I honestly can’t believe we actually got a take that worked,” says director Tom Noakes about the making of his gripping two-shot film, “Nursery Rhymes.” 

Premiering online today exclusively on Vimeo, “Nursery Rhymes” slowly reveals information, playing with audience assumptions in the process. The film racked up numerous awards on the festival circuit over the last two years — and for good reason.

To celebrate its release, we talked with director Tom Noakes about his filmmaking process, including how he got the one shot that mattered.

On the decision to make the film:

“’Nursery Rhymes’ began with Will Goodfellow’s page-turning script. He’s a longtime collaborator, and as soon as I read it, it was a no brainer: we had to make this film. Will and I are especially interested in immersive experiences and spellbinding films that mesmerize the audience through atmosphere and tone.”

On choosing to use a 1-shot:

“I’m not always sold on hooky techniques like 1-shot takes, especially if they’re layered in arbitrarily to elevate the film’s craft or show off how clever the filmmaker is. However, ‘Nursery Rhymes’ was specifically written as a single shot, and it’s instrumental in guiding the audience through the story. Using this approach meant we could control the tension and release of information. As the camera reveals new details, it asks the audience to reevaluate what they’ve previously seen until the whole picture becomes clear.”

On facing every imaginable challenge during production:

“While we were shooting, an unwelcome storm front made for hellish conditions. The temperature dropped to zero, it snowed in the morning, and the wind was piercing. Fortunately, it added to the overall brooding atmosphere, but poor Toby Wallace, who plays the lead metalhead, had to brave those temperatures shirtless. On top of that, there were unhappy toddlers, non-actors, wayward cow wrangling, impatient logging trucks, complex blocking, and an early sunset. I honestly can’t believe we actually got a take that worked. One take! The last one. That’s the one in the film. It was a mammoth effort to pull off and it wouldn’t have been possible without our crew’s insanely generous contributions.”

On lessons learned:

“The most valuable lesson I learned came after the film was released and audiences responded well to it. All I could see up to that point was the film’s shortcomings: what we had to sacrifice in order to make our day. There were so many little details and textures I wanted to add to further enrich the cinematic experience, but we had to cut them. I was devastated afterwards at ‘what could have been,’ which, in hindsight, was a complete overreaction considering what we achieved.”

On the power of film as a medium:

“A great film can turn your world upside down and shape who you are. There are a few films that have done that for me, and I hope to one day do that for someone else, too.”

Advice for aspiring filmmakers:

“My advice is just to make stuff. It’s important to challenge why you’re making a project and aspire to make it better, but don’t let that attitude paralyze your output. Make stuff. And make sure that it’s authentic. Your personal experience and viewpoint are valuable, because it’s yours and yours alone. (Even though I know this to be true, I still struggle to put it into practice.)”

On what’s next:

“This year is shaping up to be an exciting one! Will, myself, and Lucy Gaffy (the film’s producer) have a filmmaker’s collective called Studio Goono. We have a little web series we’re developing with topic.com, and a feature script that’s just about ready to go. I’m in Cape Town right now shooting ads and a couple of music videos. Life is busy!”

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