Drumming is Like Thunder
“Let’s dance, let’s sing, let’s do a show!” Drumming is Like Thunder encapsulates Duncan Armstrong’s passion for performing. It presents his showmanship and determination to defy the bullying behaviour of some. Through movement, song and storytelling Duncan shares his dream of performing in the top cities around the world. Ahead of the short film’s screening at Sydney Film Festival we spoke to the film’s star Duncan Armstrong and its director, Alyx Duncan.
Hi Duncan, what does it mean to you to have been selected at the inaugural Screenability program at Sydney Film Festival?
Duncan: I am really proud to be in the first Screenability showcase in the Sydney Film Festival, especially as I come from New Zealand but often come to Australia to dance. The Wellington Film Festival doesn't have a section for films featuring different abilities. It would be so great if New Zealand copied Sydney and we could get our films shown in film festivals back home.
The short has you dealing with issues of bullying as you sing, drum and dance in a giant box. Can you share with us how you developed the idea to film in a giant box and how to incorporate all the dance, music and movement into a short?
Duncan: Catherine, the Artistic Director of the Touch Compass Dance Company, made the boxes in the film and the dance Co [who dance in the film] made them work [for the films choreography]. The box could be a safe place, a trap or a prison. [In the film] I made it into a drum kit when they took my drums away.
I wrote the songs [performed in the film] first at home, then we sent them to Catherine in Auckland, and worked out how it would fit together. We only had a few days for the filming in Wellington. Alyx and Cath and Georgie all came down from Auckland - Alyx tried out a few different ways of getting the ideas across.
It was exciting spray-painting my hair and dressing as a punk [in the film]. I'd already had great time doing that for a ball a few years before.
Alyx Duncan, you are the film’s director, can you share with us how did you came to be involved in the project?
Alyx: Artistic Director of Touch Compass Dance Trust, Catherine Chappell, brought the DanceBox idea to me in February 2014. It was the return to a dance film collaboration that we began in 2003 when I directed three films for the company. We developed the concept of DanceBox over several months in collaboration with Designer Ian Hammond, the dancers and team at Touch Compass and communities of people associated with the company. The intellectual content behind the DanceBox project has been developed from many discussions (disagreements and agreements) creating a strong and delightful collaboration.
As the film’s director why was it important for you to tell this story?
Alyx: The key messages of inclusivity and celebrating both ability and diversity is core to all the DanceBox films and Touch Compass projects. With Drumming is Like Thunder I was impressed with Duncan’s vision and determination to pursue his passion for music. Following through with a passion or artistic life is always challenging. I admire and empathise with Duncan’s stick-ability and the way he overcomes no matter the obstacles in his life along with his total enthusiasm to be immersed in the performing arts.
You made some interesting artistic choices like having a sequence in slow motion – can you share with us your process in choosing certain stylistic choices?
Alyx Duncan: The limitations of the square frame, and the box within a box, were one choice that we made for all the DanceBox films. With Dancing is like Thunder we wanted to foreground the message, emotion and power of Duncan’s song as well as explore what it feels like to continually be knocked back, and find the strength to get back up and try again. The slow motion movement describes that feeling of being right in the moment of a tough (in this scene: bullying) situation, where every sense is heightened and your whole body and mind is present in that fight or flight mode. The decision of ramped speed came in the edit with the film’s editor Daniel Strang. He and I have worked on many dance film projects together (since 2002). Daniel’s sense of rhythm and ability to bring out the best version of any story was well utilized here. With the limited frame sizes, every shot being framed by a box, we weren’t covering the action in close and mid shots so the way to ‘get close’ to the feeling came in retiming action and the sound design.
What was your creative process while making this film?
Alyx Duncan: We’d made several DanceBox films in Auckland and the next step was to make two in Wellington with members of ability community Wellington Integrated Dance. Catherine Chappell, Touch Compass Artistic Director, Sumara Fraser, Dance Teacher and movement practitioner, and I asked the dance community class to each write a statement about what they would want to speak of in a film. Duncan came back to us with a strongly personal yet universal statement and the lyrics to his song.
From there Catherine interviewed Duncan to clarify his vision. Then we worked with Dramaturg and theatre maker Tahi Mapp-Boren and Chris O’Connor to arrange Duncan’s writing into images and score the musical aspect of the film. I was in Sydney developing a feature film at the time, so much of this process was conducted via Skype. Once Duncan had signed off on the script and storyboards we flew to Wellington and shot Drumming is Like Thunder and another film over a two-day period. Editor Daniel Strange and I then edited the film with input from Catherine and Duncan, and Chris O’Connor then recomposed the music based on the edit.
What key messages are you hoping that audiences will take from watching the film?
Alyx: I hope it inspires them to see each person as an individual with potential for talent to be nurtured rather than suppressed. I also hope the film galvanises and encourages people to pursue their dreams, no matter what the obstacles.
Can you share with us your most challenging and your most enjoyable moments in directing this film?
Alyx: The most challenging was fitting Duncan’s inspiring provocation into a tight one-day shoot schedule with a wide range of performers of differing experience and qualities. The most enjoyable moments were seeing Duncan shine in his rock star performance, as well as some unexpected and beautiful moments that the supporting cast brought to the shoot too, for example, the potent bully gestures of Trish McQueen.
Duncan, what's next for you?
I belong to a theatre company called Everybody Cool Lives Here and we got great reviews for a show we did last winter - now I'm about to start working on a solo show with them.
I am looking for some more training in film work - I'm hoping there might be some screen training opportunities for me in Australia.
For screening times of Drumming is Like Thunder check Sydney Film Festival’s Screenability Program on this link: http://www.sff.org.au/2017-film-guide/screenability/