposite. But having that community of people who knew I could do great things made all the difference for me, and in turn, I helped make a difference with my films and writing for others.
“And when all those people
Believe in you
And strong enough
Believe in you
And long enough
It stands to reason
You yourself will start to see
What everybody sees in you
And maybe even you
(maybe even you)
Can believe in you, too.” – The Muppets (Yes, I did just quote The
Editor – That’s an exciting story. I’m glad you had parents who didn’t try to dampen your enthusiasm for the arts. We’re eager to see your evolution as a writer and producer. Now that you’ve made it this far, what advice can you give to kids graduating from high school who are thinking about getting into film?
Michelle – If you are serious about pursuing filmmaking, I would strongly suggest that you start making some films with whatever equipment and resources you have as soon as possible. Reach out to other people who have similar interests in film or art and collaborate with them. Experimentation is the best way to learn, and if you have others to create with, you can learn from their experiences.
Once you get some films completed, you can begin creating a reel of your work to show others when asking to be a part of their projects or when you apply for a job. A reel is a great way to quickly show off your skills to someone who has never seen your work before. I recommend making a one to three-minute- video demonstrating one aspect of your skills, such as Cinematography, Acting, Directing, Video Editing, etc. Then share it with as many people as possible.
If you are planning on getting a degree in film, make sure you use your college time to make deep connections with other filmmakers that you work well with. You can’t make a great film on your own. No filmmaker is an island. This industry is extremely reliant upon teamwork, and if you aren’t able to work with others or treat others with genuine kindness, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. I can’t think of one person I know who wants to be on a film set with someone they don’t like. The hours are long and difficult at times on film sets, and people want to enjoy that time, hopefully making friends in the process. Be a friend.
Where you attend college is also an important factor in getting more or fewer job opportunities. If your goal is Hollywood, attend places like NYU, USC, Chapman University, or CalArts. As of right now, many companies in the film industry haven’t heard of Adventist film schools, and are generally less trusting of them. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend them or that people outside of the Adventist circle will never hire you. I know classmates from La Sierra University that were able to get jobs in Hollywood. However, people tend to hire from places they know, and if they see a school that is foreign to them, most would prefer to choose a new employee from a familiar college. Hopefully, if enough talented people attend Adventist colleges, Hollywood will begin to change their minds.
Want to make films without getting a degree? Freelancing is a great way to start. Film a friends’ wedding or birthday party. Make a commercial for your dad’s company. You can build up your resume, create reels of your work, and meet new people, all while making money. You can get an idea of what your services are worth, based on what others are charging who are at the same level of professionalism as you. A great way to let others know about your availability is to start marketing yourself to family and friends, acquaintances from your local organizations, and to join companies like Fiverr or Thumbtack to get some projects. From there, you may find opportunities based on how great your reels are. But be aware that some opportunities, like internships at major networks, will be closed off to those who aren’t progressing toward their film degrees.
And most importantly, know what your personal moral values are. When entering a place like Hollywood, it is crucial to your mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing to have a firm grasp on what you are, and aren’t willing to do. This could be in working on Sabbath, being asked to help film something that you feel uncomfortable participating in, or experiencing physical burnout from long work hours. There are many things to consider when you pursue a film career. But if you stay true to who you are and are very deliberate about not compromising your beliefs, you may miss out on opportunities, but can sleep at night knowing you’ve made the right choice.
Editor – Thank you so much for sharing your enthusiasm for film-making. It is contiguous and inspiring. We wish you well in your work.
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