How To Make A Dance Film

How to make a dance film

As you can see based on my recent blog posts, I have been avoiding the topic of dance for a while. The reason for this is mainly because I recently got the results back from my final project for my MFA degree (a dance film & thesis/dissertation paper- more like a book, actually), and the grade did not match the quality of work & the amount of serious effort I put into it. Being someone who likes to get her way, this truly upset me, and I went into my normal pattern of boycotting dance for a while.

I have never felt that I truly “fit in” to the dance world like a lot of other dancers I know, and I have a few theories as to why that I’m not going to get into right now. However, I what I do know is that I have come to terms with the results of my MFA project, and I understand that it is NOT a reflection of my work, but a reflection of their personal opinions. The most important thing that I am trying to focus on is that I now officially have a Master of Fine Arts degree in dance, which is something that I should be proud of.

In keeping with the theme of re-embracing dance into my life, I’ve decided to talk about how I made my dance film called Ego, and show you how you might be able to make one for yourself.

The full 25 minute film is not online yet, and I’ve been meaning to upload it but haven’t found the time yet (it takes 8+ hours to upload, and severely slows down the internet connection). However, you can watch the film’s trailer here if you’re interested in seeing what its all about.

Now that you’ve watched my film trailer ;) and you’re inspired to make your own dance film, here are 10 steps on How To Make A Dance Film!

**But first, for those of you who don’t know, I’d like to share with you exactly what a “dance film” or “dance for the camera” is.**

Dance Film Definition:

A “Dance Film” is basically a choreographed dance work created for film instead of stage. Therefore when I say “Dance Film” I am NOT referring to Step Up or Save The Last Dance- although those are plenty entertaining!

How To Make A Dance Film{Production Still From Ego}

How To Make A Dance Film

 

1.Develop A Concept

For me, this step came after we created all of the movement for Ego, but for most dance films I’ve done in the past, the overall concept of the film comes first.

The concept can range from being about a particular space, emotion, movement or even a story (in my case). Its important to be creative and original, which can be easier said than done, but thinking outside of the box is pretty important here. If you’re a creative soul like myself, all you need to do is set aside some time to think about it. It will come to you in time, I promise.

 

2.Create The Movement

You can do this on your own, or with other dancers. I was lucky enough to work with 3 very talented dancers for my latest dance film, but if you’re planning on doing a solo work- a great way to start out -then just brainstorming by yourself will produce some really great movement.

I like to improvise a bit and record myself. Then after the rehearsal, I’ll take a look at the video and see if I can pinpoint any interesting moments from the improvised movement.

 

3.Get A Camera or Find Someone With A Camera

Nowadays even your phone has a camera! It does not have to cost you an arm and a leg to make a quality dance film. However, for my film Ego, I did want to create something in HD of decent quality.

This is the camera I used: Canon 600D

I used the kit lens (18-55mm lens; came with the camera) and a 50mm prime lens for the close ups.

I did A LOT of research on the topic of cameras when creating Ego, so I will most likely do a whole separate post on that if anyone is interested.

How To Make A Dance Film

{Production Still from Ego}

4.Get Helpers (a.k.a. A Crew)

For me, I did not have much help. I had one friend help us out during filming for two out of 6 of the days of filming, and my boyfriend who helped out the entire time (because he’s wonderful). Also, since all of the dancers were not in every scene, they ended up being crew members for the film as well.

If your film is quite long (25+ minutes), then I would definitely suggest having helpers at all times. Also, if you can get someone to operate the camera for you, that would be ideal. For my film, I was the director, choreographer, & camera operator, which was ridiculously difficult. The less “hats” you wear, the better. Don’t spread yourself too thin! Get helpers if you can!!

 

5.Make A Schedule

Its important for yourself and all people involved to have a filming schedule so that everyone is able to set aside time in their schedules for filming. If your filming will only take one day, then that’s great, but you still need to have everything planned out ahead of time in order for that one day to run smoothly. If you stick to your plan & schedule, you won’t forget any shots that you need and everything will move a lot faster.

How To Make A Dance Film

{Screenshot from Ego}

6.Get Editing!

Once you’re done filming, you need to edit all the film footage that you have. For Ego, I had to sort out hours and hours of footage to figure out what was usable and what wasn’t.

I used Final Cut Pro X because iMovie did not accept the HD format that my camera captured. If you’re going slightly lower budget, which I would definitely suggest for dance film newcomers, then you can most likely use iMovie to edit your footage from a normal camera (something like this).

If you’re new to editing film, you will probably have to play around with the editing software beforehand in order to get a feel for it. There are also a lot of tutorial videos on YouTube that teach you how to use whichever type of software you choose to use.

 

7.Back Up EVERYTHING!

I can’t stress this part enough. It is so important to back up your film clips AND your final product! I would suggest purchasing an external hard drive just for your films because video files are beyond huge. My computer wouldn’t even be able to hold everything that I ended up with from filming Ego. It is so important to back up everything throughout the process. I used two external hard drives just to be sure.

 

8.Use Original Music

In my opinion, original music is the safest way to go in terms of scoring your dance film. This way, you know you have the rights to the music, and you’ll never have to deal with someone suing you because you used their music without permission.

If you aren’t lucky enough to be in contact with any musicians willing to create music for your film or give you music of theirs to use, then there are other options for you as well. The first one I would suggest is loyalty free music. Although they aren’t going to provide you with Grammy winning or Oscar winning movie scores, they are still decent options in order to “save your butt” in the music rights department of your film. Here’s a site that I like to use.

Another option would be for you to create music for yourself using GarageBand. Basically, GarageBand is a program that comes on your Macbook, and it provides readymade “loops” of music that you can put together into a track. If you have a good ear for rhythm & have an Apple Computer, then I’d definitely suggest checking this option out.

How To Make A Dance Film{Screenshot from Ego}

9.Make Closing Credits

It is very important to give yourself & everyone else involved the credit they deserve for being a part of your film. Try not to leave anyone out, and make sure that you give credit to yourself as well because it is your project after all! :)

 

10.Share It!

For my film, I had a showing at my university (because it had to get graded, of course), but now that’s over and done with, I’m planning on sharing it via the internet as well.

There are also various film festivals that you can submit your film to, but there are usually application fees included with that option. If you’re just starting out and are fairly new to making dance films, then I’d definitely suggest putting it on YouTube or Vimeo and sharing it with your friends at first via email & social media. Also, having it on either of those platforms gives other users the chance to view your work as well, which could lead to an endless amount of opportunities. You never know who could see potential in you!!

How To Make A Dance Film

Final Thoughts: For those of you who aren’t into dance, then I hope this post gave you a little insight into some of the things that dancers and choreographers do. If you ARE a dancer/choreographer/artist, I hope that this post inspired you to create your own dance film and share it with the world!! Although my film did not receive the grade that it deserved from my university, I am still extremely proud of it, and I wouldn’t change a thing!

Happy Dance Filmmaking!! :)

 

Best Wishes,

The Dance Grad