Robert Steven Mack is a senior at Indiana University where he is pursuing a BS in Ballet from the Jacobs School of Music, as well as a BA in History and a minor in Classics. As a dancer, he has trained at summer intensives at American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Ballet and Princess Grace Academy. He danced with Ballet Project OC and played the part of Ogress in ABT’s Sleeping Beauty at the Metropolitan Opera House. With a passion for cinema and a mission to capture dance on the moving image, he started collaborating with student filmmakers to make dance films his freshman year. He produced Shift, which won awards at several festivals. Chisel is his solo directorial debut.
I have always been fascinated by dreams, but with a global pandemic and social unrest bubbling to the surface in the United States, Chisel channels my growing preoccupation with nightmares – nightmares of loneliness and alienation, disease, death – all the things that go through one’s mind lying awake at night, waiting out another day, another hour of the pandemic.
The concept is simple: a young woman wakes up in a desolate landscape, which she shares with a mysterious man of unknown intentions. At first frightened of him, she learns that he might be hiding more than he’s letting on.
One of the challenges I faced was setting a pas de deux, or “dance for two” in the conditions of a pandemic. We opted to shoot outside at an abandoned limestone mill. Now evocative of ruin and deconstruction, mills such as these once supplied the building material for such landmarks as the Empire State Building, the Pentagon and the Rockefeller Center. Working with 16mm for the first time, I was struck by the visual poetry this format is capable of in capturing this ominous setting. The other challenge I faced was to keep the focus on the silent communication through the use of dance and simple looks and close-ups. With the characters masked throughout, I found it fascinating how much could be conveyed through the eyes, as well as how much couldn’t be conveyed lurking or hiding behind the mask. This obfuscation of intent is another point of fascination.