Sunday, March 27, 2011

Black Swan Coverup: Sarah Lane Did All The Work

Black Swan was one of the biggest box office success stories in 2010 (budget $13 million, gross revenue $281 million), which recently earned star Natalie Portman the Academy Award for "Best Actress in a Leading Role" at the Oscars. During her acceptance speech, a shaken Portman thanked just about everyone, from Luc Besson who gave her her first job to "Closer" director Mike Nichols to her parents. But there's one person that contributed to her latest success who was off her list and seems all but forgotten: ballerina dancer Sarah Lane. And it's not just Natalie Portman that has seem to forgotten all about Sarah Lane, there appears to be an effort by the producers and others who worked on Black Swan to downplay Lane's work on the film as well.

Who's Sarah Lane? Lane is a professional dancer and was Portman's body double for the difficult dancing scenes in Black Swan. And not just for a couple moves here and there, according to Lane she did at least 95% of the ballerina dancing that is seen in the film. And that's where there seems to be some discrepancy, as both the producer and Portman's choreographer (also her fiancé) have made a concerted effort to minimize and downplay Lane's contributions.


Choreographer Benjamin Millepied said Lane’s work in the film was far less significant. “There are articles now talking about her dance double [American Ballet Theatre dancer Sarah Lane] that are making it sound like [Lane] did a lot of the work, but really, she just did the footwork, and the fouettĂ©s, and one diagonal [phrase] in the studio,” he said. “Honestly, 85 percent of that movie is Natalie.”
Lane also says that Black Swan producer Ari Handel specifically told her not to talk about her work to the press, even though she claims there was no such stipulation in her contract.
Lane is barely seen in promotional materials for the movie, including a VFX reel posted by studio Fox Searchlight that appears to show all the digital alterations made to key dance sequences.
We can understand a body double not exactly getting the same amount of spotlight as the main star, but you'd think in "behind the scenes" footage showing doing the digital alterations putting Portman's face on Lane's body they would at least give her a little credit. And we simply don't believe the producers when they say Lane's work was minimal. The reason why they want to downplay Lane's contribution is it goes against the narrative they had built up about how Portman went from non-dancer to ballerina dancer in just a year, how she worked so hard and this is her best performance, how they used this narrative to sell the movie in the first place, and finally it's the reason Portman received her Oscar. In showbiz there's a big difference between what actually happens behind the scenes and the story that gets put out to the public, and whenever the truth happens to leak out every now and then it's not surprising to see the powers that be try to squash it as quickly as possible.

Some people have said: look she signed up to be a body double, she got paid. The end. Body doubles know going in they aren't going to be seen as the star. To an extent we do agree with that and understand, but the concerted effort to downplay all the work she put in to making it a great film, just as much effort as the actors and actresses did, is simply not necessary and comes off as unprofessional. Give credit where credit is due, and when your film turns out to be as big as a success as this one has, you should be even more appreciative of the effort and talent that went into helping it become that success.

I do worry though that this may hurt Sarah Lane if she expects to get any future body double work, as she may be seen as becoming a trouble maker after a film is released. But hopefully she'll be able to work with future producers and make it clear in her contract that she gets proper credit but also doesn't later come out downplaying the star.

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