Black Box short film premieres in NYC

Black Box, an experimental short film I produced and directed in 2012, makes its premiere today at the NewFilmmakers New York Screening Series at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan. I’m happy to say the piece will finally see the light of day.

Dancer and choreographer Brandon Ellis. Photo by Michael Barletta/Courtney Rile.

The project originated with the music. A piece by Franz Schubert inspired me, sticking in my head for years and refusing to release its hold until I made something out of it.

I discovered the music of Schubert purely by accident. I was grocery shopping around the time of the Millennium at a Fry’s supermarket in Phoenix, where I used to live, and I saw a display of CDs featuring the works of famous composers. Mahler, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert and others were on sale just a few feet away from the laundry detergent aisle and an in-store Chase branch. I think the CD cost me about $5; it’s called Classical Masterpieces: The Best of Schubert by Madacy Records.

The song that enthralled me is String Quartet No. 14 in D minor (Death and the Maiden). It’s about 16 minutes long and invites the listener to indulge in its melancholy bliss. I read that Schubert was aware he was dying at the time he wrote it, so needless to say, it’s not upbeat.

I was working nights at the time and I used to put the song on the repeat cycle on my CD player and try to fall asleep while the blazing Arizona sun invaded my room in the afternoon.

But what does this music have to do with a film? I had always thought the piece could be paired with images to create a powerful work of art. But it didn’t seem suited to me for use in a narrative film scene with characters and dialogue. And it wasn’t until I watched Maya Deren’s Ritual in Transfigured Time a few years ago that I realized Schubert’s work could serve as the foundation for a conceptual video art piece that incorporates the medium of dance to express emotions.

So I came up with a concept for the film; but since I know nothing about dance I collaborated with a Syracuse-area choreographer and dancer, Brandon Ellis, who interpreted my vision and developed and executed the dance routine.

Dancer and choreographer Brandon Ellis. Photo by Michael Barletta/Courtney Rile.

Two things about the project were important to me: one was keeping the piece short and manageable, since it was a low-budget production and I was self-financing it (the edited master is about four minutes long). Secondly, I did not want the piece to be just a straight dance performance like you see on stage.

So here’s the basic premise:

The dancer in the film clutches a black box representing the human heart as a repository of life’s emotions. It is a metaphor for all of the turmoil and pain we carry with us inside. Through a series of movements, the character becomes free from the density of the black box, and he is able to leave it behind and thus arrive at a state of inner peace.

Dancer and choreographer Brandon Ellis. Photo by Michael Barletta/Courtney Rile.

For the production I collaborated with Michael Barletta and Courtney Rile, founders of the Syracuse-based production company Daylight Blue Media. Barletta and Rile served as camera operators during the shoot, and Rile also edited the film.

The project was filmed in an old industrial warehouse in Syracuse last summer and we shot the dance sequence from multiple angles to create a sense of dynamic action (or so I hope).

Dancer and choreographer Brandon Ellis. Photo by Michael Barletta/Courtney Rile.

One other note is relevant. I was concerned about using the music from the CD I owned because of rights issues, so I purchased and downloaded a royalty-free version of the same piece from Apollo Symphony Orchestra. ASO has a wide selection of classical music and it’s a great asset for filmmakers and artists looking for music for their projects. The version I bought cost about $40 and allows for multiple uses, e.g. online and DVD, etc.

Since I am submitting the project to other film festivals and art galleries, I will not post it on my blog at this time. But if you would like to see it, just send me an email at and I will send you the Vimeo link with the password.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and good luck with all of your creative endeavors.