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Jay Nolan: From Film Student to Film Set Professional

October 24, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Jay Nolan

“It’s odd, I don’t feel like I have enough to help you out…” says Jay Nolan, a freelance film maker. Modest, but not true. Jay is busy as a freelance crew member almost every week. He is driven and remarkably hardworking, dedicated to the craft and industry of filmmaking. “I have done PA, Locations, Grip, Electric, 2nd AC, 1st AC, DP, and Editor. I have worked with crews of 5, and crews of hundreds (he just finished working on Marvel’s The Avengers) I have worked on TV commercials, web videos, music videos, shorts, and features. I was even the Creative Director for a production company.”

Jay started his career in film while attending Oberlin College in Ohio. Then, as now, he diversified to keep a constant flow of work going.

“The second coolest thing about working on The Avengers, after listening to Samuel Jackson speaking...” - Jay Nolan

“I did the usual college jobs; dishwashing, working in the library, bar-tending. I also had the opportunity to put my film interests to use for the college. I was fortunate to be at Oberlin studying production when they decided to re-vamp their website. They wanted videos of all the professors, concerts, and speeches.”  All told, Jay worked on over 60 videos that appear on the Oberlin website and archives. He also got busy with his own projects.

“School is a great environment to start filmmaking in. You are bombarded with interesting ideas from interesting individuals. The creative juices really flow. It was very re-enforcing to discover that I could make things other people wanted to see.”

Creation, a stop-motion film of an oil painting Jay painted in his closet for two weeks during his Sophomore year has played at several film festivals. The short film was inspired by the first chapters of the Creation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. “It (the closet) was the only place I could control the light at any time. So no matter the time, when I woke up, after dinner, or couldn’t sleep, I could work.”

Later, Jay would travel study at FAMU in Prague, CZ where he made I Love You, Eve. “It is about our generation in 15 years, when we rely on technology to solve everything, even basic human needs, and what will go wrong. It was really cool; the director of a festival found it online and asked me if it could be screened free of charge. I was stoked – it was my first or second film festival screening ever – and the right people saw it; I soon got an email asking if I could sell it to Egoist TV, a Russian TV company. It was a process, but very exciting.”

“As I was completing college, I had this idea that I wanted to do was make indie films. I wanted to be poor and not have a budget and make great stuff. Then my daughter came along and changed everything. As a parent, you want to provide for your family, and this takes money that you’re probably not going to see from any personal project. It became less about my ideas, and more about work.”

Screenshot from Creation

“You know, all through college and film school, they never actually teach you how to get a job. You might be able to discuss the history of the French New Wave, Tarkovskiy’s mise-en-scene, and deconstruct shot composition… but you never learn how to work a room, distribute business cards, set up personal websites, or perform on set.

“Every job I go to I bring my cards. Then I work my tail off – I try to spot what will be needed, not what is needed. By the time someone says, ‘hey, grab a full apple’, it’s too late. By being ahead of the game I can stand out and be seen as someone who people want on their sets. I have never gotten a film job off of craigslist. It has always been word of mouth. During the shoot I chat with everyone else to see what people are doing next, try to get names and numbers. At the end I do the business card exchange. When I get home, I look up the folks I worked with, their websites and filmographies, send them a personalized email thanking them and expressing my enjoyment and desire to work with them again. I will usually follow up with emails or phone calls the next week.

Screenshot from I Love You, Eve

“When you start in film you start at the bottom. No one cares what you did in school (unless you’re David Gordon Green). I don’t know anyone who is where they want to be who is not twice my age and been struggling to get there for years. I would love to direct or DP a major production, but that is years away and I will have to stick with it to ever get there. I just DPed my first major music video on the RED, so I hope that is a stepping stone. I still have personal projects on the back burner; a couple docs and a couple fictional features, but those will have to wait for the time and resources.”

“I think the most useful thing I could tell readers is ‘stick with it’. This is one of the hardest industries to work in because everyone wants to do it. And then it is long hours of back-breaking nerve-wrecking labor. But there is no greater satisfaction than seeing your work on the screen, and sharing the enjoyment of it with others. If you are just starting off, be prepared for the long haul. Keep your dream in perspective and show others that you are willing to work your fingers to the bone to achieve it. That is what it is going to take.”


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