As we’ve seen several times here on Directors Notes in live action shorts such as The Wall or animated crisis pieces like your art is shit, those who aspire to create anything of merit must first silence their inner critic. Returning to DN with new battle of self piece Rehearsal, Erin S Murray explains how she used choreography, cinematography, and a violent resolution to illustrate a dancer’s determination to overcome the acerbic voice of inner doubt.

With Rehearsal, I wanted to make a film pitting uninhibited creativity against self-consciousness and intrusive thoughts. From the start, I knew I wanted to have two characters – the dancer and Mira, the observer. I started by creating a shot list. I was very specific about the size and placement of characters in the frame because I wanted the characters to speak as little as possible. I also wanted to convey a sense of isolation for the dancer.

At the same time, I began working on the choreography. I wanted to sway between very controlled movements with lots of repetition and more frantic movements where my body seemed to be egged on by an outside force. On the day of shooting, I improvised the first two shorter dancing scenes, because I needed to be truly caught off guard when Mira interrupted me.

I wanted Mira to be dominating, erratic, and immature. I was super lucky to work with Caroline Avery Granger. I’d watched her work in a music video where she played a meth addict mother, and I knew she could bring a lot to the role. Caroline and I developed her character together over the phone and one short rehearsal. A big influence was Gary Oldman’s character in Léon: The Professional. Mira’s character is obviously meant to diminish the dancer, but I was specific with her critiques in the way they focused on how other people perceived her dancing. To Mira, a performance is only worthwhile if other people like it.

The worst thing to do is wait around until you feel more confident because that will never happen!

The Cinematographer, Alex Allgood, and I went with two lighting looks – a naturalistic look and a darker, top-lit look that represents the dancer’s bliss state. I wanted both looks, even the top lit one, to have a sense of believability in the space, so the audience is never quite sure of reality. In the end, the top-lit look was meant to show the dancer basking in the joy of uncensored movement.

Ultimately, I wanted to make a film that nods to my love of improvisational dance, while showing a dancer’s relationship with intrusive thoughts. That critical voice can be paralyzing, shooting down okay ideas before they have time to marinate into better ideas; but at the same time, I believe the connection between the two is essential to creativity and very intriguing to me.

I’m excited about choreographing some music videos coming up! I’m also in the process of editing a narrative short (without dance) that I directed, and I’m in the planning stage of another dance film with a group of dancers this time. Confidence comes from failing and then trying again. It doesn’t come from winning every time. I believe action is the only way to overcome self-doubt. The worst thing to do is wait around until you feel more confident because that will never happen! I’m interested to see what I’m capable of, so my curiosity conquers my self-doubt.

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