Shadowy corridors, truncated memories, haunted visions and a classic song set the scene for Kate Harpootlian’s directorial debut dance short Anyone Who Knows. Harpootlian had long envisioned the film in her mind’s eye set against Irma Thomas’ affecting timbre and upon finding the perfect location the rest of the production flowed naturally. Her choreography seamlessly matches the beats of the song whilst revealing an agonised tormented soul tortured by memories. Anyone Who Knows balances softer more nostalgic scenes with stark inner turmoil and skilfully evokes a lifetime of emotion and lives lived in its compact six minute runtime. Ahead of the film’s premiere on DN today, we spoke to Harpootlian about why she feels less is more when choreographing movement, creating night and day in the same shot and her experience with notoriously complicated music licensing rights.

With a background in dance, choreography and screenwriting, what inspired you to move into direction for this film?

I attended The New School during the pandemic while experiencing a real lack of direction and boredom while dance was on hiatus. I ended up receiving a bachelor of fine arts with a minor in filmmaking and a focus on screenwriting. Given my background as a choreographer, I found myself drawn to the intersection of movement and narrative and was eager to explore this fusion in my first directorial debut post-university. This film is a testament to the power of movement as a storytelling tool and the universal language of emotion. It’s a journey through isolation, fury and grief, inviting the audience to immerse themselves in the raw, visceral experience of the human condition.

What was the first piece of the puzzle in moving forward with production for Anyone Who Knows?

I had always heard the song Anyone Who Knows and had this image of a couple in a mid-century bedroom and a woman walking away from him into a hallway and dissolving into movement. The choice of location for the film was pivotal. The house, discovered very early in my search, captivated me instantly. Its mid-century aesthetic and atmospheric presence perfectly encapsulated the essence of the film. It became more than just a setting; it became a character, driving the woman’s descent into emotional turmoil. And I might add, as a character, it was super photogenic.

It’s a journey through isolation, fury and grief, inviting the audience to immerse themselves in the raw, visceral experience of the human condition.

During the first scout, I was pretty much alone in the house. Mapping out the travel pattern for camera and performer came together very organically in about 20 minutes. I don’t know how to explain it other than I just saw the film immediately in my head. I was able to take a lot of photos and videos to share with the team and use for our storyboards and we’d later do another scout to talk about lighting and details.

How did you plan those stirring emotional beats in the choreography which pulse through and form the narrative?

I really wanted the choreographic moments to be earned. Sometimes in movement driven narratives, there’s almost too much dance and it can feel inauthentic or overdone. For example, I didn’t want the characters to suddenly be forced into a dance break duet in the kitchen simply because movement is a theme throughout the story when in actuality a tender more naturalistic human moment would reach the audience more authentically. As someone who has been working in choreography and dance for a long time, I feel the best choice in movement is to actually do less to make a stronger impact. In terms of planning, they are really just moments where her interior narrative bubbles over in reaction to what she’s experiencing whether that be in relation to her non-existent husband or to the memories that haunt her.

How did you go about finding the right performer for the role?

I actually had another performer in mind, but she booked a movie in Italy. I then reached out to Marla Phelan who I’ve worked with many times before and who is someone I greatly admire and I knew she would elevate this story on screen. It actually ended up being a strange coincidence as there is a stage production in which Marla’s character is wearing a green dress and going through a similar bout of not being seen and isolation. The costume for this film just happened to be another green dress and similar time period, and we both felt like it was a continuation of the stage production. I think I even told her it was the same character but we’re seeing her a little further down the line.

Tell us about the actual shoot and managing all of the moving elements of the production.

This was definitely a very difficult shoot. We probably thought it would be easier given that it’s only three shots but as any filmmaker will tell you, any shoot you think will be easy never is. There is one long shot, maybe two minutes long, that takes place from the stairs to the kitchen, and it had a lot of moving parts and people. For instance, for the transition from the brightly day lit living room to the nighttime couple dancing scene. We had a grip or two holding a free standing door and another grip behind with a blackout shade. As the camera moves into the nighttime scene the grips follow behind with the door and the blackout shade, so that as the camera makes a 360 the door is already in place and no light is leaking into the room. Just before that is happening, Cody Hayman, the husband, is changing his clothes from the stairs to be in the dancing scene, and PAs are running to hide in the kitchen with said clothes, while Marla Phelan, the wife, runs to her next cue point.

I feel the best choice in movement is to actually do less to make a stronger impact.

To make matters more stressful, once we nailed down the choreography of people and props, during the last 20 seconds of the shot, the gimbal kept malfunctioning. We’re now pushing the clock, we’ve done numerous takes, it’s started raining on our outdoor lighting equipment and the generators are running out of fuel. We got what we could and I left feeling that we really didn’t get shot. The location was also super strict with our load out time and the equipment pick-up truck never showed up. I got home and tears were shed.

About this time, my AD, Mia Como, sends me the recording from the monitor which convinces me that we did indeed get a good take. Thank god for that. The next day I was over at Jonathas Nazareth’s apartment, the cinematographer and editor, and we quickly realized that we could hide an edit before the nighttime dance scene and in the hallway after the dance scene. The only great thing about having three shots is that we got the basic shot editing done in about an hour. Jonathas worked on the color and meanwhile, I worked on editing the music and getting the licensing through Can You Clear Me Now.

Music licensing is notoriously difficult, what was your experience of the process and did you have a plan b in mind?

Music licensing is a pain, but I remembered hearing about Can You Clear Me Now on the No Film School Podcast I believe, and I knew that getting the license was going to be out of my wheelhouse for such an iconic classic song. Joseph at CYCMN was so helpful and instrumental in reaching the right people and getting the rights. It took some time, but I had no back up plan. This was the song it needed to be. I will say though that having a cut of the film to show was absolutely needed in the process. It is a bit of a Catch-22 where you don’t want to create the film with the music unless you know you have the rights, but then also publishing doesn’t want to give you the rights unless they can see the film and how it’s used. I do wish this process had less mystery around it but maybe in the future.

I will say though that having a cut of the film to show was absolutely needed in the process.

The lighting is integral to your storytelling, especially as we move from sombre reverie to the harsher light of day. How did you plan this in order to capture everything at the right time?

I’m really lucky to continually work with cinematographer Jonathas Nazareth who always helps me to elevate the technical elements of the film. Actually all elements of the film lol. We are a great team. I also had a wonderful gaffer, Mario Riquelme, who helped to program all the lighting to really make an impact through the film. We had lighting rigs outside the house to create that beautiful daylight seen upstairs and in the living room.

We basically had three total shots that happened. Shot one was from the bedroom to the stairs, shot two the stairs to the kitchen, and shot three was the kitchen to the end. The toughest part of shot two was really keeping the daylight out of the evening red room flashback scene. That involved a lot of precision and rehearsal, and takes to be honest. Someone would fly the door in followed by black scrim to block out the living room light when the camera went 360. Shot three has that lovely change in tone right at the top, so luckily if the cue was missed, we could reset pretty quickly and then continue on. But short answer, great crew, patience, and coordinated rehearsal effort.

Now you’ve completed your first creative enterprise as a director, what can we expect from you next?

I just released a dark comedy short I wrote and directed called Desired. I also have two other movement driven narrative shorts that Jonathas and I worked on together that just started their festival run. I have another short film being released in June named The Matador, and a few shorter projects with Jonathas coming out this summer as well.

9 Responses to A Disconnected Woman Roams Through the Remnants of Her Relationship in Kate Harpootlian’s ‘Anyone Who Knows’

  1. This is such a gorgeous film and Kate is an incredible director. So proud to see our collab on here.

  2. Ana Lazary says:

    I agreed when Kate Harpootlian said that she felt that less is more, I could not agreed more!
    I think anyone that watches this short movie can perceive the power, lightness and elegance throughout the movements very well captured, speaking without words.
    Well done! Loved it!

  3. Arthur says:

    You really created a unique atmosphere that is both surreal but familiar. The lighting in particular is magical, and the camera work strikes a balance between focused without seeming intrusive, realistic without seeming forced. I feel I’m there, but I also feel detached, like an observer at the edge of my seat—which I am. Really beautiful. Hoping to see more from this team.

  4. Lucas says:

    Can’t get over how amazing this camerawork is with the continuous take – it really gives the sense of being a “fly on the wall” and just taking in all the beautiful movement. Fun to watch several times and notice small details each time!

  5. Olivia says:

    This film is beautifully crafted! The seamless choreography, captured in a single continuous take, creates an emotionally powerful experience that resonated with me long after the final frame. Hats off to the director and director of photography for creating such a stunning and moving piece!

  6. Jacob Robert van Winkle says:

    Whew! This film is a masterful blend of dance and storytelling! Kate and team somehow captured the raw essence of human anguish.. debut no less! Incredible.

  7. Tiff. Beaver says:

    The film is captivating!! What an amazing feat of choreography and camera work. I was engaged from the beginning all the way through the end.

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