Beyond Grimm Goes to the Movies: Shooting Princess Dancer

by Sue Lange

Interior of the Princess Dancer Lounge with Steve on camera, Kevin skulking and dancers ready for action

I survived the shoot and I had fun, but I have to say I’m glad it’s over. I’m exhausted, drained, worn out, bereft, and confused. I mean that in a good way, of course. To be honest, I was in awe most of the time, of the crew, Tracy, and Kevin. They were so capable.

Tracy was an unflagging problem-solver, cheerleader, boss, nag, time-keeper. She never lost her temper. How does one get so much stuff done without ever taking the Lord’s name in vain?

Problem-solving. The one thing I learned is that to be a professional in some capacity in filmmaking you have to be a problem-solver. It’s a given. If you’re one of those people that stands by when something that’s bigger than you comes along, you’ll never make it in this industry. Because something always comes along.

Kevin and his crew are problem-solvers to the core. I melted down right along with the electricity at one point. We’d been problem-solving for weeks and I was sure we had covered all the bases including electrical delivery. So when the juice went, the building turned dark, and I heard the words I dreaded most to hear: “Sue, you gotta call Bill,” I melted down.

Now, Bill, the building owner, is a great guy. I like him. He gave us his whole building for this shoot at a reasonable price. But he’s fighting cancer and he’s not doing well. I hate to call him for anything. So I called his assistant, Mark. Who had no idea what to tell us. Complete blank. “But let me know if there’s anything I can do for you,” he said. Except, of course, get the electricity back.

We gathered at “the box.” You know the box. The one with all the goes ins and goes outs. The one you, a mere mortal, are not supposed to touch even if you’re wearing a rubber suit because, let’s face it, you’re just too stupid and not only will you electrocute yourself, but you’ll probably burn down the entire town.

So we gathered at the box and despite my extreme ignorance I began giving suggestions to the others: Jeff the Gaffer and Gary. Kevin was there too. Fortunately. Someone had to stop me. Kevin looked at me and pressed his finger to his lips. And then whispered the best advice I’ve ever heard: Just let them talk.

Letting someone who is a consummate problem-solver talk means the problem will soon be just a memory, a war story for future cast parties. That’s how these geniuses do it. They talk out loud. Usually to themselves but in this case there were two of them so there was someone to listen. Usually problem-solvers don’t have that luxury. Usually they have to mumble to themselves and slowly unravel the mystery before them until reaching the aha moment when all becomes well for people like me, the homeowner, the building owner, or the project underwriter. Since there were two of them it only took a few moments for them to see that this building, although it had enough circuits and the correct amperage in each to deliver our juice, it had a rather creative wiring plan. Things had been bypassed, codes ignored.

And because the building had creative wiring, Jeff and Gary got creative themselves. Fortunately Jeff had packed his extra long, heavy duty, magical connecting hoses that could reach to the nether regions of the building where other creatively installed boxes had untapped energy just waiting for our call.

Problem solved. Later Jeff told me the incident wasn’t that unusual. He pointed out that the reason the building was available for someone to shoot a movie was because, although it was legally up to code, it couldn’t handle a lot of what people need to run a business in a big ol’ building.

A truth: to make a movie you need a big space that was made for people but doesn’t have any people in it. You have to be able to manipulate your space in ways that it isn’t normally manipulated. First you find a space that has copious natural light and then you control it almost into non-existence. It has to be filtered, magnified, or diffused. When that doesn’t work you have to black it out completely and work with your own Kliegs and gels. And let’s not even get into sound manipulation.

The main tools you have for creating a movie set is knowledge. Takes a lot of knowledge to sterilize human existence out of your set and then enliven it with rich human artifact. Kevin and his crew had this knowledge. They spoke in a language that baffled me and the dancers. They used a lot of numbers representing film speed, aspect ratio, light intensity, air pressure, sound frequency, image trajectory, and wow factor. I’m pretty sure they were solving quadratic equations in their heads even as they answered stupid questions on the fly. Like “What’s that thing for?” Meaning of course the dolly, or the screen, or the mysterious still camera back in the corner snapping on its own and traveling at a painful 1cm/minute rate across the floor behind us.

I became baffled early and so spent most of my time with craft services. Replenishing food gave me something to do and kept me out of the way. I learned a lot there too. We over ordered a lot of stuff and under ordered everything else. I assumed cast and crew would consume copious amounts of coffee. They didn’t. Modern people don’t drink nearly as much coffee as soda. It rained on Sunday, the day we had scheduled our outside shots. It was that miserable drizzly kind of rain that never lets up and gets through your skin all the way to the bone. I still ran short of soda.

I was secretly glad for the drizzle. There’s an ongoing light rain throughout the scenes around the Princess Dancer Lounge in my story. I like that the weather lords provided that clammy mist for our shoot. The dancers, of course, don’t share my enthusiasm. They probably have colds now. And Tire? Poor Tire. Gerald Prince is a striking actor. Think bouncer in a Manhattan night club. He provides menace with his buff physique. Big guy, muscle-bound. Of course his wardrobe consisted of nothing but black pants and a wife beater. Tire’s role was small but powerful and Gerald had to do it in the rain. Thanks man! Let me know which hospital you’re in and I’ll send flowers.

There are others to mention that made this shoot happen successfully. Andrew Pochan, Tracy’s assistant is a talented make-up artist, musician, and movie maker. He’s currently got a short film running in a film festival in some other hemisphere from ours. He’s also one of the goofiest people you’ll meet. But a hard worker and good to have around. It may be because of Andy that Tracy doesn’t have to curse.

Special mention must be made of Rachel Skye and Carlos Rodriguez, Jr., our choreographers. We’ve had dancers coming and going for the last month and Rachel and Carlos have had to teach and reteach their dances numerous times. I can’t wait to see their work on the big screen.

Kevin, our director, was a doll. The ultimate diplomat. He was organized, creative, and tenacious. He maintained his energy right through to the end when we were shooting aerial swing moves. Long after everyone else thought we’d had enough footage, he was still doing retakes to make sure we tried every possible angle and idea. I guess that’s what being professional is: tenacious.

I’m lucky to have worked with these talented people. The experience was amazing, scary, awesome, overwhelming, exhausting, exhilarating, trying, astonishing, mysterious, and ultimately… beautiful.

Carlos/Wanda/Curtis/Jesse/Rachel/Matt/others in the background/camera man up front

Princess Dancer is an updated retelling of the Grimm’s Twelve Dancing Princesses. You can find the story in Book View Café’s Beyond Grimm.

Read the entire saga of the making of the Princess Dancer short film from the beginning.

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