Making HERO Move
This summer I had the pleasure of being the choreographer for the film, “Hero”. While reflecting on the process of working on a feature film for the first time(!), I noticed four distinct aspects that buoyed me during production: understanding the story, getting to know the actor, the development process of creating movement, and being flexible on shoot day.
Part One: Understanding the Story
Two specific tasks helped me understand the story: reading the script and talking through tone and music with the director of HERO, Dustin Whitehead.
On the macro level I wanted to understand how this dancing scene fit into the rest of the film. Who is the character? What is going on in their life? How does this connect to the rest of the narrative?
On a micro level, I wanted to understand the distinct purpose of the scene. When reading the action line for content, I pulled words that could inspire the movement style.
The action line for the scene reads:
“Tre begins dancing along the railroad tracks. He has a groove, some pep. He’s feeling completely euphoric. He gazes into the sky and shadow draws with his hand.”
Three words stuck out to me: groove, pep, and euphoric. These descriptive words influenced me to create movement that was less performative (groove), that just feels good to do (pep), and was light, airy (euphoric).
Meeting with the Director
It was important for me to walk away from this conversation with music that would assist in the style and mood of the movement. Dustin shared a playlist of music that represented the energy, style, and tone for the film. He highlighted the song, “Let’s Go On the Run,” by Chance the Rapper for the scene I was choreographing. While it wouldn’t be the song used for the final cut of the film, it served as a starting place for mood and tone. Plus, it was spot on in embodying the three words I had previously identified: groove, pep, and euphoric.
Part Two: Getting to Know the Actor
First and foremost, I wanted the lead actor, Anthony Currie, to have agency and voice during the process of choreographing his scene. We started the first rehearsal with movement improvisation exercises to build that collaboration and trust while simultaneously getting to know his movement range.
Responding to music: matching and countering the music
Experimenting with texture: smooth, sharp
Playing with tempo: fast, moderate, slow, stillness
Increasing and decreasing intensity of movement
Integrating intentional focus (particularly the eyes)
During this first session, I selected individual steps and sequences that helped Anthony embody our three words. By its end, we developed a vocabulary of movement that would be the base of the final movement phrase.
Part Three: Creating a Phrase
While I had an idea of the sequence of steps before coming to our next rehearsal, it was important to me to observe as much as I was teaching. While I was demonstrating, I would notice which direction or how many steps Anthony naturally took. If something felt cumbersome, we shifted. Did he naturally turn left after the slide? Then that’s what we did.
Throughout the process, I emphasized that the steps we created weren’t precious; the point of the scene was to convey a mood and tone, not precise choreography. On the day of the shoot, I wanted him to feel like his character inside the movement, not trying to remember what step came next. By the end of the rehearsal, we had developed a phrase of movement that met my goals: it portrayed the mood and tone of the scene, Anthony was comfortable within the movement, and it was a flexible phrase that could meet any requirements on the day of the shoot.
Part Four: Being Flexible on the Day of the Shoot
Going into the day of the shoot, I knew that flexibility would be key. Anthony and I were prepared for just that by creating a phrase that could be repeated, shifted in the moment, and be set to any tempo required. Once we got to set, saw the blocking, and discussed the different options with Dustin, we rehearsed for 15 minutes. During that rehearsal we added a repeat halfway through the phrase, leaned into any directional changes that made more sense in the moment, and made a few shifts with the new, faster tempo of the music.
As the busyness of the rehearsal faded and we all took our spots for the filming to begin, I was nervous! Did our work pay off? Did the movement convey what was intended?
Then I peeked at the monitor. Finally seeing the movement merged with the incredible work and dedication of the actor, director, director of photography, the camera operator – the whole team – was humbling. The scene was breathtaking. All of the preparation, and not just my own, had really paid off.
This project was unlike any other I’ve worked on. In addition to it being the first feature film I’d choreographed for, it was also the largest creative team I’ve been a part of. It was energizing to be a part of one that was thoughtful, creative, skilled, and kind – and the experience will continue to impact my future creative work.
While I hope my shared choreographic process for this film is beneficial to other choreographers, my intended deeper takeaway is this: you make impactful beautiful art by doing it with thoughtful, creative, skilled, and kind artists. It is my hope that everyone has that incredible privilege and that sharing my process can be a guide the next time you create movement for your film.
Olivia Waldrop is an educator, choreographer, and performer. For the last seven years she has expanded her creative practice to include film, screendance, and video projection in live performance. Olivia shares, "I utilize video work in my creative practice for two reasons: to support and enhance the choreographic intention of a work and to express something that can only be communicated in that medium." What excites her most about dance on film is expanding the possibilities of dance and narrative.