When did you first realize that you wanted to get into movement direction and how did you go about it? Did something draw you to fashion?
I used to work as a choreographer with record companies – I would help to develop new artists and teach them how to hold a microphone or how to perform on stage. At the same time, I also worked a lot as a choreographer in advertising, TV, and theatre. I’ve always been around fashion aesthetics in a way. My mom was in it back in Australia and all of my exes worked in the industry. And then eventually when I got tired of the whole choreography thing, I decided to study Fashion Design at London College of Fashion. After I graduated, I interned for six months at Céline, back when Phoebe Philo was the creative director, and also started to design menswear for a little bit. But after a while, I realised that design was not for me. I did not want to geek out about buttons, thread counts, and colourways. That’s when I started to consider working as a movement director. I was a big fan of Stephen Galloway, who’s the oracle of movement direction, but before that, I never thought of it as a viable thing. There was only a handful of people doing it at the time, so I thought “Okay, I want to start doing this.”
“I see my role as somebody that has to be extremely observant, good at facilitating, and know how to bring the best out of people.” – Ryan Chappell
Could you explain a bit what a movement director does?
I think that it’s massively based on being able to read the room. I’m constantly working with big teams of different photographers, directors, stylists, art directors, models, and you have to be extremely sensitive to everyone. It’s a bit like spinning plates – you sometimes work with a lot of egos and witness a lot of psychological games that people play. It’s also about navigating the dynamic between the photographer and the model, which sometimes can change in a blink of an eyelid: everything can be going fantastically great, and then in the next shot, something all of a sudden might not be working, insecurity kicks in, and the whole vibe changes. If you become ignorant to that, it will create more problems on set. I see my role as somebody that has to be extremely observant, good at facilitating, and know how to bring the best out of people. Another thing is really having to micromanage certain details, like the tiny differences that some parts of the body can have in an image. A good example is that there are certain photographers that I work with that use the fisheye lens a lot, and when a model moves their leg in the smallest way, it can look completely twisted on the shot.
“Being a movement director has nothing to do with your body. It’s a whole different skill to be able to stimulate or support somebody else on the other side of the camera to be at their best.” – Ryan Chappell
What are the biggest misconceptions about your job?
One of them is that being a movement director is all to do with how well you move. That’s not the point of the job at all and I think a lot of people confuse that. I have a lot of young dancers and choreographers say to me, “I want to be a movement director, I’m really good with my body.” And it’s got nothing to do with your body. It’s a whole different skill to be able to stimulate or support somebody else on the other side of the camera to be at their best. But I think it’s a fairly new job so people are still trying to understand what it means and how it can contribute [to fashion imagery].
How do you usually go about preparing for a job? What is the research that you do prior to a shoot or a runway show?
I have heaps and heaps of categorized boards on Pinterest that are all body movement-oriented, with all sorts of imagery, from vintage fashion photography to soft porn images. That way when a client is providing me with a mood board prior to a project, I can quickly access them and think, “What do we need for this one?” I also look into my dance background for inspiration. Movement has always fascinated me and I studied so many different types of dance over the years: from traditional Indian, African, and Japanese dances to classical, street, and tap dance.