Commissioned by London dance company Balletboyz as the first instalment in their new film initiative Shots, Flight from Canister Studio Director Harriet Macdonald combines urban machismo, in-flight safety demonstrations and elegant dance in a transfixing reflection on gang culture and gender roles. Very much taken with this successful melding of incongruous elements, DN asked Harriet to tell us about the inspiration she finds in melding discordant images and the cinematographic gift of brake lights.

At the very beginning, I had an image in my head of taking the most rigid set of choreography and slowly unravelling it until it actually revealed the character’s mental state and real personality. Originally it was meant to be a female but then the all male dance group Balletboyz was looking for concepts for their new series Shots and I then started to think about how it would shift the storytelling, twisting in gang culture as well as gender roles.

I love to try and put two things together that shouldn’t go visually.

The piece was much more about the emotion and physical reflection of that than a dance piece and I was really lucky that when Edd Arnold (Dancer) and Jason Mabana (Choreographer) joined from the Balletboyz team they managed to figure out how we could pull it off. I love to try and put two things together that shouldn’t go visually: knight wakes up in the middle of the city/astronaut enters into an inter-planet relationship, but the stories I want to tell are mundane/every day but with a visual twist. So having a gang member suddenly start doing a safety demonstration and then break into dance COULD have gone horribly wrong if it wasn’t for Jason and Edd who managed to ground it.

We had a narrow window of time before Balletboyz went off on tour so the pre-production suddenly had to move at speed (I was producing as well as directing)- searching for the perfect location for the middle of the freezing January (but which helped the mood). The crew was a micro one of 4, 3 for camera: DOP + Stedicam (I wanted that the camera was always moving to build the tension for the edit as well as becoming part of the dance itself) and makeup. We shot on Alexa Mini and Cooke anamorphics for a cinematic feel and had limited hours of light for the middle of winter.

We had one happy accident that when we had one car pass and put on its brake lights it created an almost hellish effect in the darkness so without gaffer or lights Jessie Deol (Makeup) actually parked with her brake lights on for us to recreate the effect for the final scenes.

The stories I want to tell are mundane/every day but with a visual twist.

The post took much longer with the help of amazing friends who helped in their spare time. I did the edit and a friend in Bolivia composed the original track while another brought the colours to life in the grade. A director is only as good as their team and I can’t thank mine enough and the team at Balletboyz who brought the idea to life.

Flight is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.

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