When director Craig Brewer took on a re-imagining of the 1984 dance classic, Footloose, he turned to someone he could trust to capture the image: Cinematographer Amy Vincent, ASC, the DP of his previous two indie hits, Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan.
Known for their previous pair of indie standouts (Vincent won the 2005 Sundance Cinematography Award for Hustle & Flow), the duo might seem an unusual choice to create a reboot of Footloose, but it is precisely that outsider approach that makes their version so refreshingly appealing to watch.
“We approached the dance numbers in the movie from an emotional and dramatic standpoint,” Vincent explains, regarding her and Brewer’s visual approach to the story. “Every scene has a context within the narrative.”
In addition to the director-DP redux, the cinematographer also turned to FotoKem’s Walter Volpatto for their DI color timing. “Walter and I have done four movies together,” Vincent notes. “We have the kind of communication that exists between two technicians and two artists at the same time, and that’s a tricky thing to find.”
When Vincent refers to the approach her and Brewer took on Footloose, she points out, “I’m photochemically trained. I believe that good composition, lighting and photography lend to a good-looking movie.”
And Brewer supports that. “There’s a special color temperature and grain content Amy does that I haven’t really seen much in other work,” he says. “It just makes the subject seem like they’re of the environment.”
The filmmaking team was able to take full advantage of Volpatto’s skills in the DI suite on such scenes as the film’s opening—a flashback to a deadly car crash that sets up the rest of the film. “We went in several different directions at first, because the scene has to be detached enough from the rest of the movie, but still retain the same kind of quality,” Vincent explains. “The challenge was to avoid broadcasting to the audience what it is they’re looking at, allowing them to instead experience it through the image. We didn’t want to tell the audience, ‘Look—this is a flashback,’ with a heavy, contrasty, desaturated image. It had to be real, but different enough that it feels like a prologue.”
In another one of the film’s signature scenes, star Kenny Wormald blows off some steam in the fiery, powerful “Angry Dance” sequence in an old, deserted warehouse. Vincent recalls, “There was a really bad thunderstorm that day, so I had to essentially light the entire warehouse. It got so dark that I couldn’t have shot even the fastest film stock in the world in there without a lot of firepower.”
But the cinematographer still managed to capture a quality image, and Volpatto, using FotoKem’s state-of-the-art Quantel Pablo color timing system, brought out the edge in the dancer’s performance. “We made it just a touch more cool from the rest of the movie, but also incorporated a subtle feeling of strength by giving a bit more boldness to the color,” he explains.
FotoKem’s San Francisco-based SPY Post helped rescue another difficult shot—a scene in a church where star Julianne Hough’s character confronts her father, played by Dennis Quaid. The scene was supposed to take place during a rain storm, but, in the finished negative, the exposure in the windows was hotter than desired.
The complexity of the shot made it impossible to utilize DI power windows to tone down the window light. So SPY scanned the image and graded it for proper flesh and room tones. Then they took a second pass, and graded the windows down to bring out the detail that she had captured, which was all there on the Kodak 35mm film negative. SPY then rotoscoped the finished windows into place within the rest of the image for a memorable, dramatic sequence.
For the production, Vincent and her team shot with ARRIFLEX ST and LT cameras, with Cooke S4 prime lenses, as well as Angenieux zooms (17-80mm, 24-290mm) and mini-zooms (15-40mm and 28-76mm), all provided by Keslow Camera. “Those lightweight mini-zooms are super-enabling because they’re so light; you can operate handheld or Steadicam very easily, without a lot of lens changing.”
As for stocks, Vincent went with KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 for interiors, shooting 3-perf Super 35. For exteriors, Vincent chose KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 5213.
An example of one of Vincent’s favorite scenes is the final dance sequence, where the camera follows the feet of the dancing cast in tight close-up as they fly across the dance floor during a line dance. Having been inspired by a shot she’d seen in an earlier Brewer film (The Poor and Hungry, where the camera closely followed a hubcap as it flew through the air until a wider reveal showing the vehicle being hoisted in a junkyard), Vincent was excited to put the technique to work.
“I had been to the Saturday dance rehearsal, and I told the key grip Pat O’Mara, ‘We have this shot, where the guys’ feet all dance across the floor. They meet with the girls’. We want to change direction when the girls change, and then we want to change back.’ We designed that shot very specifically to the choreography. It was literally the fastest dolly move across the floor you could imagine, with four dolly grips at the end of the dolly track stopping the dolly and sending it off in its other direction, three times. That shot is a great example of collaboration, with the dance move inspiring the camera movement.”
Working with actors dancing long, intense routines means you have to be on your toes, ready to capture the best – quickly. “We always had to acknowledge the human element in photographing a dance movie, particularly the person dancing,” says Vincent. “You don’t have 100 takes. Jamal was always near the camera, letting his dancers know when to pull out all the stops. And Julianne and Kenny danced their hearts out.”
One thing is clear: The Brewer-Vincent collaborative combo works. “I have one soldier next to me that fights for my vision, and that’s Amy,” says Brewer.
Footloose hits theaters October 14.