A Voice with Legs: Laura Carruthers Translates Dance into Film

Laura Carruthers is a six-time national champion and world-ranked Scottish Highland dancer, a former member of the Ballet Arizona, and an award-winning filmmaker whose portrayals of dance on screen welcome mainstream audiences to its intricacies. Her latest film, Grace Fury, is an autobiographical exploration into the joy of creating art that has just been nominated for multiple awards at the Glendale International Film Festival, the San Francisco International New Concept Film Festival, the LA Underground Film Forum, and the World Music and Independent Film Festival. Fascinated by the journey that would take a young Los Angeles native from Celtic dance enthusiast to successful filmmaker, I chatted with Laura about what it’s taken her to get here, the inspirations and challenges that she found along the way, and the sense that “bonding with art isn’t always immediate escapism.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA–Burbank, to be exact–Laura spent childhood summers watching her father compete in traditional Scottish sport, a subculture she describes as larger than life. “Not your traditional vacation,” Laura noted laughing, but one that quickly inspired her to enroll in Scottish Highland dancing herself. And she was good at it–really good: she went on to win six national championships. Things took a turn when Laura enrolled at Arizona State University to study history, but there she kept her passion for dance alive by studying ballet under former Kirov principal Zenia Chlistowa, and following graduation she was accepted into the prestigious Ballet Arizona by Director Michael Uthoff.

At this point during our conversation, we paused a moment for me to ask the question that she says nearly everyone who’s not in her worlds asks: what exactly is Scottish Highland dancing, and is it anything like ballet? The answer: Scottish Highland dancing is very aerobic and demanding, requiring a simultaneous precision and buoyancy that results in what Laura describes as a “state of perpetual spring” (which as you might expect, is “very horrible on your legs”). Far from the synchronized pounding of its more mainstream Celtic sibling made popular with Riverdance, Highland dancing is relentless but never heavy. Ballet in turn depends on the same level of precision, but is, perhaps surprisingly so, less rigid than Highland dancing–a flexibility that Laura found very liberating and appealing.

Of course, one must acknowledge that Laura is blessed with preternatural energy and grace–born to a mathematician mother and a father who loved Scottish sport but not dance, Laura is the first of her family to become a dancer. And yet nearly everyone who has crossed her path can’t help but notice a natural exuberance and magnetism that translate across Celtic, classical, and contemporary techniques.

So, Laura made it to ASU where she discovered that the Scottish subculture of her Californian youth was minimal at best. She found herself living almost a double life: the side focused on that subculture, and the side in which her peers had zero connection to it or understanding about it; as Laura describes the dichotomy, “you’re either in it, or you don’t know much about it.” Despite pressure from her father to focus on academics and graduate, Laura discovered that ballet was a way to bridge the gap between Highland dancing and the mainstream professional dance world–and perhaps even a way to turn the dance realm into a long-term career.

Laura started introducing her fellow ballet dancers to the “strange little technique” of Highland dancing, and as a burgeoning choreographer she blended the Celtic with the classical. People took notice, and it was at this point that she started her transformation into the “voice with legs.”

Fast forward to today: Laura is still dancing, but is now also a successful filmmaker and a self-described sociopolitical activist. Her overarching artistic philosophy is intrinsically bound to her unshakeable insistence that art have a place in today’s increasingly money-focused and conformist culture: “I fear that in some ways we’re losing the innocence of just being artistic, allowing for a degree of freedom and room to do just what you need to do and say what you need to say…I feel like art, like science, is a space where we should be pioneering, and in many cases you don’t even know what contributions you might make–a way that might not seem huge in the moment but might influence people down the road. Even if it’s not entirely practical or doesn’t have a huge payoff, in some cases that’s the real stuff, the parts of the variation in our species that goes missing because we follow the same lines too often.”

It is impossible not to be inspired by the conviction with which Laura shares that vision for a world in which creativity continues not simply to exist but to thrive, and it makes it easy to understand why her latest film Grace Fury is picking up nominations across the festival circuit.

An autobiographical foray into Laura’s life and the necessity of artistic creation, Grace Fury combines her obvious long-time love of film (Kubrick and Coppola are some of her biggest influences) with a lifetime’s understanding of dance and self that’s challenged only by the technical innovation that five Panasonic VariCams offer insofar as true viewer immersion. The film is a beautifully intimate experience with a degree of “poetic mystery” that is all too often hard to capture, but it also speaks to the greater human experience. Laura notes, “I hope that some of the points I’m making, the questions I’m asking, are bigger and more core; I’m saying this little microexperience, this one person’s tiny shot at life that I have, that maybe there are some things I’m saying that might resonate with other people, that might speak to human nature.”

Grace Fury originally started as a festival opportunity offered to her by a couple producers in New York; when the larger project died, Laura decided to keep going with the film, realizing that maybe it was time to say what she really meant. If that’s not a metaphor for Laura’s entire drive in life, I don’t know what is. I asked Laura what she looks to get out of this film and the work she does now.

“I just hope the whole thing inspires people to do their own thing as well. To maybe be on the lookout for different kinds of artists who aren’t always in your view all the time. It’s important to inspire people in whatever capacity you have to make art. We should all have the experience of making art, and never resign ourselves to just being spectators or saying we can’t. It’s part of the human experience.”

 Check out Laura’s work and upcoming film Grace Fury at http://www.lauracarruthers.com

PR for Filmmakers Workshop, part of the AOF Film Festival

pr for filmmakers

Calling all Filmmakers: 

On August 26th I and my associate, Verena King @VerenaKingPR (who will be focusing on social media), will be giving a PR for Filmmakers Workshop, a part of the AOF Film Festival. 

Is this important?

It is if you’re a filmmaker.

Why?

Because, you want your film to succeed.

What makes or breaks most films?

It’s the buzz, the anticipation, the excitement.

And nothing can create that buzz more effectively than the media.

An effective PR campaign (or lack of one) can make or break your film

Being featured in the media, gives you the validation and credibility of being newsworthy.

If you work it right, media begets more media and the snowball effect begins to kick in.

When should you launch a PR campaign?

All together…

Now!

aof festDon’t make the mistake of starting your PR campaign once you’ve finished your film, or after you’ve submitted and been accepted by a festival.

You need to start planning your PR strategy on day one.

You need to make the public relations cost as basic a budget item as the cost of your camera or lighting, or any of the other essentials.

So, have you or your film been covered in the media?

If not, why not?

And if your answer is yes, have you utilized your media coverage for maximum effect?

Do you have a comprehensive PR gameplan?

Does your gameplan include the following?

These are just a few of the topics we’ll be covering at this essential nuts and bolts PR workshop.

PR for Filmmakers is a unique workshop designed specifically for producers, directors and filmmakers.  Focusing on how to effectively promote and market your films, the workshop will cover a number of topics including how to develop stories and pitch ideas, how to write a press release, how to build a media list, how to effectively pitch the media, the difference between the trades and mainstream media pitches, and how to meld your traditional media and social media outreach.

The workshop is designed to help filmmakers build their brand and create a buzz via the media to reach their audience, influencers, investors, distributors and other appropriate opportunities.   At the end of the workshop, filmmakers who wish to participate will be allowed to give a 30-second pitch.  If your pitch is chosen as the most effective (a subjective call by Anthony), you will win a free 90 minute consultation with Anthony Mora, along with a press release, pitch and targeted media list.

The PR for Filmmakers Workshop will be held in Monrovia at the Krikorian Premier Theaters in the filmmaker It runs 11:00 Am -1:00 PM.  The Workshop is free for AOF 2014 Accepted Filmmakers and Writers. There is a $25.00 charge for all others.

Copyright © Mora Communications 2014

Want Your Film to Succeed? Read On (PR Tips for your Film & More)

film successIt used to be that a film company would spend the same amount of money marketing a film as it would spend producing a film.  The P&A, or prints and advertising would include the prints, advertising, PR, screening, basically anything that had to do with getting the film out to the public and creating a buzz.

In this digital world the word “prints” is rather rapidly fading from our vocabulary, but everything that falls under the advertising umbrella is still mandatory.  And now you can add a host of other must-haves such as a website, social media strategy, EPK (electronic press kit), a blog, etc.

The trouble is that most producers in the world of independent filmmaking seem to factor very little of the above into their overall budgets.  Oh, they’ll generally build a website, maybe put a few trailers on YouTube, do a minor Facebook outreach and then…. Wait.

What they don’t do is start by creating an initial budget that includes, at the very least, a web designer/webmaster, a graphic artist, a savvy social media consultant, and an experienced PR firm, or PR consultant.

What they don’t do is what you want to make sure you do.

You want to cover all of your basis from day one, since, chances are you’re not going to do this after the fact.  After you’ve produced your film, unless you’ve budgeted and carefully prepared, your money is spent, you’re in a rush to get it out there, you’re exhausted and the last thing you want to do is come up with a savvy, creative marketing approach.

At that point, in all probability, you’re going to throw up a website, cut a fast YouTube trailer, send out some tweets and Facebook posts, write and send out a novice press release (with no strategy or follow up).  If you’re smart you’ll make sure you’re listed on IMBD and that you have your own Wikipedia page.  Then, thinking you’ve covered all the basis, you’ll kick back and wait.

Then…

you’ll wait some more.

You’ll then either come to the conclusion that no one understands how brilliant your film is and the world’s just not ready for you yet, or that marketing and PR are a waste of time.  They must be.  No one responded.

The truth is, you didn’t prepare, you didn’t give marketing or PR a chance and you didn’t give your film a chance.  You could have a gem, a real hit on your hands and never know it.

Now the good news.

You can do it differently.  It’s best if you plan for all of the above at the pre pre production stage of your film, but, no matter what stage of the process you’re in, you can stop review the situation, develop a new gameplan and prepare for success.

In my PR for Filmmaker workshops, I cover all of the basics that you need to know to help your film succeed.  If you can’t make it to one of workshops, follow our blog.  If you have questions, shoot us an email.

As a wise man once said, knowledge is power, so learn as much as you can, do your preparation and give your film a real shot at success.

Copyright © Mora Communications 2014

Film Publicity