I’m thrilled to learn of Ballet 422’s nomination for best documentary feature at Tribeca Film Festival, and it’s recent acquisition by Magnolia Pictures! I had the privilege of being the principal location sound recordist on the film back in the winter of 2012.
Shot and directed by the talented Jody Lee Lipes (whose credits include cinematography on ‘Girls’ and ‘Tiny Furniture’; and director of SXSW 2010’s audience award winner ‘NY Export: Opus Jazz’) the film is a verite-style, fly-on-the-wall perspective of the “Artist at Work.” In this case, the Artist is Justin Peck, the 25-year-old choreographer wunderkind and member of the corps de ballet; and the Work is the 422nd ballet at the New York City Ballet, of which we documented the conception all the way to its premiere in front of a sold-out audience at Lincoln Center. Lipes has an affinity for directing films that explore the creative process, focusing on the artist deep in their work, and their struggle to realize their creative vision.
From my perspective, it was simply a blast to work on this. Verite documentary work is a rush, pure and simple. The journalistic feel gives the work meaning and purpose that isn’t quite present in your standard commercial/industrial gig. (Narrative filmmaking is similar, yet entirely different…) Not to mention the fact that it keeps me on my toes, and when I’ve nailed the ‘scene’, there’s a satisfaction that reaffirms why I choose this kind of work to begin with.
There’s one example of this I recall, and it ended up making the final cut: right after one of the few full-orchestra rehearsals, Cameron, the orchestra’s pianist, pulled Justin aside behind one of the wings and quietly remarked that the orchestra wasn’t quite understanding how special this particular ballet was, and encouraged him to give them a nudge. Kind of an unusual and ballsy suggestion, and Justin took the advice 100% and afterwards gave the orchestra a fairly untraditional pep-talk — somewhat sheepishly but none-the-less a courageous move. The only source of audio for their covert convo was the hidden lavaliere mic Justin was wearing, because they were whispering behind a curtain (and frankly I’m not sure they knew we were rolling on them!) But we captured it and it made the cut, and it turned about to be a great moment in the story, as well as a key development in the character Jody was trying to portray in Justin.
At the premiere, at the end of the film, the moderator’s first comment was on the sound mix. Though expressly impressed with the cinematography and editing, he observed the powerful role the music played in the storytelling, and how equal attention was given to sound as to picture. Jody’s response began with a shout-out to myself, and to Mark Henry Phillips, the films incredible sound designer/post mixer, who took the dialogue and music I recorded and made it sizzle with life.
I thank the producers Ellen Bar and Anna Holmer for bringing me on board. I look forward to the next one. Merde!