Director Ben Kadie’s latest short film Ahead, Behind, made in collaboration with Jordan Johnson and Aidan Carberry AKA dance duo JA Collective, is a trippy dance video about two men standing in an infinite queue. Inspired by the multi-camera work of Naren Wilks, Kadie utilises JA Collectives’ loose, connective and intense movements for his own spin on the visually dazzling format. It’s a marvel to look at but a proper head-scratcher when it comes to understanding how they went about achieving it from a technical standpoint. Fortunately, Kadie and JA Collective join us below for the online Premiere of Ahead, Behind where the trio go in-depth on everything from the adaptive choreography and creation of gestures to mimic the video’s crazy visual nature to the extensive process of using rehearsal footage to lay the groundwork for the challenge of production.

Where did your collaborative partnership as a trio begin?

Ben Kadie: I knew of Aidan and Jordan from our time at USC; we had mutual friends in the dance program. I’ve been following them and admiring their work for years, looking for an opportunity to make something together. Jordan reached out when the duo had some free time and we decided to create a project together.

Our goal was to see how far we could push this idea with movement.

And what were your initial conversations when you were developing Ahead, Behind?

BK: Several years ago, I saw the brilliant work of Director Naren Wilks, who did several projects around 2013 using an array of cameras in a circle to create a synchronised doppelgänger effect. I was amazed by this work. It just stuck in my brain. It was beautiful to watch and got me really interested in trying a different take on that technique. Specifically, using the symmetry of an infinite line rather than a circle. And with two people instead of one. In that way, the effect could create a scrambled sense of cause and effect. Like, who’s in front and who’s behind? Who is reacting to who? Kind of like Pac-Man wrapping around the screen. When Jordan, Aidan, and I connected I pulled that loose concept from my back pocket. They were into it and the three of us started building around that seed.

What challenges did that technical setup cause for the choreography?

JA Collective: For the choreography we created two connected phrases in a line that could be performed as a duo no matter the orientation we were in (Jordan left of Aidan, or Aidan left of Jordan). Our goal was to see how far we could push this idea with movement. Knowing how visually crazy it would look, we wanted the movement to reflect its nature. We knew starting slow would be ideal. We wanted to show the idea and give it time to breathe but then bring the complexity up to places that potentially seem improbable. Letting the movement be almost like a roller coaster that gets faster and faster.

Could you take us through how you set up all those cameras and pulled it off during production?

BK: The key technical gimmick of the film is to use multiple cameras looking at the same subject at the same time but from different points of view. We spaced our four cameras in even increments in a line. Those four angles are overlayed into a single shot, which now looks like one camera angle four sets of clones. Despite the technical challenge, the creative process with Jordan and Aidan was surprisingly open-ended. We discussed a palate of fun moments that could happen: a touch and a reaction, an interaction with both the person in front and behind at the same time, and time delays. From there, Jordan and Aidan went off and developed several sections of choreography. We discussed and refined the choreo into something with a loose story arc.

What kind of preparation did you do to aid yourself before you arrived on set?

BK: We filmed our rehearsals with a DSLR so that I could make a simple test of the VFX. This ended up being crucial to catch some spacing bugs that were impossible to see in person. The rehearsal footage, plus some crude 3D renders, became a full previz video. That previz was our bible on set, leading us through all the individual technical setups.

Could you give us a rig rundown of what kit and equipment you used?

BK: At our DP Matt Burke’s suggestion, we used four Sony A7s cameras. This is a solid and very common camera, which several people we knew owned. So, fortunately, we were able to borrow three of them and rent the fourth. The cameras were then placed 4½ feet apart, which required so much measuring on set, and then for shots with moving cameras we cobbled together an abomination of a rig we dubbed the “mega-dolly”. It was two doorway dollies, a ladder, and many clamps to create a 16 ft long rolling platform that held all four cameras. Maybe we should submit the photos to the Shitty Rigs Instagram page. On set we had a small crew of friends, seven of us total, everyone working very hands-on to figure it out together.

That previz was our bible on set, leading us through all the individual technical setups.

JA: The filming of our movements on set were quite easy on our end. We practiced this final version enough where each take we could repeat the same runs at the same quality over and over.

And at what stage did you introduce the music? Was that before the shoot or something you landed on in post?

JA: We wanted the music and movement to complement each other. We didn’t want the music to exactly reflect what we were doing, but provide an atmosphere for the movement to sit in. Wanting this all to blend is the goal. Letting the full concept feel like a puzzle that’s snug together.

BK: Jordan connected us with his brother, the incredible J Tyler Johnson, who created the soundscape/score. J Tyler is one-third of the band half•alive, and he made some really amazing texture-y, grungy music to match the edit. We didn’t have any music on set but used simple metronome playback to keep the counts consistent.

Dare I ask how lengthy the VFX post-production process was?

BK: Not going to lie, the post process was arduous! I have a background in VFX, and I do love the challenge of an unusual VFX process where you don’t quite know how you’ll pull it off. But inevitably, it’s always harder than I optimistically predict. One fun thing in post for this project, we didn’t have a specific idea for the surreal background when filming. We came up with crowd dividers and the nature backgrounds in post, after trying out a few different ideas. In this way, the piece continued to evolve organically even in post.

For all three of you, what is it that attracts you to the format of the dance film?

JA: We’ve seen a lot of dance videos in our studies at university and in our personal love of dance media. At this point you’re really looking for a refreshing take on the form. And luckily this form is full of new ideas being explored constantly. A dance video can be anything, which makes them so magical. The body is so expressive and ephemeral with its movement, but the use of video captures its history so beautifully.

BK: Human culture starts with dance. I think dance is an especially effective element in film because dance on film retains that feeling of vital, fundamental human expression in a medium that’s also fundamentally about movement. I like our combination of dance with the really abstract, almost geometrical, concept in this piece. Overall, I’m still new to making dance videos. It was an amazing education working with Jordan and Aidan on this project.

What are you all working on next? Can we expect another collaboration in the future?

JA: We recently released a new video with band half•alive and have worked closely with them since their first videos, and we’re going on tour with them in December.

BK: I just completed an animated short called Stranding, my side/passion project of the past two years. We’re starting to submit for the festival circuit now. And in terms of Ahead, Behind we just got super exciting news. As winners of the special StandardVison Showcase Award through the LA Dance Film Festival, the video will play on a billboard in downtown LA near LA Live the week of December 12th to the 19th. Coincidentally, perfect timing with this article! JA and I don’t have specific plans to collaborate again but definitely think we would if the opportunity arrives!

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