Multi-DN alum filmmaker Adi Halfin makes a welcome return to our pages with the director’s cut of her Calia gym fashion short There’s Beauty in the Burn. It’s a kinetic, energising film that captures the grace and power found in the pain & gain of exercise culture. In just under a minute, we see women in tandem combine intense workouts with the beauty of dance, highlighting how the two aren’t diametrically opposed and are, instead, two sides of the same movement-driven coin. We’ve been fans of Halfin’s filmmaking for years now, so it’s fascinating to see how she adapts her expressive style to new territory. Halfin joined us for the conversation below where she explains the choreographic language she set out to achieve, the process of generating ideas during each step of a project’s creation, and the joy of adaptive commercial filmmaking.

How did you first become involved in this project?

I was approached by Chelsea Productions who rep me in the US. When I saw the brief, I said to myself I have to win this pitch! I was dreaming of combining dance and sports for a while, so this was the perfect project for me.

How involved were Calia throughout production? Were you afforded total creative freedom or was it more regimented?

My main communication was with the team from Opinionated agency, who were always open to suggestions. The discussion was very creative, respectful and mostly fun. It’s not every day that a commercial director gets to work with such flexible creatives. Many times, a director receives a brief after the creatives have been working on it for a while, so it can be challenging to make changes, but here there was a lot of room for discussion. Naturally, the client had specific details that were important to them, like the way the product would look and the casting. But overall, the discussion was very smooth and open, and I felt that both the client and the agency trusted my artistic vision.

We had to find a choreographic language which combined workout and dance.

What did preproduction look like? Were you storyboarding/developing the way the film would look/feel?

I always storyboard commercial projects. Most of the time it’s a request from the client and the agency in order to get a clearer picture of the film, but working on the storyboard helps me visualise the film too. Each part of the process stimulates new ideas and the storyboard is an essential part of the creative process.

It’s hard to envision dance in a storyboard. This is why I used many references in my treatment and invited choreographer Sergio Reis to join in at a very early stage of pre-production. We had to find a choreographic language which combined workout and dance. Sergio was amazing in creating this and luckily, he could rehearse in a gym with equipment, which made things much easier and faster.

How long were you in production for? Was it a smooth shoot?

It was a single shooting day, but I always try to capture more than is needed, so we had a lot to get done in one day. Overall, it was a very smooth shoot. One of the most important things for me is having the right people to work with and the team was a dream. This was the first time I worked with DoP Paul Özgür. I loved his choice of lensing and the roughness of his colours.

Was the Big Boss Vette track decided on before or after production? Did the song aid you structurally in the editing room?

The song was decided by the agency before I stepped in. I loved it from the very beginning but I wasn’t sure it would fit. But it grew on me during the process and I’m happy we stuck to it. It has a great groove and it worked perfectly with the choreography.

How do you feel working on commercial spots helps you develop as a filmmaker? What do you take back into your dance/experimental work?

I love working on commercials. There’s a thrill in going through such a fast process in such a short time, and it’s inspiring to work with such creative people. I love the fact that within a few weeks, the film is out and gains a life of its own. Working on commercials has taught me a lot about letting go. I am always very much involved in every single detail, but I always remind myself that eventually this isn’t ‘my’ film. This detachment can be healthy too when working on passion projects. It helps you to make quick decisions. You have to act fast, and I’ve learnt that the decisions made fast are not necessarily bad ones. You don’t have to overthink everything. I try to keep this lightness of decision making in my other projects too and it actually works.

There’s a thrill in going through such a fast process in such a short time, and it’s inspiring to work with such creative people.

The practice of writing a script within a few days is also very rewarding. Last year, I found out about a deadline way too late, and I found myself writing a full-length screenplay in only ten days. I could never have done this without the experience I gained in commercial treatment writing. I also get to practice my directing skills quite often and in a broad range of genres, which is so much fun. But most of all, I get to meet the best and most talented people in the industry who I ‘collect’ along the way for my personal projects.

What about dance and choreography-led work keeps you coming back to it? What do you love about this form of expression?

I discovered dance by accident when I was approached by Batsheva Dance Company to direct Home Alone and I was immediately drawn to it. I struggled in film school with screenwriting and storytelling and there’s something visceral, primeval and intuitive about dance which helped me let go of the rigid way of storytelling. Funny enough, when I teach dance film workshops, I always ask my students to tell me a story, which is exactly where my soft spot is. But dance has helped me express myself in physical ways which don’t need words. There’s so much more to discover there and I always love it when a new dance project comes along and challenges me to express myself in new ways, just like this Calia film. I still have many dance-driven ideas, but I’m also very happy when a non-dance project comes my way.

There’s something visceral, primeval and intuitive about dance which helped me let go of the rigid way of storytelling.

Speaking of which, what else are you working on at present?

I’m working on a short documentary I shot with my partner, DoP Si Wachsmann, about motherhood and anxieties and I am writing a mini-series about women in the Ukraine during the war. Also, developing a mini-documentary about women’s soccer and I’m in the very early stages of writing an Israeli crime series with two co-writers. Apart from that, I teach dance film workshops, which are always fun. It’s a humbling and gratifying experience to teach and it balances the intense world of commercials.

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