Branching out into the arena of dance film, Chris Shimojima’s Do You Like Me Now? sees the director subverting the common tropes of a traditional love story through the use of music and movement, to instead provide a kinetic commentary on our pervasive willingness to reform ourselves to fit in and become more desirable to others. In our interview below, Chris discusses how he worked with collaborators old and new for this compelling story about the fickleness of attraction and the pliability of self.
It’s been a while since we last caught up with you here at Directors Notes (our apologies!). What’s been keeping you busy since then?
Your questions are insightful, so I’m always happy to hear from you! In the past 2 years I’ve gotten more into commercial directing, and that’s pushed me to explore short-form content in different ways. This is the first time since then that I’ve tried a fuller story, and even so, it’s not a straightforward dramatic screenplay.
I feel many people can relate to that willingness to change oneself to closer match a partner’s desires. Is this a concept rooted in personal experience?
It is and it isn’t personal. In general, I’m super interested in what’s the extent people are a product of their environment? We’re in a world where it’s all about the next best thing. What’s the latest trend? Who’s hot now? And whether we like it or not, we craft ourselves and buy into those trends – which, by definition, are fleeting and fickle – in order to fit in and be more desirable. It’s personal to the extent that I’m a product of this. Everyone is. It’s a little cynical, especially in the context of relationships, but the trick is to be aware of it. With this piece, I wanted people to feel like relationships were being confused and subverted. That way, they’d be more aware of these tensions. But that’s not how it started. I just wanted to try something dance-related, craving that expressivity, and hoping to put a narrative spin on it. And while thinking of that narrative, I kept coming back to this theme. Incorporating that really helped it resonate for me.
It was important that it be about characters, not performers.
Your collaboration with Ljova spans several projects now and the music here feels inexorably entwined into this piece. What went into the creation of the score and how would you describe the maturing of your returning collaborative process?
It’s been different every time, and I hope it continues that way! On 6-minute Mom, part of the soundtrack was an existing piece Ljova composed, so we just expanded from there. Then we had Signal Strength, which was not a film score, but a performance and experiment, so it was about the music itself. We had a few guidelines, but there was a lot of freedom. This time around, because of our schedules and the complexity of the narrative, it came down to scoring it after we filmed. While we didn’t get to create a track in advance and approach it like a music video, I knew in advance how I hoped certain moments would hit, so I mapped those out in the shoot. Ljova went through several drafts in order to accommodate those moments, then we finally sat together, and I guided him very specifically as he created a temp-score on the spot. He of course then re-recorded the material, layering lines that he played himself, and working with a pianist and bassist.
As a non-dancer how did you navigate the process of translating your narrative ideas into dance with Anatomiae Occultii?
I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I wanted there to be some acting. It was important that it be about characters, not performers. I trusted founder Adam Barruch to use the right team for the choreography, and I just wanted to confirm they’d be comfortable treating it more like a narrative film. What’s great about Adam’s style is that a lot of it is upper-body-focused, and it’s more like movement than straight-out dancing, so it helped carry the story forward rather than being showy for its own sake. Adam crafted the main interactions, and when I came to rehearsal, I’d say, this relationship dynamic needs to come across more, or let’s connect these passages with improvisation, or let’s just cover this part like regular actors in a short film.
A good part of what I love is crafting dynamics and progressions through camerawork and editing.
With a well choreographed piece I could see there being a temptation to choose an aesthetic framing, sit back and capture it unfolding, but that’s not the way you approached this. What informed the choices you made in the presentation of Do You Like Me Now?
I think that’s just where my skill and personality lie. I didn’t want to just film a dance, because a good part of what I love is crafting dynamics and progressions through camerawork and editing. Using the tools to tell the story. Knowing this, Bart Cortright (Cinematographer) and I were comfortable just going for it and allowing it to be expressive whenever it could be. He played a huge part in scouting locations with great practical lighting or which could allow him to light cleanly. Not to mention, he juggled a ton of shots – which we couldn’t fully map out until the last-minute when the choreography was set.
What’s up next for you? Will we ever get to see that twisted love story feature Intoxicated I keep asking you about?
Oh I couldn’t find a way to make it work! Its meaning started swimming away. I like to think I found the real core to it, and it’s something that I can express more relevantly in other stories. Right now, I have another feature that’s moving further along. It’s a satire on internet stardom, how one fame-obsessed star turns to a seductive new procedure, kind of the next step in live-streaming, and how it affects her sanity and identity. Can she escape this lifestyle? And more importantly, should she?