Amy Vincent, ASC, grooves to FOOTLOOSE

When cinematographer Amy Vincent, ASC joined director Craig Brewer to shoot the update of the 1980s Kevin Bacon dance picture, FOOTLOOSE, she was excited by the challenge of bringing a 2011 look to the well-known story and to shoot dance numbers that would be major set pieces of the film. Vincent and Brewer previously collaborated on the indie sensation HUSTLE & FLOW and the psychological thriller BLACK SNAKE MOAN, but Brewer had never directed a studio film before (Paramount Pictures was behind FOOTLOOSE). Neither had faced the challenges involved with shooting the kind of large-scale dance numbers that would be at this feature's core.

The dance sequences, Vincent explains, are never just about the moves themselves. The dancing needed to impress audiences on its own and leads Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough were cast in great part for their extensive dance experience, but just as in the original Herbert Ross-directed version, these numbers also needed to move the story along. "We approached these scenes like we would any other dramatic scene," Vincent recounts. "You have the emotional and character components and you need to drive the story forward. The choreography and the shot design were always in the service of that. Craig knows music like nobody's business, but this was his first venture into this genre. It's very much to his credit that the scenes integrate character, emotion and narrative into every dance number."

FOOTLOOSE: Behind the Scenes

ARRICAMs and the ARRIFLEX 435 capture the performances of FOOTLOOSE, directed by Craig Brewer with cinematography by Amy Vincent, ASC. Shot on 35mm, the remake of this classic coming-of-age story showcased true dancing without body doubles for the lead actors. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Set in rural Georgia where local preacher (Dennis Quaid) has led a crusade to forbid dancing in town, the story centers on newcomer Ren (Wormald) who loves to dance and the preacher's daughter, Ariel, who falls for him.

Vincent was very gratified when she realized that the Paramount executives, Brewer and herself were all on the same page about shooting FOOTLOOSE on film. She shot in 3-perf, Super 35mm format using both ARRICAM ST and LT cameras for the main unit and an ARRIFLEX 435 for stunt and high-speed work.

Vincent and Brewer carefully worked out what dramatic beats had to be conveyed. While choreographer Jamal Sims worked with the dancers, the filmmakers would observe and plan camera placements as sections took shape. "When Jamal saw how interested I was in the choreography," Vincent recalls, "he became fascinated in what I was doing with the camera movement and that turned into a very nice collaboration."

The first major dance number in the film takes place at the Starlight Drive-in, a teen hangout whose ownership is willing to flaunt the town's harsh prohibition. In addition to the wow factor of these kids' movements, the scene had to show Ren as a first-class dancer and establish Ariel's fascination with him (which causes the rivalry with her current boyfriend). When the preacher discovers the forbidden behavior and breaks up the party, the major conflict between him and Ren is also set. The scene would be dramatically charged even without the choreography element.

Vincent lit the location primarily with a very large soft box hung off a construction crane with some additional units to provide accents on buildings and trees beyond the action. By relying on top light, she was able to free up decisions about camera and performer placement. Then she would generally get wide shots from three different cameras. After this, she would move in for tighter shots and generally add a few additional units on the floor to fill in faces where the top light caused deep shadows and maybe add dimension with side lighting on the performers.

"Jamal would always be talking to his dancers and keeping them in beat," Vincent notes. "He would let them know when to give it their all because we're tight on what they're doing and when we're wider. There are a lot of physical considerations. You've got to get the choreography covered before the dancers are exhausted."

A later scene set inside an Atlanta line-dancing club, involved even more dancers. The production staged the sequence inside a real club and Vincent made use of PAR cans throughout the space that could be photographed as practical lighting.

Here, Vincent generally used two cameras for the wide shots. "You really couldn't get more in there with that many dancers unless you were going to stay completely outside and shoot the dancing in a proscenium style," she says. The DP notes that even when the scene focused primarily on tighter shots of the dancers, it was still very important to shoot coverage that showed the wider space and offered the viewer spatial context. "You want to see the feet, hands and faces," she says, "but you also want to see the whole group. In the case of a line dance, it's nice to see the whole dance floor work as a machine."

Now in theaters, FOOTLOOSE has shimmied to the top of the box office as one of the most successful movies in the dance genre.