Let’s face it, life’s daily grind can sometimes get you down, especially if you’re also having to navigate the emotional minefield of modern dating. Luckily, as Nick Borenstein demonstrates with great panache in comedy short Sweater, sometimes all it takes is an unexpected moment of kindness from a stranger to get your groove back. A project which Borenstein not only wrote and directed but also got to flaunt his dancing chops in front of the camera for, we asked the New York-based filmmaker and performer to reveal how he managed to shoot this joyous extravaganza in a single day.
I have been dancing since I was a kid and always wanted to integrate dance into my filmmaking. Dancing brings me such immense joy and I wanted to explore that feeling on screen. Truthfully, I also wanted to create my own Britney moment. As I developed this film about joy, I also needed to consider sadness. In this case, I settled on rejection as a vehicle for sadness. Rejection is all-too relatable, and in the film, the protagonist carries his rejection and sadness with him. It isn’t until he experiences a small moment of kindness from a stranger that he uncovers his joy and it’s expressed visually through movement. Throughout the process, I was really excited to create a film that mixed the genres of narrative film, musicals and music videos – something I felt was missing from the broader marketplace.
Dancing, like film, evokes such a vast range of emotion. I figured it’d be an exciting experiment to take these two very visual (and visceral) disciples and meld them together. I’ve always felt like there was an opportunity to capture movement on film that highlighted the raw emotion of a character while keeping the narrative fairly grounded. I wanted Sweater to be a celebration of music, dance and film and was inspired by music videos by Spike Jones, Joseph Kahn and Dave Meyers, a film adaptation of Jerome Robbins ballet NY Export: Opus Jazz by Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes as well as dance videos from choreographers like Candace Brown, Miguel Zarate and Parris Goebel.
We shot this film in one day. A miracle, I know. And while I am very comfortable directing myself as an actor, it was very new to direct myself as a dancer. It’s a different type of performance than acting in that you really can’t fake it. Fortunately, I had the best possible team including my long-time DP, Marc Katz, my trusted multi-hyphenate Producer, AD and Editor, Cecilia Delgado, our amazing Choreographer, Tiana Hester, and many other incredibly talented cast, dancers and crew.
I’ve always felt like there was an opportunity to capture movement on film that highlighted the raw emotion of a character while keeping the narrative fairly grounded.
It was a dream actualized but required a lot of trust. With one day, we didn’t have much time to stage the dance sequences or the shots. All said, we were able to rehearse, stage and shoot all of the dance sequences in record time thanks to said talented creative team (and amenable location). While we were rehearsing the dance sequences (we only had two rehearsals), I had to focus more on the dancers, their formations and their movements than I could my own performance. Let’s just say practice makes perfect. Most of our day was dancing and we shot most of our narrative beats after the dance sequence. We were all still riding high off that energy.
We shot on a Canon C300 Mk II with Zeiss Milvus lenses. We shot the dance on Steadicam and the narrative beats handheld. We didn’t actually put any lights in the interior for the dance scene because the location was so big. In terms of post, Cecilia, our producer and AD, was also our editor. Because of her intimate knowledge of the material and the vision, we really sailed through post. I found that having an editor with such an intimate knowledge of the film made everything much easier.
In December I’m releasing another short film called 99 that premiered alongside Sweater at the Tribeca Film Festival. Additionally, I just finished another comedic short (a bit longer in run-time than 99 and Sweater) that I wrote, acted and directed that I’ll release next year after a festival run. That film was quite different stylistically than both Sweater and 99 which excited me. It was a lot of fun to explore and expand my voice and I often find shorts an important experimenting ground for that. That said, I am currently writing a feature film that I’m planning to shoot next year. It remains to be seen if there’s dance in the feature but the dream is to continue writing, directing and performing in films that make people think, laugh, cry and maybe even dance. I also want world peace.
Sweater 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.