‘It definitely raises tension’: How ‘The Red Shoes’ weathered the Sydney lockdown

Director Jesse A'hern on the set of 'The Red Shoes: Next Step.'

Filming coming-of-age dance feature The Red Shoes: Next Step was an exercise in thinking on your feet, according to producers.

Directors Joanne Samuel and Jesse A’hern began production on June 15, just prior to the beginning of restrictions that would lead them to reschedule daily timelines, change locations, reduce film crew, become subject to regular police visits, and even switch an entire dance group.

Despite these challenges, wrap date was only delayed a week, with filming finalised on July 23.

Executive producer Tanya Esposito, who also produces alongside A’hern, told IF they were glad to be able to finish shooting before further restrictions were put in place.

“We finished just before the second group of LGAs was locked down, so it’s really tight now,” she said.

“It was a nightmare to shoot in as it was, and I probably wouldn’t recommend it at the moment unless you are in a locked-in studio location.”

Written by Zachary Layner, John Banas, and Peter McLeod, The Red Shoes: Next Step follows dancer Sam Cavanaugh (Juliet Doherty), who experiences a family tragedy prior to dancing the lead in ‘The Red Shoes’ ballet, leading her to quit dancing academy.

After running wild with her friend Eve (Lauren Esposito), Cavanaugh is forced to spend time at the academy as part of a community service sentence and is eventually given the opportunity to once again participate in the performance.

The film’s cast and crew were spread across Australia’s east coast, with Esposito among seven members from Victoria, while the production planned on using a Queensland-based choreographer and dancing troupe.

Joanne Samuel, Lauren Esposito, Jesse A’hern, and Juliet Doherty.

Those travelling north came up early to avoid the fourth lockdown in their state, but it was a different story for the Queensland contingent, many of whom feared they would be unable to return as a result of the unfolding Sydney situation.

The producers were forced to bring in replacements from Sydney’s Tanya Pearson Academy at short notice, with A’hern describing their efforts on the film as “amazing”.

“The Queensland dancers had spent 4-5 months actually learning the choreography, so for us, it was like, ‘we have two weeks and that’s it we need to be filming’. It was a big ask,” he said.

It would be far from the only hurdle the producers would have to overcome as they filmed across roughly 10 inner-city locations.

Despite repeated assurances from NSW Health about being able to proceed with the production, Esposito said concern from community members meant police regularly visited the set.

“We were always trying to get something in writing telling us we were okay to film because we would get daily contact with the police, and people walking past telling us that we weren’t allowed to be.”

A’hern said the climate also impacted the atmosphere on set.

“It definitely raises tension in the sense that it’s really uncomfortable running around all day with a mask on,” he said.

“I know it’s a small thing, but it definitely adds an extra layer to what is already a high-pressure environment.”

However, he said there was a silver lining to the lockdown as the project moved into post-production.

“Funnily enough, the current situation affects the next stage of the film in a good way because we’ve got nothing to do but sit in our studio and cut films,” he said.

The Red Shoes: Next Step will be released in 2022 via Pivot Pictures.