by Dov Kornits

The rich colours and expertly captured dance sequences of Australian ballet-themed family film The Red Shoes: Next Step belie its modest budget and challenging shooting conditions.

The directorial debut of Jesse A’hern, musician turned film producer (The Legend of the Five) and now co-director (with Five’s Joanne Samuel), The Red Shoes: Next Step was shot at the height of Covid lockdowns in Sydney in 2021.

Now, as it approaches cinema release, A’hern is able to reflect on what enabled him to make this modestly budgeted dance drama that punches way above its weight.

“Apart from sound, our whole workflow has been with Blackmagic Design,” he says about the Australian company that has revolutionized the film industry around the world, both big budget and indie, with their intuitive and affordable tech.

“I can get a really great look and because the price point is so much lower, it allows me to really push the envelope in other areas of my budget.”

The Red Shoes: Next Step follows Sam (actor/dancer Juliet Doherty), who rediscovers her passion for dance whilst doing community service at her old dance academy. The inspiration drama also stars Carolyn Bock, Joel Burke, Lauren Esposito and Ashleigh Ross.

Shot using the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K and 6K digital film cameras, with post production completed using DaVinci Resolve Studio editing, colour grading, visual effects (VFX) and audio post production software and DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor keyboard, all Blackmagic products, A’hern was able to concentrate on the performances, the story and Covid safety, rather than being overly concerned with technical issues.

Jesse A’hern (left) with DOP Kent Marcus (centre) on the set of The Red Shoes: Next Step

“I wanna be creative, I don’t wanna be slowed down by software,” A’hern says about the workflow advantages of using Blackmagic Design. “I plug Resolve in, hit go and I can cut within a minute. They just work together so seamlessly. It’s like Mac, they’ve paired the software with the hardware and that’s why it works so well.

“I started using Resolve when my Premiere license ran out,” he says, referring to Adobe’s editing software. “It was a thousand bucks a year, whereas Resolve is free. I went, ‘why don’t I just give this a go?’ I opened it up and started using it and I’ve never looked back.

“I don’t wanna jump programs anymore. And the other thing is, the UI [user interface] is really intuitive. It’s not like Premiere which just has too many buttons. It’s too full on and your creativity is limited by having to understand everything about that program.

“Workflow is key! Everybody uses Resolve for grading; you always end up in Resolve for the final colour grade and the final output.”

Convenience and efficiency are one thing, but how did they manage to make The Red Shoes: Next Step look cinematic on an indie budget?

“If you put a nice lens on the front of a Blackmagic, it’s gonna look great. It’s how you shoot it. At the end of the day, a camera is just a sensor with a colour space. Blackmagic’s blacks are actually a little bit gritty, they’re not as sharp and poppy. It’s got grain, which is what cinema is. So, if you pop a nice lens on the front of that camera, you get great images.”

The price point also allowed the production to use multiple cameras and accessories for the dance sequences, capturing every beautiful move with precision.

“I bought a $1,200 jib and slung this camera on it. If I wanted to put one of the larger Reds on a gimble, I have to spend $20 grand,” A’hern adds.

And if there were any technical problems, which inevitably befall film productions, surprisingly, Blackmagic Design is always ready to take the call.

“I call Joe down in Melbourne and he’s always reachable on the phone, and if we’ve got an issue, he’ll fix it on the spot,” says A’hern. “That’s for their software too. So, if I’m cutting something and we have an issue, I call them direct, and they pick up. I’m not on hold. The support is incredible.”

The Red Shoes: Next Step is in cinemas in 2023