Many view Los Angeles as a city filled with bright lights, endless opportunities and sunny skies. However, to rising filmmaker Noel Braham, the City of Angels is a place where the prevalence of poverty has caused citizens to disregard humanity. Currently, almost 59,000 people are homeless across Los Angeles County, and around 36,000 of them live in LA. After recognizing the cultural epidemic through his own personal brush with homelessness, Braham’s most recent short film Watchtower serves as an eye-opening tribute to the homeless community and is a call to action for all those who can contribute to eradicating the issue.
A native of Atlanta by way of Miami, Braham has always had a fiery passion for the arts. Upon attending Georgia State University, he majored in speech communications as well as film and video production. After finishing college and working on various film projects, he moved to New York City to work at NBC. Shortly thereafter, he felt a strong calling to leave the company to follow his innate desire to use acting and filmmaking to give a different take on classic genres, like comedy, science fiction and drama.
Once he founded his own production agency Noel Braham Entertainment in 2015, Braham showcased his flair for dramatic comedy with its first project The Side Chick, which was recognized at several web festivals around the world and won two major awards at the LA Web Fest. In 2016, he transitioned into science fiction by directing his own fan film, Exile: A Star Wars Fan Film, which recently won Best Choreography and VFX in the Disney/Lucas Film Fan Film Awards. In the spring of 2017, he embarked upon his third project titled The Millennial, which follows the journey of an amateur boxer, who reflects on his past before entering his first fight.
However, to self-fund The Millennial, he had to combat the challenging economic factors that have historically limited other young Hollywood creatives in the film space, like unreasonable rent increases and a lack of available jobs. These circumstances left Braham at a crossroad. On one hand, he realized he could renew the lease at the apartment he had lived in for years and not have enough funds to start production on his movie. On the other hand, he could choose to tremendously downgrade his living expenses, in order to pay the crew and make the project a reality. He confidently chose the latter — a decision that led him to live out of his car, occasionally renting low-cost Airbnb properties of the off chance he was able to scrape the money together. When reflecting on the time in which he lived without a true home, Braham expressed no hesitation about his decision, in spite of the hardship that came with it.
“I purposely put myself in that position, because I knew the dream that was in front of me would only come to fruition with the sacrifices I had to make at that time,” Braham told Blavity.
While in the midst of living out of his vehicle and in temporary residences, he fought to fund the project’s production and marketing efforts. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, his turbulent circumstances forced Braham to think more critically and passionately about the struggles people go through simply to survive. Eventually, he moved into a low-income housing property; he slept on a cot for $500 a month in a roach-infested hostel.
During last day of production for The Millennial, Braham wanted to show his gratitude by offering a ride home to his hardworking production assistant, who had worked on the film pro bono. After initially declining the ride home the assistant reluctantly accepted the filmmaker’s offer. Braham, who also played the amateur boxer named Judah in the film, had taken a few hits during the boxing scenes shot that day. As a result of his exhaustion, during the ride, Braham casually asked the production assistant if he could spend the night on his couch. At that moment, something happened that even this director couldn’t have written. The PA confessed that he was actually without a permanent home after encountering an unfortunate situation with his former landlord. After discovering this harsh reality, Braham still drove the man to his living quarters; a homeless tent community located a mere two blocks away from the apartment complex that Braham previously lived in before deciding to not to renew his lease.
Shocked and taken aback by the fact that he had completely overlooked this community in years prior, Braham started crying in disbelief. He couldn’t fathom that the diligent, well-dressed production assistant who worked up to 15 hours a day without pay was living a life where he rolled up his tent and rode the train back and forth from this community to the set each day.
Through this heartbreaking encounter, the filmmaker uncovered new found inspiration to honor the PA by telling a story about a community of people who many are empathetic toward but often neglect. Fast-forwarding to Spring 2019, Braham officially released Watchtower: A 13-minute short that takes an intimate look into the daily life of a military veteran turned superhero cosplayer who searches for normalcy in spite of her adverse living circumstances.
“Without The Millennial, Watchtower would have never been birthed,” he said.
The piece centers on the main character named Antonia and her hope for brighter days in the city of LA. It was specially crafted in an effort to humanize homelessness, providing increased awareness while also inciting action within viewers.
Since Watchtower's release, the enlightening film has been screened at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival and the Short Film Corner at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival. Additionally, the Telly Award winning short film series will screen at the Indie Night Film Festival on August 17 at the historic TCL Chinese Theater, and was even nominated for two daytime Emmys: Outstanding Special Class–Short Format Daytime Program and Outstanding Directing Special Class. Building upon the momentum of Watchtower, Braham even decided to repackage The Millennial, in hopes of earning a Primetime Emmy consideration for the drama.
As he marches forward in his purpose, Braham is fervently seeking ways to help fellow filmmakers get meaningful projects in front of audiences. One of those endeavors is through his role as founder and co-director of the Micheaux Film Festival, a multicultural film festival that highlights diverse representation both on camera and behind the scenes. In its first installment, his team accepted approximately 13 projects and welcomed over 200 attendees to one of the most technologically advanced theaters in the country, Regal Cinemas LA Live: A Barco Innovation Center. Now, Braham deems it his duty to encourage other artists to find the unconventional avenues that can also help align artists for success instead of relying solely on large scale opportunities.
“I want other artists to find the best medium for themselves that is going to give them the most opportunity to garner more work from the investment they’ve made,” Braham said. “If you’re not owning, you’re leasing. You’re either going to live out your dreams, or you’re going to live out someone else’s.”
While he embarks upon the second half of 2019 and beyond, Braham has much to look forward to. He is in the process of writing and producing his first feature-length film, in addition to hosting the second installment of the Micheaux Film Festival in February 2020. However, as the road to more success and stardom waits in the distance for him, the 30-year-old artist with a knack for advocacy holds tight to where he came from, and the responsibility he feels to be a change agent in the tough film industry.
“I reflect on the dreams I had in middle school and high school, what I accomplished in college, and the successes and failures in the years thereafter, and I know that I’ve gone too far to come back now,” he emphasized. “I sacrificed too much to not see this journey through. I’ve seen the promise that God has upheld. The question is, 'Will I uphold my role as a son, as a director, as a brother, as an artist, as a human being, as a Christian?' We have the power to change history, and we have to use it for every opportunity that we’ve been given. To not use 1% of what God has given us would be a disservice.”
During Watchtower, the main actress suits up as everybody’s favorite web-slinger Spiderman. Just like the high-flying superhero, Braham seeks to use his skills and passion to swing between different opportunities, while fulfilling his overarching goal of inspiring people who can’t find the light within their own life.
“Everyone in Hollywood wants to be a superhero, but no one really wants to save everybody,” Braham declared, in regards to the current state of the filmmaking industry. Ironically, Braham is positioning himself to present the same gift to rising entertainers that the main character in Watchtower so desperately seeks out throughout the film — hope.
View Watchtower and discover more about Braham on his official website.
For more information about the Micheaux Film Festival and to submit a project, visit The Micheaux Film Festival online.