How to Create Compelling Video

By In Dance

January 1, 2009, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

The following excerpts on video representation and production were taken from “Creating an Effective Promotional Video” (1994). We are grateful to Patricia Milich and the California Arts Council for providing this excellent resource. At the end of the article we have included websites for current trends in digital video production.

It is easily agreed that video does not fully capture the experience of live performance, that it can be difficult, expensive and time consuming to produce and that a bad video can do more damage than good in promoting your work as a performing artist.

Why then, when artists and arts organizations are suffering the effects of financial hardship, understaffing, and an ever-shrinking pool of funding and audience support, are we suggesting that these same organizations invest their limited resources in obtaining video representation of their work?

It is precisely because of this need to leverage resources that making a video is one of the wisest expenditures you can make. Having a video is essential if you are attempting to book a tour or are complying with guidelines to apply for funding or to be included on a touring roster. In each of these instances, there are people outside of your locality who are making decisions that affect your ability to create your work, and sustain your self and the members of your company. Most will not have the opportunity to see your performance live. A video ensures there is no scheduling problem. A video makes it possible to introduce your work to the maximum number of people who could be interested in presenting or supporting you.

Representing your work

While preferences among styles of video exist, most presenters and funders will request one of three different types of videos:

Documentation: a record of your work as it exists in live performance. It is complete and done in real time without edits or effects added. This is a necessary video to have. It is the easiest to obtain, as well as the least expensive and may also serve as the basis for producing other documentation. This tape may also serve as the archival video to document your work for the future.

Sampler: a five to ten-minute compilation designed to show in a minimum of time both the diversity of your work and what you consider to be your best performances. Generally, this is a short montage of thirty second to one-minute duration clips followed by one or two complete piece(s) of repertoire. This video functions well as an introduction.

Promotional: similar to a sampler in format but may also include information designed to give a context for the work and often with more segments of shorter length. It may include information about residency programs, rehearsal or teaching documentation, a brief history of the company, and interviews. It is the most sophisticated video of the three defined here.

There are certainly technical aspects to creating a better video, and we will offer that information later in this article. Consider the heart of the matter: the video is about your work. It is possible for a video to represent your work well, although this is often not the case.

Ivan Sygoda of Pentacle in New York advises that artists must learn to look with fresh eyes at their work as seen on video, to divorce themselves from the emotional experience of creation. Often an artist may be attached to a particular moment because it was difficult to achieve. It may be a personal triumph, but it may not be the artist’s most interesting work.

“Distance” from the creation of the video is needed to determine what “reads well” and to avoid creating a cryptic tape the viewer is unable to decipher. A conscious selection process can yield a video rich with information about you. A long shot can tell the viewer the size of your company, what your sets/costumes look like, and the size and type of facility for which your work is suited. One artist used a ten-second shot of children in his audience during his opening credits to tell us they enthusiastically anticipated his appearance. What you convey by your format decisions can be subtle in other ways. A dance company that wants the opportunity to perform in a theater rather than a festival format might include a segment shot in a similar theater to demonstrate its sustainability for that type of venue.

Selecting a videographer

Whether you work with a videographer, a production company or plan to shoot the video yourself, taking the time to plan is key in reducing the costs and getting the best possible results. You will need to determine the concept, format, length, location, time-line, equipment and people and services needed to capture your work. The number of people involved in directing, shooting and editing as well as the amount and type of equipment used can vary greatly depending on the type of video and your budget.

Finding the video expert(s) you can trust with your work is crucial in producing a video. Ask friends for recommendations, and if you see a wonderful promotional video, ask who produced it. Arrange to meet with prospective video makers. During the first encounter you want to get a sense of whether the videographer’s taste and personality match your own. Describe your work and the type of video you have in mind and ask about his or her experience with dance. You will also need to set a budget, so come prepared to discuss how much you can spend.

Once you have selected a videographer you will need to meet to finalize details. It is best if the videographer attends a rehearsal and sees the shooting location to help determine the specifics. Don’t rush this process, any details you overlook may come back to haunt you on the day of the shoot.

Shooting it yourself

The simplest way to document your work is to just set up one camera on a tripod and turn it on. While not usually very exciting, it does serve its purpose and can supply you with footage for a sampler video. Even here you can do a number of things to improve the quality and professionalism:

–You can tape during a dress rehearsal and turn the lights up.

–Set up the camera on a tripod on a slight angel to one side. This will establish a point of view that can add energy.

–Tape more than once from difference angles. This will give you a variety of footage for the editor to choose from.

–Record at least 15 seconds of “nothing” before the start of your work and at the end.

–Start your video with a wide establishing shot, to orient your viewers to the overall scene. Go back to the wide shot occasionally to remind them where they are.

–Avoid jumping from a wide shot to a close-up. Go to a medium shot to avoid such an abrupt change.

–Watch your backgrounds. Don’t have any lines growing out of your subject’s head. Avoid busy backgrounds or back-grounds that are the same color as your subjects hair.

–For live sound, use an auxiliary microphone rather than the camera-mounted mike. Our ears might reject background noise, but the microphone won’t.

–Lead the action. Your camera should be a little ahead of your subject when following movement. This gives the viewers more confidence they will see where the subject is going.

–When panning, point your feet to your ending position, then twist to start your pan. It might be a little uncomfortable when you start, but at the end of the pan you will be more stable.

–Use a tripod whenever possible. Get a “fluid head” tripod that operates very smoothly, especially during tilts. Try out tripods with a camera in the zoomed in position and practice some very slow tilts and pans to see if the tripod is smooth enough. Also look for a tripod with a quick release feature.

The main challenge for the performing arts community is the need to develop and leverage our resources. It is imperative that we efficiently promote and market ourselves. Video, now a familiar and available resource, is a viable solution to enhance visibility in the marketplace.

This article appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of In Dance.

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.