Film / Art / Creativity

"I try to learn from every project, to improve for the next one, but you can’t let setbacks or failure discourage you—just start working on the next thing and making whatever that is the best you think it can be."

Noël John Howard 
Director of Creative Development at GQ
noelhoward.com
April 11, 2022
Noël John Howard film art gq.jpg

Insomnia can be a pain sometimes but every now and then a late night binge of Netflix can sometimes be inspired. Bulldog Drummond was created by H. C. McNeile and followed the adventures of WW1 veteran who becomes a ‘gentleman adventurer’. Watching BULLDOG DRUMMOND COMES BACK there was something about the tone, humour, style and overall feel of the film that made me sit up and become a bit more awake. Many actors played Bulldog Drummond but it was John Howard who played him the most. Whilst watching the film I had my phone out looking Howard up and discovering a truly remarkable man who had an incredible career and was a bonafide Hollywood icon of the Golden Age.  A little further research led me to John Howard’s grandson award-winning filmmaker Noël John Howard.

 

Noël, Director of Creative Development at GQ, won acclaim for his comedy short Zach Woods in the Woods and won an WEBBY for the viral hit The Couple’s Quiz featuring Kylie Jenner & Travis Scott.

Hello Noël, thank you so much for talking with The New Current, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been going on?

 

Thanks so much for having me. I’ve been doing well despite the crazy happenings of the world and I owe it all to my girlfriend Zoë, our two cats and my family/friends who keep me grounded.

 

Have you been able to remain creative at least?

 

It was difficult at first but I’m lucky to have a career that requires creativity, so I had to get over it quickly to keep food on the table.

I don’t think creativity ever goes away, it’s just sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to express it for whatever reason. And that’s ok, sometimes you need a break to come back stronger, but it’s important to always come back.

 

I discovered your work after a late night marathon of the classic Bulldog Drummond series which starred your grandfather John Howard, growing up did you get to know your grandfather much?

 

When I was young I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, but unfortunately John passed away when I was young, around 5 years old. Most of what I know about him I learned through family stories, photos and of course his films.

 

He was an incredible guy. A bonafide movie star in his time and also a scholar and WW2 hero. I wish I had the chance to talk to him about his life and learn about it directly from him. He’s a bit of a legend in my mind now, this mythological family figure.

 

John Barrymore appeared in several films with your grandfather and I was really intrigued about whether you have thought about creating a documentary about both men, their work and legacy with Drew Barrymore?

 

Haha, that’s actually a great idea! I’ll have to talk to Drew about it. I know she’s a busy lady, but that could be really fun to do.

 

Later in your grandfathers career he went into teaching, as you’ve gotten older have you been able to discovered any his lessons/thoughts and have they helped you to navigate your own path in your career?

 

Not really, but my dad imparts a lot of teaching and wisdom that his dad passed down to him.

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Both of your parents are in the film industry as well. Would you say it was inevitable for you to follow in their footsteps?

 

My early exposure to the industry was as a young actor myself—and that was definitely a direct result of my parents, who are also performers and filmmakers.

 

I was first cast in the Oliver Stone film “Heaven & Earth”, playing Tommy Lee-Jones’ young son. I got the role after my father auditioned for another role (A Vietnam soldier maybe?) and overheard them talking about needing a young, half—asian child. He told them he had one of those at home and the rest is history.

 

Since then, I don’t know if it’s so much of a following of footsteps as it was a concurrent passion of all of ours—we’re all very drawn to storytelling and the visual/audio mediums (my mom is also a talented artist and my dad a musician) and it’s through those interests that we connect and find our place in the world.

 

As well as direct and produce you’ve also acted in several project, do you feel more comfortable behind the camera or would you consider more acting?

 

I love acting and it’s something I’d like to do more of again.

 

It’s funny because 10 years ago my answer would have been the opposite, but at this point I am more comfortable behind the camera, but it’s that fear and excitement that has me wanting to step in front of the lens again.

The reaction you got for Zach Woods in the Woods was amazing, did you imagine you would get this type of response for your short?

 

I knew it was funny because Zach is a genius, but I didn’t have any expectations. I’m just happy that people really liked it.

 

When you got that tweet from Mike Judge, what was the first words that came to your mind?

 

I work with celebrities who I admire all the time, but to have someone like Mike—who is an absolute legend and personal hero, acknowledge something that I had done just felt unreal. I think the first thing I thought was “OH. Shit!” haha.

 

What are the biggest challenges you face creating new and connectable video content?

 

The biggest challenge for me is to not get too hung up on any particular project or piece of a project.

A lot of times I have a desire to continue to work something well past when I should—and I think it’s important, especially with internet content, to  constantly finishing and posting content, moving right on to the next.

I’ve had to learn to go with my gut instincts more, to not overthink and to take risks.

 

Is it hard not to be discouraged when something doesn’t plan out the way you hoped?

 

It was at first, but I’ve been better about it recently—partly due to a self preservation mechanism perhaps. If you dwell too much on the negative it’ll impact your future work, and that’s all that matters in the end.

I try to learn from every project, to improve for the next one, but you can’t let setbacks or failure discourage you—just start working on the next thing and making whatever that is the best you think it can be.

How did The Couple’s Quiz come about?

 

It was an idea I had in my head for a little while, and when I first found out that Kylie and Travis were slated to be on the cover of GQ, I knew that was what I wanted to do with them.

It almost didn’t happen though. When we negotiate these big stars on the cover of GQ, we have to present multiple different video ideas, and those discussions can take a long time.

 

In this case, we actually showed up to the studio without knowing what video we were going to make. They were shooting the cover next door, and eventually we were able to talk with Kylie and Travis in person to figure it out. I made the case for Couples Quiz, and Kylie loved it.

I’m glad she did too, because that video became such a big hit with 77 Million views and now Couples Quiz is one of our most successful and fun series to make—We’ve been able to do them with some amazing people, it’s been great.

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This went on to win a Webby in 2019 for Most Viral Video, what was it like getting this type of recognition for something you’ve created?

 

The Webby Award honours was definitely very cool and it was a fun night, but I take much more pleasure in hearing from people out in the world that enjoyed something I’ve made.

A few weeks ago I was at Long Island University as a guest speaker, and talking with the students and hearing the genuine excitement and love for the shows that I had a hand in creating was better than any award (so far).

 

Did this type of award add any additional pressure on you?

 

No, not at all.

 

Do you have a favourite video or campaign that you’ve created?

 

I created a series called Iconic Characters, and I think that may be my pick because I’ve been able to interview some of my absolute favourite actors of all time.

 

Nicolas Cage, Sir Ben Kingsley, Al Pacino, Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke, Forest Whittaker…The list goes on from there. These are names that a younger Noel would only dream about being able to talk to one day and I was able to turn it into a reality.

We also spun the series off to other professions, doing them with musicians and directors etc. So it’s really been a great time.

I don’t direct all of the episodes anymore, but I’m still a big fan of the series and have a great time watching them as well.

 

What does your work say about you?

 

I really don’t know. I’m not sure you’d be able to get an idea of who I am just from the work I’ve made. Maybe that’s something I need to work on though.

 

How much has your approach to your projects changed since you started?

 

It’s a constant evolution, but I think that happens when you start  from scratch like I did. I’m constantly changing my approach and I’m not certain I’ll ever really settle—at least not for a while.

 

And finally, for anyone out there wanting to get into video creation, are there any tips or advice you could offer?

 

Start now! Just make stuff, anything at all—whatever you’re interested in. Just make it now and post it tomorrow, and the day after that make something else.