Australian Dance Awards September 2015

The beginning of 2015 was spent catching up on post-production aspects of 2014. There was Flaunt footage and recital footage to cut, a music video to choreograph, and a business to keep running (Mill Street Studios).

Some fantastic news came mid-year: the shortlisted nominations for the Australian Dance Awards:

Actually, prior to this step, there’s a list of eligible works for nomination, on which people can vote. To make the shortlisting is a massive deal. My film Pulse was shortlisted back in 2013, and I flew to Canberra to check out the awards and see some amazing performances.

To be shortlisted again was (this time for Ward of State) was an honour. In 2015 the ADAs were being held in Adelaide and the focus was on Australian Dance Theatre (being based in Adelaide). As much as seeing ATD would be enough to coax me to attend, 2015 was a very busy year and I initially I didn’t think I could take the time to attend. It took some convincing from friends and colleagues to get me to go. I was glad I went as I got to see some amazing work by ADT, and Ward of State won the dance on screen category!

Garry Stewart read out the nominations, opened the envelop and read out “And the winner is, Ward of State by Claire Marshall”. It was definitely a moment I will always remember. Being presented the award by Garry Stewart and Carol Wellman Kelly was probably as much a highlight as it was the film winning the category! To be presented by Mr Garry Stewart was such an honour as his work is amazing and ADT is one of my favourite companies for a long time. Here I was, this relatively unknown choreographer from Brisbane, being presented with an award by one of my dance heros.  It was surreal!

Her Majesty’s Theatre is so beautiful, and it was such an honour to be standing there in front of many of my dance heroes and thanking those who were a key part of the making the film (be it funders, cast, creatives etc). Following my speech, I was escorted backstage and out for some photos with Garry and Carol, all while feeling quite overwhelmed! Here’s a few of these photos (by Shane Reid), almost as proof to myself that this actually happened!

It was also amazing to have the support of Ann McLean and Ausdance Qld attending the awards with me. Former head of Dance at QUT Dr Cheryl Stock was also present and her encouragement was appreciated. ,

WARD OF STATE by Claire Marshall

Ward of State is a 30-minute narrative dance film about a girl who was taken from her mother and stepfather and placed the care of the state in a Magdalene Convent Laundry. Set in the 1930’s- 1940’s Ward of State depicts the journey for both the daughter and her mother characters and their relationship. It delves into subject matters of abuse, neglect, and mental illness.

Ward of State is inspired by research into my family genealogy and my quest to understand things that occurred in the past. A significant portion of the narrative and characters are based on what I learned about my family’s history going back a few generations. I also drew from research and interviews with women who were wards of the state.

On Ward of State my role was as a choreographer, storyteller and producer. I know a little bit about film from being on film sets over the past 15 years, and I made my first 10 minute dance film at the Powerhouse in 2012, which was inspired by the space and its history. That creative development became more about working with the camera, lens and the space/location.

Ward of State spanned 2.5 years from research and the birth of the idea to the screening in December 2014 at the New Farm Cinemas. However, despite things taking longer than I anticipated, with my experience working on film sets, I was aware of what when into a film and was involved in most aspects of the film or was able to go to my brother (film director) for advice, guidance and mentorship.

What makes this different to a traditional live dance work is that it is choreographed with the camera, the lens, and framing in mind. It’s also choreographed with the location in mind. We also rehearsed 
in a studio, so often that meant having to adapt choreography to a different space, or far more squeaky bed. Working with such high caliber dancers, we were all able to work quickly together.

I’ve learnt a lot from choreographing music videos over the past 15 years, but it was most rewarding to take dance – as an abstract form, and use it as the language of dance in conjunction with film language to make a narrative work about something so close to my heart. No dialogue was required – the movement and film and music allow audiences to read the narrative. Dance and film and “dance film” is also a highly transportable form.

As an independent artist in Queensland, it often seems like there’s an expectation that artists work from one project to the next. However, the past 2 years I have been operating more as a one person company with various projects on the go, some spanning a 2 year period and some ongoing through it. Projects were sometimes put on hold for other project, at other times I was working on 3 projects at once (ie, Ward of State, SlowDive, Flaunt), as well as managing a business, teaching, choreographing some music videos, and numerous other little short term jobs.


Ward of State Post-Production to Premiere

Ward of State Post-Production to Premiere

I think I’d got as far as discussing the production stage of the work. However, following the shoot of the film there’s a huge section of making a film which includes post production elements such as:

Editing, sound design, foley, composition of the score, recording the score, the sound mix, colour grading, conversion to DCP format, poser design, printing, distribution, promotion of the screening, ticketing the premiere, testing the DCP, and showing up with a few hours sleep to the premiere.


  Jane Wallace and the edit: 

Initially my plan was to edit the film myself, like Pulse, because editing dance is essentially another choreographic layer. The person who edited the film must understand dance. When I realised that I was going to be too busy with my live work SlowDive occurring at APAM, and that the scale of Ward of State was significantly greater than my little film “Pulse”, I decided to hand the project over to Jane Wallace.

Jane Wallace was a former full time Tanya Pearson classical ballet student, who later trained in Germany before going to QUT to pursue contemporary dance.  Jane eventually moved into editing and into graphic design. Jane edits a lot of commercial film, and she also mentored me when cutting Pulse (my first dance film development first project at the Brisbane Powerhouse).

The edit was a massive job – 250 hours plus. I would visit Jane weekly to see how things were progressing. We would make a few changes and Jane would keep going until our next meeting. I learnt a lot from watching Jane edit and the creative decisions she made in weighing up which shots to choose (eg, best cinematographic shots versus best choreographic/ movement shots)


 Susan Hawkins and the score:

In the beginning stages, Susan played me some of her work that she thought I might like the vibe of for the film. I worked with some of the compositions as background “vibe’ of choreography, but I deliberately did not want to choreograph to anything specific initially.

Jane and Susan worked in an interwoven way. There is no dialogue in Ward of State. Because it was not choreographed to any music, and because we were recording sound on set, all of the movement was performed in silence.

This meant that every take was slightly different in pace and Jane had to find a rhythm in her edit from the movement (another reason why the editor needed to be a dancer). At about the same time Susan started composing to Jane’s edit in progress, but not locking down the exact pace.

Where footage had not been edited, Susan would use the wide shot to take her music cues from, however it was more handy for her to work with the cut version so she could emphasise certain sounds in the score to match how closely the movement was cut.  Susan would sometimes then move into composing the next section and then Jane would actually cut to the music. It was a collaborative process that worked in both ways, and that is definitely unique to dance film.

Collusion Music Australia and Jonas Hill:

Collusion Music Australia played Susan’s composition, which was recorded and mixed by Jonas Hill and then handed over ready for the final found mix. But the Foley, and atmosphere had to also be added.

Sound Design: Sound design was an eye opener, but I learnt so much about sound in the final stages of Ward of State. Sound is essentially half of the film. The score was sounding great, but it’s a dance film, and it also required all the film aspects such as Foley, and atmosphere.

When you make a dance film (or even a regular film) it’s not just about marrying the dancing and cinematography. The other important ingredient is sound. Under the umbrella of sound there three very important things to include. I have to thank my brother (who is a film director) for his mentorship here.

1. The score We had that under control to a point, but as I mentioned above, as Jane’s edit changed (using sections from various takes), the score also needed to change. This worked both ways as Susan would compose a section, and Jane would try to cut to the score, but then a change in the edit would see a change to the score. It was  a collaboration between the editor, and composer in this regard.

2. Foley Sounds of actual things occurring such as the sound of the dancer hitting the floor when they fall, or the sound of the curtain dropping. This is a whole job on its own. Three weeks prior to the premiere of the film (the week of my show Flaunt), the person who was engaged to do the sound design decided it was not for him to do, and left me with a USB with just a hand full of recordings. I tried to find someone to pick the job, but there was not enough time, so I had to learn quickly!

Using sound from “in-camera” and from my iPhone! Every sound was layered into Final Cut Pro. The meant editing out the sounds of talking on set, and matching the live in-camera sound from camera 2. The main camera did not record sound. I also had to access the sounds recorded on my iPhone – which I recorded for reference of choreography! It was strange because at the time, I had a hunch that I would need to use these files for reference, but I certainly didn’t think it would be for doing the sound design myself. I ended up actually using some of the sounds I recorded on my phone because the quality of the microphone is better than in the film camera. However, there were still sections where I had no sound to reference. Rehearsal footage did not sound realistic, so that meant trying to re-create the sounds. I was out of my league here.

Re-creating the dance for Foley with Kara. I had been recommended to work with a Foley artist called Kara who came over to Mill Street Studios and recorded the dancers performing the movement. It had been many months since the shoot, and the dancers would have to re-learn the choreography. Furthermore, lead dancer Richard Causer had been back in London for many months at this point, so dancer Gabe Comerford kindly offered to learn Richard’s movements. Fortunately, Libby McDonnell was in Brisbane, and Libby and Gabe re-in enacted some scene while we recorded the sound in 5.1 digital and 2.1 with Kara. We had a few laughs over this process as Gabe did his best to impersonate Richard (even down to his voice).

3. Atmos: All films require atmosphere to enhance the mood in places. This is not left to the composer or to the Foley artists. It needs to be done by the sound designer. I had to be that person. I was able to access a database with lots of available atmos. From here these were layered into my timeline, and listened to it over and over again as I tweaked it. The project at this stage then looked like this:

Final Mix The final stage was the final mix which occurred at Cutting Edge in Brisbane as i needed to have the sound professionally mixed and mastered. That meant setting the levels of the score, Foley, and Atmos. At Cutting Edge, they also fixed the placement and treatment of some of the sounds I had layered in, and placed effects on certain sounds.

We re- recorded some of the sounds that didn’t sound right including the “slops” sounds of the meals the convent girls ate. Rosco’s left over curry was perfect to achieve these sounds.The final master was exported at 24fps and 25fps because I was going to need both frame rates for the film.

Colour grade:

Before the edit and sound could be put together, the final edit had to be colour graded. Colour grading is the process of altering and enhancing the colour of a motion picture, video image, or still image, electronically, photo-chemically or digitally. This is to ensure that the entire film has the right tones, and that shot colours and depths match up. For example, the range of depth of blacks might be increased, or a particular hue removed.  This is very involved process of colouring every shot selected. There was over 1000 edits in the 30-minute film and took about 3 or 4 days.

The DCP: A Digital Cinema Package (DCP) is a collection of digital files used to store and convey digital cinema audio, image, and data streams. A DCP is the digital equivalent of a 35mm film print.  It is what you give to a commercial theatre so that they can screen your movie on a digital (also known as “D-Cinema”) projector. Like a 35mm print, a DCP is a worldwide standard.  If you walk into any D-Cinema theatre, anywhere in the world, they can play your DCP without a problem.

Once the DCP is created, it takes time to be “ingested” into the cinema’s projector, so I had to take it to the cinemas a week before the screening because checking it is crucial. Things can go wrong. Fortunately, all was good for the Ward of State DCP.

Screening Ward of State: As expected, there was a lot to organise for the screening. It was much like inviting people to a live show, with a longer list of people to include on the complimentary list. Jane Wallace designed the posters and premiere screening special poster, and we had them printed and distributed. Tickets were sold through try booking. Most were free tickets, but the sales supported the cost of the hire of the theatre for the two screenings.

Adam Tucker hosted the event as well as a brief Q&A at the conclusion of the film. As always, he did an amazing job. Most of the cast was present, as were most of the crew and team.


Over 300 people attended the premiere with 200 in the first screening at 7pm (capacity) and 100 people in the second screening at 8:30 on the 10th of December 2014 at the New Farm Cinemas. Some of my family members (who I had never met) but that who I had connected with through making the project surprised me by attending.  It was very exciting for everyone involved to see the final product.

Recently “CinéWomen” (made comments on Ward of State saying: We have been really impressed with your dance film, and we appreciate the way you capture subtle, unconscious emotional reactions, as well as your refined cinematography and choreography reminding us of Pina Bausch’s Die Klage der Kaiserin.”

The next step was to submit the film into some Dance film festivals and see how it would fare.