“Dancing Man,” a new short film from IU graduate student Robert Mack, will premiere at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at IU Cinema. The event is free, but tickets are available through the IU Cinema website.
Mack’s newest short film follows David, a young ballet dancer who finds himself unmotivated by his career. Losing himself in a fantasy world, David is torn between the girl he loves and the chance for his dream career offered by a new choreographer.
Co-directed by Mack and IU alumna Clarisse Gamblin with an original score by IU alumna Yi-Chen Chiang, the film was shot in Bloomington over the course of four days in April 2022. The short shooting period kept Mack on his toes, ready for anything to happen, he said.
“Flexibility is the name of the game in independent filmmaking,” Mack said. “It’s not about the biggest production value, it’s working with what you’ve got, and luckily Bloomington is a very supportive city for the arts.”
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Mack used the landscape of Bloomington and IU’s campus as the set for his film, and despite the film’s 20-minute runtime, Mack said he and his team had several different locations to set up and shoot, making for a long but productive four days.
“To try and get everything you need to get in four days is insane,” Mack said. “There was a lot to do and a lot of complicated dance sequences; we were shooting in different locations, so we’d have to pack up and go to the next place, but we pulled together.”
After filming wrapped, the post-production phase of the film began. Aside from editing the film, Mack decided to give an extra flavor to the dance numbers by recording portions of Chiang’s score live in studio with Jacobs School of Music musicians.
“The music is a character in the movie and adds so much to get the rich, bigger sound that older dance movies had,” Mack said. “We wanted to get actual musicians so that it didn’t sound entirely computerized.”
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Mack also felt it crucial to use real musicians for portions of the score to deepen the film’s ties with the IU student community.
“This is an IU homegrown movie; this is a movie being made with students and alums of the Media School and the ballet department,” Mack said. “We have a Jacobs alum composing, and I thought — to really bring in the most this campus had to offer — we should bring in the musicians as well.”
The film utilizes students of the Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater department for fantastical dance sequences, sewn carefully throughout the film to ensure the dancing didn’t overshadow the human drama and vice versa.
“Every scene matters,” Mack said. “We had to make sure every dance sequence was adding to the story.”
The dance scenes — which express the main character’s desire for better times — were heavily inspired by Mack’s love of classic Hollywood dance films.
“I grew up watching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly; these movies inspired me to dance,” Mack said. “The way they told these larger-than-life stories through dance is charming and irreplaceable.”
“Dancing Man” will be shown alongside Mack’s other short films, “Chisel” and “North,” at IU Cinema, followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and cast members.