Fashion Insiders, produced for Shanghai-based media company Hantang Culture, is a series of short films portraying some of fashion’s iconic contributors. The series is shown on major digital platforms, at airports and on select airline carriers. Each episode has received over 27,000,000 impressions to date.
The series features a broad spectrum of representatives from the world of fashion: from presidents of luxury brands and creative directors, to academics and fashion designers.
The series is cinematic in its approach and presents each contributor’s influences, insights and aspirations with the aim of inspiring viewers on the inside as well as outside of the fashion industry.
In the spring of 2019 our video agency in London was asked to create a short portrait documentary about Sergei Pollunin, the world-famous ballet dancer, who had often appeared in fashion films and fashion magazines.
There was already a developed format for the Fashion Insiders strand: simply a voiceover from the protagonist, supported by cinematic imagery. A dream brief.
For Sergei’s portrait access had been negotiated for us to attend rehearsals in Belgrade, where Sergei was living, and then later in the year to capture his dance company’s performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, fittingly in the arena at Verona.
Our DoP and director benchmarked numerous dance videos, including those featuring Sergei like the hugely powerful promo for Hozier’s single ‘Take Me to Church’. The DoP created a mood board of screenshots as a jumping-off point for inspiration, with details on the desired camera movement and grip equipment used.
We supplied our client with the moodboards and also recce images of the locations, captured by our local scouts. A priority was to film Sergei against dynamic and contrasting backgrounds as we knew we had to bring variety to the film and not rely on dancing alone.
In Belgrade we filmed rehearsals in two different studios. One was backlit by enormous windows and had an incredibly reflective floor. The other was more conventional, but we filmed into strong backlight from our two M8 lights, focusing on flares, details and silhouettes. We got a gimbal sequence in a corridor, Sergei looking contemplative in the theatre’s auditorium, and night shots of him on the theatre terrace with the Belgrade skyline at night. Sergei also gave us half an hour during which we could closely direct his dance movement, during which we rattled through 6 carefully planned shots.
We filmed on two Arri Alexa Minis with a set of Cooke S4s (plus 12mm and 14mm wide angle lenses), with two crews, to give us speed when moving from one grip set-up to another. We rigged a 10-metre track at floor-level to give us the scope to follow Sergei and his dance partners with smooth, fast movements.
By the time we came to film in Verona we had already assembled an edit and knew that the focus should be on high quality and varied shots, even if the approach had to be observational. Besides coverage of the show itself from different points in the auditorium, we worked hard to get interesting shots backstage, above all of Sergei, and to capture that behind-the-curtain feel of peaking onto the stage from the performers’ perspective.
As filmmakers we long for projects where cinematography is the driving force, where we have the budget for good equipment and a talented crew, and the protagonist is dynamic, co-operative and loved by the camera. These sorts of projects also test your vision.
Happily we felt the finished film was more than equal to the expectations we had set for ourselves. Credit for this goes to our own in-house team, our local teams in Belgrade and Verona, and to Sergei and his entourage could not have been more accommodating. Running an independent ballet company is not for the faint-hearted. This company was clearly held together not only by talent, but a deep comradeship. For us on the crew it was a masterclass in not only dance but also teamwork.