“Morning Blues” with Julie Brown, a new “A Word on Swing,” and learning how to do them

This is the final version of a quick project that wasn’t.

I’ve mentioned before, that I got a fancy new camera last Spring; partly to take pictures, and partly to do video projects like “A Word on Swing.” I’ll probably end up doing more vlog/talk show/documentary type stuff, but I have been itching to do something more creative. Learning my way around a DSLR camera has been a bit of a process. Plus the more I learn about what goes into making really good videos with decent production values is pretty intimidating. Rather than let that keep me from doing anything, I just decided to eff’ it, and do something just to do something; hoping it’ll turn out well, but mostly to use it as a learning experience.

Basically, I needed a dancer or two to perform a routine over and over again, so I could try cutting it together to look cool. Fortunately, Julie Brown was game for such an ill defined project. I first saw Julie do this solo piece earlier in the year, and since I was going to stay at her place for the Dirty Water Lindy & Blues Exchange, I thought it would be a good opportunity to draft her.

The plan was to replicate what I did with videos I took of Laura Glaess and Mike Roberts at ILHC, except more deliberate. All the video I took at ILHC was done on the fly, which is why you don’t see any editing until one quarter of the way through. I simply didn’t get into a position to record in any of those takes until after they started dancing.

Julie was a champ, and we ended up doing 13 takes; mostly because I had to figure out a bunch of stuff concerning lighting and camera position. The next part of the plan was to do some takes at Mobtown Ballroom next time she came down during the Mobtown Anniversary Party. Ultimately I would inter-cut the different scenes.

The shooting at Mobtown when well, but then I ran into a problem when I sat down to edit the footage. While at Mobtown, Julie came up with the genius idea of filming her performance from the reverse angle, back-lit by the stained glass windows of the ballroom, which was a church before it became a dance hall in 2011. It turned out to be my favorite angle, but unfortunately I couldn’t figure out a way to transition between that and any of the previous footage. Not sure why. The lighting. The angles. It just didn’t look quite right. Fortunately Julie came back down to Baltimore for another event in December. I’m lucky that Baltimore is becoming the place to be with people regularly stopping through just to dance it up. The intention was to do another round at the Ballroom from more angles, but that didn’t pan out because, ironically enough, a band was shooting a real music video there when we wanted to use it. However, we did get some really good shots at Nina Gilkenson’s place. If you listen closely, you might be able to hear Michael Seguin breathing heavily behind the door while we filmed. Interestingly enough, this routine was inspired by a performance that Nina did a few years back as Julie noted in Jo Hoffberg’s blog post about it.

Incidentally, we used the same room featured at the beginning of the Mobtown endorses Lindy Focus video. I even use some of the same props for those of you looking for some Easter eggs.

I think most of the stuff from Nina’s place turned much better just because I just knew more going into it. Since I started, I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can through blogs, videos, and experimentation. The wealth of easily accessible information these days is pretty ridiculous. My main enemy is lack of structure. I search for things as I think I need them, and don’t know what I need until I do. By the time we got to December, I sort of retained enough to get some good shots.

Adding to my difficulties is that I’m learning to take photos and videos under the least desirable conditions: movement in low light with limited options for positioning in crowded venues. I probably should have started with something simple like fruit in the middle of the day.

The upside is that I’m learning what I can do without much light . . . which usually isn’t much. Fewer options leave me with less to concentrate on, but also be a little creative. The result is that everything shot at Nina’s house is with natural light. I had a couple extra portable lights, but decided to try to use the shadows in my favor.

Still from a clip I didn't use, but still like because of the the way we caught the tattoo.

Still from a clip I didn’t use, but still like because of the the way we caught the tattoo.

Editing proved to be the biggest challenge because the footage from the different locations don’t really go together very well. There are ways to fix that in the editing process, but that’s beyond me at the moment. I’m learning the hard way that there are a lot of skills to making a quality video.

I started off with what I know best, which is pick out what looked best in each angle. I decided that transitioning to and from the Mobtown footage didn’t feel quite right, so I dumped all that except the beginning and the end just because I became infatuated with the framing idea early on and I didn’t completely want to lose the silhouetted shot. Then I compared what was left, and created a rough cut which I showed to Julie. She suggested dumping all the remaining footage not taken at Nina’s house since it felt like too many angles from too many locations.

I’ve learned a lot about film making in the last almost year. One of the things that I’ve been grateful for learning to dance is that it helped me refine my ability to learn in general. More importantly, the ability to be creative and improvise is born out of knowing what you want to accomplish to begin with and how to do it. When life throws you a curve, you can adjust and while keeping your eyes on the prize.

My main criticism of myself here is that I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to create. By wanting to skip straight to improvising, it’s taken me awhile to shape all the footage I took of Julie into something coherent. Had I an end point in mind, I probably wouldn’t have made her run through 30 some odd takes in three different locations and times. Thankfully it’s been super helpful to work with Julie, who has provided some of the better ideas in this project.

In other news, in case you don’t follow the Facebook page for this site or the A Word on Swing blog, I posted a new episode about the incredible music line up at Lindy Focus this year. I was going to post a follow up on this blog with more in depth observations about the music, but I’m juggling too many things at the moment.  In the meantime, watch the episode, even if you’ve already seen it.


  1. Alice Pye said,

    March 11, 2013 at 2:26 am

    Jerry! This is incredible. So beautiful and amazing. and delicate. You captured this dance and the essence of Julie’s really really cool piece and didn’t distract from it, but elevated it! It’s like you magnified it.
    So ridiculous, you are. Damn. DAMN.

    • Jerry said,

      March 14, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      Thanks Alice. I always knew you had good taste. 🙂

      • Alice Pye said,

        March 19, 2013 at 3:32 am

        I learned from the best Lindy stalker around.

  2. GP said,

    April 10, 2013 at 1:25 am

    Sensual and distracting… 🙂

  3. swingnlindy said,

    April 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    I’ll be interesting to know your thoughts…http://swingnlindy.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/lindy-hop-is-flattening-out/

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