A filmmaker we’re always happy to see return to our pages be that as a director or choreographer, Erin S Murray (last seen on DN here) channels the spirit of the freewheeling 60s in her joyous new music video Shaking. We caught up with Murray to find out how her dual roles have progressed through the years and why jello was the perfect elixir to awaken Hazel English’s cult followers.
As it’s been almost two years since we last spoke, I’m curious what the balance is nowadays between your purely choreographic work (such as for Jonny Look’s Phér•Bŏney Love Theme), directing gigs and projects which combine the two? How do you feel each discipline feeds and guides your approach when wearing the other hat?
I most frequently wear the choreographer hat on set, but I can see the balance shifting. Even though choreography and directing are totally different mediums, to me the processes feel very similar in practice. They both come down to collaboration and being able to communicate ideas effectively.
As a choreographer, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how the body can convey a story or a feeling without using words. This has definitely bled into the way I approach stories and performances that aren’t dance driven. Even in real life, I think people are often more honest in their body language than they are with their words. In terms of how filmmaking has informed my choreography, I’ve learned that you always must take the stage into consideration when creating a dance. The size of the stage and the proximity of the audience to the stage. When choreographing for film, the frame is your stage.
How did this commission from Hazel English come your way?
Hazel and I are close friends, and even before talks of a video, we’d already had long discussions about celebrity culture, cult leaders, and dom/sub relationships. When Hazel came to me with the song, I instantly fell in love with it and jumped at the opportunity to write a concept.
Could you explain the seductive powers of jello and how it made its way into this cult concept?
The jello eating is a campy way to represent giving and receiving pleasure. I originally wrote a concept with a much more overt depiction of a vagina, but it would have required VFX and builds that went outside our budget. The jello idea was a solution to a problem, but in hindsight, I can’t believe it wasn’t my first idea! I mean, the song is called ‘Shaking’. The jello jiggles. It just works!
Even though choreography and directing are totally different mediums, to me the processes feel very similar in practice.
What prompted the decision to shoot on film? Did that have any knock-on effects for the production?
Shooting on film made sense to me because I wanted to hark back to late 1960s/early 70s when many of the cults that inspired us were in their heyday. Obviously, you don’t have unlimited takes with film, so Hazel and I rehearsed her acting and dancing scenes before we got to set. It wasn’t one of those ‘we’ll figure it out in the edit’ shoots. We went in fully timed out and shot for the edit.
What’s going on with the new experimental dance narrative you teased when you joined us with Hydra? Is there anything else we should be looking out for from you in the coming months?
It’s coming I promise! This past year, I had a few professional milestones. I worked on my first feature film as a choreographer. The movie hasn’t been released yet, but my experience working on it really ignited a desire in me to work on more long form narrative projects and create my own.
Shaking 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.