Q&A with ‘Desert Dancer’ director Richard Raymond

Thursday Apr 9th, 2015

Blog > Q&A with ‘Desert Dancer’ director Richard Raymond

In anticipation of our upcoming YoungArts Salon - a special screening of the new feature filmDesert Dancer, followed by a discussion with Richard Raymond (Director) and Sarah Arison (Executive Producer) - we thought we’d ask Raymond a few questions ahead of time so we could share with you all! Check out his answers below, stay tuned for more posts from the Salon on Sunday, April 12th, and find a time to check out Desert Dancer in a theater near you - it should be incredibly inspiring. <3

YoungArts: How does filming for dance differ from filming live-action movies?

Richard Raymond: A film is a totally different medium and experience than watching live dance. But still, many people shoot dance in long wide shots so you see the full choreography.  I felt in doing that, you lose the emotion of what the choreography is doing.  In Desert Dancer, I decided to film the dance both intimately and expressively. The language of this film is dance; the choreography is telling the audience the narrative. So It didn’t matter to me if large parts of the body were not being seen.  It was more important that we were with the body and we felt the dance in an immersive way, rather than the audience just being a spectator.

YA: Have you learned anything from studying and working with dance that has carried on or helped you with directing non-dance scenes?

RR: Absolutely. The main elements I learned was to let go and try and not control and plan everything, to allow special moments to happen, to allow discovery in the rehearsal room and on set and to be open to discover more through doing it.

YA: This is the first “based on a true story” movie you’ve produced/directed. How did it feel to know someone’s story was in the fate of your hands to tell it?

RR: It’s a huge responsibility and one I didn’t take very lightly. The film has to be truthful to Afshin’s character and his story, as well as to the story of the events in Iran during 2009 and the Iranian youth, who I feel are the heroes of this film. But at the same time this is a film and a drama, it’s not a documentary. There is a sense of freedom with the narrative and with the cinematic language of the film, but that freedom is enveloped by the responsibility to Afshin and his story.

YA:  How do you stay focused on or inspired by the true message and heart of a film throughout the production process? The film, ideally, is ultimately packed minute-to-minute with genuine emotions (at least the trailer for Desert Dancer feels that way!). But feature films are filmed in small bits, not chronologically. How do you keep in touch with that core, when the process is broken up like that?

RR: It’s always a tricky balance to stay focused as so much is always going on around you. But in all honesty, it’s about the team that surrounds you. My producers, my DOP, my 1st AD, filmmaking is a team effort and I rely on my team to create an atmosphere where I can feel free to create. And most importantly, there’s the script:  always being able to go back to the script, which is your Bible, and know where you are and what has happened before so when you do film scenes out of chronological order, it will always feel true.

YA:  If you could have played a different role in the making of this film, what would it be and why? Would you have liked to be the choreographer, or the actor, or the composer, or the camera operator?

RR: I could never imagine myself replacing any of my fantastic team on this film.

YA: What made this film “the film” you wanted to direct?

RR: This was actually my very first feature film as director. The ones previous were short films, which are rites of passage for many directors. With Desert Dancer, I just connected to Afshin as a fellow artist.  As someone who had tried for such a long time to become a film maker, I understood where that passion in Afshin had come from. I connected in that way. I also connected to the fight for freedom of expression and how art can free a person from any oppressed situation.

YA:  What advice do you have for the next generation of young artists?

RR: Be true to yourself and take the time to discover who you are and what you want to say. And just keep creating!