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With choreography-driven promos for the likes of Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish under his belt, Caviar director Henry Scholfield has a few thoughts on making the most of movement in film. Just don't mention backflips and boyband-style backing dancers...

Above: Scholfield on the set of Billie Eilish's Hostage video.

Choreography is instinctive. 

I look at choreography like language, albeit one with countless different dialects. So, before picking a style, you’ve got to first work out what you’re trying to say: what is going to embody and enhance the theme/concept of the piece. Operas tend to sound better in Italian, if you know what I mean.  

That said, sometimes subverting styles is the way to go. Sure, if you’re making comedy, the cha-cha is an obvious fit, but maybe some self-conscious, ‘serious’ contemporary choreography could make it all the more amusingly absurd. Essentially, it’s an instinct thing. I also like to mix it up, because sometimes that’s where the magic happens and you create something entirely unique and original. Krump meets country-western, for example - that’d be a helluva shindig. 

Dua Lipa – IDGAF

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Casting is like knocking on the door of a blind date on prom night. 

You never know if you might meet the love of your life… or not! Needless to say, I knock on a lot of doors. ‘Exhaustive’ is an understatement when I’m looking for just the right balance/chemistry within several or many distinctly differently talented individuals.  

That said, I tend to have a crib sheet from my own research, those I know of from the scene or online. It’s useful to have a network. This kind of casting is very much a collaboration with the choreographer, who will also have their go-to’s. 

I hate it when you see a great artist trying to keep up with hyper-complex double-beat choreography while their toothy, toe-tapping backing dancers are showing them up.

I’m always looking for the unexpected or the unconventional interpretation in a casting. I’m not really into backflips or boyband-backing dance styles, but I guess that’s not the work I do. 

Billie Eilish – Hostage

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I tend to develop the choreography in relation to how the artist naturally moves.

So whether they’re good dancers, or not so good, if you let the type of movement (staccato, flowy, articulate, anarchic…) emanate from them, then the whole piece will feel coherent and their own. I hate it when you see a great artist trying to keep up with hyper-complex double-beat choreography while their toothy, toe-tapping back up dancers are showing them up… it’s just not a good look.

For me, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great artists who move and perform beautifully, which makes your job easy. 

Tele2 – Happy Happy Dance Dance

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Timing is everything. 

In a commercial, getting enough time before an edit point or scene transition to actually play out a full phrase of movement. Oftentimes things are moving at such breakneck speed that you have to be very clever in the staging and shot choice to make the movement comprehensible. In a video, it’s getting a decent amount of rehearsal time (or any rehearsal time!). What’s done off set, away from the stress and hustle of the shoot, has such a huge impetus on what goes on screen. 

Storytelling has an innate rhythm to it.

For a promo, the track leads the concept, with lyrics, attitude and vibe inspiring the visuals. For an ad, when I first get the script, I make a playlist to feel out the soundscape as I’m developing my interpretation for the film. I’ll listen and refine as we shoot and settle on a track to cut to in the edit. Basically, it’s the same process but backwards: both ways you’re looking to make an experiential fusion, with each part harmonising with and elevating the other. 

Dua Lipa – New Rules

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Ultimately, choreography is about more than dance. 

There’s a choreography to camerawork and character blocking that sure as shit ain’t dance, but certainly follows in the footwork of similar fundamentals. Timing is important, yes, but beyond the obvious mandates of ‘rhythm & flow’, for me it’s more important to create the right motion with the emotion to create a ‘cinematic’ experience.  

Take the classic, highly choreographed Copacabana entrance in Goodfellas for example. The greetings, respect and reactions of the people [Henry Hill] passes, combines with the uncut effortlessness with which he (and the shot itself) glides from the back door to front-row centre to tell us everything we need to know about the character whilst immersing us in his world. 

With single-takes and technique-driven transitions the sense of spectacle should be a side-effect rather than an end goal, so I design them to serve the story rather than vice versa. This way, what could feel like very structured movement becomes more natural, fluent and compelling. 

This kind of ‘choreography’ is probably easier when it’s a dance because you have another layer of abstraction which lets you cheat a bit, i.e. you can move the camera where you want, choreograph around it and make it feel natural.  Overall, it can be a bit of a high-wire act bringing choreography into non-obvious places, but in the end it pays off, if it brings a unique vibe to the visuals or pace to piece. We’re all rhythm-driven creatures after all. 

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