Girls on the Dance Floor

Links: Youtube


The principal photography was shot at the New Vision Church gym on Saturday, Feb 21 from 4:00pm to 10:00pm with a single break for dinner.  It was recorded on a Canon XH-A1, stock lens with Stephen Dempsy’s VIVIDRGB setting and using a Libec LS-55 and Steadicam Merlin.  Edited in Final Cut Pro 6, voice over using SoundTrack Pro, optical flow re timing with Motion and graded in Color.  Post production lasted from Sunday Feb 22nd 5pm until Tuesday Feb 24, 11:50pm.  Little to no sleep was also involved.

Final Budget: $200.
Food – $135 to feed 16 people ($95 for pizza and $48 for fruits, veggies and Baked chips from Costco).   I could have saved money if I had just bought Costco pizzas – next time.
Set Design – $65 for props/costumes.


A tiny bit of background about myself.  While I’ve been reading endlessly about filmmaking for the past two years, only in the last few months have I had enough free time to pursue it.  I’ve participated in a few indie shoots as an AD, but this was my first time directing a shoot of my own.

I learned about the contest a day before a trip up to Tahoe and came up with the concept on the car ride up.  At the time, there were about 10 or so entries and all were very home video-esque.  I wanted to submit an entry that I felt better represented the quality of the band.  I had seen several FM music videos before, and while the song could be shot as a straightforward hip hop video (ballers in a club), I thought it’d be fun to give it an ironic twist.  The first verse seemed something only a confident, player type person could pull off, so I felt an under confident person delivering the line would be funny.  After some brainstorming with my girlfriend, I thought that nerds at a high school dance would be a perfect blend of that innocence/strong desire to be with girls.  I brought the music with me on the slopes and pretty much finalized the shoot in my head on the lifts :).

Miracle #1 – The Gym
I came home and immediately went to work on the storyboard, which I finished in a few days and threw up onto Vimeo –

My first task was to secure a gymnasium.  I spammed twitter/facebook/im/emails, but had no luck.  I then tried calling several local schools and community centers, but most of them were a bit costly for this project ($400-500+ for a six hour shoot).  I was about to give on my original idea for a gym, when a friend of mine told me his church had a full gym open on the weekends and his dad had the keys.  Huzzah!!

I originally wanted to shoot Sat Feb 4th to give myself plenty of time for post and to enter the contest earlier.  But having only discovered the gym on Tues Jan 28, I was skeptical I could find enough people to participate in time.  Unfortunately, I was right.  After much spamming/begging/pleading to my social graph, only 4 people could make it, forcing me to scrap that shoot date.

The next available date was Sat Feb 21st, which would only leave me 3 days for post work.  Over the next week, response from my social graph was still tepid, leaving me two weeks left with little commitment.  With almost no cast and crew committed, this wasn’t ideal and I was on the verge of dropping the entire project.  Fortunately, my girlfriend kept encouraging me to not give up, so I kept asking for people to help.

Miracle #2 – Dancers, Assistant Director and more lights
While doing a script reading for my friend’s latest feature, I mentioned that I was planning to shoot a music video in two weeks.  He said he would love to help out and act as AD.  His producer heard and was interested in the dance choreography as she was enrolled in a hip hop class.  She told me that several girls in her class would be interested as well.  I found both my dancers and my AD.  Awesome.

Miracle #3 – Third lead
I was still short a lead actor, but bumped into one of my old friends two weeks before the shoot at a networking event.  He was a theater actor and quite good

With cast/crew/location locked down, all my efforts then went into preparing.

We had a chance to visit the church the Tuesday before the shoot.  The dancers wanted to be able to practice their choreo and I wanted to get an idea about framing and possible lighting scenarios.

Rehearsal Photos
Rehearsal Test Footage (vimeo)


Shot List
The night before, I stayed up until about 5am trying to finish the shot list.  I knew that we would be shooting a large number of shots and we would have to move very quickly.  Celtx offered a shot list feature, but wasn’t flexible enough for what I wanted to do.  I added timing checkpoints to force myself to stay on time.  Better to get less coverage and complete the video than more coverage and missing footage.

SHOT LIST (google doc)

Lighting Plans
With the limited time on hand, I referred to a 6-point hexagonal lighting diagram I had seen in Matters of Light & Depth, that would provide almost 360 degrees of high key light with kickers.  I strapped on lights and knew that I would only have 4 500-650w lights, so I hoped that a four point lighting scheme plus the CoolLights Flos could work.

Set Design/Costumes
With an extremely limited setup time, I relied heavily on my girlfriend to pull off some sort of set design and I felt she did some AMAZING work.  I asked her to create two punch tables and it was her idea for the banners on the walls.  What I found funnier is that during setup, I had left her alone for a moment in the staging area to setup some equipment, I came back and found she had found some help – in the form of two 9 year old girls who were still at the church.  Best of all, they just wanted to be paid in chips :).

For costumes, my girlfriend again saved me and came up with a “geek chic” concept for the nerds to transform into.  We wanted to create a transformation that still had some nerd quality to it (the plaid shirt, un-worn suspenders).  I think she pulled it off very well!

The kids wanted payment in chips!


This was the equipment checklist I created for the shoot the night before.  This list actually ended up saving me as after I had spent 1/2 loading my car and was just about to leave, a final check made me realize I had forgotten my Merlin at home.


Wide shot of the gym

The Shoot

My girlfriend and I arrived at 2:30pm and quickly unloaded the car.  I was concerened that there were still several kids from the Church playing basketball in the gym, but fortunately they were just about to leave.  We had two friends who were supposed to arrive at 2:30 as well to help setup, but they called us to let us know they would get there at 3:45pm.  Lovely.  Since all the cast were told to arrive at 3:30pm, I scrambled to get everything ready.

Fortunately, my assistant director arrived at 3:00pm and brought two Lowell Omni’s with him.  So we quickly setup the quick and dirty four point lighting.  We turned off all the lights in the gym and I tried to fire down a Home Depot 1k worklight down for some ambient lighting.  To be honest, I’m not sure if this even had an effect, but I kept it on anyways.  I then setup two CoolLights CLMF0150 (600 watt equivalent) 3000K at two corners and used my friend’s two 500w lowell’s in the other two corners.  We lit the banners using 2 PAR cans with colored gels in front.  For the “disco” effect, I was fortunate enough to borrow a 750w Razzle Dazzle machine, which we simply just put onto a table.  I initially wanted to hang it from the basketball rim, but the weight of the Razzle Dazzle and not having a ladder would’ve made this quite difficult.

Setting up a CoolLights 255

When I got back to the setup room, to my surpise my girlfiend had enlisted the help of a few of the church kids.   They thought it was fun to blow up balloons and paint the banners.

The source of our music – a Toughbook with Winamp

At 3:30pm, about 4 of the 9 dancers showed up and two leads, but the third lead said he wouldn’t get there until 4:30pm.  We finished the set design at 4:00pm and decided to start shooting the scenes where the third lead wasn’t in.  I was so worried that we wouldn’t finish in time, I elected to cut out as many CU’s as possible and just go for the medium shots.  Of course later on as the editor I was cursing at myself for doing this, but at the time, I just waned to make sure we could finish.

To be honest, my first thought when looking through the viewfinder was that the image quality wasn’t quite what I had imagined.  The size of the gym, the lack of lighting and lack of a large cast all contributed to this.  Plus with the rush and small crew size, at times it wasn’t possible to hide the light stands or light stand shadows.   But at the same time, everyone was having a lot of fun, so I just kept pushing through.

As things calmed down, we tried to re-position the lights so they wouldn’t be in frame for most of the static shots.  But to be perfectly honest, almost everyone who has viewed the video haven’t mentioned the lights as a glaring error.

The shotlist ended up being a huge godsend, as I never had to think about what was next, but just focus on the shot as hand.  My assistant director was also superb, as he never stepped on my toes and only made suggestions when they were appropriate.  Having to operate the camera, act as DP and key grip, not having to worry about the script/shots really saved me.

We amazingly caught up to the schedule and took our dinner break on schedule at 6pm.  I’ve read that you shouldn’t skimp on food, so I ordered pizza from a Yelp highly rated pizza restaurant.  Though in retrospect, getting the food from Costco probably would’ve been better.  I didn’t realize this but female dancers can eat!!

Break for dinner

After dinner, we quickly moved to the choreo scenes.  Everything ran pretty smoothly, save one quick on-the-set decision to change the third chorus.  I had never seen any of the choreo before and for the 2nd choreo (“get your ass on the floor”), they way they did it conflicted with how I thought we would shoot that sequence.  I thought about possibly having the guys sit down and watch the girls, but my girlfriend pointed out that it might be a little demeaning, to which I agreed.  So I quickly thought that it would be fun if they just drank and all passed out, which ended up working quite well.

We finished shooting at 9:45pm (right on schedule) and we were out of the church by 11:00pm.  I was absolutely exhausted, but was still able to capture the 90 minutes of footage to Apple ProRes when I got home before I passed out.

Merlin and Tripod – Awesome combo
A quick comment about the Merlin.  Using the tripod plate adapter, I could easily jump from Merlin to Tripod in just a few seconds.  This was tremendously helpful as we were only spending an average of 10-15 minutes per shot, so I had to make the switch quite often.  The Merlin has been an amazing tool in my arsenal and I highly recommend it.

XH-A1 with Merlin

Canon XH-A1 on Libec-55

Production Stills (by Matt Hanagan)
Production Stills 2 (by Daniel Lee)


Sunday Feb 22nd
I slept in Sunday morning and started looking through the footage in the afternoon.  I started editing at 8pm (while watching the Oscars) and passed out at 11am with a very rough first cut.

Monday Feb 23rd
My first cut was quite disappointing, both to me and when I screen it for my girlfriend.  I woke up at 2pm and continued to plow on through the day.  8pm-9pm that night, we shot the opening commercial.  I wanted to do a Apple commercial white background, and I had lucked out because my friend/neighbor was moving out of her apartment so it was completely empty.  My idea was to try to throw as much light on the back wall to blow it out completely, then stand in front of it and be lit separately with my new CL-LED600’s.  In post, I had to magnify it slightly to get rid of a wall socket, but otherwise, it worked out pretty well!

FM Spray Commercial Screen Shot

FM Spray Commercial Screen Shot

Commercial Shoot Set Stills (picasa album)

I had a few slo-mo and time-ramping scnes in the video, and I would send the 60i clip to Motion first and apply Optical Flow to it.  I was trying to time-remap some of the scens to the music and one problem with remapping in Motion was the lack of audio.  After a few failed attempts to send over the clip markers, I instead sent the slow motion clip from Motion back to FCP and remapped it there.  This worked pretty well for the scenes.  With the help of some coffee, I passed out at 6am.

Tuesday Feb 24th – Deadline
Woke up 9am Tuesday morning, and spent some time performing the VO for the commercial using my homemade Porta-Booth.  This was my first time using it and it worked out a lot better than I expected!  I then spent the rest of the afternoon grading in Color and this was when the panic started to kick in.   My grading abilities are squat and this was my first time using Color.  I know it’s good practice to only use Color after the editing is fully locked down, but I was too tired and still in a rush.  Color is great tool, but the roundtrip to FCP was very frustrating.  The rendering times were really killing my ability to work quickly.

Using Markers to Set Beats

Time remapping in FCP

Time Remapping by looking at the wav patterns

Close to Final Render

A quick break for dinner and then it was a race to the finish.

Race to the Finish
The deadline for the project was Tuesday, 11:59pm.  My first attempt at uploading was a 300MB file to Youtube that finished at 10:00pm and had taken about an hour.  Youtube it encoded quickly but turned out to be too dark, so I quickly ran into Color and raised the brightness a bit.  I then needed to re-render and compress it again.  I hoped that Ken Stone’s recommendation of a 3k bit-rate ceiling would reduce the filesize, but assumed it would be approximately the same.  I calculated that if Compressor finished  the 300MB file at 10:48pm, I’d have a shot at successfully uploading it by 11:58pm (Youtube timestamps based on upload completion time).

At 10:47pm, I was shouting all kinds of curses at my computer as Compressor had said “less than a minute” for quite some time now.  It finally finished at 10:52pm and I thought all was lost until I saw the file size was now only 100MB.  Whew.  I quickly uploaded it and even had some time to spare :).  Thank you Ken Stone!!!  The regular encode finished before midnight and the HD encode kicked in at about 12:45am.  It looked great!

Final Thoughts

Overall, I had a blast.  The experience was amazing, and I think I learned more in those condensed 72 hours than I had in an entire month of studying .  It’s humbling to realize how difficult it is to reproduce exactly what you envision in your head, and my respect for filmmakers rose tremendously.  But I think it’s useful to be flexible enough to enjoy the end product regardless.  I’m always going to strive for perfection and hopefully I can inch closer on every shoot.

The best part though was that everyone had a lot of fun and we were laughing almost the entire time.  In such a high stress situation for myself, I really am grateful that I had such a patient and fun cast and crew.  It’s really what movie making is all about.





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