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  • Writer's pictureAndrew de Villiers

Making Ballet of a Lonely Heart During Lockdown

Recently, a short film I produced, wrote and directed, Ballet of a Lonely Heart, was featured on CBC's 'Our Vancouver,' Host Gloria Macarenko interviewed our choreographers and cast, Kirsten Wicklund and Peter Smida about the making of the film.

Of course, this lovely piece focuses a little more on the approach to dance and art, rather than the making of the film, which was in my opinion, what makes the film stand out from most shorts. This short was conceived of and produced during the lockdown in British Columbia, and as such, was designed to be made outdoors with a small socially distanced crew.

The film was also an exercise in taking advantage of available resources and locations, given the circumstances. Filming on Red cameras in Robson Square or on Lonsdale Quay would not have been possible in pre-Covid times. Our excellent crew, normally busy on TV movies or feature films shooting in Greater Vancouver would not have been able to donate time in normal times. Heck, even Peter and Kirsten would have been performing with Ballet BC at the Sidney Opera House if not for Covid.

The purpose behind Ballet of a Lonely Heart was to remind ourselves what we love about filmmaking and get back the core of why we want to tell stories. The plan was to strip away everything we rely on, from make-up to lights, and capture the natural beauty of our city with pure emotional energy. Music, movement, stunning locations and a simple story connecting everything together.

We spent two weeks pouring over the right music and choosing tracks in the public domain that could fit with locations I was interested in and a loose story concept.

I first contacted Ballet BC and connected with Kirsten and Peter before I had a script. I wanted to be inspired by their ideas, as well as music suggestions from Dave Chick, our music producer and sound designer. We spent two weeks pouring over the right music and choosing tracks in the public domain that could fit with locations I was interested in and a loose story concept.

After that, I quickly wrote a script to help time the music to the dance Kirsten and Peter would choreograph in a local park, and Shawn Seifert, my longtime go to director of photography, joined me for a location scout in Vancouver and North Vancouver.

Timing the music to the action we needed to convey, plus the choreography, was a difficult challenge, and required flexibility on all sides. I had never made a film like this before, but since this was an experiment, I wanted to keep an open mind and kept on reminding myself and my crew that what we were doing was meant to be open and fun.

If you haven't worked with me, you might not know that is a departure from the norm. Typically I am working with clients, producers or for myself on extremely ambitious, tight deadlines with intense planning and tighter shooting windows. Riverdale was made almost entirely in an 18 hour day, Secret Liaison, my TV movie, was produced in just 14 days. Chalkboard Prison's pilot was completed in just 2 production days. This change of pace was welcome and crucial to reminding me why I love filmmaking in the first place.

The openness and flexibility, coupled with strong talent and even stronger core creative components helped ensure a mostly smooth production process. Bren MacDonald took pictures and video of the making of our film, which you can watch below, including more clips of the film.

With a production this size, we were trying to avoid needing permits or special permission to film in public locations. We also wanted to keep our crew to six bodies, which was the maximum gathering size British Columbia was recommending at the time. Masks were not yet a popular tool in the Covid fight, but we did have them in close quarters in the few instances where that was unavoidable.

In hindsight, I think we would have pushed for more mask use knowing what we know now, but given how low cases in BC were at the time, and given that we filmed together entirely outdoors, I feel confident we maintained a safe, comfortable set for our small team. In the one instance where indoor filming was crucial, we came up with a creative solution, which Bren's video details a bit more.

Filming took place over 3 days of early mornings, since we wanted ideal lighting for natural, unlit images, and also because we needed to avoid people. The biggest challenge we faced in the script, was showing an empty city where the two actors in our film were the last occupants. That was tricky because at the time people were starting to emerge from quarantine and had begun using public spaces like parks again.

We ended up filming most of our wide shots of streets and open spaces early in the morning before the joggers could enter our shots. Even then it took several takes to get what we needed without a taxi or commuter getting in the way. And because we were filming without permits, we couldn't hold traffic or prevent people from getting where they were going.

Despite a few hiccups, we managed to wrap Ballet of a Lonely Heart on time. We ended up relocating from Lonsdale Quay to New Westminster in a last minute attempt to salvage our final day. Luckily, the new locations worked just as well as the originals, if not better.

What I learned filming Ballet of a Lonely Heart was that I enjoy being flexible and being able to adapt on the fly.

What I learned filming Ballet of a Lonely Heart was that I enjoy being flexible and being able to adapt on the fly. I think this is something new to me, because I've reached a point of maturity as a filmmaker that allows me to rejig and adjust on the fly. That's not something I could always do easily, but its become essential in recent work.

Ballet of a Lonely Heart was a kind of rumination on feelings of loneliness I have felt as a single person in isolation during the pandemic. It was also a way to keep busy and do something fun in lockdown. Finally, it was a kind of test run for methods I intend to put to use on a larger scale soon.

So much of my career has been overextending to try and reach beyond what I was really capable of, dreaming of the next piece before I had mastered my present. Now though, I feel as if Ballet of a Lonely Heart has helped me graduate my own long film school and reach a place of creative clarity, where I am finally ready to take on the greatest challenge yet.

What is that challenge? Well I am not quite ready to share that, but I promise it will be from my heart, and it is something I've been working on and investing in for almost ten years now. I cannot wait to share it, and Ballet of a Lonely Heart, with all of you!

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