Point of You
Born in Southern California, Joel's a mixed-race, half Japanese Emmy award winning film and commercial director who seeks to give a voice to marginalized individuals.
His reach background both personally and professionally, has given him a unique maturity and compassion in documenting stories of community and identity and turning the spotlight to underrepresented groups of our society. His most recent work, “POSE: Identity, Community, Respect,” is a critically acclaimed documentary around the largest transgender cast ever assembled for television.
It’s always fascinating sitting down to discuss with creators that are both technically and artistically eloquent. Here’s Joel, his story and his Hero Profile for your perusal and indulgence.
Fabrik: Hello Joel, we’re happy to have you as a Hero! To start, would you like to share a bit more about yourself in your own words?
Joel Knoernschild: "My full name is Joel Kazuo Knoernschild, Kazuo being my Japanese grandfather’s name meaning “peaceful man.” The last name is German, so I’m a hybrid."
Fabrik: The current state of affairs has upended the way filmmaking works. How do you navigate the situation? How do you approach and adapt to the new global context?
Joel Knoernschild: "I really wish I had an answer to the current global climate and pandemic that we’re dealing with as creatives. I feel lucky that I’m quarantining with the film team that I typically work with, so we’re really powering through projects that we would have gotten to later in the year. I think having a team that you can trust and count on, health wise, is going to be a big part of moving forward on film projects, from a smaller perspective anyway, and utilizing technology like the Teradek Cube, outputting IP video deployment to any location. Things like that. But other than that, I’m just reading the health mandates that I’m getting weekly from different companies and seeing how this all pans out."
"I think having a team that you can trust and count on, health wise, is going to be a big part of moving forward on film projects, from a smaller perspective anyway, and utilizing technology like the Teradek Cube, outputting IP video deployment to any location."
Fabrik: You have a long career path in documenting the path to identity and discovery around (often) 'unseen' social and ethnical groups, most recently with the acclaimed series POSE. Would you like to share a bit more about your work there?
Joel Knoernschild: "POSE is one of those extremely special shows that I feel comes around once in a lifetime. For those who don’t know, POSE has the largest number of transgender actors on television. I feel extremely lucky to be able to work with all of the talented actors, directors, writers, department heads, and of course Ryan Murphy’s project(s) and tell their story about Community, Identity, and Family. It really is about a marginalized community that’s been suffering, and now being able to tell their story, authentically, and educating not only America, but the world about not only the transgender community, but the LGBTQ+ community who have been struggling to be seen and heard for so many years. It’s been a blessing."
My work has been documenting the show from a verité point-of-view and letting the community of POSE tell their story from a real and authentic place. I remember for season one, I met MJ Rodriguez who plays one of the leads “Blanca,” in Newark, and we just did a very candid walk and talk in a park. You could never do that now. She’s too famous, but seeing her passion and very candidly, hear MJ tell her side of the story from season one to now has been incredible. The footage is mixed media, so some is in color, some is black and white, and some is distressed 16mm."
Fabrik: When you’re working as a director is there anything specific you look for in scripts or treatments?
Joel Knoernschild: "My hope is the commercial and narrative projects that I take on have a positive human side to them and improve people’s lives. My sister Katie Malia and I also have a web series called ALMOST ASIAN, (we’re half-Japanese) that explores the ethnic dichotomies and racial diversities prevalent in youth culture today through a comedic lens. The series polaroids, Katie's personal and professional struggles as she awkwardly attempts to maneuver through life as a half-Asian mix. That’s been fun to explore and spin-off into other upcoming projects revolving around diversity."
Fabrik: Do you prefer studio or location shoots? And any reasons why that’s the case?
Joel Knoernschild: "Honestly either one is fine, as long as it’s servicing the project in the best possible way. Studio, on location, cameras, lenses, lighting, they’re all tools, like a hammer or a saw. One’s better suited for the job."
Fabrik: Have you ever had any difficulties pushing your creative and artistic approach to clients?
Joel Knoernschild: "All the time, haha. That’s why it’s important to have a clear vision, whether it’s a treatment, deck, mood board / video to help convey the artistic approach beforehand. Lots of time well spent in InDesign… Honestly, I think it’s helpful to have push-back on creative, having to explain yourself or figure out a better way to creatively approach something. As an artist, you don’t want “yes people” around. You want people you respect who are going to challenge and cross swords with you, bettering the creative vision."
"As an artist, you don’t want “yes people” around. You want people you respect who are going to challenge and cross swords with you, bettering the creative vision..."
Fabrik: Is there any piece of work, be it a film, a song, a painting, that has left you with a lasting impression or any mentors you have encountered throughout the span of your career? Or any work you admire, but it’s not yours?
Joel Knoernschild: "I can remember one experience on Nov 10th, 2012. It was the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the LACMA, a weekend and extremely crowded. It was difficult to walk through the exhibition without being in someone’s way, so I somewhat hastily walked through it. As I was leaving, I saw Leon Vitali walking in. My mouth dropped. Leon Vitali who not only played Lord Bullingdon in BARRY LYNDON and was an extremely accomplished actor, he was also Stanley’s assistant for years, watched over Danny in the Shining, and casting director on Full Metal Jacket.
I did a U-turn and walked back in, asking if I could be a “fly-on-the-wall” as he began walking through the exhibition with some of his friends. He graciously said “yes”and I was able to ask every Kubrick question I could think of, while this wealth of knowledge was graciously answering each question with a detailed answer. The best part was, people would stand around as he would talk about a film and one time someone asked how he knew so much. Leon pointed to a photo of him in the BARRY LYNDON section and said, “that is me.” They had no idea. It was incredible, and I will never forget how kind he was with his time. They made a documentary about Leon recently, called FILMWORKER. It’s great."
Fabrik: Are there any related fields in the arts that you would like to explore or you are currently delving into?
Joel Knoernschild: "During the pandemic, my quarantine crew consisting of my sister, Director of Photography, Randy Wedick, and my girlfriend, who’s an amazing musician are putting the finishing touches on a short film revolving around dancers and how, as performers, they are dealing with isolation - one of the dancers is Beyoncé’s choreographer, another is on the cover of Beyoncé’s new album and dances with her on tour, another dances for Banks and Taylor Swift, so they’re all very accomplished, and I feel very lucky to document them.
We went to their houses wearing masks and gloves, stood outside and shot them dancing and expressing themselves from 20’ away using only a 28mm and 135mm. It was really cathartic and therapeutic not only for them to dance, but for us to witness as they gave so much of themselves, which touched us all deeply. We shot it slow motion on a Red Helium 8K camera with Angenioux OptimoPrime Lenses, so it’s nice to see a piece shot during the pandemic that doesn’t look like an iPhone. We asked each dancer to send us a voice memo to use as VO, explaining how self-isolation and quarantine feels to them. It’s called “Slow Down Time."
Fabrik: Any advice you’d like to impart to those entering the field?
Joel Knoernschild: "If you watch the Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance,” you see how incredibly hard he worked to achieve his dream. It’s probably going to take a lot longer than you expected to get to where you want to be, but enjoy the struggle, the honest passion projects you make early on, the camaraderie you build with your team as you evolve and struggle together. Become a PA, as you’ll recognize how to treat people down on set down the road. If you enjoy making films, nothing in the world is more fun. So sometimes, stop, look around and enjoy the ride."
"It’s probably going to take a lot longer than you expected to get to where you want to be, but enjoy the struggle, the honest passion projects you make early on, the camaraderie you build with your team as you evolve and struggle together."
Fabrik: Final question. What do you like most about Fabrik? What's your favourite feature?
Joel Knoernschild: "I’ve built my own websites since the beginning. The early ones were from scratch, designing them in Dreamweaver, having to resize each thumbnail then the full-size versions in Photoshop with different file names, then uploading the html and images via FTP site. You really had to have a knowledge of HTML to build something interesting back then.
The nice thing about Fabrik is it’s all automated. You don’t have to resize all of the images to be the same width for it to look nice. It just does it for you. The layout is great too, and easy to understand how to use and also look sleek. It very much streamlines my time, not having to spend half a day to upload a new project to the site. I can really do it in 5 to 10 minutes, and I’m done, able to work on upcoming projects."
Joel is using Jute a distinctive modern theme with classic typography and styling featuring full-width cover images, homepage layouts featuring a bottom-aligned menu and a responsive sidebar.