REMEMBERING 1619 Live at SF Jazz:
A Breakdown of the shot selections
(Dedicated to Kevin D. Johnson Sr.)
Before starting this post we would like to remember and dedicate this blog post to Kevin D. Johnson Sr. (February 28, 1954-February 21, 2021). In honor of him, it is released on his birthday.
NorthStarr Media Group’s role: Director/Producer of the video
Remembering 1619 is a live show that encompasses Jazz music, dance, poetry, singing, and speeches. Marcus Shelby Orchestra created this work of art; Zaccho Dance Theatre; actor Steven Anthony Jones; and vocalist Faye Carol for the Equal Justice Society. The stories are told in four acts: The Arrive (Act 1), Chattel Slavery (Act 2), Reconstruction and Jim Crow (Act 3), and The Modern Age (Act 4).
This case study will highlight certain aspects of this performance while explaining the directorial decisions concerning the types of shots that are used during various parts of this live show’s video.
ACT #1 The Arrival (2:31)
The first dance number is shot so that the audience is almost on the stage. For example, in the shots from 2:31-4:43, there is a hold-on sort of a medium close-up with limited cuts favoring the side of the developing slave ship. At first, it appears that the dancer is merely on a flat surface. However, as the performance progresses five people come on stage and assist with the assembly of what becomes a slave ship before our eyes. After the four dancers complete their routine they all lay down side by side. Soon after Steven Anthony Jones comes and applies the chains to the side of the ship and performs a poem by Robert Hyden called The Middle Passage. This happens around 6:21-7:27. Two primary shots that are cut between a sort of a front medium wide shot and a side angle wide shot. These shots harbor a combination of poetry and the dancers laying side by side much like the slaves were aligned during the middle passage. Mr. Hyden’s poem expounds on life during this experience, thus keeping all dancers as well as Mr. Jones in the frame together serves as an audio and visual experience for those watching. Once the poem is over the frame is dominated by an expressive dance on the slave ship, coupled with live Jazz music. A close shot of the ship allows the viewers to look in between the slates which give the audience an angle that provides a view of the performance and tight conditions in the bowels of the ship. The wide front angle is mixed in as well for a different perspective of the performance.
ACT #2 Chattel Slavery (19:17)
The performance switches its tone once the Slave auction block comes out. The camera shot transitions to a wide frontal view that includes a dance when they stand on the auction block, paired with a side shot that adjusts from closer and wider shots based on the height and movement of the talent. At about 24:55 a wide shot includes Mr. Jones as he recites a poem about the process that went on during the auctioning and buying of slaves. At 25:29 there are some occasional medium close-up shots of Mr. Jones to show his expressions and spectacular performance. At about 27:07 the attention shifts to Anthony Jones as he walks towards the front of the stage, he becomes the main focus at this point, a wide head-to-toe shot is used combined with a side medium shot.
At 32:10 Faye Carol sings the song “Chain Gang” with the music played by the Marcus Shelby Orchestra. The coverage is largely a wide shot that includes the band in the back and a mix of medium and close-up and side angle shots.
At 35:30 a rarely used extreme wide shot is selected when the transition is made from the music to a poem about Archy Lee followed by our traditional frontal head-to-toe shot and side medium close-up. This series of shots were used to try and provide coverage that allows the viewers to experience the emotions and body language used to convey his performance.
Act #3 Reconstruction and Jim Crow (46:42)
The opening of the reconstruction section of the show was planned out a little differently in that Mr. Jones conducted his performance from a stool as he educated the viewers on Robert Smalls. He is positioned in the back left corner of the stage which allowed for some opportunities for some slow zooming-in shots from the side camera as well as the front. A side medium shot becomes the choice coupled with a head-to-toe that keeps the performer in the left side of the frame, leaving what appears to be negative space until the music starts and Mr. Jones’ lighting fades up and the pianist’s spotlight fades up and he begins to play. The slow zoom allows for the shots to develop simultaneously with the unfolding of Robert Smalls’ story.
The transition from Robert Smalls happens when the band starts to play and the camera focuses on the frontal stage action. The camera starts to zoom out to reveal all of the band members. Followed by a slow zoom-in medium shot of the trumpet player, that largely focuses on him. Cuts between the static wide shots and finally the close-up shots of the trumpet player are used. He is the main point of focus during this part of the performance.
54:37 Strange Fruit
The aerial acrobatic interpretation of Strange Fruit truly allows for a more creative directorial approach. The shot positioned toward the front of the stage is wider than we have traditionally framed early parts of the show. This adjustment was made because the action occupied the larger span of the stage as well as choreographed dance moves in the air on the ladder, along with Mrs. Carol singing Strange Fruit with the band playing. At 55:47 the frame isn’t as wide but there is a close-up of the performances taking place on the ladder. A few minutes later the side angle is used but it includes the aerial work as well as the performance on stage. At 59:09 the performers make their way off of the ladder, and one ends up almost in a ball on the stage’s floor as if he has perished. Another dancer covers him with her body, as he is lifeless on the stage. A slow zoom-in shot is used until it settles on the closest close-up used in this show. These shot selections allow the viewers to see the source of the music along with the movements that correlate to the lyrics and overall theme of the song.
Act #4 The Modern Age 1:14:08
They close out to “We Remember Greatness” the shot selections vary, from the frontal wide shots, a Cowboy framing (one that is framed from the knees up ), close-ups of the closing ladder performance, as well as close-ups and zooms that are motivated by action.
The direction of this video is predicated on the movements and positioning on stage. The flow of the overall show is the true guiding light. Ultimately the goal is to try and give those that didn’t see the show live the feeling as if they were there. That is not missing any important moments, dances, songs, speeches, or poems.