Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Credit where credit is due - Natalie Portman and the stunt double controversy [UPDATED]

Just as the acclaimed film Black Swan is released today on DVD and Blu-ray, it's been hit by another controversy.

Previously, it was embroiled in a minor scandal over costume design. The Mulleavy sisters of the Rodarte fashion house claimed that they were screwed out of a Costume Designer credit because they were responsible for some of the key ballet costumes. The film's actual Costume Designer Amy Westcott was asked to keep quiet because the producers didn't want any friction leading up to the Oscar nominations. But once the nominations came out and Westcott was left off the ballot (likely because people bought into the Mulleavy hype) she finally spoke out and made it clear that she was the department head, the Mulleavy sisters answered to both her and Darren Aronofsky, and that the sisters were properly credited.

Now along comes another claiming she was screwed out of a bigger credit. Soon after Natalie Portman won the Best Actress Academy Award for her bravura performance as Nina, we started to hear some grumbing from her stunt double in the film, Sarah Lane. This was a surprise, since earlier interviews with her made her seem quite gracious.
And how does it feel to be part of a performance that some critics are giving Natalie Portman rave reviews for? I’m not really looking for any sort of recognition. The process was a huge learning experience and I got everything I wanted out of it. But she deserves the recognition. She worked really hard.
That tone soon changed. After the Academy Awards, Dance Magazine posted a caustic article by Wendy Perron. She was indignant that a special effects video had edited out a clip showing Lane's face being digitally replaced on a dance sequence, and also that Portman hadn't thanked Lane in her acceptance speech. She followed that up with another article that portrayed Lane as feeling exploited and gradually becoming as indignant as Perron herself.
Sarah says she was more offended by that myth than any slight to her as a dancer who worked “painstaking” hours on the set. She says she's talked to her colleagues about “how unfortunate it is that, as professional dancers, we work so hard, but people can actually believe that it’s easy enough to do it in a year. That’s the thing that bothered me the most.”
Soon others picked up on this. So last week when the L.A. Times did a profile Portman's partner and Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied, he addressed the growing controversy.
"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 fouettés, and one diagonal [phrase] in the studio. Honestly, 85% of that movie is Natalie."
Two days later, however, Lane fired back in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying there was a “cover-up” and that “of the full body shots, I would say 5 percent are Natalie ... All the other shots are me.”
“The shots that are just her face with arms, those shots are definitely Natalie,” she says. “But that doesn’t show the actual dancing.” Lane admits that she was never promised a particular title for her six weeks of work on the film, though she was disappointed to see that she is credited only as as “Hand Model,” “Stunt Double,” and “Lady in the Lane” (a brief walk-on role).

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. “They wanted to create this idea in people’s minds that Natalie was some kind of prodigy or so gifted in dance and really worked so hard to make herself a ballerina in a year and a half for the movie, basically because of the Oscar,” says Lane. “It is demeaning to the profession and not just to me. I’ve been doing this for 22 years…. Can you become a concert pianist in a year and a half, even if you’re a movie star?”
. . .

According to Lane, Portman’s dramatic transformation into a ballerina — a narrative firmly at the center of her successful Oscar campaign — wasn’t as impressive as the public was led to believe. “I mean, from a professional dancer’s standpoint, she doesn’t look like a professional ballet dancer at all and she can’t dance in pointe shoes. And she can’t move her body; she’s very stiff,” says Lane. “I do give her a lot of credit because in a year and a half she lost a lot of weight and she really tried to go method and get into a dancers head and really feel like a ballet dancer.”

In interviews, Portman didn’t hide the fact that she had used a body double for key sequences in the film, though Lane’s name, and the extent of her work, were played down. “I do have a double for the complicated turning stuff,” Portman told EW last November. “It was not anything I ever could have done in a year, nothing I could’ve caught up with. But I think it was just better for all of us if I did as much as possible.”
Lane insists she isn’t speaking out of jealousy over Portman’s acclaim. “[Natalie] is an amazing actress, for sure,” she says. “I know that it’s not a personal thing against me. I know that it’s just a political thing. It’s just unfortunate that I kind of lost credit.”
Fox Searchlight responded by releasing a statement that said, "We were fortunate to have Sarah there to cover the more complicated dance sequences and we have nothing but praise for the hard work she did. However, Natalie herself did most of the dancing featured in the final film." Director Darren Aronofsky went further and provided specifics.
Here is the reality. I had my editor count shots. There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80% Natalie Portman. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman.

And to be clear Natalie did dance on pointe in pointe shoes. If you look at the final shot of the opening prologue, which lasts 85 seconds, and was danced completely by Natalie, she exits the scene on pointe. That is completely her without any digital magic. I am responding to this to put this to rest and to defend my actor. Natalie sweated long and hard to deliver a great physical and emotional performance. And I don’t want anyone to think that’s not her they are watching. It is.
Darren Aronofsky
If that wasn't clear enough, Portman's co-star Mila Kunis spoke in her defence too, saying "Natalie danced her ass off. I think it’s unfortunate that this is coming out and taking attention away from [the praise] Natalie deserved and got."
She’ll tell you, no, she was not on pointe when she did a fouetté. No one’s going to deny that. But she did do every ounce of every one of her dances. [Lane] wasn’t used for everything. It was more like a safety net. If Nat wasn’t able to do something, you’d have a safety net. The same thing that I had — I had a double as a safety net. We all did. No one ever denied it.
Mila Kunis
Well, well. What can we make of all this?

On the face of it, it seems like a he said/she said dispute with both sides contradicting each other but each having credibility. But that's not what's going on at all. What's really happening is the same thing with the earlier costume design controversy. The main difference is that the producer(s) asked Lane to keep a lid on things this time whereas the Mulleavy sisters spoke freely while Westcott was kept quiet earlier. Having seen how that controversy killed Westcott's Oscar hopes, they were right to protect Portman from potentially having this silliness over nothing blow up before Oscar night.

What's similar with these two cases, however, is that the aggrieved parties were outsiders to the film world. Nonetheless, they were happy to have done the work and to have been paid handsomely (Lane was paid $4000/week for six weeks and two days and certainly wasn't used every day). When the film started making a ton of money and the press started giving them some attention too, it was only then that they bought into the notion that somehow they got screwed out of more money and credit.

But the credits they got were absolutely correct. Just as the Mulleavy sisters were part of a department and not the department heads, Lane was a stunt double, not a real actor. With three credits, Lane was actually acknowledged quite generously, since she was likely hired just as a double for the dancing and they offered her the hand model and walk-on roles as a courtesy. I highly doubt that she had to audition for the “Lady in the Lane” part.

To ask for anything more than that is just wrong. She was not the actor. Period. Stunt doubles know to lay low if they want to keep working. Lane hadn't worked before in film, however, so all she knew was that she worked hard for those few weeks. But then, so did everyone else.

As for who really did the dancing, they're actually all telling the truth more or less. Lane says, "of the full body shots, I would say 5 percent are Natalie" but most of the movie is done in medium shots and closeups. She wouldn't have been needed on set for those and so might not realize how much else Portman did. The 85% that Millepied cites is essentially the same as the 80% to 90% that Aronofsky gives. They are both clearly referring to all of the dancing, not just the full body shots.

But ultimately, who cares? Stunts and special skills are not the same thing as acting. People don't go to see an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jackie Chan action film and expect to see their stunt doubles receive equal billing. Nor is any actor ever considered a failure just because they use a stunt double. Even if Lane had done 100% of the dancing, it still wouldn't have made a difference because the greatness in Portman's acting was in her emotional range. The dancing was just this film's equivalent of "action sequences."

Nevermind the fact that many dancers complained about the dance in the film and so perhaps Lane shouldn't be so quick to take all the credit for it anyhow. She should just accept that she agreed to and properly received her due. All this grousing now just looks bad on her -- like she's the type of jealous psycho that dancers criticized as so completely unrealistic.

It's as if Sarah Lane is transforming into a ... Black Swan.


[UPDATE: March 31] Sarah Lane continues to do herself no favours by writing a very self-serving essay for the Wall Street Journal.
I know that some people are getting very defensive about “Black Swan” and my role in it, but back-stabbing is not my purpose when people ask me about the legitimacy of the dance shots in the movie. I only care to speak the truth. The truth is that no one, not Natalie Portman, or even myself can come anywhere close to the level of a professional ballerina in a year and a half. Period.

Her "truth" is disingenuous and false because no one ever said Portman was a professional ballerina.

In a November interview with Portman herself, she spoke about her rigourous training under Mary Helen Bowers, her weight loss, injuries and so forth. She also acknowledged Lane and that there were things she could not learn in the time she had.
I mean, there's no way, obviously, I could have learned, you know, fouette turns en pointe for the film. That's something that takes a lifetime to perfect. So there's a wonderful dancer, Sarah Lane, who did the more complicated pointe work. But I did the stuff that was possible to learn in a year.
It's interesting to read the comments on these various articles. Some are funny ("You'll be telling us she's not a real lesbian next.") The ones that support Lane, however, are generally the most misinformed, believing that Lane was not properly credited (she was) or that Portman claimed that she was a professional ballerina (she didn't). At least one post on the Wall Street Journal article above claims to be from someone who knows Lane.
Get Real wrote:
Anyone who knows Sarah Lane is NOT surprised by this entire scandal she has created. I can attest to the fact that Sarah has always been a very talented and very hardworking dancer with intense determination to achieve success; however, she has also worked just as hard at being very sly, very calculating and very manipulative. She has perfected her ability to use her diminutive stature and shy, meek manner to appear so sweet, kind, and Christian, but underneath that finely tuned façade, well, let’s just say that she was perfectly cast as the “Black Swan” body double. 
If this is true, she may come to regret desiring and now receiving so much more of the spotlight.


[UPDATE, April 15]

Natalie Portman was asked about the controversy last week and wisely downplayed it, saying she wanted to avoid any "nastiness or gossip."

On the other hand, Sarah Lane continues to milk this controversy by claiming on 20/20 that she isn't trying to be "heralded" for her work, but that the filmmakers are "completely lying."

One thing that this interview shows, though, is that Natalie Portman completely nailed the little-girl squeakiness that adult ballerinas can have. Otherwise, I don't think this interview serves any purpose. She may think she's defending ballet, but by tearing away at another art form she's merely turning people off ballet altogether and making herself seem petty.


  1. ITA. Times have changed, to be sure. When I was a kid, you didn't hear Marni Nixon bleating to the press about how she deserved all the credit. The whole point of having a stunt double or similar person is that she can do things the actor can't, but the audience is supposed to believe that the actor is doing it! Everyone in the enterprise knows that, to the public, the technician is supposed to remain anonymous. If you don't accept that, don't take the gig.

  2. I respectfully disagree.
    Let me first say that i am in no shape or form an artist. I am a movie lover, and i don't really like Ballet that much.

    The point as i see it is that Nathalie and her camp are trying to imply that she somehow became a dancer. And that is what annoy me to the extreme. I actually feel insulted by that.

    Audery Hepburn never claimed that Marni just sang the odd verse, which is what Nathalie implying.

    I would have actually have far more respect for her if she gave credit where it is due. For me it is a question of integrity, and in my eyes she lost that big time.

  3. Portman and company never implied she became a dancer. That was something many people wrongly inferred on their own. She said she studied ballet for the year leading up to filming, but that's not the same as saying she would ever dance professionally. We know that Mark Wahlberg trained as a boxer for his role in The Fighter, but if anybody thought he was somehow an actual boxer capable of going in the ring against a pro, that's their own faulty leap in logic.

    I've never found a quote by her where she said anything like what people are attributing to her, where she claims something that isn't true. If you know of one, please let me know. The quote in the article above clearly states she doesn't deny that she had a double for complicated stuff but that she did as much as possible.

    If you read the L.A. Times article that I've linked above, Millepied talks about how they planned the choreography, camera movement, editing, etc. to "trick the eye." They used trickery to make her look as believable as possible. It's an illusion, like all filmmaking is. They did a great job. If you want to see what an actress looks like when she doesn't train well enough to even fake it, watch Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau.

    I think if you're going to get upset with Portman, one should make sure that it is for what she actually said and not for what she didn't say.

  4. Yeah, if Emily Blunt moved any more slowly in the dance scenes she would have been going backwards. The filmmakers tried to finesse her lack of skill by making it "modern dance" rather than classical ballet, but it was still evident. Nevertheless, I enjoyed her performance in the movie. She can dance for me any time.

  5. I respectfully disagree with Anonymous. No, Audrey Hepburn never claimed that Marni Nixon sung the odd verse. Why? Because at the time of the release of My Fair Lady, Marni Nixon was uncredited as the voice of Eliza Doolittle. She was also uncredited as Maria's voice in West Side Story, uncredited as Anna's voice in The King and I, uncredited as the voice of the Geese in Mary Poppins, uncredited as Terry's voice in An Affair to Remember, and uncredited as Mary's voice in The Secret Garden.

    She has, SINCE THEN, been credited for her wonderful singing work, but at the time, she was not. In fact, throughout filming of My Fair Lady and West Side Story respectively, Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood were both very convinced they would do their own singing, and were reportedly very upset when Marni dubbed their voices, refusing to acknowledge her work for a while.

    All throughout the publicity campaigns for Black Swan, Natalie Portman was open about the fact that she had a stunt double, even mentioning her by name in several interviews. Do other big-name actors go around telling everyone how wonderful and talented they think their stunt double is? I haven't seen any. Like David Eng said, anyone who assumes that Natalie Portman thinks she's at the level of a professional ballerina is as misguided as anyone who assumes that Mark Wahlberg thinks he's a professional boxer.

    Sarah Lane was credited as a stunt double, which is all that she was. She should be grateful that she was also given the bit roles so that her name appeared not once, but three times in the credits.

  6. Sarah Lane was not "properly credited". She was not a "stunt double". She performed no stunts. She danced. The fact Lane was credited as anything *but* a dancer in the credits shows how the studio went to efforts to disassociate a hired professional dancer from what she was actually contributing. They should have had the decency to call her a dancer in the credits. If they didn't need professional dancers, they would have hired stuntwomen. This girl does not need 15 minutes fame, she is a soloist with one of the most prestigious companies in the world. I'm glad she ran her mouth off. Studios overvalue their own efforts and undervalue the efforts of those from other creative worlds.

  7. No, Anonymous, you are completely wrong. The term in movies when a person substitutes for the main actor to do something specialized is called stunt doubling -- or sometimes body doubling, a term I bet Sarah Lane would have found even more insulting. She would not have been credited as a dancer unless she was a separate character onscreen who was seen dancing. There was no "cover up" but rather correct use of film terms that a non-film person found beneath her.

    Stunt doubling doesn't always mean fighting, or dangerous driving or crashing through windows. Watch any movie where there is doubling, like her example of piano-playing which is just as difficult and specialized as ballet dancing. Those films won't have end credits for a "pianist" but also for "stunt double." That's just what that job is called. It's likely on the contract she signed.

  8. Interesting that in the ABC interview, it was suggested to Sarah Lane that she was not mentioned in Miss Portman's acceptance speech, as if she should have been. I guess the interviewer didn't notice that Miss Portman didn't even thank her fellow actors, who I would imagine had a much larger contribution to her performance. You don't hear them complaining.
    All of this whining does nothing to enhance the reputation of the Ballet world.

  9. I counted 15 "you knows". I don't see the "disrespect" that Sarah mentions when I watch the movie. I came away feeling a great deal more respect for ballet dancers. As far as Natalie's training goes, I thought she trained enough to give a credible illusion of a professional dancer, but I always figured the body shots (which probably account for 3 minutes of a 90 plus minute movie) were the dance double.

    Sarah is merely a soloist at the age of 33, meaning she's not on the path to make principal at ABT. She gets lead roles when the real stars (Vishneva, Kent, Murphy, etc) are not available.

    She's had her 15 minutes of fame, which is good PR for DVD sales. But this will bite her later, after she retires and tries to get a real job, potential employers will google her name and see her chip on her shoulder attitude.

  10. If I did not know who Sarah Lane was before this controversy, I certainly know who she is now! By embarking on this controversy, she certainly achieved her 15 minutes of fame.

    So would I now watch a movie where she has a role to play, lead or otherwise, and more than just stunt double? Absolutely not! If she were that good, no stunt publicity is required.

    Would I watch a ballet where she is the lead dancer, her area of expertise? Again, absolutely not! If she were that good, she would have been more that "stunt double", way before when she was younger.

    Besides, I hate whiners and sour grapes!

  11. Lane is going to rue the day she ever went public about this.

    The press will turn on her because it's what they do... build you up to tear you down.

    I read an article where she said she was thinking about becoming an actress well good luck with that...She has proven to be a loose canon and will never be trusted.

  12. The difference between a regular stunt double/actress exchange for this film, I find, is that the bosses told her to keep quiet about her involvement prior to the Oscars.

    What struck me is, that if the film crew were already open about Natalie not doing the true dancing, why keep quiet about what supposedly people already knew?? Why wasn't Lane able to make an innocent news article about her work until after the fact of Oscars? Unless they WERE worried about striking more points?

    I feel Lane's frustration in this. Being told to be quiet about your work (for any reason) is the worst thing to happen to an artist-I know. I don't think Portman is in the wrong either, she is not in charge of the film production. I think both people are in the middle of some ugly business that has been getting worse in Hollywood over the years.

  13. I can't say too much about the producer asking her to stop doing interviews since we don't have his version of events and Sarah Lane has not been providing reliable accounts. I haven't read all of the interviews she did before that point but based on the way she's been speaking since I don't doubt that she exaggerated her importance to the film.

    Based on her vainglorious interviews lately, I think the producer was wise to ask her to keep a lid on it. He was probably far more diplomatic that she suggests. If she kept blowing her own horn, it could very easily have turned off Oscar voters and cost Portman her award. Voters might have liked Portman's acting but if they believed she was lying they could just as easily vote for someone else.

    The filmmakers spent years on this film and it's not wrong for them to want to be rewarded for their time and money with an Oscar. Sarah Lane spent 22 years on dancing but only spent 6 weeks on this film, yet she seems to want as much if not more glory than those who put years into this movie.

    This was a movie and the filmmakers are the artists that are being disrespected by her.

  14. Here is a very interesting article where one of the trainers was interviewed prior to the Lane nonsense.

    He makes a few interesting revelations about Natalie long shots in the film and times she is on point;


    "Even though you really only see Natalie from upper body, waist up, there’s one or two long shots where it is completely her from head to toe, without using a double. The first prologue section, when she’s going into the spotlight, you see her from the back, that’s actually her on point. When she’s up on the ramp at the end, before she jumps down, that’s her. And there is a rehearsal scene where it is actually her from top to bottom".

  15. Thank you for that D Magazine link. It not only gives a dancer's inside perspective that proves Aronofsky and Millepied were right, but it also shows that there are hundreds of people who work very hard on every film who don't demand attention the way Lane is doing. For instance, there was another double Kimberley Prosa who called it "one of the best experiences I’ve had in my career." She also says that Lane was only there for a couple of weeks so she had to to the rest of the dancing.

    Jayne raises an interesting point, that a ballet soloist is ranked lower than a principal. I missed that since I'm more familiar with the music world more where it's the opposite, ie. a principal is the head of an orchestra section but a soloist is someone in the spotlight like Itzhak Perlman or Yo-Yo Ma.

    That's something to keep in mind because that probably helped her get the job in the first place. Hundreds of ballerinas can do fouettés, but not being a principal would have made her more available to do the film shoot. Also she's very short like Portman. Those were likely the main reasons they hired her, not because she's a superstar since she isn't.

  16. WOW! I counted at least 17 times that this uneducated girl says "ya know". Maybe she should have spent more time in school and less time in a dance studio! Ya know???

  17. I am getting so much second hand embarrassment from all the desperate stanning on here. Face it, she did way less than they all made it seem like she did so that she could win an oscar she didn't deserve and it worked. No one would have thought such a "small budget" movie had that much advanced special effects as to replace a person's head and that's why they mentioned Lane here and there but never the special effects and that's why they yanked the video and told her to shut up. Aronofsky is a bald-faced liar because there were a minimum of four cases of face replacement in the movie that are available to be seen via two different effects videos and they lasted way more than one second (the opening prologue, the fouettes in the mirror, the white swan audition and the black swan coda). Him saying there were two (two because that is all that is shown on the dvd and he knew he could get away with the lie since the other effects video was taken off the internet) is intentional and malicious, meant to smear Sarah Lane and guess what? It worked because you lap dogs think she's the second coming of Hitler you're so far up these celebrities asses. I mean they literally have you arguing that only the stars should get all the credit and the money and the prestige (like they don't already). And if you think a soloist at ABT is nothing more than a stunt double, check out the credits for the dancers in Benjamin Button or even the second Winklevoss twin in The Social Network who had his face replaced throughout. That is how classy and gracious filmmakers credit "the little people" who you guys have so much disdain for.
    Keep on fighting the good fight, making sure the little people don't dare steal any of the spotlight or prestige from the real victims: the rich hollywood elite.

  18. Your right to be embarrassed, but only for yourself. I've explained pretty clearly how everyone is telling the truth, but by focusing on a tiny part of the movie - the full body shots - Sarah Lane can claim misleadingly that she did 95% of the dancing. Only a tiny part of the film is dancing, and a tiny part of the dancing shows the full body. Even if you give her grant her 100% of the full body dancing, that still only amounts to a minute or two at the most.

    Your examples of Benjamin Button and The Social Network don't help your case. Benjamin Button has many stunt credits but all the Ballet Dancer parts were UNcredited (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0421715/fullcredits#cast). They each got three less credits than Sarah Lane. In The Social Network, Josh Pence shared the credit for Tyler Winklevoss with Armie Hammer because he did the actual acting - he learned the lines, did all the scenes and was used in every instance, not just full body shots. He didn't behave like a suck afterwards because he didn't get enough recognition.

    Sarah Lane is a soloist only in the ballet world. Unless she gets royal treatment everywhere else, even when she does everyday stuff like grocery shopping, then she was wrong to demand special attention here. She's like a bad guest in someone else's house. Imagine the the resentment dancers would feel if an actress were hired for a brief walk-on role in a ballet (one where she knew her face wouldn't be seen no less) and then started demanding star billing just because they're known in movies. The dancers would get upset and think "you're a star in movies but not in this ballet." Well that's how everyone feels about Lane.

    As I said, you can believe that everyone's telling the truth and that Sarah Lane is just milking it, or you can believe that everyone who worked on the movie - not just Aronofsky, but the co-stars, her dance teachers, the choreographer, the producer, the editor, etc. - absolutely everyone is lying ... everyone except poor little Sarah Lane.

  19. Why do you believe, that Sara lane got credited as hand model?
    I searched for it twice but couldn't find it anywhere in the movie credits.

  20. That's from her interview in Entertainment Weekly. You can click on the link under the quote to see the entire article which says she was disappointed to learn those were her three credits.

    The first part "Lane admits that she was never promised a particular title for her six weeks of work on the film" is also misleading, as if there was ever a doubt. Everybody who works on a film shoot signs a contract, even the extras, and the job title is clearly named. I'd bet her contract simply says "stunt double" and the other credits were either a courtesy or separate contracts. If she believes she was exploited, then she should show us the contract(s) and prove her case. Otherwise, she has nothing.

  21. Yeah, but there is no such credit anywhere. At least I wasn't able to find it.

    Miss Lane was used as a hand model in Black Swan, and I guess her perception in that regard is skewed as well.

  22. I have also never read or heard Portman herself claiming to have become a ballerina.

    But as to no-one of the film's crew ever implying anything along those lines, I'm not so entirely convinced:

    Vincent Cassel discusses Black Swan — 11/29/2010
    Interviewer: What was your biggest surprise working on Black Swan?
    Vincent Cassel: Well, I guess the first time I saw, um, Natalie dancing, I uh I was surprised because I knew she trained and everything but I thought she would be like, you know, when I see her dancing for the first time I would see an actress that you know trained to be in a dance movie, you know. When I first saw her she was really dancing. Like really dancing ballet…en pointe…you know…the line of the arms perfect….shoulder down…you know…everything I mean everything that a dancer that real dancers work on. So um I was surprised and impressed more than anything…

    The Making of Black Swan Featurette — Posted 12/13/2010
    Darren Aronofsky: It was a tall order to ask someone to um you know become a ballet dancer. You know, It takes 20 years to become a ballet dancer, and uh she had a year to pull it off and she did it. And 90 percent of the dancing in the film is her. She got up on pointe at 27 which is a remarkable accomplishment, and um not only that, she was able to emote and express herself and feel alive while dancing.

    (I took these trascripts from this blog: http://www.jerrilynnreeves.com/?p=2292
    when I watched the clips, they seemed pretty accurate)

    Aronofsky's acceptance speech on Portman's behalf at BAFTA awards:
    …a year before we started making the movie, on her own dime, for 365 days she trained for 8 hours, swam a mile a day, learned ballet, became a prima ballerina, and then when we shot every single day, she was in every single scene, in every single shot…

  23. Maybe they express themselves too enthusiastically, but nothing they say is deceitful or wrong, except for "became a prima ballerina" which is an obsolete term anyhow. She showed unprecedented dedication in preparing for this role and obviously impressed her director, co-stars, teachers and everyone else including Sarah Lane (at least initially). What they say isn't that different from Kimberley Prosa (link in comments above) who said, "She [Portman] definitely put her work in. Just in a couple of months, she looked credible — all the dancers on the set were really impressed at how well she pulled that off — it was pretty amazing."

    So some people were a bit imprecise in their comments. But nobody said she was a professional ballerina, or that there wasn't a double. That's a straw-man argument on the part of Lane so that she can play the victim.

    What exactly does Sarah Lane think she is accomplishing by throwing around accusations of lying and exploitation? The only people who believe her are some (not all) other dancers who defend her as one of their own. To everyone else, she just comes across as a whiny, self-entitled, attention-seeking diva.

  24. "To ask for anything more than that is just wrong"

    How about "dance double"?
    There is a huge difference between doing stunts and dancing. A dancer is an artist. It's unfair to both to credit one as another.

    "The point as i see it is that Nathalie and her camp are trying to imply that she somehow became a dancer. And that is what annoy me to the extreme. I actually feel insulted by that."
    Exactly. I am not a dancer, but I see it as somehow an insult to arts in general. It seems there is no real respect for the arts today at all or for the amount of work and talent it takes to become an artist.

    "Marni Nixon was uncredited as the voice of Eliza Doolittle. She was also uncredited as Maria's voice in West Side Story, uncredited as Anna's voice in The King and I, uncredited as the voice of the Geese in Mary Poppins, uncredited as Terry's voice in An Affair to Remember, and uncredited as Mary's voice in The Secret Garden. "

    Marni Nixon's main job was Hollywood, so she couldn't really make noise about it. Imagine if instead of a musical, Hollywood did a film about opera singer, and hired a soloist from the Metropolitan opera to do singing, then claimed actress sang "most of it" and listed the opera singer as a "stunt double". I also read a comment from a concert pianist who said that in a similar situation with Sarah Lane he'd be upset too.

    "Sarah is merely a soloist at the age of 33, meaning she's not on the path to make principal at ABT. "
    She is 26, and quite a lot of people believe she well deserves to be a principal dancer. Every time she dances she gets great reviews or special mention. When she had a solo role (but not the lead) in Giselle, the reviews told that she'd be doing lead in no time; when she replaced a lead in the Sleeping Beauty, the reviews were glowing. When she danced Giselle in a regional theater a couple of years ago, she was compared to Gelsey Kirkland, and some were commenting on how much they'd want to see her do it in NYC.

    There aren't that many openings in ABT for principal dancers, and if I understand it correctly, someone must retire before another soloist is promoted.

    But she is really really good. Now, there are other really really good soloists at ABT, so nobody knows when she'll get promoted.

    " For instance, there was another double Kimberley Prosa who called it "one of the best experiences I’ve had in my career." "
    Kimberly Prosa is also an actress - she calls herself that on her website, so I doubt she could afford to alienate anybody in Hollywood.

    "What exactly does Sarah Lane think she is accomplishing by throwing around accusations of lying and exploitation? The only people who believe her are some (not all) other dancers who defend her as one of their own. "
    At this point seems like everyone benefits from the controversy. Oscars are done, but the controversy helps DVD sales. Sarah Lane brings ABT to the forefront, and some people might just to there to see her. I doubt name recognition would hurt her ABT career.

    BTW - I am not a dancer, I have no balance and I can't even lift my legs... but I believe her. Based on what I see, it seems to me that "foot work, diagonal, and the fouettes" describe all dancing that matters in this movie. Real ballet dancing, not still shots or face close-ups or arm-waving. So from that point, she is telling the truth. Everything depends on how one defines dancing.

  25. kitty, you may not be a dancer but you obviously have far more understanding and interest in dance than you do in film. You don't seem to realize that it isn't the filmmaker that determines the credits. Aronofsky does in fact call Lane a "dance double" in interviews, but credits for a film involve the studios and various guilds. It isn't up to an individual or filmmaker to change a title after the fact. Someone can't complain and say "I don't like the job title 'Best Boy' because I'm a man. Oh, and I've trained 22 years as a doctor, so my title should be doctor." It doesn't matter, if you take a job as the Best Boy then you're the Best Boy. Otherwise, don't take it. On this movie, Lane was a stunt double. Nothing she says now can change that.

    As for lack of respect for the arts, cinema is as much an art as dance. In imagining that she was disrespected, Lane creates very real disrespect for cinema.

    Your opera and pianist analogies don't work because music for the soundtrack is an entirely different matter. Nowadays, musicians are always credited, such as when the Soggy Bottom Boys sang for George Clooney on O Brother Where Are Thou? But they did nothing physical for him and neither would an opera singer, so there's no doubling. As I said above, if a pianist's hand movements were substituted for the main actor, then they would properly be called a stunt double.

    If you think Prosa is lying so as not to alienate those in Hollywood, then why haven't all the other dancers who worked on the film come rushing to Lane's defence? They can't all be trying to kowtow to the film biz. Surely in this internet age, someone would have some dirt on how Portman did nothing and Lane had to do everything for her. Lane hasn't received a single corroboration. Maybe Prosa said what she did because its the simple truth.

    This controversy does nothing to help this film or the people involved with it. Only the B-listers and reality-TV people want publicity at any cost. This was a respected, award-winning arthouse film that became a surprise hit. It had all the publicity it needed. I agree that this helps Lane though. She has every reason to keep talking about this.

    Believe her if you wish. If you think her minute or so of screen time is all that matters in this movie, then I'm sad for you that your appreciation for dance comes at the expense of your appreciation for film in general and this film in particular.

  26. You seem to imply that since dance is an art where the physical movement itself is the only medium of expression, it could never really be classified as anything more than stunt doubling in a film, no matter the amount of minutes. In the case of a pianist, the movements themselves are not the main point of the artistic expression, so I don’t think it is a good comparison.

    Ballet won’t probably be a major subject in films in the future any more than in the past. And I doubt most soloists or principals in a world class ballet company would be falling all over themselves to be on a stunt double list anyway.

  27. The amount of minutes isn't an issue, though I've never heard of a case where a stunt double's number of minutes came anywhere close to matching the main actor. Natalie Portman is in almost all of the film's 108 minutes, while Sarah Lane is used in 28 shots most of which last a second or two. She appears far less than she would have you believe.

    The assigning of credits is not arbitrary but very precise. Any other filmmakers would have assigned them exactly as this film did.

    A role is a distinct character that is usually written in the script and has a name. Her one role was "Lady in the Lane." There, she was not meant to be taken for Nina.

    "Stunt" in film does not imply "trick" or "circus feat." A stunt double is the proper term when a specialist is substituted for the main actor for a specific movement but the person is NOT a distinct character. When Sarah Lane, Kimberley Prosa and others where being stunt doubles, they were not playing characters, but being Nina or a form of Nina.

    With a singer or pianist, we get into music which is a trickier thing than dance because there is the issue of sound. If someone contributes music, the filmmakers have to assign credits for both the composer and the performer. But if a pianist is miming the performance to a recording, then it is only the movement that is captured. In that case, he or she would be a stunt double. They would not get any music credits.

    I agree that ballet isn't going to suddenly be a popular subject for films. This kerfuffle will be a lesson for those in the future. Doubles will have to be aware that they can't demand a loftier title just because the technically correct one seems beneath them. And filmmakers will probably have to use more than just one or two doubles to diffuse any big big egos.

  28. You are lenient in interpreting any exaggeration on the studio's or filmmaker's part as "being a bit imprecise" (body double="safety net"? More like a necessity...), while any exaggerations on Lane’s part are considered disrespectful and malicious.

    Some viewers might feel that some of the scenes featuring the few full body shots of dancing (like the black swan coda) were important to their viewing experience. I don't think it is inevitable that anyone who doesn't consider shots of Lane's dancing in the film insignificant is showing a lack of appreciation to film. I find it ironic that you read so much disrespect into people's comments while some of your own comments could be interpreted as disrespect to dance as well.

  29. If I am lenient, it is because I recognize that the exaggerations in support of another are well-intentioned while Lane's exaggerations are in support of herself at the expense of others.

    I have enormous respect for dance, and if this was a dance as in the example I gave above, I would be equally critical of a movie person being a diva and upsetting the dancers. But this is a movie, not a dance. Those who support Lane lose sight of that.

  30. I should also point out that many movies have been made about dance in the past without incident. There is no inherent hostility between the two art forms.

    As I said, if the shoe were on the other foot I would be critical of a guest in a ballet performance demanding more recognition than is normal or deserved. So would everyone in the ballet community.

    Aside from the tremendous lack of professionalism, it is just plain rude and socially inept to badmouth your co-workers and colleagues. For this job, her co-workers were not the ABT but the hundreds of other hardworking film workers. For her to casually toss around accusations and insults at everyone when the filmmakers treated her properly and generously (essentially paying $1000 for each of her 28 shots over six weeks of part-time work) demonstrates a disturbing degree of narcissism, ingratitude and insolence.

  31. On a side note:
    "Lane appeared more classical, but bland. "
    It's rather doubtful that Miss Lane will be promoted to principal for several reasons, like her age or simply because she is too short for ballet standards and therefore can't be used for any role.

    And noone cares where Miss Lane was listed in the end credits. Not even Miss Lane herself, otherwise she would have known, that she wasn't credited as hand double.

  32. entor - you cherry picked the only critical review of Sarah Lane out of many very positive reviews. "too short" is ridiculous as there is plenty of short ballerinas. Starting with these:

    @David Eng "As I said, if the shoe were on the other foot I would be critical of a guest in a ballet performance demanding more recognition than is normal or deserved. So would everyone in the ballet community. "
    It depends. Sarah Lane did the dancing not acting. If a ballet featured for example vocal music, I am sure they'd have credited the singer properly. I am also sure that a singer would've been upset if someone had said that ballerinas did most of the singing.

    "Lady of the Camelias" ballet uses a lot piano accompaniment. Pianists are not part of the ballet world, yet all three pianists were very prominently credited in the program, and took their bows with the dancers.

    BTW - operas often feature dance sequences. All the dancers are always properly credited as dancers.

  33. kitty, you're cherry picking your examples too. You said that Lady of the Camelias uses a lot of piano, so it is completely normal and deserving that they would receive increased recognition for their work.

    No double in the history of film has ever received the billing that Sarah Lane so desperately wants. Their contributions are important but fleeting. They are not featured guests. Hundreds of others in the cast and crew worked as hard if not harder than her and they aren't complaining.

    She knew what she was being asked to do. She knew her face would be replaced when the tracking marks were put in place. She knew she was not going to be the star of the movie. When the film became successful, she used the opportunity to make it all about her. No matter how hard she (or you) wish it to be, her 28 brief shots in the film are simply not the substantial featured role that you think it is.

  34. Another interview with Sarah Lane with her dancing clip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCN4nOO4jvs

    Amazing artist, deserved our respect

  35. Suppose a famous pianist's music is used as sound track of movie about a pianist. The actor who took a general piano class as a kid, then took 18 months intensive training in piano before filming. The told everyone most of the sound track is done by himself. When the real famous pianist pointed out the actor's claim is not true. Would you say the real painist is a jerk because he was already paid for the movie?

  36. That video is a nice PR puff piece that adds little to the conversation other than confirming that Sarah Lane is talented but completely lucked out into the Black Swan job because of her small stature like Portman. It also shows that she continues to milk this controversy for all it's worth because it increases her exposure. It's good to see, however, that she's returning to the more gracious tone that she had at the start. But I don't buy her claim that the only reason she spoke out is because the mainstream media came to her, since the only reason the mainstream media came to her was because she complained so much in the first place.

    After all her griping, it's amusing that she responds to the question "looking back and having the experience that you had, and deciding to talk about what happened, would you do Black Swan again?" with "Yeah, I would. It was really fun to see how everything works behind the scenes, y'know, in a movie." I doubt the filmmakers feel the same way, that they'd hire her again knowing what a stink she would cause.

    I don't know how many times I have to explain that sound and visuals are two separate elements in film. The pianist analogy only works if he or she doubled for movement only (ie. what you see on the screen), rather than sound (ie. what you hear from the speakers) or both together.

    With a movie like The Pianist, the music was performed by Janusz Olejniczak but he was most probably not the one who physically doubled for Adrien Brody for the most difficult passages. To film the G minor Ballade's end section, they would have hired a pianist with skinny hands like Brody who could mime to the recording by Olejniczak. That pianist would be correctly called a stunt double. And if he then came out after Brody won his Oscar and said he was really the one who did all the piano playing, I might not say he's a jerk but I wouldn't be sympathetic.

    Also Ms. Lane never provided a complete performance as you'd have on a soundtrack but rather brief moments that were stitched together with Portman's work. I know some dancers are dismissive of Portman's dancing because of a silly requirement that you must see feet or the whole body, but there's no question that no other actress could have pulled off that role. Certainly not Sarah Lane. Dismissing Portman's dancing allows Lane to claim she did 95% but when all is said and done it's still just 28 brief shots and not a featured role.

  37. @cherry
    Well normally any ballet review is some gushing about everyone involved.
    And the fact remains, that Sarah Lane is short for ballet measures. Yes, there are other Ballet dancers as short, but not in ATB, which makes it difficult to pair up her with other danceres, since th height discrepancies become very apparent.
    Many directors have the Balanchine taste anyway, and favor tall dancers.

    The dact, that ATB has never let her dance a lead role supports that.

  38. who cares if stunt double is "the" term used in the movies. I think that makes the point precisely--the movies are there to trick people into thinking actors are special "stars" with supernatural talents. Those defending Portman on this are simply buying into that; the others are not.

  39. Who cares if it's the correct term? Movie industry people do. Obviously not Sarah Lane though, or dancers who are only concerned about getting as much attention as possible. But at least now you're able to admit that it's the correct term. You just don't like it because you think dancers deserve special treatment.

    Nobody thought Portman had supernatural talents except the dumbest viewers, the kind who also think Mark Wahlberg is an actual boxer or that Hugh Laurie is an actual doctor.

    Portman needs no defending. She did nothing wrong and everything right including exceptional work in a demanding role. Sarah Lane also did a fine job, but then turned ugly and lashed out at everyone on the film with false accusations. Those defending Lane are not concerned about fairness or respect for art, but buying into her blinkered pettiness and jealousy.

    Again, Portman and the filmmakers have nothing to apologize for. That some (mostly in the dance community) think otherwise says more about them than it does about anyone else.