5 Tips to Start Shooting a Dance Film on Your Phone Today

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by Alex Strine for The Dance Journal

So you want to make a dance film. Maybe you’ve been inspired by a film, or maybe you want to take your stage pieces to a new level and give them an opportunity to be shared with hundreds of people, or maybe you just want to have some fun. So where do you start? Your instinct might be that you need a fancy camera-but you dont!

Here’s everything you need to know about cameras: A fancy camera won’t save a bad idea, BUT a good idea looks good on anything.  So instead of maxing credit cards for expensive equipment, just use your phone. The benefits are plain; A. you probably already have one, and B. it won’t cost you anything to use it.

If your cellphone has a camera then you have all the tools you need to get started. Don’t believe me? I offer you two pieces of evidence: first, the film Tangerine, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. Shot entirely on the iPhone 5s, Tangerine looks as professionally made as just about anything else on the market. It works because they embraced the limits of available technology.

Second, right here in Philly, we have Zornitsa Stoyanova, a dancer and filmmaker whose short film Chrysalis recently played as part of the Philadelphia Screendance Festival. Chrysalis was created entirely by Zornitsa herself, using just her phone, a selfie stick, and simple editing. Zornitsa was kind enough to share her thoughts on making a cellphone dance film with me. With her backup, I’ve created 5 easy tips you can start implementing today to get on your way to making a dance film on your phone.

1. JUST START FILMING

Nothing beats good old fashioned practice, and if you’ve never produced a dance film before, the best thing you can do for yourself is dive right in. It might feel clunky at first, but you’ll quickly start to see things you like.

From Zornitsa: “Turn the camera on for 30 seconds and dance something. And then move the camera someplace else and do it again. And then do it again. And again. And just look at them and decide what you like and why.”

Don’t be discouraged if your first couple attempts look like garbled nonsense. Trying at all means you’re on the right path. Your goal is to begin creating something you can understand. Which brings me to my next point…

 

2. THINK SMALL

Keep your ideas basic to start. You’ve probably heard the KISS rule, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”, about a hundred times, but it really is great advice. You don’t need to create Allen Kaeja level quality right out of the gate. If you instead keep your ideas small and digestible, you’ll be able to do more with them. Not only will it be easier to get work done, it will be easier for you to critique yourself.

Zornitsa says to push it a step further, and keep your shot length short too: “If you just wanna shoot something, don’t do longer than like 2 minutes of shooting [per shot]. Because if it’s longer, you’ll never have the attention span to look at it. If it’s 2 minutes or less you can look at it and go ‘That part worked, but that part didn’t’”

This goes for both your entire project and each shot you build into it. The shorter and less complicated you make your piece, the more you’ll be able to…

 

3. EXPERIMENT WITH SPACE

The best thing about shooting on your phone is that it gives you the freedom to experiment a lot more than an expensive camera rental would. Experimentation is important if you’re new to film because film treats space differently than a stage performance would.

“If you walk backwards on stage, people will perceive you walking backwards on a stage. But if you want to walk on the very edge of the frame, you can’t just walk backwards, you have to walk along the frame [line]. It’s very angled and very different… It’s not a square frame on the floor. And what dancers don’t realize is that the center of frame is not necessarily the center of your space.”


A simple representation of how space works on film

In other words, if you watch a performance on stage, you see it in real space. Film however, distorts space so the relationship between objects changes every time the camera moves. Understanding that relationship is important because you should…

 

4. LEARN A LITTLE COMPOSITION

The more you understand about how things look, the better you’re able to compose your images. This doesn’t mean you need to take classes or spend hours studying film theory to learn the difference between a close up and a long shot. You can figure it out by taking note of what looks good in your pieces.

You don’t want to film from a wide perspective the whole time. Yes you can see the full body that way but sometimes details are better. Figure out how you want to showcase each movement.

DJWideShot  DJCloseUp  DJLowAngle
Shot compositions can produce varying effects:  Wide Shot – Close Up – Low Angle

This is the same process you already use when creating moves for a stage piece. You decide what moves look good from phrase to phrase, you think about what they might mean together. If you can do that you can definitely compose them within a frame.

 

5. SERIOUSLY, JUST DO IT

What are you waiting for? If you’re feeling adventurous you can drop a few bucks for apps like Filmic Pro (used by the Tangerine team) to enhance your phones’ capability, but that’s by no means a requirement to get started. Remember the only thing you need to start is your phone and the desire to create. So get out there and create!

 

***Photos and video by Alex Strine

About Alex Strine

Alex Strine is an award winning screenwriter, critic, and filmmaker. He specializes in reviews of fiction, children’s books, and graphic novels. His work has appeared in Weal, WinkBooks, and Cracked. In 2015 he was a finalist in the Nickelodeon Script First Contest.

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