Lessons In Artistic Process

Yesterday we submitted our film for Dances Made To Order. The two weeks sped by!

Overall, the process was smooth. Our performers were incredible to work with, and Ben has been a camera rockstar (my jobs during the shoot were specifying movement, offering opinions, and fetching equipment).

Like any artistic process, this experience has been full of valuable learning opportunities. So, I thought I’d share some of these.

1. Simplify– figure out what you really need.

Our original plan was to shoot in four locations: a library, a grocery store, a house, and a train station. The film is just 5-6 minutes long. As soon as we started navigating the world of release forms and company permissions, I knew we were in over our heads. Because we wanted to pay our performers, Ben and I could only afford to have each of them for two half-days (4 hrs) of shooting. To get our shooting into just twelve hours, we needed to plan carefully, and we needed to have a controlled environment (i.e. not public) for at least part of the shoot.

It came down to asking ourselves this: What are we trying to communicate? Can we say this in a simpler way and make life easier for ourselves without compromising the film? Do I really need those additional 8 props?

We didn’t.

2. Set parameters.

I believe firmly that a lot of artistic magic happens when we set boundaries in our project. Usually I get better ideas when there are fewer options. For instance, when we decided on shooting in just two locations, I could really think about the possibilities those locations presented us with.

3. If always takes longer than you think. Prepare accordingly.

Well…yes. I always think “we can shoot that easily in an hour.” Or, four hours.

3.) Be flexible when collaborating- you aren’t the only artist in the room.

‘Dance film’ and ‘dance’ are two very different beasts. Not all dance makes for a good film. There were things I wanted in the film that I had to cut out. There were also opinions that Ben brought to the table that changed our way of working– because it was a collaboration.

4.) Leave a certain amount up to chance.

I carefully prepare for every rehearsal and shoot, but a certain amount of unpredictability always enters the picture. I actually love this, even though thinking on my feet can be scary when we have a very short amount of time to work in. An hour before one of our shoots, we got a UPS delivery! Our dear friend, Betsy, made us a 1 year anniversary present– a quilt! Looking at all of its bright colors and intricate patterns, we decided we should probably shoot Megan doing her movement on the bed, rather than next to the bed. This last minute addition added so much color to our shots. But, I couldn’t have predicted the quilt’s arrival. Similarly, parts of the concept came from our first brainstorming rehearsal. I had no idea what Charles and Megan were going to do/say in that rehearsal. I just had to let go and trust that it would all work out.

[The Minneapolis edition of Dances Made To Order premieres on their website on Wednesday. You can purchase online viewing for all 3 films for $10!]


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