NOAH GEHMAN, SIX STOPS WEST (2019)
Adam: Your film Six Stops West - it’s a good one. So good that we added it to our program this year.
Nara: We did.
Noah: Yeah, I was really happy to get that notification.
Adam: When I saw you the day after, you seemed very happy.
Noah: Oh, I was super happy.
Adam: And then you seemed surprised that I remembered the name of the film.
Adam: We’d been talking about the movie at Insomniac for weeks!
Noah: I’m always surprised when people remember the titles of my films. Always always. Cause I don’t think of the title as the part that’s leaving an impression.
Nara: Noah, what’s your secret to a great movie title?
Noah: Um, Six Stops West... I called it that because in one version of the script there were six scenes and the character moved from right to left, which I think of as west because I’m from the lake and I look north a lot and you know, left is west.
Adam: It’s also west on a map. It’s not just you that thinks that!
Nara: No, only one person knows directions!
Noah: And his name is Noah Gehman.
Adam: There’s a lot of left-moving in the whole film. The streetcar’s moving left. And at the very end, as the lead character is outside on the street, she’s moving left as well.
Noah: Yeah, there was reasoning for that… I’m trying to remember what it was... it’s been a while since I talked about this movie. When I was making it, I had a lot of really awesome collaborators, and I slowly got my spiel of what it was about down to a tea. The last person I had to tell what it was about to was the voice of the mom. It was so good. It was perfect. I set up everything, then I explained it all, and how it all worked together. I worked in what her part was about, and I felt really good about it, and that was the last time I was able to concisely explain what the movie was. Never again.
Adam: I totally feel that. When I’m making something, it starts off sprawling, like I can’t really condense it down. But then you talk about it so much that you’re like “okay, now I have three words: Six Stops West”.
[The interview is interrupted by a group of dogs]
Noah: This area is built around dogs. It’s a dog-based economy.
Nara: Oh - like cryptochips.
Noah: Do you know about the cryptochips?
Adam: No. What is the cryptochips?
Noah: So you know Hooky’s over there? They take Bunz cryptocurrency. Yeah, seriously. I’ve had Bunz for a while, but I’ve never traded anything on it. I’ve just been doing their quizzes where you get 10 cents for every quiz, and I bought $6 worth of french fries there.
Adam: Woah, just from quizzes?
Noah: Just from quizzes! It was fake money and I got real french fries from it!
Adam: We all thought that your main character’s story about becoming an active participant in life was really beautiful. We’d love to hear you speak on the ending and how you came to it.
Noah: That last shot you’re basically in her perspective from earlier where she was watching people from out the window. I wanted to imply that yes, she had joined the world, but that there are also other people who can use each other as models. When you feel like you’re not a participant it can feel isolating, and I wanted to imply that there are other people in the film’s world who are experiencing the same thing. Like, this person had finished this part of this arc, but there are other people who are also in the middle of it.
I think the ideas of how we participate in society are that, even if you feel like you’re not, often times you are [a participant]. Throughout the film she’s still talking to people, she still has those real connections, even though the way that she’s talking she thinks “oh, I’m totally withdrawn, I’m a spectator”. She presents herself as a spectator, she thinks of herself as a spectator, even though she has aspects of her life where she’s totally a participant. So that ending is like, pushing yourself to participate in other aspects of the world and also accepting that you already are participating and already are a member. You just have to recognize it. And also, a little bit of me just wanted to end a film with slow motion walking.
Nara: It looks cool. I also thought the black and white looks cool. When I see short films that are in black and white it’s often used as a referential point, like a time period or to emulate a certain film, but you’re telling a modern story that just happens to be in black and white.
Noah: A lot of it was gut instinct. I wrote the script and was working with my DP Max, and in talking to him I just said “I think it should be black and white”. I think black and white - and this is a bit of a cliche - but I think it has a timeless quality. It feels like it could be any time. And because the film is partially rooted in family history, like a lot of it was about the mom and [the main character’s] relationship to her mom and her relationship to the things from her mom’s past, I wanted to shoot it in a format that could be applied to either time period.
The lead character is in some ways based on my mom, and she’s wearing my mom’s jacket and a shirt that my mom designed. There’s a lot of crossover in terms of when things are from. [Black and white] was a good universal umbrella to cover all the different types of people involved and all the different types of experiences. It doesn’t lock the film to a specific time and it allows things that come up from the characters’ pasts to feel more natural.
Adam: You mentioned the mom, who has a huge role in the transformation of the main character, but we don’t actually see her.
Noah: Originally the mom was going to be in it, but then we couldn’t find a mom. So me and my teacher Johnson, we talked about it. We talked about the mic, because the mic is a really important motif in the film. She does these taped self interviews where she talks about where she’s at emotionally, and the idea of audio as a vulnerable thing worked really well.
When you phone someone, it’s more commitment than a text message for sure, but it’s not like seeing them in person, like you don’t have that kind of intensity. So she can be in her own headspace when she’s talking to her mom [on the phone], and her mom’s words can hit her and she can process them in her own time. I’m really happy that the mom wasn’t in it, I think it made it a much better film, because you actually get to spend time with her alone and see how she reacts to the world around her. You get to see her alone, but also connected to someone.
Nara: You made this as your final high school film. Do you feel like this is your best work or a good representation of your journey through being a teenage filmmaker?
Noah: Yeah, it feels like my best work. It’s weirdly not the most personal film I’ve made but it does feel like my most cohesive. Like it has an ending - most of my films don’t have an ending.
Adam: That’s not true! Specters for sure has an ending, same with John and Louie.
Noah: I guess what I mean is… in grade 10 I made a culminating called In Pairs, which was bad. It was a big emotional swing - it was about children’s relationships with their parents and dealing with loss and communication and it just didn’t work. I didn’t quite have the emotional understanding of any of those things to make it. And then I made a film in grade 11 called 93.8FM which also was like a quiet interpersonal thing, but it feels like a scene from a movie, it doesn’t feel like it’s own movie. And then I made this, and those three films about how people exist in the world and how people interact with each other… I see a lot of growth in those three movies.
Also, the collaboration on this film was so good and so fun. My DP Max - during the making of it, I described him to my parents as a film angel sent from god to make movie-making better. And then Jewell was a really awesome actor to work with. She really got it and really cared about it and understood the subtly I was going for with her performance. There are a ton of other people I could shout out too, but that would take a long time because there were a fair amount of collaborators.
Adam: This film is basically a movie about what it’s like to just exist, and you made that into a really great, captivating film.
Noah: I think as a person I’m just really interested in how different people build their lives, like on a really basic level. I think everyone is always trying to figure out how we move through the world, and I think that people who think they’ve figured it out often then come to a crisis where they realize that they haven’t figured it out. I think that’s what a mid-life crisis is. Like you thought you knew how you were moving through the world, and then you get to a certain point and you’re like, “have I been doing this wrong?”
That idea of “have I been living life wrong?” is really interesting. I’m 18. Teenagers spend a lot of their time figuring out what kind of person they want to be. I think people in general spend a lot of time figuring out what kind of person they want to be, but especially as you grow up. And I think I’m less-so interested in the dramatic coming of age - like dealing with crisis, putting out fires. I think people figure out themselves in the in-between moments. I think in your downtime, and when you have to do a routine over and over again, you learn to understand yourself really slowly. And in that downtime, I want to be able to capture on film what is going on in their head.
Nara: You’ve been to the festival a lot of times before.
Noah: Four years.
Nara: Not to be like “you’ve finally made it...:”
Nara: But how does it feel to be a part of a filmmaking community so consistently? You’ve seen the festival grow. How does it feel like to see it grow and to be a part of that growth?
Noah: The thing I like about Insomniac is that it feels like a very good canonical Toronto youth festival. It always feels like it has a little bit of every movement and idea that’s in people’s heads, and it has an excellent mix of the weirdness and the heartfeltness, and also the fucked up-ness that defines so much of what I see people making. It’s very good representationally of those things. And the thing that’s impressed me is that it’s still going, cause so many people start festivals and do it for two or three years and then it’s gone. But this is what, the 9th? 8th year?
Nara & Adam: 6th.
Noah: Well it feels like it’s been a long time! I feel like the festival’s really consistent and really good at capturing where people are at. It’s also fun, like it has a good audience. I remember specifically the Werewolf film from last year [My Boyfriend is a Werewolf!, dir. Aidan Barnes & Isaac Roberts] - that was such a good movie to watch with an audience. There’s nothing quite like watching it with a bunch of people who are like “what the fuck is going on?”
Nara: I remember going with you two years ago - there was the Opera fish one [The View From Here, dir. Sofia Bohdanowicz]. I remember afterwards we were all walking out and we were like “wooooah!”
Noah: That was so good! That one was great. Wow, there’s a lot of weird things.
Nara: What is the ideal spot to sit in at The Royal? Not that people are gonna snake your seat or anything, but where would be a good VIP section?
Noah: I really like centre-middle. It feels very concentrated.
Adam: What are you looking forward to at Insomniac this year?
Noah: I’m looking forward to meeting young people who make films. There’s a lot of really interesting things happening in Toronto film that I don’t get to see. It’s really exciting to be a part of a festival and feel like you’re part of a community.
Adam: Well we’re excited to have your film in the fest.
Nara: We’re excited to go six stops west to see your film.
Adam: It’s probably like three stops east and a bit north from here?