Private Project

Mates for Life | Whooping Crane

Mates for Life follows two cranes (portrayed by ballet dancers) as they discover each other and become closer, creating a lifetime bond. Their movement is inspired by the whooping crane, 1 of 15 species of crane in the world, and one that in the 1940’s, was nearly extinct. Set in a prairie in the Midwest U.S., we stumble upon the cranes and are able to observe them moving gracefully in their natural habitat. Inspired by nature documentaries and birding, patience pays off as the story unfolds and their movement becomes more and more jaw dropping. This film was created with the intent of inspiring audiences to take action and support conservation efforts of the International Crane Foundation as well as expose them to the art form of ballet.

  • Tim Whalen
  • Tim Whalen
  • Olivia Duryea
    Key Cast
    "Female Crane"
  • Dylan Mendoza-Gutierrez
    Key Cast
    "Male Crane"
  • Xavier Núñez
  • John Shaw
    Line Producer/First Assistant Director
  • Michael Kettenbeil
    Director of Photography
  • Nicolás Rojas
  • Jerica Hucke
    Costume Designer
  • Devin Delaney
    Music Composer
  • Chris Zuker
    Second Camera Operator
  • Michael Kettenbeil
    Additional Nature Photography
  • John Shaw
    Additional Nature Photography
  • Tim Whalen
    Additional Nature Photography
  • Emily Cameron
    First Assistant Camera
  • Peyton Johnson
    Crane Operator
  • Michael Monar
    Gimbal Technician
  • Ted Holmwood
  • Dom Todero
    Key Grip
  • Alan Dembek
    Camera Prep
  • Jeraldine Mendoza-Gutierrez
    Hair & Makeup
  • Jayce Konopka
    Production Assistants
  • Rob Sumbler
    Production Assistants
  • Ryan Fredrick
    Behind the Scenes Photography
  • Jason Whalen
    Behind the Scenes Photography
  • Matthew Phillips
  • Jeff Ryan
    Assistant Composer
  • Adam Carl
    Sound Designer/Post Sound Engineer
  • Jack Muldowney
    Title Design
  • Nicolás Rojas
    Title Design
  • Tim Whalen
    Title Design
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Dance, Nature
  • Runtime:
    9 minutes 15 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    May 1, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    23,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Shooting Format:
    Arri Alexa Mini
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Tim Whalen

Tim Whalen is a commercial director and short form doc-filmmaker. He has told stories for major brands and organizations including Nestlé Purina, The University of Michigan and Gerber as well as small businesses in the craft beverage industry.

Tim is also engaged with many non-profits, using video to further mission and extend their reach through storytelling. He has worked for several years with Chicago performing arts organizations, Lyric Opera and Joffrey Ballet as well as conservation organizations, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever.

He is a native of Fenton, Michigan and a current resident of Chicago, Illinois where he owns a small production company, Big Foot Media.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

My entire life, I was raised around nature and have had a particular affinity for birds. My parents had many species in their backyard, and I would study and draw them out of an old field guide we had at the house. Later, my brother pulled me into the conservation world to help tell stories for conservation organizations. In a stark contrast to working out in the field, I have had the fortune to work alongside ballet dancers on nearly a weekly basis for over a decade. With no previous experience with this artform, I started to learn and appreciate it as a way to tell stories.

Around five years ago, an idea emerged. I wanted to create a film, featuring a pas de deux inspired by a species that mates for life. I wanted to make something beautiful, that merged two worlds that I loved and do it in a way that I had never filmed ballet or nature before.. As I narrowed down what species would be the subject, the whooping crane rose to the top. Their comeback story is incredible. Down to below 20 birds in the 1940’s, to over 800 today is a rare case of humans realizing what they had before it was (completely) gone; but these birds have a way to go.

That is when I realized this project was more than just something pretty to look at, it could be created as a piece of art, with a cause. When I met dancer/choreographer Xavier Núñez - I knew he was the one to help bring this to life. The new goal: inspire ballet audiences to align with a cause and support conservation while simultaneously exposing conservation audiences to an artform for which they aren’t familiar - and show them how nature inspires art.

The actual production was very unique in nature as well. I asked Xavier to set the choreography without music - a first for him and the dancers. The intention was to create movement and then capture it, as if we stumbled across them in nature like a nature documentary. Then, in the edit, we could sequence it with the pacing, motion and speed we wanted. From there it had a custom score written to match the movement.

A big priority when filming in actual prairie habitat was to “leave no trace” with our production. We opted to use a Technocrane for that very reason. We had a small footprint on a pre-existing path, and used the crane to get closer to our subjects, skimming the tops of prairie grass and leaving it undisturbed while simultaneously capturing ballet as we had never done before.

This project feels even better knowing that not only have I made something beautiful, but it stands to benefit the International Crane Foundation, with the goal of crane preservation for years to come.