I spent the first week of the new year in Seattle, working on No Dominion, a documentary dance film, with my wife, Nel Shelby. She’s co-directing No Dominion with Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist dancer Margaret Mullin.
What did I do? Probably my most important job on the film is acting as Nel’s specialist cinematographer for interviews. I set up the interview shot to look beautiful, in the best light for the subject, and run camera and sound.
For me, the set up is the creative part of the process. Choosing the background and making it look symmetrical or pretty. Placing the subject in flattering light. Being sure what’s in the frame isn’t too graphic or busy or weird with lines. It’s fun to make these shots look pretty. I love doing it, and I’m glad I get to work with Nel on a lot of film projects where she needs the perfect interview look – institutional videos for New York Live Arts, interviews with company directors at Ballet Hispanico and other dance institutions, the documentary film PS DANCE!…
I pay close attention to TV interviews and the way movie cinematographers place their subjects in the frame. (The guy from House of Cards is pretty insane with his framing and attention to order and detail. Nothing is out of place. Check it out when you watch.)
I also got to do my most favorite thing while in Seattle filming – I made photographs of the rehearsal process and the performance on stage. That’s where I thrive.
I love working the camera to capture just the right moment to convey the story and the intensity of the piece. An image that will show the wide view of the choreography and the intimacy of each dancer’s detail, too. My photos may get used in the film, which would be great, but I bet the primary use will be social media and promotion of it, which is so important.
I pay close attention to TV interviews and the way movie cinematographers place their subjects in the frame.
I also shop & cook – a very important part of making a great film! And super helpful for Nel to take as much as I can from her plate so she can concentrate on her genius work. I make simple, healthy, sugar-free, wholesome food to fuel the team and their creativity. Don’t underestimate the power of a hearty salad on a film shoot.
Nel and I have been working on projects collaboratively for as long as we’ve been together. Actually, we met at our good friend’s wedding where Nel was shooting video as a gift to them. I shot a roll or two of photos, too. After the wedding I said, “Hey, let me show you the pictures.” And she said “Hey, maybe I can use them in the video.” And the rest is history.
Working on No Dominion was new for me in a way. Ian Horvath’s story is deep and touching, and I think it will resonate with a wide audience. The passion Margaret Mullin brings to the film is inspiring. And what I’ve loved most of all (so far) is watching Nel dig in so deeply and commit all of her attention, focus and creativity. She has a unique way of not allowing anything to interrupt her flow. And she has such a way with people. I was so proud of her each day we were filming. One area of her genius is in her interviewing, pulling the story out of people so naturally. And another is just her amazing eye for dance.