Everyone has experienced quarantine differently. This is best exemplified by the Shelter in Place series, focusing on seven different dancers shot alone to music by Future Classic artists. Ranging from heartfelt to comic, often within the same short film, these movies display through dance the range of emotions people have been going through during this difficult time. We talked to the Director Ben Dean (last seen on DN here) about filming under COVID-19 conditions, shooting in one take, and creating variety through seven interpretations of a similar concept.
– You can view all seven films in the following playlist.
How did the idea for the film series come about?
I’d been in contact with the label, Future Classic, about directing a project before the pandemic hit. After a few weeks of lockdown, they came to me with a new brief to create a series of films featuring tracks from an international cast of emerging performers and producers. After listening to all the tracks, I came up with the idea of bringing together music and dance to show how humans are coping during these unprecedented times, diverging from the ordinary dance routines we’ve seen before and focusing on more abstract primal expressions.
A lot of these films start with the camera wending through a doorway, as if we are peeking into private moments. Did you want the films to be intimate experiences?
Absolutely. I wanted each film to feel like we’ve stumbled upon a raw moment, captured with everyday people at home. Obviously they’re all choreographed, but they still have a sense of authenticity to them. Leading up to the shoot, I worked closely with each dancer to tap into feelings and emotions they had been experiencing during lockdown which we then interpreted into a dance routine.
The aim was to cast all types of people since we’re all experiencing these crazy times together.
For example, with Paula (Mwami – The Lung), we went a little crazier and deeper, focusing on the frustration and fear caused from being stuck at home for months. Whereas with Dean (Jalopy Bungus – Diamonds), we had more fun with it and brought to life the idea of people constantly eating during isolation.
Did you always intend each film to appear like it’s one take?
Yep! I wanted to add to that sense of authenticity, to feel like we’re a fly in the room, observing these people.
And was that difficult technically?
It was! Particularly shooting throughout the bigger locations. “Hold On” was shot in a bathroom with multiple mirrors which made things tricky. Luckily all the dancers were amazing and our DP, Ben Goodman, was incredible. Some of them we nailed in the second or third take, while others took quite a while to get. In the end it worked out really well and I’m glad we did it!
The film features a variety of different ethnicities, body types and genders. Did you set out to make it as diverse a project as possible?
For sure. The aim was to cast all types of people since we’re all experiencing these crazy times together. I wanted the characters to be memorable and unexpected, and I wanted dancers with crazy amounts of personality. And I felt that casting a range of ages would make this series feel a lot more dynamic and fun. I was really hoping to cast a kid or young teen in one of them but current times made that difficult. I have Instagram to thank for finding the cast though – a lot of hours spent scrolling and sliding into the DMs!
Throughout the entire process we respected social distancing rules and maintained a very high level of safety, wearing face masks and keeping our distance from each other. I had multiple Zoom chats with our Choreographer, Dean Elex Bais, and the dancers beforehand to learn about their isolation experiences and to walk through the process. Then we hosted rehearsals in a big open studio a couple of times, before rehearsing on set the day before shooting, then shooting with a very small crew the following day. It was a challenge, but we made it work.
I wanted each film to feel like we’ve stumbled upon a raw moment, captured with everyday people at home.
Walk me through the choreography process.
I really wanted to lean into the idea of Shelter in Place with the choreography. I wanted to explore a range of emotions people have been experiencing during quarantine, from frustration and anger to hope and simply over-eating. Then integrate these emotions into a routine. I worked really closely with Dean, who was awesome to work with, to come up with each routine. We had to make sure each routine was adaptable to each location since we couldn’t practice onset until the day before shooting, so there was a lot of figuring it out and adjusting on set. Each dancer worked very collaboratively with Dean and I, so it was definitely a team effort!
Did you also see this project as an opportunity to use your experience in the film industry to help others?
For sure. A lot of people in the creative industry have been at a standstill, wondering about their future livelihoods, so I hope everyone involved got something out of it. I was very fortunate to find an amazing team that was up for the task.
And there is a charitable initiative here too?
Yes! The label is donating the first month of sales to Heartland Alliance, a charity dedicated to providing emergency funds to marginalised communities affected by the ongoing pandemic.
Shelter in Place 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.