By Taroue Brooks
Independent filmmaker Adelin Gasana and producer Lola Kayode, had to know that they’d hit a tender spot when they collaborated to create a documentary on high heel shoes. In just 45 minutes, the film takes a deep dive into the backstory, obsessions and intimacy with this wardrobe staple that has transported women down the catwalk and the sidewalk. From t-strapped to red bottomed to chunky platforms, high heels are divinely feminine and essential to manifest every fashion fantasy.
Here, Gasana offers insight on the process from film selection to film making. He interviews a plethora of women to get their take on our indulgences, addiction and our love-hate relationship with high heels.
Why did you become a filmmaker?
I simply fell in love with the medium. I have always been a creative for as long as I can remember. Along the way, I grew into a movie buff and studied all the classics to the latest Hollywood blockbusters. But, for the documentary film genre itself, I immediately fell in love with it. Documentary filmmaking represents, to me, the bonafide, the rebellious, the sagacious, the didactic, the educational, the inspiring, the intellectual, the engrossing, the creative, the artistic, and the revolutionary. There’s so much creativity at play with being a filmmaker from concept to completion.
This tendency drew me in as I started putting videos together back in my freshman year in college. But my passion to be a documentary filmmaker also stems to my passion in learning, researching, seeking, and understanding. My double major in college was in TV/Film and Philosophy. I believe philosophy married with film equals documentary films.
Why did you choose this topic?
Initially, I ventured out to do a film about a mainstream, pop culture topic. So, when my producer Lola Kayode and I talked about her personal experience of back pain associated with her wearing heels on a regular long-term basis, we thought high heels would make for an interesting topic for a short documentary. So, this documentary film began as a cool topic of style critique and fashion intrigue. But, a couple of months into production after a deep dive in research and conducting multiple interviews, the topic gradually evolved into a nuanced subject highlighting the varying experiences of women’s lifestyle and personal expression. Such fascination led to an in-depth look into this stylish accessory that the general public sees all the time but doesn’t put too much thought into.
What do you hope the audience will gain from the documentary?
Perspective and insight on a subtle, yet popular, accessory. As the director, I wanted to take this item of the high-heeled shoe and examine it from A to Z. What does it represent? Where did it come from? How has it evolved over time? What are women’s experiences with it? And, where is it going? I want viewers to go on a journey with me in examining this powerful symbolism that high heels culturally represent. By learning a little more about women’s everyday life experiences with heels, viewers will gain a greater appreciation of them and what it means to women both socially and psychologically. As a straight man taking on this subject matter, I was simply a fly on the wall in producing this film. Kind of like being on the outside looking in. From that vantage point, I was able to bring a more objective approach to examining comprehensively high heel shoes. This documentary literally speaks for itself. Meaning … the women interviewed were open, honest and frank about all things heels–the good, the bad and the ugly. Who knew a high-heeled shoe could invoke such a rich historical, societal, medical and pop cultural discussion?
How did you source talent to be featured?
My team reached out in emails, social media messages and even cold calls. We did our very best to sell our concept for this documentary to potential interviewees to agree to come on board. We also catered to businesses and personalities that focused on high heels like shoe designers, dancers, models and bloggers. For a topic like high heels, there was no shortage of women who were interested in speaking to us. We could still be at it with sit-down interviews gaining even more insight and personal commentary on the subject. Over time, we began to narrow down particular interview subjects we wanted in order to balance out the diversity in opinions, personal expression and expert advice.
What is your planning process like? Is it a brainstorming session? Do you write an outline?
Yes, my producer Lola Kayode and I began with the big, broad topic of high heels. With research and development on this idea, we narrowed it down and wanted this documentary film to be a conversation piece around the focus of experience. After all, the thesis to this documentary is that high heels are an experience for women. So, right before we began shooting for this film, we constructed a three-act outline to get us started. Documentary filmmaking is kind of done in the inverse way a narrative, fictional film is done. For narrative films — horror, comedy, drama, et al — a movie does not begin shooting until a script is finalized. For documentaries, scripts are last, right before you begin editing.
First, you begin with a general outline and then go into production shooting your interview subjects, b-roll material, etc. Once you are complete with the production phase. then you put a script together based on the log notes/hot sheets of all the stuff your team shot in the field. This script is enough to have your editor begin the post-production phase of the film and get it all the way to picture lock.
The documentary handles fashion, femininity and identity. How did you achieve this balance?
While producing this film, we conducted the interviews with questions on these same concepts in fashion, femininity, health, identity, lifestyle, etc. Everyone featured in this film was open, honest and frank. This made it easier for us to segue between concepts in the editing of the film for an easy flow for viewers to follow.
In the midst of brainstorming and diving into the research and development phase of the documentary, my team put an outline together breaking our film into three acts–symbolic experience, health experience, and lifestyle experience. After logging all the material and transcribing the interviews, we had enough to balance out the concepts using our outline. It was more than enough that my producer and I felt a narrator was not needed.
How did you raise money to complete the project?
My producer and I chose not to raise funds for this project. Instead, we utilized our own resources. Part of the reason we ventured to doing this film is how doable it was for the both of us in terms of timing and funding. High On Heels was entirely produced in metro Atlanta. We were confident at the onset that Atlanta represented a world class city with plenty of diverse views and passionate people focused around fashion, style and lifestyle trends. This approach made it easier for us not to have to travel extensively for the right candidate to interview or business to profile for the piece. Also, being that this film lends itself to a conversation piece, we were not compelled to seek archival, stock materials in photos, film and video elements, which normally is expensive with independent documentary film production.
What does an ideal distribution look like for High On Heels?
Anywhere and everywhere. Our target audience of young women who appreciate fashion, style and lifestyle trends is the ideal distribution for this film. Currently, during this Coronavirus pandemic, distribution via digital platforms is ideal for those stay-at-home audiences. High On Heels made its digital debut on YouTube this spring and premiered on Amazon Prime Video this summer. Both popular streaming platforms allow the film to reach more diverse audiences in this moment of social distancing and home quarantining. YouTube reaches a younger, mobile-friendly demographic of viewers who are interested in this pop culture topic. Amazon reaches a family-friendly, niche audience of documentary lovers who want to be informed and entertained on how high heels are more than just a shoe.
What three tips do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
One of my favorite quotes comes from a filmmaker colleague of mine: “Find a good story. Don’t f#@$ it up.”
My essential tips for a filmmaking career is to read. Read. Read. And, read some more. Absorb all the critical, analytical information you can get on your hands. It’ll help guide you and inspire your path. Not just for future documentarians like myself, but for all film genres worth pursuing.
Don’t be myopic in your views and perspective of society and the world. Be a forever student.
Another piece of advice I can give is to not try but do. Just do it. Don’t wait on anybody or anything else to get you going. The timing will never be perfect to begin a project – big or small – but, it is vital that you start. And, please finish your projects – don’t remain a potential filmmaker who only has teasers and trailers to put in their highlight reel.
What’s your next project?
I am currently writing and co-producing a piece on black comic book superheroes. Right after this documentary I will be co-producing two biographical documentaries on prominent black political leaders. Down the road I am greatly inspired to complete a documentary film on gentrification. I am currently looking for the right team.
High heels are an experience for women. Today, heels have come to represent many things for many women like beauty, sexuality, sophistication, empowerment, maturity, style, and professionalism. This documentary film explores this dynamic and examines the subtle yet popular accessory both men and women take for granted. An in-depth look into the historical significance of the high-heeled shoe will parallel an in-depth look at the health factors that come with wearing them. As a conversational piece, the symbolism, evolution and lifestyle trend of the high heel are expressed by shoe designers, stylists, dancers, models, fashion bloggers, influencers, doctors, and everyday women.
Director: Adelin Gasana
Producer: Lola Kayode
Music Composer: Marques “Quest 21” Johnson