Maggie Noble says she can be a bit of a pest when she sets her sights on a goal, but her persistence landed her a job as a production assistant on a feature film that recently won the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas. That film, Thunder Road, written and directed by Jim Cummings, is having its international premier at the Cannes Film Festival in France this month. Noble, a senior graduating with a degree in digital storytelling, says her two-week experience in Texas has helped her chart her career after graduation.
Shades of Life
“I want to tell stories that make people feel something, but I don’t believe stories or films should be 100 percent serious,” she says. “I want to add some humor and make it kind of light-hearted because that’s what life is—it’s not always serious and it’s not always a joke, it’s everything, and so I want to capture that and put that into my films.”
Noble says that mix of serious drama leavened with humor is what initially attracted her to the original short version of Thunder Road (https://vimeo.com/174957219). She watches a lot of videos on Vimeo, particularly the staff picks, and says she was impressed by the 12-minute short that was shot in a single take. “I thought, ‘If I ever want to make something, I want it to be like this—this was just perfection,’” she says. She loved the film so much she decided to follow Cummings on Vimeo and then on Twitter. She remembers the day Cummings tweeted a picture of the script for Thunder Road, the feature film he planned to produce based on the short.
“I was sitting in my psychology class in Middlebush scrolling on Twitter, and I saw his post and had the sudden urge to direct message him on Vimeo,” Noble says. “I said, ‘Hi Jim, I saw that you are turning Thunder Road into a feature. Is there any chance you would let a 21-year-old filmmaker come help?’ I didn’t expect a response but he messaged me within an hour and said, ‘Sure, we’d love to have you.’”
Noble says a few months passed while Cummings waited for his script to be picked up by a production company. She later heard that Cummings created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production, so she messaged him again. She got no response for a couple of days, so she sent him another message asking if she could still help out. “Finally, he responded,” she says. “What he really liked was how persistent I was. He gave me his producer’s email and said, ‘If she’s OK, you’re good to go,’ so I emailed her, and she said yes.”
Noble worked as a production assistant during the shoot. She ran a lot of errands, moved equipment around, set up and manned the food table, and did odd jobs like working on props for the art department. It was a small crew, and Noble says they became like family during the shoot.
“This was the first feature film I’ve gotten to be a part of, and that’s why I wanted to do it,” Noble says. “I’ve worked on a lot of student films, and I’ve made a lot of videos, but I really wanted to work on a full-length feature film. I spent two weeks in Texas, and it was unbelievable.”
A Digital Storytelling Home
Noble credits the digital storytelling program in the College of Arts and Science for helping her find her voice as a filmmaker and as an animator. She originally enrolled at Columbia College to study filmmaking and to run track and cross-country but worried she was spending too much time on athletics. She briefly attended Stephens College before deciding to drop out for a semester to pursue filmmaking on her own.
“I decided it wasn’t really working, so I came to Mizzou and thought I’d try the digital storytelling thing and get my degree so I could get my mom off of my back,” she says with a laugh. She says she is very happy she pursued a degree in digital storytelling because that’s where she discovered her love of animation.
“My first animation class was with (Assistant Professor) Joseph Erb, and he was so positive and encouraging,” she says. “He liked my first video, and I told him of my interest in animation, and he said it would teach me about detail and help me with my filmmaking. After my first animation project—making a ball bounce—I decided this is what I want to do. And also make movies.” She became so engrossed in animation that she stayed in the digital studies lab all last summer and produced an animated short called Apprehension Engine, which won the Grand Prize in Applied Design at MU’s 2018 Visual Arts and Design Showcase. Noble already has another project lined up.
“On the night Thunder Road won at SXSW, we went home and stayed up all night and talked about our next movie and we created a Kickstarter fund for it,” she says. “I’m going to help them make this next film, maybe in 2019.”