screenwriter to watch
Michael Noonan has written and directed more than 20 film projects. His feature scripts “Alternate Ending” and “#Escape” were Top 50 semifinalists in the Academy Nicholl Fellowship and finalists in the 2016 Script Pipeline competition. “#Escape” also made the finals of the Enderby Entertainment Award at Austin Film Festival 2016.
He was named on the inaugural Aussie List in 2015 and he is a six-time Tropfest finalist, most recently with “Accomplice” (2017), “Evil Mexican Child” (2014), “Remote” (2013) and “Photo Booth” (2012). He won the IF Award for Best Australian Documentary for his film “Unlikely Travellers” (2007) and he has twice been nominated for AWGIE Awards for his scripts.
His PhD in film and television production, titled “Laughing & Disability: Comedy, Collaborative Authorship and ‘Down Under Mystery Tour’”, explored the complex line between ‘laughing at’ and ‘with’ and was the subject of significant international controversy.
His festival successes include: AFI Fest (Recall), Palm Springs International Shortfest (Captive, Cecil, Evil Mexican Child), Flickerfest (Captive, Recall) Hof International Film Festival (Recall), Cinequest (Baggage) and St Kilda Film Festival (The People, Photo Booth, Captive).
Accomplice (2017), Evil Mexican Child (2014), Remote (2013), Photo Booth (2012).
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?
I went to film school in Australia in 1997. I focused on writing and directing and made about 5 short films while I was there. I wrote a couple of feature scripts, which were terrible, then kept writing and making films after film school was over. It took about 10 feature scripts to get to something decent, with a good handle of all the elements and a voice I felt was mine.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
My writing has definitely improved over the years by directing and editing lots of short films. You get a sense of what works, what cuts together, and where all the narrative and emotional beats are in a scene. And it’s so much fun to follow the process through from silly idea to script to finished movie. There’s a quote that a film is written three times (in the script, on the set and in the editing suite) and I think it’s so true.
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?
I recently wrote and directed a short film about a little pug dog whose owner is a serial killer. It didn’t have any dialogue so I had to convey everything on the page through actions and find the right moments and beats to convey the emotions the dog was going through. It was tough, not least because writing dialogue is my favorite part of the process. But I resisted the urge to include a dog thought-track or have other characters speak to move things along and I think the project’s way better for it. I do have a tendency to write too much dialogue so I think it’s a really valuable process to force yourself not to write dialogue, to try to find other ways to convey emotion and story.
What was a major turning point in your career?
I’m still waiting for it! Getting into the Academy Nicholl Top 50 (in 2013 with my script “Alternate Ending”) for the first time was a significant moment for me personally because it’s such a prestigious competition and the numbers of entries are staggering. So to get beyond the quarters and actually into the top 50 was a great confidence boost. Like most writers, I am regularly crippled by self doubt. It’s incredibly difficult to sit in a room and come up with an idea, pound out the pages and then put it out into the world and hope people find something to like about it. So getting into the Nicholl Top 50, and later Austin and Script Pipeline, really helped with that.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently attached to write/direct a feature version of my short “Evil Mexican Child”, which is a horror film about a boy with special powers. I’ve been working on the script for about a year now with a team of producers from Australia and LA. Hopefully it will go into production this year. I’m also working on a horror about an evil dog (there’s a theme to my work!) and a very black comedy script about a couple who hire an assassin to kill all their friends’ children. Not sure that’ll ever sell but it’s fun to write.
What are some of your favorite movies?
I love Robert Zemeckis movies: particularly Contact, Romancing The Stone, Castaway, Flight. They’re movies I can put on at any moment and get the same emotional rush every time. I think The Verdict by David Mamet (and directed by Sidney Lumet) is probably near the top of my list of all-time favorites: it’s just an incredibly powerful, understated, moving film that I love as a both an engaging story and a brilliant technical piece of writing and filmmaking.
Who are some of your favorite screenwriters?
Billy Ray is one of my favorite writers, especially when he directs his own work: “Shattered Glass” and “Breach” are two of my favorite movies. I’ve always admired David Koepp’s writing, especially the way he describes action and creates a rich visual world. More recently, I was blown away by Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” script. Just a terrific read.
Share a memorable experience at Austin Film Festival:
The festival was a great place to meet people and listen to some amazing writers. Obviously networking and making contacts is a priority for everyone there so there is a bit of desperation to do that, which is daunting for people like me who prefer to sit in a room alone and think. I was fortunate enough to meet a little posse of like-minded writers: one from Canada and two from LA and we all hit it off over a few seminars and drinks. By the final day, I was talking to my Canadian friend about how much I sucked at networking and that I hadn’t really made many contacts. He felt the same. But then, the more we talked about it, we realized we’d been networking all along — with each other. We’d each made three really close friends plus a stack of other friends and we didn’t give out a single business card or deliver a pitch to any of them. It was just natural conversation and getting to know people without a forced, conscious, deliberate goal of getting something out of them.