This is not a war story

Alumni Relations
Monday 23 May 2022

Noa Bricklin (MA 2016) describes how studying Art History and Social Anthropology at St Andrews gave her the skills to be a critically acclaimed production designer.

I think I knew from the moment I heard about St Andrews that it was where I was supposed to be. I attended a small high school in NYC and a few alumni I knew had studied here. Their descriptions of a charming seaside town and personalised academic immersion felt so right. I knew I wanted to study Art History, and I also knew I wasn’t going to be a chemist or a mathematician, so being able to fully dive into the subjects that interested me was really important. Being able to explore Europe was, of course, the cherry on top.

Originally, I thought my love of art would translate simply into a job as a gallerist or curator. I helped found the Teen Art Gallery in NYC while still in high school, and during my first summer home from university, I had an internship at the Staten Island Museum. While I loved both of these pursuits, something was missing. In my second year I fell in love with Social Anthropology, added it to my course and knew I needed to somehow incorporate my fascination with people into my career. Fate stepped in during my second summer at home, when a dear friend asked me to intern in the art department on an indie film she was working on.

At the time, I had no idea what the “art department” was or what the “production designer” did, but from my first day on set I knew that this creative, collaborative energy was what I was looking for.

The art department deals with the whole environment of a film – including everything from the sets to the props. The production designer is in charge of the art department and as such is responsible for the overall aesthetic and visual context of a film.

This is Not a War Story was the first film I production designed, and the experience was unparalleled. I collaborated closely with writer/director Talia Lugacy as well as the veterans of Frontline Arts and Out Of Step Press for more than a year leading up to production, and this allowed me to fully immerse myself in this world, and to create the most authentic setting for this story. Because we were working with real veterans, it was of paramount importance to seamlessly blend the reality of their stories with the fictional elements of the film.

This Is Not A War Story received glowing critical acclaim; It was shortlisted at Cannes and received the John Cassavetes nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards. It is currently streaming on HBO Max.

Since then, I have designed a film called Follow Her – a fully narrative feature directed by Emmy Award winner Sylvia Caminer, which explores the nature of surveillance, privacy and sexuality in the digital age. It is presently screening at international festivals and recently won best picture at Fantasporto. I’m currently working on a new TV show for Apple TV+ and after that I’ll be joining forces again with Talia to design her next feature Whitey on the Moon.

Every day I employ skills as a production designer that I learned at St Andrews – from picking out colour palettes and balancing a frame (Art History) to creating the world of a character, their background, carefully designing their homes and personal props to further their story (Anthropology). I’m so happy that I followed my instincts and came here to study.


This is Not a War Story is being live-streamed via the Byre Theatre on Thursday 26 May at 6.30pm BST.

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