Filmmaker Noel Braham was wrapping up a night of production on his second short, The Millennial, when he was confronted with a story that gripped him at the heart. The inspiration was sitting right there.
“I had a production assistant helping me out pro-bono … working tirelessly, without complaining. The guy was amazing to work with.” Braham offered to drive the PA home, and at first, the PA declined. “He said just drop me off at the train station, and I said no, I’m going to give you a ride back home.” Now compelled to disclose, the PA admitted he was living in a tent community nearby. “And I broke down in tears because here I am, living in such close proximity to a whole community … that I have not even given much mind or attention to,” Braham said. “And he’s literally a street away from my old apartment complex.”
As a storyteller, Braham said he dove in, researching the topic of social stigma around homelessness. “A lot of the stereotypes that we place on those within the homeless community, I, as well, assigned to him. He was always well dressed. The guy didn’t seem like he had anything crazy going on. And it was just his energy, being so selfless and giving his time to the project, and not asking for money and just wanting to help create, to the best of his ability.”
Braham felt bound to shed light on the topic, and began the screenplay for the short film Watchtower, which screened at the SLO International Film Festival in March and is now nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards. The film, for which he also directed, produced and starred, follows a military veteran and cosplayer trying to make ends meet by working on Hollywood Boulevard. She lives in a tent community nearby and attempts to normalize the chaos she faces daily.
That’s how Noel often finds inspiration for a story – right in front of him.
“Living [in] downtown [LA], I want to find something that is connected to my community, that I can bring back to those around me. Because, what are we as storytellers? We’re trying to help people understand something … We’re trying to inspire. We’re trying to motivate.”
Now, Braham is writing his first feature-length film, about a bi-racial baseball phenom struggling with his racial identity, as a political and social divide over a historical statue on his college campus begins to erupt.
“I’ve been able to take a lot of my successes and failures from the three shorts that I’ve done prior to this point, and I’m applying it now to this project and it’s going to be something that audiences are going to enjoy. It’s going to be entertaining. It’s going to be dope. And it’s coming soon!”
Braham didn’t go to film school. He says he learned the craft by “jumping right into it.” He watched a ton of movies, read even more scripts, and eventually learned to trust his instinct.
“I think [screenwriters] over complicate the process. If you have a story that you want to tell, and you’re passionate about it, it’s important to trust where you want the story to go. Then consider the structure, consider the character development and things you want to say with it. From there, take it to someone who may be more experienced than you, who you know might be a better writer.”
He offered more screenwriting advice as our one-on-one interview at the SLO International Film Festival progressed.
On writer’s block? “One of my favorite tricks is … just not to write,” he laughed. “Sometimes I need to step away from it … we get into that phase where the world that we once saw so clearly is now just chaotic.” Braham added that he likes to do something creative, other than writing, like painting or doing something out of character, to find inspiration to write again. “Because that’s when the ‘aha’ moment might come about,” he said.
Braham’s final words of wisdom touched on perseverance despite failure, a necessary trait for screenwriters who ‘make it.’
“Keep going. This is process is not easy otherwise everyone would be doing it. And those that are doing it, and doing it at an excellent level, they failed and they failed and they failed and they failed and they failed. So, it’s alright to fail in the process of being a screenwriter. And it’s ok if you had one story in mind, and it wasn’t received as well as you wanted it to. Ultimately, the success comes in you never stopping, and you persisting through the roadblocks, and the challenges, and the mountains. And know that anything good never comes easy. Whatever you do, keep fighting, keep writing, keep telling your story, and change the world one day at a time."
Watch the YouTube video below to hear more about Noel Braham’s writing process. And be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more content like this!
“Typically, when I go into my first draft, I like to just get everything out on the page.”
“I don’t actually do outlining on my first draft. I just write everything that I get inspired by, the nuances of what’s taking place with the character, the subtext of the environment, and as I move into the second draft, I then begin to outline from there. I’m plotting out more of my beats and I’m thinking about what’s the best way of telling it, making it entertaining, making it inspiring.
“By the time I’m moving into my third draft, I’m then sending it out to other people to give me feedback. I go to people that I know are going to be brutally honest. There’s nothing more difficult than when you actually show your piece in a packed audience in a theater and you’re just chewing up the writing saying I should have done this, I should have considered this.”
“The final rewrite comes in the post-production process. You have an idea of what you want. And then you go into the process of shooting which kind of changes. And then you go into the process of editing which also changes. And then you finally get into the final product.” - Noel Braham, Writer and Director
Courtney Meznarich, Director of Community Outreach