After taking on the fashion genre with his hesitant courtship short J’attends, director Stewart Maclennan decided to set his filmic skills to the challenge of tackling something completely different for his new film You Know You Like It.
I’ve always loved watching dance on film, from Busby Berkeley musicals to the Step Up series. There’s something so visually appealing about seeing a group of dancers move in sync to great music, and there’s so much to learn from these great directors about how to make the camera accentuate the dancing by becoming an integral part of the choreography. I also wanted to experiment with a single-take concept. Although I’m an editor by training, I’ve always wanted to plan a totally in-camera sequence and I knew that a dance film would be a good opportunity to try this.
As with any dance film worth its salt Maclennan began with the music, fusing both the original and Bondax remix of AlunaGeorge’s track You Know You Like It to a two-and-a-half minute cut that incorporated tempo changes which would later work as a foundation to progress the dance sequence through their warehouse location.
Then I partnered with a wonderful choreographer named Ellen Kim, who has danced for artists such as Beyonce and LL Cool J and choreographed for Pharrell Williams. Our biggest challenge was understanding how we could take advantage of our location — an industrial warehouse in downtown LA — and move the dancers and camera throughout the space in a way that could hold our audience’s attention for a few minutes. We wanted both the camera and the choreography to flow together, revealing new looks and dancer configurations throughout.
To help us achieve this we decided to use a steadicam. Of course there are many famous single-take steadicam sequences in films which are inspiring, but in general we wanted to stay away from flamboyant camera movement that draws attention to itself. Cinematographer Topher Osborn and steadicam operator Orlando Duguay worked closely with Ellen to create flowing, organic camera choreography designed to accentuate rather than overwhelm the dance routine itself.
We shot on a Red Scarlet with a 24mm Zeiss Standard Speed prime lens. Topher gave our warehouse a realistic but dramatic look and feel with his lighting and we also hosed down the floors for added texture and reflection. Orlando did a fantastic job tracking the dancers and maintaining precise framing; each take was a very physical three-minute sequence and he handled all the movement with aplomb. We spent about 6 hours blocking and rehearing the sequence before rolling film; after a couple hours and 11 takes, we finally got the complete performance we were looking for!
Tonally, a big inspiration for our project was a recent film adaptation of Jerome Robbin’s NY Export: Opus Jazz, directed by Henry Joost and Jodi Lee Lipes. It’s a ballet but the film has surprising realism to it; I also love its extended prologue which introduces us to the main characters as people before we realize they are dancers; this is something I tried to do with our film’s opening beats. Another influence was the incredible black and white cinematography of Francis Ford Coppola’s famous Rumble Fish.
Final mention must go not just to Ellen and her fantastic choreography but also to dancers Megan Batoon, Winnie Chang, Ellen Kim, Gracie Stewart and Amanda Suk, who brought energy and style to their performance, and who constantly improvised and collaborated with Ellen to add new surprises to their routine over the course of the day.