The Director and Stars of This World Alone on Their First-time Feature Experience and What They Learned from Each Other
In addition to running this website, Mirror Box Films is a production company and the first film we made was called This World Alone. It’s a post-apocalyptic thriller about three women attempting to survive in a world without technology or power. We set out to explore both the beauty and horror that comes from that world as well as how it affects the mother/daughter story at the heart of the film.
As the writer and producer of the film, one of the more fascinating pieces that was so foreign to me was that of the relationship between director and actor. So, since we’re talking about BEGINNINGS this month, I thought it’d be a great idea to sit down with first-time feature director, Jordan Noel, and first-time feature stars Belle Adams (“Sam” in the film) and Re Roach (“Dart”) all about their experiences working with each other for the first time.
Jordan, This World Alone was your first feature as a director. What was your journey like leading up to that?
JORDAN: After we made our first short film in 2011, Rooney’s World, our sights were set on making a feature. We actively developed several scripts but nothing really materialized until spring of 2017 when Hudson Phillips sent me a script for a short film that I loved. He then told me it was part of a feature script idea and my immediate response was “this is it, let’s shoot the feature this summer”. He quickly busted out the first draft for the full feature and we were off to the races. I believe he started writing the feature in May 2017 and we were on set and in production in late July shooting the movie. While it was certainly harrowing - we also moved so rapidly from conception to execution that there was no time to stop and say, “Oh $%#&, what are we doing?!” It was a really fun and exciting ride.
Re and Belle, what about you guys as actors?
RE: At that time I had just come back from New York, for school. I finished working on two shows at the Alliance Theatre and preparing for or working on a show at Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company. Hudson messaged me on Facebook inviting me to read for some characters on a project he was working on at his house. At first, I was going to ignore the message and move on, because I didn't know him and I thought maybe he got the wrong person, but he knew someone in the cast. I made that leap of faith and attended the reading. Then I was invited back for the This World Alone reading later on in the year, and next thing you know, I'm sending in a self-taped audition one morning and got the job either the same day or the next day.
BELLE: I have known since I was a little kid that I wanted to be an actor so I just gunned for it. I studied theatre performance in college, graduated a year early, then made my way up to Los Angeles and things just started to fall into place. I started auditioning, had some network TV success, and in the process of all of that I met the crew that offered me the part of Sam in This World Alone. If I had to boil it down I'd say my journey was surreal and unexpected. It's interesting. I have always wanted to be a professional actor, so I kept my focus on working towards that, but never actually had the expectation that I would get there until I looked up and saw where I was.
Had you always known you wanted to be an actor / director?
RE: No. I didn't know that you could pursue acting as a career until I was in middle school. I wanted to be a Marine Biologist until I saw how much math was required, and I soon realized that I was not a fan of the Orca's and Dolphin's that swam up to me at Seaworld when I was in elementary school.
JORDAN: Not specifically, no. I had no concept of me as a director even being a possibility growing up. My family didn’t even have a tv, much less a camcorder. I loved movies but never ever imagined I’d be in a position to direct one myself. But life is strange and here we are. If I look back at some of my artistic endeavors through my 20s it starts to make a lot more sense and much of it points to a hidden desire to direct.
BELLE: For the most part, yeah. When I was a kid I tried all the things. The way I remember it my parents threw all kinds of activities and sports at the Belle wall. I played basketball, soccer, was a cheerleader, figure skated, danced, did gymnastics, karate, you name it I probably did it. Then at the end of each of those classes, sport seasons, whatever it was, Mom and Dad would ask if I wanted to continue on. Each time was an easy, confident "no". Then I did my first musical. I was Bagheera in The Jungle Book. I'm sure you can guess what I said at the closing of the show when the question "want to keep doing this?" was asked. I was all in and have been ever since.
How did you get started?
BELLE: Well, it was that first musical that really got me HOOKED. But before that, as a little one, I had been in commercials and on Cartoon Network. Though, at age 6, that mostly felt like playtime. Theatre was really where I first fell head over heels for acting.
JORDAN: I got my first DV camcorder in my early 20s when I started touring a good bit with bands. I started documenting everything. Touring is an insane experience and a constant swirl of storytelling / story-making and story-witnessing. I just wanted to document it all so I could someday remember something of it. A few years later I taught myself to edit by creating a short travel documentary about an Italian romp in 2006 with Steven Grubbs (who wrote the ‘theme song’ for This World Alone). Then in 2010 a mis-sent email from a band manager to a band I was doing visual art for inspired a split-second decision to say that I would direct a music video for the band. In the following two years I directed 10 more music videos and our first short, Rooney’s World, which came about after a chance run-in with an old acquaintance, Hudson Phillips.
RE: I got my start in the church. But ever since I was little, I was always break-dancing, singing and reenacting movies with my action figures and other toys I could find around the house, along with my brother, who wasn't too far behind. I attended a big church when I was little and did a small role in the middle of Marietta Square during the Juneteenth Festival, and then, the drama ministry I was involved in gave me the lead role in their annual Christmas play. I was hooked ever since, and the rest is history.
What was the biggest lesson you learned on your first feature?
BELLE: I learned that in this industry, the final product is not the experience. I had such a rich experience working on TWA and that will never change no matter how the movie in its finality is received. I believe maintaining focus on process and growth is one of the most valuable lessons I learned after being on TWA.
RE: RELAX!!! Since This World Alone was my very first feature, I was everything but relaxed. I was excited, scared, and anxious all at the same time.
JORDAN: I learned so much about myself personally - it ended up being a real, inward emotional and spiritual journey in which I came out the other side hardly recognizing myself. This was a good thing. A shedding of callouses and walls and protective shell I hadn’t even known I’d built up in my adulthood. So I’d argue that the personal transformative lesson was probably the biggest but that’s probably not really what you’re asking so I’ll give a professional answer as well: working with actors. These two lessons are deeply intertwined. I essentially got a step closer to figuring out my directing style and process and what that can look like, how I can approach it. Just like any good story, I think directing has an arc of its own. I’m only at the very beginning of that trek and with every step forward the broader and deeper and more expansive the road ahead becomes.
What did you guys learn from working with Jordan?
BELLE: I learned what a real relationship with a director looked and felt like. Being open and honest about my own process and needs as an actor was a breeze with Jordan. He gave space and presence for that kind of collaboration.
RE: Trust. On set I was asking him a question or maybe explaining to him where I was a little stuck in a scene. Jordan walks over and tells me that he completely trust me and my choice. He not only believed in me and trusted me artistically he caused me to shift my thoughts and look within myself. Trust your talent, believe in your choices.
What did you guys learn from working with Belle?
RE: Have FUN! The cast and crew for This World Alone were phenomenal! But when I was acting across from Belle in a scene, she was so calm, open and she was having a blast. Meanwhile, I was rehearsing lines in my head that I already knew and taking everything so seriously. But once I saw Belle enjoying the process, I slowly started getting out of my head and enjoy the process as well. One of my favorite behind-the-scenes moments was when we were making the montage sequence in the church. We were so exhausted that day it was laughable. And in that montage, we're doing nothing but laughing at each other.
JORDAN: How much time do you have? First off, Belle is brilliant which makes learning from her all the easier. I think the most crucial learning specifically with Belle was about trust. Collaboration is all about trust in any venture but because of the subject matter and the emotional themes we were exploring, complete trust was required. The work involved some serious vulnerability and at times painful empathy. Belle had to trust me to effectively support and love her in her work and I had to prove myself to be trustworthy and supportive. If an actor is willing to splay herself out emotionally then I must meet her there. I believe the bridge is trust.
What did you guys learn from working with Re?
JORDAN: Resilience, determination, diligence, willingness, drive, and the art of the positive mental attitude. Re is nothing short of inspiring. For starters, he’s a fantastic actor. Prepared, curious, and always asking great questions. Dart is a complex character with some very difficult and complicated emotional scenes. He’s my favorite character and also the most difficult to direct. On top of tackling the difficult complexities of the character, Re hates nature. Ha! That’s a bit of a over/mis-statement but he’s not at all into bugs or tall grass or thick woods. And yet, that’s where we were day after day. Re was always smiling and in great spirits. One of the days in the middle of a take in some tall grass a bug flew directly into his eye. He didn’t let it shake his resolve one bit. As soon as that little bugger got out of his eye he was ready to continue the work. His work ethic challenges me to attack the work tirelessly with a positive, encouraging, steadfast attitude.
BELLE: I learned to chill out, laugh and not take myself too seriously! Especially within our actual scene-work. It was easy to relinquish control after being on set with Re for a bit.
What advice would you give to young actors looking to break into film?
BELLE: Go for it only if you really believe you can't do another thing in this life that will satisfy you. Hold onto you. Work to improve, never to impress. Take your time and try not to sweat the small stuff. Recognize where you're at, and start from there. Comparison is the thief of joy! You're running a marathon, not a sprint, so enjoy it and take deep breaths.
RE: Honestly, since I'm still young and striving to break into film myself, I don't know what advice I can share. I will say, always be a student. Don't stop learning or wanting to learn more, about your craft and yourself. Be nice, Be positive, treat others with respect, and be present. Also, enjoy and trust the journey you are on. I'm still working on that last part myself.
What about first-time directors?
JORDAN: Two things: (1) Do the work. It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of sacrifice. Your friends/family will wonder where you’ve been. You’ve been doing the work. Keep doing the work! Slow and steady wins the race… but it requires that you just keep slogging away toward that finish line. You’re already doing the work… just keep doing it! (2) Find a champion of a filmmaking partner. You can’t do it alone. Or if by some miracle you can - you shouldn’t. Find someone that encourages and challenges you. Find someone to keep you accountable for doing the work. Have them also keep you artistically accountable. Making movies is insane enough without trying to go it alone. It’s really really hard. You’re gonna want someone on your side. Hudson Phillips is my champion… and hopefully I’m his. Sometimes I turn back and look at the footprints in the sand and only see Hudson’s.
Dawwwwww… thanks Jordan! You can find out more about This World Alone on our website or find us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.