Visual storyteller specializing in music and dance media. Based in Seattle, serving the world.
- “NPR” by Can’t Stop Won’t Stop – Puppet Rap!
- “Grief” – A Dance Short Film
- “Run Away” – A Dance Short Film
- TV ads for Liberty Coin & Currency
- Republic Services Roosevelt: Generating Power from Refuse
- Blackmagic 4K tests: battery life, data and record time
- Timelapse for Buzzfeed
- Roxanne – Tango Short Film
- “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon” – The RA Scion redux
- Three web Spots for Familyshare.com
- Garrett Gibbons Demo Reel 2013
- Ayron Jones & The Way – Feedin’ From the Devil’s Hands
- You don’t know what the word “Storyboard” means, do you?
- Dance choreography films for Katie Baillie
- How to film and edit dance
Category Archives: Film
“Grief” is a barefoot Waltz (in American style ballroom, also known as Smooth Waltz), performed by the Youth Show Team at Pacific Ballroom Dance in Auburn, Washington. It is part of my not-for-profit Dance Short Films project.
Since around 2006 I had discussed ideas with my wife Jill for a very grounded, expressive barefoot Waltz based on this song, and we had been kicking around ideas for several years without being able to move forward into detailed choreography because something was missing.
During a particularly difficult time in late 2014, several family members and close friends had died within a very short period of time, and life had begun to feel incredibly bleak. When my friend Sam Oliver died unexpectedly over the holidays late in 2014, I came to the point where I just couldn’t speak. I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t listen to music. The day I learned about his death I went walking through the woods with a heavy heart when I began to discover movements that helped me through the grieving process; the movement became therapy. That night, Jill and I began riffing off of those themes and we developed this piece very quickly, within a few hours of working on it, and began teaching it to our youth team at Pacific Ballroom Dance the next day.
We later learned that many of our dancers had experienced similarly challenging months including death in the family, illness, divorces, and sickness. Our team quickly internalized the movement and also used it as therapy to process the grief. Several of the dancers later told the rest of us that they had specific family members and loved ones in mind while we rehearsed this piece. We have collected the names of those who we grieved for during this period: they are placed near the end of the credits in the short film.
This piece is based around the fundamental idea of Waltz: rise and fall. Waltz is a dance (and musical style) based around a systematic 3-count pattern that rises and falls with every measure of music. Often, there is an additional level of rise and fall in the dynamics and phrasing, which is expressed over longer stretches of music. This rise and fall is generally expressed through foot rise, the bending and straightening of knees, body rise (elongating the torso from the center), and through arm and head contractions. Additionally, rise and fall is often seen through lateral expansion and contraction to coincide with the movement in the music.
With “Grief” I wanted to take rise and fall and expand it beyond the normal realms of ballroom dance: I wanted dancers on the floor and high in the air, making the dynamics far greater. (One day I plan to work with dancers on wires and bring waltz into the air as well, but one step at a time!) The piece itself follows a certain type of rise and fall: the dancers begin on the ground, contracting and expanding, and gradually arrive on their feet. Towards the middle of the piece of music, three dancers are lifted high above the heads of the group, after which they all return to their feet. The piece ends with all dancers again on the ground.
All of this was strongly informed by the dynamics and flow of the piece of music, “Earth” by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, from the beautiful soundtrack of “Gladiator” (2000).
The symbolism we hoped to evoke has to do with the challenges of life itself: we start low, crawling on the ground, yearning and reaching to develop and overcome our limitations. We grieve and mourn with others. Sometimes our pain is too great to bear, but our loved ones around us stand with us and comfort us. We find breakthroughs that help us reach high, but in the end we all return to the earth. We hope that audiences can see that narrative arc within this piece.
Staging for Screen
When we performed this piece in a theatrical setting, I designed the lighting cues to enhance the story that this is an entire life cycle of a group of people, complete with highs and lows. I did this through emulating the light that happens throughout the course of a day. All of the lighting cues, which normally have cross-fades between 3-5 seconds in an average piece, were set to durations between 20 and 40 seconds so the lighting transitions throughout the piece would be mostly imperceptible.
The intro choreography on the floor was danced almost as silhouettes in blue-tinted near-darkness. The solo couple stands and some amber front lights shown on them, mimicking the golden light of dawn. Gradually, the stage lights arise until they reach a peak at the lifts just after the middle. After that, the lights slowly faded through orange to a deep red, symbolic of sunset and the end of life, and the lights faded to black as the final lift ended and Logan cried over Kaylah’s fallen body.
As much as I wanted to do the exact same thing with the film version, we didn’t have the time or resources needed to bring it to fruition. Any limitation can become an opportunity for creative inspiration, however, so Jill and I scouted locations and racked our brains for the perfect setting and style to tell this story on film. Though exceedingly difficult to get permission, I somehow got access to the raw side of the river below Snoqualmie Falls, thanks to Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater. We only had a few hours with everyone available, and no money for a crew, so we all volunteered our time and resources to make this happen.
Most of us woke up around 4am that morning to prepare and travel to Preston, Washington, near Snoqualmie pass, 22 miles East of Seattle along I-90. We filmed the intro footage on the rocks in the river around 8:30 in the morning, after hiking through the woods for a bit over a mile, carrying costumes, food, water and camera equipment. A large number of curious onlookers watched on from the Salish Lodge on the opposite side of the river as we filmed throughout the morning. The very first scene filmed was the very ending of the piece, because the light on top of that high rock was perfect in that moment.
Filming dance with @pacificballroom youth at Snoqualmie Falls yesterday. A photo posted by Garrett Gibbons (@garrettgibbons) on
Those rocks that the dancers begin the piece on were slippery and difficult to access. We taped up each dancer’s feet with athletic tape (I bought all of the athletic tape at Rite-Aid – all of it) to help protect them, and they found ways to protect their pants and skirts while jumping over logs and climbing over rocks, jumping over stretches of water to get into position. I literally stood in the river to get the camera angle I wanted. Jill stayed close to them and relayed any direction I had (through a series of relayed shouts), since the sound of the falls is so overwhelmingly loud. We hid a loud music player behind them on the rocks and former team member Teneal Thomas operated an iPad to start and stop the music playback as we filmed.
The shore of the river had very few places where one person could stand comfortably, let alone for 20 dancers to move freely, so we only filmed one other section near the river (which begins around the 1:40 mark). The rest was filmed in a clearing in the woods above the river. By the time they had changed back into hiking clothes, hauled everything back up the trail, set up again, had some food, and gotten back into costume (while I set up the camera and crane), the dancers were running out of steam. Their attention was fading and their feet were throbbing, and many had time crunches that were making them nervous. There were some jokes from the dancers about how the only way I was able to get them in character was to make them physically suffer for the day. We filmed several takes back to back and the kids were really struggling with heat and fatigue so we only got a few more good takes before we decide to call it a wrap.
I recorded some audio at the river while were down there – I recorded at a few places, ranging from little bubbling side areas to the roaring falls themselves. The ambient sound at the beginning of the film is a multitrack audio composition made of keyframing volume and audio properties to make it sound more like the rise and fall of ocean waves, and still on tempo with the music.
A few shots needed invisible visual effects done: I removed the Salish lodge from the top of the hill just to the left of the waterfall, and I moved once dancer’s eyes to the side for a few seconds when he looked right into the camera during the middle of a take. Otherwise, the film is very much just a 23.976 timeline of 4K UHD footage. The compression of YouTube destroys the natural detail significantly, but it still is better to watch at 4K on YouTube than it is to watch at 720p or 1080p, so if you have the opportunity to watch on a high-resolution monitor, please do set the playback resolution to 2160p!
That’s all I can think of to say about this piece for now. It’s been a journey, and I’m grateful for my wife for being there with me through this process, as well as our dancers and their parents for putting up with me as I woke them up before dawn, dragged them through the woods with heavy equipment, and made them dance barefoot outside until their feet were bleeding.
This isn’t the most solid film I’ve made in terms of film technique and artistry. It doesn’t feature the most skilled or accomplished dancers. It is definitely one of the most personal to me, however, and I’m a little hesitant to share it with the world because of the vulnerability Jill and I exposed through this creative process. I hope that it touches someone, somewhere, at some point in time.
I recently had the pleasure of filming this short dance film with Natasha and Umario for DanceShortFilms.com. We filmed in one of the oldest buildings in Seattle, located in Belltown.
Just for fun, I made a reverse version. It was fascinating for me to watch so I uploaded it as well!
It’s been a while since I’ve updated my demo reel. Maybe I was just waiting for the right musical inspiration? This one is long – just over four minutes – but I also made a 90-second sizzle reel for those with less interest or shorter attention spans. Thanks for watching! It’s been an amazing last few years.
Here’s the full-length version, set to “On Saturnalia Eve” by RA Scion (feat. Blake Lewis):
Also, the 90-second version, set to “Woodwalker” by RA Scion (feat. Mark Shirtz):
Dancer, teacher and choreographer Katie Baillie hired me to direct, film and edit two of her pieces of choreography. She took care of the dancers and costuming; I picked the set, lighting, and the film-related aspects. The resulting two pieces are very different from each other, but showcase her diversity as a choreographer.
I primarily used a Canon 5D mkiii for these shoots, supported by an 8′ Kessler Crane, which was a lot of fun to haul out into the field. Thankfully, Luke Wesson helped me tote gear before he took behind-the-scenes photos.
How to film and edit dance to convey spatial continuity
Why do dance-centric films and television vary so widely in their ability to engage viewers? What principles can we follow to better convey the energy, beauty and athleticism of live dance, even though audiences will view the film in conditions that are highly detached from the live experience?
This topic merits a long book, rather than a blog post, and I’m purposefully ignoring many aspects of dance on screen, including the arts of choreographing for the screen, creating or choosing a set that works well for filming dance, staging dancers within that set, costuming dance for film, and varying techniques of lighting dance for film. For today, my emphasis will stay on two aspects: the camera and editing.
I will add to this post over time, so if you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below.
1. Lens Choice
I have read a lot of discussion in the academic community about the supposed difficulty of translating a three-dimensional art form (dance) into a two-dimensional space (the screen). While those challenges would in theory apply to any performance art displayed on the screen, I suspect that this discussion stems from a generally-perceived flattening of 3D space and loss of location reckoning when audiences see dance on screen.
“Matched” (presented by The LXD, directed by Charles Oliver, DP Alice Brooks), was originally filmed and presented in 3D. Is its impact lessened in 2D?
I’ve updated my demo reel! It has a bunch of projects I’ve done since my last reel (plus a few old clips that never made it into any previous reel). Enjoy it and let me know what you think!
Garrett’s favorite photos from 2012, taken by either Garrett or Jill Gibbons for Aderyn Productions.
My latest music video involves swing dancing, Chinese lions, and a dance battle. I present: “Chinatown Strut” by Good Co, a new Electro Swing act coming out of Seattle, WA.
Looking for a filmmaker, music video director, dance photographer or visual storyteller? I’m based in Seattle, Washington but I travel the world. Hit me up!
The LDS Film Festival in Orem, UT happens around the same time of year as the Sundance Film Festival, and just down the road, providing an additional venue for film exhibition and competition as Sundance becomes increasingly crowded and competitive.
I submitted “Time Withers” to the LDS Film Festival as an experimental narrative in the short films category. The film was accepted into the competition and ultimately was given the distinction of an honorable mention which placed it in the top few percent of films that were shown, and placed it alongside films with significantly higher budgets and larger crews. For a $1500 film that a handful of us made on short notice in the space of a few days, I’m thrilled!