Andrew Norton

CBC “Love Me” podcast’s “The Complexity of Love, in 13 Untranslatable Words” (web short)

Andrew Norton

Untitled Films, Toronto

1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
A short film for CBC (Canadian public broadcaster) called How to Age Gracefully.

2) How did you get into directing? 
I went to school for photography and had been working as a skateboard photographer for many years when I began to learn how to make radio documentaries like the ones on This American Life or RadioLab. I had just bought a new DSLR and it happened to do video. I started messing around with the function and eventually got a lav mic and began doing interviews with friends and family. Directing films was the perfect combination of those passions—taking the visuals from photography and combining it with the storytelling of radio/podcasting.

3) What is your most recent project? 
I made a short film called In Decision. It’s a documentary exploring the idea of how people make up their mind. It uses portraits and b-roll collected in the streets along with voice over gleaned from interviews done over the same period with people we ran into as well as family and friends. It went on to get a Vimeo Staff Pick.

4) What is the best part of being a director? 
My favorite part is interviewing people. The legendary radio broadcaster and oral historian Studs Terkel said when he finishes an interview he wants the subject to say, “Wow, I never knew I thought that!” I love those moments where you ask a question and you can see the wheels turning in your subject’s brain. You just know what they’re about to say is something they’ve never said before. You’re working with them to create unexpected moments and help them to express how they feel in ways they maybe never have. It’s when I get real moments like those on tape is when I’m most excited.

That and you’re often also fed well when you’re a director. That part is nice, too.

5) What is the worst part of being a director? 
The worst part is that what you bring to the table often isn’t definable. You can do all the things a director is supposed to do, check all the technical boxes and still create a finished piece that doesn’t resonate. Being good at this job means making countless subtle choices that give a film a certain quality. Especially in the documentary realm, it’s unpredictable and challenging—but that’s also what makes it thrilling when everything goes right.

6) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 
I’m currently focused on the commercial world with the help of Untitled Films in Toronto. I’m also looking to take advantage of my visa and break into the U.S. market for commercials and branded content. I like creating work that leans on my documentary and interview skills as well as using my photography background to create strong visuals.

7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
Back in high school my walls were covered in skateboard photos ripped out of magazines. Some of the best photos were shot by this dude Scott Pommier. Many years later I got to know Scott a bit and by chance he ended up living down the street from me in Toronto as we were both transitioning from photography into film.

He taught me a lot about very practical things—cameras, editing, how to find great people to work with. But the biggest thing that I learned from him was not waiting when you have an idea. He has a knack for making things happen and not needing someone to validate his idea or give him permission.

From that, I learned how important tenacity and trusting in your own instincts and ideas are in filmmaking.

8) Who is your favorite director and why?
Even before I knew what a director was I used to love the work of Spike Jonze. First it was his skate videos (and his skate photographs I used to try and copy). Then I would record Beastie Boys music videos on my VCR to watch over and over.

Now I get to watch his feature films in movie theatres. I think what appeals to me about him—aside from his skateboard background—is you get a sense that he follows what amuses him. He finds something strange or interesting or seemingly mundane and allows himself to follow it to genuinely interesting places for no reason other than he thinks they’re interesting.

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
One spot that I always think back to is a series of ads from 2015 shot for MLB’s “Playball” program—designed to promote people of all ages and backgrounds playing baseball. They’re directed by Daniel and Katina Mercadante. The spots are so simple, they’re just like mini documentaries without any interviews and barely any voiceover. It’s just these great slices of life of all the fun, goofy, small and inspirational moments that go into regular people playing baseball. I love that they were able to draw out these moments and stories in seemingly mundane subject material without making it feel like you’re being manipulated. It’s something I strive for in the work I do.

10) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I dropped out of photo school in Toronto to become a full time skateboard photographer. I got to visit places like Taiwan and Newfoundland on skate trips. I also got to visit Tony Hawk’s house and personal skatepark in his backyard. After eventually working my way up to become an editor at the magazine—I changed gears and learned how to make radio documentaries. Since then I’ve worked with outlets like NPR, 99% Invisible, This American Life as well as CBC. More recently, I combined my eye for visuals with the storytelling and interview skills I learned from radio to start directing documentaries and commercials.


Peter Davis
Partner/Executive Producer
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