Nowness x Jacob's Pillow

Body Language: Bill Shannon


An Interview with Director Leo Pfeifer by NOWNESS Video Comissioner, Shelley Jones

Is there anything you discussed with Bill that shaped your direction or visual language?
The nuanced reaction from the world around him is central to Bill's work and that quickly became the basis of the film's visual language. We chose New York as our backdrop for this reason as each passerby's reaction, or lack thereof, became part of the performance. He starts off as a figure exiting the subway and we evolved the movement and aesthetics of the film to expose the viewer to Bill's emotional journey.

What is your visual approach to character-driven storytelling?
The best part (and biggest challenge) of this project was its unique combination of dance film and documentary. Visually, the piece is about the escape from reality to something "more;" more elevated, more beautiful, more expressive. We explored this through lensing, camera movement, and other subtle tools. The New York that we begin in isn't the New York we end in.

What drew you to Bill’s story?
It's obvious when an artist is dedicated to creating unique expressions through their craft. I was totally blown away watching his performances and was so excited to work with him. We spent hours exploring the creative behind the project. It wasn't about depicting one neat, simple truth but rather exploring some very specific unknowns that became ever-more interesting as we began shooting.

What did you learn from this project?
A big lesson in all of my projects is the beauty of the unexpected. When you take all the mechanisms of a film shoot out into the real world to capture a person's story, the exact plan you entered with will always diverge from the roadmap. If you embrace those moments you'll discover the heart of the project on a much deeper level.

Learn more about this project on NOWNESS.