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The Old Settler
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Interviews 1

Interviews 2

From the Edit Bay

Quilly's Reverie Scene Study

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Savoy Ballroom: Key Scene Study


Interviews Page Two

John Iacovelli, Production Designer

John Iacovelli 
"The Savoy scene came up at the very first meeting that I had with Debbie. I didn't know what the Savoy was. Being a middle-class white guy, the icons of Harlem are the Apollo and the Cotton Club. Now I realize how important the Savoy was, just to dance. And Ken Burns' documentary about Jazz on PBS had just been out, so there was a lot of footage from the Savoy to look at."

"An empty stage became the Savoy Ballroom. When Debbie and I were working, almost the first thing we said was we could do the Savoy so simply. It's all about movement and light and the feeling. We'd keep most of the shots tight, so all we need is a bunch of dance floor and a big black drape."

"For us, the Savoy is a state of mind. In a way, the Savoy became the Costume Designer's moment -- great dresses, guys in uniform, dancers, hangers-on. It is one of the few places in the film where we set the period."

"Our first image of the Savoy was dancers gliding across this big black floor with white curtains. That became a little bit too much like the Dinah Shore show. When I saw actual photos, I kept seeing this scalloped curved bandstand shell thing. So we built one of those. We had a wood floor just like we saw in the photographs, tables and chairs. If you see the Savoy scenes and you believe that you are in some smoky crowded nightclub in Harlem in 1943, then we've done our job.


Dancing Couple
Debbie Allen dances at the Savoy


John Simmons, Director of Photography

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John Simmons

John Simmons talks about the scene.


John Simmons 
"The look of the Savoy that we put together was quite interesting because it's all from imagination. All the photographs you see of the Savoy in stock footage are bright because there's a flash or somebody has a big movie light on the scene. You know it didn't look like that. We don't know what it looked like, but we know lots of people had fun there, lots of people fell in love there. So it's moody, it's sexy, it's passionate. We tried to give it that kind of feeling."

"We wanted to be able to shoot dance from all levels. There's a scene where Debbie dances alone with the guy and it's a flashback so the camera isolates them from everyone else. Then as the jib arm comes down the other people come into the shot, the lights dim up. That is the only way we could do a shot like that. It just gives us a lot more creative possibilities."


Edwin Schiernecker, Gaffer

Edwin Schiernecker 
"The lighting for the Savoy was a pretty simple set-up. We used a lot of hard backlight and overall ambiance coming from overhead. We kept the background really dark and we cross-keyed -- key lights coming from either side. We put highlights on the few set pieces -- the bandstand, the maitre d's cabinet -- to make them stand out from the curtain they had put up and to create that vintage '40s look. We had some pools of light coming from overhead. People go in and out of the light, which makes the scene more dramatic, and since there's dancing, it creates the perception that there is even more movement. It showcases the individual couples."


Lighting set-up for the Savoy scene


Simon Edery, Producer

Simon Edery 
"With the decision to have a scene in the Savoy Ballroom, the question became, 'How do we do it? How many people can we put in? How big can we make it? How real can we make it?' That's my involvement. My feeling is always, if you can't do it well, it's better not to do it."

"We shot [the Savoy scene] on the last day of production. It was psychologically strategic. To have put the grandeur of the big ballroom scene where people are dancing, drinking, and having a good time in the middle of the shoot would have made it difficult for the actors to concentrate. I can't make actors jump in the very first day of shooting and have the most incredible emotional scene with a person they don't know either. I have to schedule things so that when that emotional scene happens, they react to one another in the proper way."

"The DP works with the director to determine what special equipment will be needed to shoot each scene. With the Savoy, because of the intensity of the scene and the amount of people we had, we decided that we needed to have a jib arm for that day. We also had two cameras. We have two camera crews, one that we call the A camera crew that we carry all through the shoot, and the B camera crew that comes in that day to handle those specific shots on the second camera."


Marilyn Matthews, Costume Designer

Marilyn Matthews 
"Swing dancing is really popular now. The kids dress up when they go to these clubs. So the extras were asked to bring their own clothing for the dance scenes. These period clothes are now really hard-to-find and expensive, and even in the costume houses it's hard to find things without mended rips. So the kids will do modern clothes that look or have the same feeling as the '40s. Unfortunately, when they came to our audition they didn't look authentic. We also had color constraints, so in the end, we dressed all of them several times."


Costumed dancers help set the 1940's tone in The Old Settler


Romania Ford, Makeup Artist

Lou Bessie and Husband
Lou Bessie and Husband at the Savoy


Romania Ford 
"Women like Quilly and Elizabeth didn't go to the Savoy. These were women of the church. Elizabeth only went later on only when she met this young man. The Savoy was a very fast place for either the younger set or the set that liked to party, like Lou Bessie who wore the bright red lipstick. At the Savoy she wore thicker liner and more mascara, a little redder cheeks. The hairdos were more fluffy and young looking. They were having fun dancing, smoking cigarettes, drinking liquor."

"At the Savoy, the men wore mustaches and slick hairdos. Or they would comb their hair and wet it with hair oil and pommade and put on stocking caps. They didn't look as slick as they did in the '30s or in the '20s. It was a very conservative slick, depending on the party."


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