The video’s director Luke Willis (also a retired ballet dancer of the San Francisco Ballet) sought out Ye specifically for this film as an admirer of her previous work and based on the knowledge that she had years of formal dance training. To properly capture the aesthetics of dance movement, anticipating as only another dancer can, it was paramount to Willis that the DP on this project had extensive knowledge of dance. Willis notes, “Eva is a talented cinematographer with a unique eye for capturing moving images. She and I have worked especially well together because of our shared history as dancers. She has a unique eye for dance and how moving bodies should be best captured on video. This special understanding of movement allows Eva to use the camera as an extension of the movement of the dancers. In non-dance works she is able to immediately understand how the movement of the subject is communicating the intention of the scene and how best to translate that to a flat rectangular film screen.
Eva was my primary collaborator on the overall look and feel of ‘I Can Fly.’ We discussed every aspect of the look and the tone together as well as how the piece would eventually look. What we achieved together exceeded what I imagined. The music video really comes out in a way that’s so refreshing and unique.”
In preproduction planning, Eva met with Willis and producer Sherri Shi to discuss the look of the film. True to his artistic nature, Willis had some very imaginative ideas, which would require a lot for his cinematographer to manifest on the screen. Ideas like glass shattering around the actress’s face, pointe shoe ribbon climbing up actress’s leg and arm and wrapping around her, and a vintage piano on the middle of a secluded hillside; very cinematic moments, but hard to achieve.
Ye attended rehearsals, making notes both as a cinematographer and a dancer. She would watch for the direction where the dance was going each time, which direction Shannon would extend herself, and where she stopped to take an emotional beat…providing a chance to push in for a close-up. Because of her knowledge of dance, the language translated quickly and easily for Eva, resulting in shorter rehearsals and the confidence of the entire production.
While the artist was easy for Ye to work with, the equipment was a bit more challenging. She comments, “Shannon was really easy to work with, her close working relationship with Luke made communication very minimal and easy. She constantly expresses her surprise of a female DP holding a giant camera flying around with her. I deeply admired her artistry as a ballet dancer. It was mutually appreciative.” At about five and a half feet tall and around 100 lbs., Eva admits that the equipment can make a difference in how one feels physically at the end of a long shoot. She states, “I was using the Ronin gimbal throughout the most of the shoot. While I thought I was really great with a handheld, the Ronin was another story. The vigorous & long takes of dancing demands smooth movement. Using a Steadicam would be ideal but the $800 a day minimum forced us to think of other ways. I’ve operated the Ronin before, but it was never for this long. Regardless of its tiny size, it is still quite heavy to be held 3-5 mins straight take after take. At the end of the day, my back was hurting pretty badly. However, I knew there was no other way around it, so I learned to ask for a two minute break every time I felt I could not go on.”
For some of the trickier shots, a VFX supervisor was consulted to make a plan as to how many real glass shards were needed for the scene involving breaking glass around Shannon’s face. The crew ended up hanging two rows of shards from the ceiling in front of and behind the dancing actress, for safety, adding the rest in post. The final product looked fantastic. The ribbon coming off the actress’s legs and arms were shot in reverse with slow motion to achieve the desired effect. Involving more muscle than brain power, a real vintage piano was placed on a mountainside. The resulting imagery is grand and inspiring. Eva comments, “I’m very proud of the video and proud that everyone was so happy with it. It is in an amazing video that gives true insight into dance and the song. The best part was that I got to work with ballet dancers. I enjoy filming dancing a lot, and to work with professional dancers always excites me. Shannon went on to be part of the hit Broadway musical An American in Paris. She actually got the email that she was cast on the last day of our production. Her fame has given a push to the music video, which has been watched by hundreds of thousands of people from everywhere on YouTube.”