Burlesque: Bright Lights And Fancy Footwook
From undercover guinea pigs to the magic of sorcerers to the fancy footwork of Cher, cinematographer Bojan Bazelli captures all the action.
After completing the high action sequences of “G-Force” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Bazelli found himself preparing for a different kind of high octane movie: “Burlesque.”
“The practices and the applications of shooting action sequences are applicable to the techniques used to shoot dance. It is of the same mind,” said Bazelli. “It’s a very complicated thing to shoot. You have to make it exciting to the audience.”
Actor turned director Steven Antin was looking for someone with experience to turn his script, “Burlesque,” into a theatrical delight. On the strength of Bazelli’s previous experience shooting the 2007 version of “Hairspray” as well as the visual finesse exhibited in his other projects, the fledging director contacted him. It was their mutual love of a 1970s Oscar winning musical that secured their partnership.
“As a young film student, the Bob Fosse movie ‘Cabaret’ caught my attention,” said Bazelli. “If one spends time analyzing this film, one comes to the conclusion that this piece of art, this piece of work, is incredibly wonderful. Steven Antin was in love with the film the same way. There was a connective tissue between us, for we were both thinking about similar aesthetics.”
To properly coordinate a shot list, Bazelli would attend the daily choreography rehearsals. The rehearsal stage would be outlined with the various props and set pieces the dancers would employ in their routines. Bazelli would bring a digital camera to the rehearsals, shooting the numbers from various angles to assist him in fleshing out the message and tone of each number. For “Burlesque”, Bazelli and director agreed that the action would be caught in three distinct stages: capturing the entire routine, capturing various angles of the same routine, and capturing a series of specialty shots, such as close-ups of the actors, and particular camera movements. Bazelli also worked with the choreographers to find the best places in each number where the action could stop to allow for a switch of the camera angle. All these elements had to be shot in a way that effectively cut together in the editing suite.
“By the end of rehearsals, you should know exactly what kind of equipment you may need: what cranes, what dollys, what steadicams, all the production elements,” said Bazelli. “You can’t have a crane sitting on the stage for sixty days just because you may need it for five days. You have to know when you are going to need it, and for what particular types of effects.”
Providing proper lighting for each number was as crucial as determining the various shots needed for the choreography. Roughly seventy percent of the movie consists of song and dance numbers which all take place on the stage of the burlesque club. Bazelli worked closely with the other department heads to develop a color palette that would be enhanced by various lighting elements to differentiate the tone of each number.
“Each number has its own dynamic, its own lighting and color palette,” said Bazelli. “We designed each number almost like a piece of architecture. Everyone worked together, the production designer, the costume designer, the theatrical field, and we basically grew the sets through the illumination of the material used on them.”
The various department heads sussed out the color scheme and the fabric used for the stage’s curtains, the introduction of crystals to the material, and the fabric and additional material built into the dancers’ costumes. For each dance number, a palette board was created that contained swatches of all the materials used within that number.
“This would be similar to building your house; we were texturally designing an area of color through material and lighting surfaces that assisted the general workforce,” said Bazelli.
In addition to the complexities of lighting a variety of colors and surfaces, Bazelli also had the challenge of working with smoke. Smoke was introduced as both a stylistic choice used to alter the mood of the club environment, as well as a flattering device used to soften the edges and skin tones of the actresses.
“The scenes shot outside the club were more traditionally light,” said Bazelli. “But the majority of the scenes inside the club are moody and smokey. This helped tremendously create the look. The tonality of the film and the colors inside the club are very warm.”
Working with such a variety of elements in addition to utilizing between five to six additional cameras for the dance numbers, Bazelli chose to shoot on film. Ariflex 235s and Ariflex Light Cameras were utilized to allow for great mobility on the set. Most of the dance numbers were shot using Kodak 5207 film, while the more traditional scenes were primarily shot on Kodak 5219.
“The smoke and various lighting elements would be tough to handle with a digital camera,” said Bazelli. “Film is still pretty much in a good way the winner, not that digital is losing.”
Scheduling for the shoot was quite grueling, often with a seven day work week. Dance numbers sandwiched the shooting of the traditional story line. Two days of prep occurred for each dance number: a technical rehearsal took place one day where the lighting elements, set decoration and costumes were checked and any last minute alterations were established. An additional day was utilized to incorporate and fine tune any changes before the scenes were shot. While the majority of the shot list was closely worked out during the dancer’s rehearsals, Bazelli had a few numbers that provided him with greater improvisation.
“It was in the interest of time for the dancers to have a little less stop and go,” said Bazelli. “Everyone was in high heels and tight shoes on a shiny slick floor with very modern choreography and very strong moves. They were hard beat numbers that required a lot of stamina to be up there. You have to give people breaks, less stop and go.”
“It’s interesting, looking back,” reflected Bazelli. “You almost forget how much work went into it. When you see the elements that went into it, wow, we’ve done some amazing work here. To me, this is something to keep your eye on.”
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