Movement: Exploring a Dream

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Crew

Creative Producers: Davis Nixon, Chent Steinbrink, David Tappan

Director: Hamoody Jaafar

Editor: Davis Nixon

Director of Photography: David Tappan

 

A conflict raged in my head as we poured over the request: Event Coverage of the 2016 Movement Festival

 

What?

Event coverage = boring

Movement = world famous dance festival in the heart of Detroit

 

I wasn’t sure how to approach this. I knew I wanted it to be different; at least as abstract and mind-bending as the festival itself. Jon Braue and I decided we wanted to go big on this one - to develop a piece that would speak to the history and impact such a notorious event.

I approached Hamoody Jaafar, one of our directors, asking him to develop a concept. He worked over the next few days, and one night while we were in the color room we had our first breakthrough. Late at night, let’s say 10pm or so, I’m on the color panel with Dave working on one of his projects, Moody is sitting behind us working on the Movement concept. We’re in the depths of soundcloud, looking for inspiration for the piece when this song comes on:

 

It was too perfect. It felt like Movement was speaking to us through the speakers:

 

ALL sounds are music. Everything is Music. So there is no escaping the Music. The first sound in the whole cosmos was Music. The first sound when the creator created this planet was Music and the final sound when the creator decides to get rid of all this negativity - which is coming soon, that sound is music. And the first sound of the “new”… will be… music.

 

In that moment we discovered the story we wanted to tell: people’s connection to the music, and how music connects people to each other.

Moody wrote up the concept, telling the story of the festival from the early morning as people are waking up, to the peak of the festival itself.

We pitched it, got approved, and moved into pre-production. We decided to tell the story using a motif of match/glitch cuts. We really wanted to let people forget about the film and fall into the flow of the piece:

 

For the camera, the ARRI Alexa Mini was an obvious choice. Though pricey, we wanted to do this thing right. We needed extreme low-light capabilities, with a clean, soft highlight rolloff to counteract the stage lights. We needed a zoom lens that would provide a clean image at a decent price, so we went with the Angenieux 28-76mm.

Since the ARRI with the lens is extremely heavy, and knowing the crazy hours we’d have to work, we decided to rent an EZ Rig, which was a lifesaver throughout the shoot.

The investment on the camera and glass completely paid off. Using entirely natural light, we achieved some of the most stunning images we’ve ever shot:

 

The shoot itself was a blur. We took shifts, usually in pairs, filming nearly every hour of the weekend. Sleep, film, switch, repeat. We lived and breathed the festival. Our initial shots weren’t great, they looked contrived and out of place - we weren’t yet in sync with the festival. As we immersed ourselves however, this drastically changed. Spending every waking minute surrounded by people hypnotized by the festival, being inches away from people on stage so entranced by their own music, it was unforgettable. And let’s not forget when RZA made eye contact with us.

We all had a vision going into the festival, but honestly had no idea what to expect. Throughout the weekend we captured so many moments, and shot a lot of footage. Our first selects sequence looked like this:

 

Yeah that’s 3 hours of selects.

 

Thus began post production - an extremely long ~ 1 year process of late nights and dozens of trashed sequences.

Chent pulled selects, and divided them into several categories:

  • Establishing shots
  • Water/Liquid
  • People/Movement
  • Looking into Camera
  • Smoke
  • Reflections
  • DJs
  • Lights
  • Hair
  • Birds

The footage was so good. Hundreds of people packed together, each person in their own head space.

Just look at this shot:

 

I feel like I could study it for hours. Every single person is having their own unique experience.

I think people call it sonder.

My first assembly cuts followed the treatment closely, and things were going smoothly. The plan was to structure it based off Moody’s treatment using the selects as a reference. The amount of footage was overwhelming, but I was working through it with the help of the crew. I created a primitive version of the intro and glitch scenes that exists in the final version, and progress was steady. However, an unexpected evolution of the project was occurring.

Something wasn’t working right. It felt incohesive, disingenuous, and worst of all, unauthentic to what we’d just lived and witnessed. We’d underestimated the power of the festival. It sucks you in, pulling you into what feels like a dream, where time doesn’t exist.

Just you and the music.

We were stuck. And frustrated. Weeks went by with no real progress, and waning inspiration.

In addition, I was getting pulled into other projects with tighter deadlines, and Movement really fell off the radar.

Fast forward to late December, right around Christmas time. I was driving home one night, listening to Spotify discover weekly, I hear this:

 

Sudden inspiration. I listened to the Alan Watts voice over about 150 times, and connected it so strongly to Movement. It was that adventure of dreams described in such a perfect way; speaking to the feeling of getting lost in the daze of Movement, and depicting the subjective nature of the mind.

Some people think of Movement as a weekend where a bunch of people get high and party, but the reality is so different. It’s an event that shows the nature of people in the purest form; uninhibited, authentic, intertwined with art and the rest of humanity.

I got back to work, pushing ‘abstract’ as far as I could. Heavy sound design in pieces like Watchtower of Turkey were heavily inspirational in creating a feeling of transportation. My main goal was to allow people to experience Movement through this piece, if only for a few minutes.

It’s hard to explain this stage in the editing process: The Breakthough.

This part feels like magic for me. After hours or days or weeks or months grinding through a project, suddenly I reach this state of flow where the cuts are obvious and it no longer feels like work. This was the point in time that I made this:

I knocked out the rest of the cut relatively quickly, ending up around 6 minutes in length. I switched the song to Icry by Godblesscomputers, our original envisioned track, which started working with the new form of the edit and voice-over.

 

This abstraction was difficult, and my best friend during the entire process was experimentation. No idea was off limits. For hours I tried different combinations of transfer layers, shot combinations, and glitch effects until I reached the point where I was satisfied.

Dozens of terrible, cheesy ideas scrapped, dozens of great ideas that didn’t fit the structure, but eventually I got to where I wanted to be.

I opened slow; hypnotic, abstract shots, ambient music, and the transient voice-over to build up the tone. I cut sparingly, and when I did I tried to make each one impactful.

 

The glitch montage was meant to emulate the feeling of falling asleep and into a dream. I’ve always loved the randomness produced by the mind, and used sound design to ramp up the pacing until the climax of the eye close shot:

 

Once we’re in the dream my main goal was just to show off how incredible Movement is.

Seeing empty Hart Plaza a few days before the event, and then being back when it is packed is incredible. Innovative, eclectic, bizarre music playing everywhere, everyone lost in themselves.

We decided to end on a long, slow take of a spinning record, symbolizing the power of music.

 

The power to hypnotize, to inspire, and to show people that the only difference between dreams and reality is perspective.