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Life & Work with Noelani Mei Lee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Noelani Mei Lee.

Hi Noelani, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
My film career started in Austin, Texas at an early age. In 2006, at fourteen years old, I worked as a production assistant on my first set, an indie called “Strings”. I began directing my own short films two years later. In 2012, I went into production on my first feature film as a writer/director. “Sleight” is a story about a man with Multiple Sclerosis and follows his journey as he struggles to come to terms with living with an invisible disease.

I moved to Los Angeles the following year and have spent a decade working on film sets as a script supervisor while finishing post-production on Sleight. In 2020, Sleight won several awards at various festivals both nationally and internationally and is now going through the distribution process. My team is currently hard at work preparing for our next film venture, a psychological horror titled “Sugar Water”.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Working in the film industry in any capacity can be an overwhelming challenge, especially when you’re young. I can happily say that I have worked hard to get to where I am at and am proud of my progress, but it hasn’t always been a walk in the park. Though I shot my first feature in the summer of 2012, we were unable to complete post-production until late 2019 due to funding and the natural peaks and valleys of adult life.

My drive, in part, comes from a life of suffering from mental illness. It’s why I tell the stories that I do–but as much of a motivator as it is, it can also be a major hindrance. One of my greatest challenges as a storyteller has been quieting the voice that consistently tells me that the work I do is not important or not good enough, which I think most can relate to on some level. Finding strength and perseverance in times of hardship is crucial to writing and directing, and over the years, I’ve found that this is easier to achieve with the help of loved ones.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
From early on, it has been of utmost importance to me to discuss mental health and invisible diseases in the art that I create. I truly believe that the stigma that surrounds these topics is staggering–many who cope with these things do not have a platform or do not feel comfortable enough to talk about them. I want to be that voice. Every film I have ever crafted has been with this in mind.

My stories tend to exist somewhere within the space of real life, dreams, and the depths of the human psyche. I like to explore the mind from the inside out to pull the viewer more deeply into the world of the characters. I believe that my creative strengths lie in weaving together the fabric of different realities and highlighting the thoughts, perceptions, and goals of my characters on an ultra-personal level.

Alright so before we go can you talk to us a bit about how people can work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
Making a movie is, at heart, an extremely collaborative effort. I would be nowhere without the support of my peers. On a set, each and every role is imperative–from the director to the production assistants. But, even before I am in production, I make sure to bring others into my creative process. When writing (and rewriting), feedback from other screenwriters is crucial to my success. Pre-production is the same story. Budgeting, storyboarding, scouting locations… none of this could be done on my own.

I firmly believe that my casts and crews are like an extended family. Loyalty is of the utmost importance to me, and I try to work with the same people as often as I can, but fresh faces are always welcome as well. This industry is all about building a strong and supportive community, and that’s my favorite aspect of what I do.

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Image Credits:

Sleight photos – Adam Dugas Red Screengrabs – Matthew Hardesty

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