Everyone has their own way of working but when it comes to generating material most processes fall into two main categories: working with pre-choreographed material and working with improvisation. Certainly a mix of both can be used to generate your content. Below are some ideas regarding each category.
“For the filmmakers, dancers, and choreographers who regard cinema as a new dance ground full of possibilities to explore, the very aspects of cinema which displace live dance values are the ones to explore.”
From Filmdance: Space, Time and Energy by Amy Greenfield (1983)
- Pre-choreographed Movement
The primary advantage of having pre-choreographed material is the ability to come up with a plan for how the material is to be recorded. This pre-planning allows for organization of time, resources and assuredness that you will get what you need from the shoot. One way to do this is to develop a storyboard of the desired shots.
To storyboard is to develop a pre-conceived methodology for capturing material with the camera. Traditionally, a written script is the starting point for most dialogue-based productions. When creating a dance for the screen often times the pre-choreographed material rather than a written script will serve as the primary basis for the storyboard. These storyboards can be created in many forms from lists to drawings to photographs to floor plans. First and foremost though they represent the shots you wish to film and the anticipated order for editing. Storyboards allow the choreographer, director, dancers and other technicians on site the ability to be on the same page during the shooting process.
There are a few downfalls to basing your project solely on pre-choreographed material. When working in a site-specific location the act of placing pre-choreographed material into the site may constrain the dance as well as limit the movement possibilities inspired by the new environment. Ways around this dilemma are to visit the site during the choreographic process and be prepared for the choreography to be adjusted during the shoot. To avoid this problem all together, consider developing the movement solely in the environment itself.
Many of the storyboard examples in Film Directing: Cinematic Motion and Shot by Shot are available online. You can visit the Michael Wiese Publishing site to learn more about these new resources:
“Starting from scratch on a new work, I always use a video camera in the rehearsal room. I use the camera as a notebook as we go along. If the intention is to make the piece on location, it is essential to rehearse in the space, interior or exterior. I always shoot this rehearsal material too. Working outside means dealing with the weather, and a whole other set of problems has to be faced. Victoria and I made a film called Men, which we shot in the Rocky Mountains of Canada in winter and summer. Initial rehearsals were indoors, but most rehearsal work was done outside, and the entire film was shot in exterior locations.”
From “Making Dance Films with Victoria Marks” by Margaret Williams inside Envisioning Dance on Film and Video
- Improvisational Process
Whether used in all or in part, the Improvisational Process is another valid tool for capturing dance with the camera. Just as choreographers and dancers often turn to improvisation as a means for creation, directors too can use the improvisational approach as a means for generating footage. Exploring improvisation on the set can lead to a symbiotic, organic and spontaneous outcome. When improvising together, the relationship between the camera and the dancer is enhanced allowing the moment-to-moment action to be charged with energy and life. Especially in a site-specific location, improvisation is a much-needed tool in discovering all of the possibilities for movement and framing in that space. There are however a few things to consider when improvising on the set.
When choosing to use the improvisational process as a means for capturing footage, it is important to remember that the footage you gather will need to eventually be edited together to create your final project. Therefore, some forethought as to what you might want to capture is important so that the shoot will be successful for you in the end. The following are a few of the considerations found in Katrina McPherson’s book Making Video Dance.
- Create a “score” or set of rules for all concerned to follow. (See suggestions for a “score” below.)
- Define the area of space in which the dancers and the camera are to move.
- Set a time limit for each improvisation.
- Always find a gentle way to bring the improvisation to an end.
- Make sure anything you do not want in the shot is removed from the space.
- After each improvisation, look back and access what was filmed to better inform the next take.
- Take safety of the dancers, camera operator and camera equipment into consideration.
The creation of a “score” can be an effective tool in directing the improvisation and having some control over the look and intention of the material. McPherson suggests that a score include the following four elements:
- a starting point
- an idea to work with
- a set of rules
- guidance on how to move and what to frame
Whether it is the dancer improvising, the camera, or both, or whether this technique will be used in full or in part, one thing is for sure the unexpected will be captured. With a little preparation and a lot of on the spot magic, the improvisational process will allow you to achieve an end project that is hard to capture in any other way.