MovieMaker asked director-producer-actor Karen Knox to share her experience creating the amazing short film, “The Year of Staring at Noses.”  It premiered at SLAMDANCE 2024 before playing CUFF, where it won the Audience Choice Award for best short, Atlanta Film Festival, and most recently, Mammoth Lakes Film Festival.

A director’s desire to make autofiction films often reveals a masochistic streak, or less charitably, a narcissistic one. That I chose to make a movie about a woman getting a nose job while trying to become a contestant on ABC’s The Bachelor leaves me open to both such accusations. But since this film was a micro budget hybrid narrative-doc made by two people shot almost entirely on iPhone, maybe we can be charitable and say it was largely an exercise in just masochism. Making “The Year of Staring at Noses” was my Cringe Everest.

The idea for the film started during that first pandemic Winter when my city of Toronto implemented draconian laws about seeing only one person “outside your household,” so my best friend (and co-director) Matt Eastman and I would regularly take the air on what we affectionately christened our “depression walks.” You weren’t allowed to see your family or make movies with your friends, but you could still get plastic surgery. I was doing the latter, and on these walks, we joked that we should turn the process of getting the surgery into a movie.

Then, it wasn’t a joke.

Matt and I wrote the script together on our walks. It wasn’t a traditional writing process. There is no FDX file for “The Year of Staring At Noses.” We would talk for hours about Samantha, my basic-bitch-with-a-heart-of-gold alter ego who would be driven to madness (and plastic surgery) by her celebrity crush love crusade. We were like two under-qualified shrinks diagnosing a fictional woman with the psychological meltdowns we were both narrowly avoiding in real life.

Co-directors Karen Knox and Matt Eastman.

A month before the surgery, I started filming clips as Samantha. Sequestered in my apartment with little else to do, my mania had free range. I would send hours of footage to Matt (God bless him) who would dutifully cull the inane musings as we shaped them into our agreed-upon narrative. This was the easy part. I was just girl-boss-blogging from the privacy of my own home. It wasn’t until after the surgery that I realized I had only reached the foothills of Mount Cringe.

We decided we needed to film the moment I saw my new nose for the first time (as Samantha). I would need to go in character for my splint removal appointment. I could not explain to my intimidatingly beautiful plastic surgeon’s army of sexy nurses what I was up to. Well, I could have, but when I ran the scenario in my head the looks of confusion and disappointment from the nurses reminded me too much of every Christmas dinner I’d spent explaining my career to my not-in-the-arts extended family. I settled on asking the nurses if I could film the nose reveal for my…“boyfriend.” They were happy to accommodate and graciously reserved comment when I “went Samantha mode” and the iPhone rolled.

Karen Knox as Samantha in “The Year of Staring at Noses.”

Lockdown was still happening and locations were limited so I packed my ring light and checked myself in for a lonely staycation at a Marriott Hotel for more shooting. After spending six hours filming myself crying and vlogging as “Samantha” I got a call from the front desk. A guest next door was concerned (had complained) about the volume of wailing. I assured the front desk I was fine and asked if it would be alright for me to film something in the lobby. It was not. I did it anyway, under the pretense of waiting for an Uber Eats delivery that never came.

To finish the movie we had to go to New York to film Samantha’s final unhinged apotheosis. I (Samantha) was going to storm The Bachelor’s private residence and seduce (coerce with a firearm) him into love and marriage. But first, we needed to capture her one-woman Bachelorette, during which Samantha would gallivant around Times Square with tourists and street performers in a ball gown with a GoPro strapped to her head. After filming the sequence, Matt and I drove back to our hotel in total silence. The experience had been completely demonic. I had mild hypothermia. I had gone through Cringe’s Gates of Hell and emerged reborn with profound respect for influencers who submit themselves daily to the humiliating task of creating in public.

Karen Knox as Samantha filming in Times Square.

With the movie in the can, Matt dove into the edit (he also edited the picture, gloriously I might add). I was immensely curious about what would emerge but also afraid. What was I trying to prove with this deeply unflattering semi-autobiographical film? That’s a much longer conversation I pay someone to discuss with me every week for an hour on Wednesdays, but the exercise of making “The Year of Staring At Noses” reminded me of what I think is one of filmmaking’s greatest pleasures: the pain.

All art making, especially independent filmmaking, is sadomasochistic. It’s a wildly underfunded mountaineering expedition that no one asked you to go on to tell a story no one asked to hear. It’s very hard to explain why I keep doing it to a table of Christmas dinner relatives, or hot nurses, or…myself. All I know is that there are some stories that live in me like parasites. If I don’t purge them, I become physically ill. Dramatic I know, but forgive me, it is my trade.

When Matt showed me the first cut of the film I saw all the humiliating moments of Samatha’s (my) life and I didn’t care anymore. When we watched the scene where a hot nurse cleans dried blood out of my bloated nasal cavity, my only thought was – I wish we had this from another angle. I could never have reached the summit of Mount Cringe without Matt, as he is also an irrefutable expert in the field. Don’t worry he will understand this as a compliment. When the credits rolled (all four of them) I made a joke about that Miyazaki meme where he sits in his studio calmly explaining that filmmaking only brings suffering and that he can’t believe he wants to do another one.

I felt the same way.

“The Year of Staring at Noses” is available to watch here.