Meet filmmaker Dean Hargrove. Dean directed the documentary TAP WORLD and has produced many television series and films in the past. In his #filmmakerfriday piece, he spoke to us about his past experience and the inspiration behind his recent film.
Tap World Executive Producer/Director Dean Hargrove and Associate Producer Kaleena Rallis
Q1. Tell us why you decided to film a documentary involving the tap dancing community.
Twelve years ago, I decided that I wanted to do a short film; as my entire career has been in television. I struck upon the idea that there’s the traditional tap, which most people know from Fred Astaire, Bojangles Robinson and others of that generation; but there’s also a contemporary evolution that is more improvisational and has a hip hop dimension. So Jeff Peters, my producing partner and Steven Poster, world class Director of Photography, and I did a short film called TAP HEAT. It’s fourteen minutes long and can easily be found on YouTube. It played in festivals all over the world and was very well received. After a couple of abortive attempts to get commercial interest in tap projects here and overseas, I thought to try a documentary with a global approach—TAP WORLD. Both Jeff and Steven liked the idea, and signed on with me.
Q2. TAP WORLD features amazing talented dancers from all around the world. How did you discover each dancer featured in the documentary?
The idea resonated with two star tap dancers, sisters Chloe and Maud Arnold who are very innovative. They started and continue the burgeoning DC TAPFEST and have a very successful group called SYNCOPATED LADIES. Since they travel around the world performing and teaching, they proceeded to contact dancers globally through their very extensive Facebook connections. In fact, this project couldn’t have happened without social media. We asked dancers to tell us their stories and send us film or video that showcased their performances. We received over one hundred submissions and in addition to that, I shot dancers in LA, New York, Japan and South Africa. All of this was edited down to 72 minutes from a first cut of two hours. George Mandl, our editor/producer and I had to make decisions based on which stories we felt were the most compelling and had to avoid having stories that were similar. Then we had to orchestrate them into sequences that seemed the most satisfying. One problem that we never anticipated was that after we had made our selections, we would hear about or be contacted by dancers that we wanted to include but couldn’t because it would make the film too long, or we were too far along in the process to include them (two tap dancing priests at the Vatican were a major temptation). As one distributor warned me “documentaries are never finished.”
Q3. You have produced and directed many TV shows and films in the past. What is one major difference filming a television series versus filming a feature length documentary?
The primary difference between this documentary and others, I think, is that we don’t have one lone narrative. The outstanding docs on the lives of Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse, for example, have a built in construction, as do docs where there is a contest or a competition involving individuals or a team sport. So after viewing our various sequences, we decided to use the conceptual thread of rhythm being the unifying element. That, along with the interconnectivity of people around the world through dance, is the basis for our film.
When you’re filming a TV series or a movie, there is usually a script which is followed. Having done both now, the scripted film is a much clearer cut way to go. But not necessarily better, as many of our most interesting moments were pure serendipity.
Q4. The documentary features difference places around the world such as Brazil and New York. Did you have a particular favorite place that you liked visiting and/or filming?
In my experience filming global tap, my three favorite places are Brazil, Japan and South Africa. They all have great talents and work to incorporate their own culture into tap. That’s true of Taiwan, as well, but I’ve never been there; we used the film they sent us. Brazil is a country that is built on music, no one if more dedicated to their art than the Japanese and the South African gumboot dancers are a significant part of tap history.
The challenge for tap is to re-introduce a broad audience to this remarkable, uniquely American art form. Once they see and experience tap, they are invariably enthralled. Our mission is to get the film to be seen by as many people as possible, and to accelerate the growing international interest in tap. If we can accomplish that, our mission is accomplished.
Q5. What is one advice you would give to any aspiring filmmaker?
My advice to any aspiring filmmaker is that everyone will have an opinion, but the only one that truly matters is yours.
Watch Tap World