Monday, November 17, 2008

Dance Recital Video Production

Dance Recitals - you’ve heard of them. You have even perhaps produced one, or tried to, and were not all that pleased with the outcome. Money can absolutely be made videotaping and producing dance recitals but the financial success, or lack of it, has as much to do with your expectations as it does with those of the school, its owners/instructors, the students and their parents, friends and relatives.
My approach to production of dance recital video is based on simplicity and economy of effort, as well as affordability for the clients. My approach to marketing this vast community of video potential is the same: simplicity, economy of effort and affordability.
Though I have not had extreme levels of expectation income wise, not one of my experiences has been an economic disappointment. I am sure this hinges primarily on my personal expectations.
What do I mean by simplicity, economy, affordability?
I mean that you can market to and gain a multitude of gigs from this wide open aspect of the Independent Professional Video Services Provider potential. It might seem so at first glance, but the dance recital market is not as saturated as is the wedding market - at least the 22 percent wedge of wedding video pie everyone with a camera is fighting over.
I will soon focus on what needs to be done to carve out a serious wedge of the remaining 80+ percent of the wedding video market nobody wants to go after. But for now... recital video for fun, profits and referrals.
My quandary in the telling is this: Do I first tell you how to get some, more or virtually all of this business in your service area; or, do I first tell you how I approach these productions technically? I think, to justify my marketing approach I must first tell you how I shoot, edit and produce the productions. And, perhaps why.
It has been my experience and I feel obligated to first point out that the first and foremost person you will have to convince, and please, is the dance instructor. The omnipotent and all-knowing choreographer who is immensely proud of his/her stage designs, blocking and movements, and who expects a wide enough angle on the video to show stage impact- lighting and special effects, backgrounds, group and individual movements head-to-foot.
If you so much as leave more than a few seconds of the feet out of your coverage you will not be asked to return, no matter the artistic flair, timely delivery or cheapness of your services and per DVD sales price.
Trust me on this.
Initially I got past this expectation of the choreographers by doing two things: One, we always shoot a minimum (and usually only) two cameras, stereo (meaning side-by-side) with two operators. One operator shoots primarily full stage, or at least shoots and follows head-to-foot of the solos or smaller ensembles, using solid lead framing, and never (as much as is possible without attending a rehearsal and becoming familiar with the numbers) allowing the dancer(s) to leap or move out of frame. Trust me, even if you are familiar with the production you will occasionally be caught by surprise.
Some of these dancers can sunfish faster than a rodeo bull, reversing direction 180 degrees, and leaping out of frame in a split second of movement. Oops.
The other camera keeps full frame, but with the occasional CU or ECU (close up, or extreme close up) follow shot of full cast, ensemble or solo performances. These movements are smooth and steady, moving from either left to right, or right to left, or both in a double sweep, before pulling back out to a full frame shot - usually a medium shot unless the cast is spread all over the stage or even the floor directly in front of the stage.
Two: Doing this, we are able to offer the dance instructor/owner/choreographer a “full stage cut” that provides that person with the visual perspective they want for study, fine tuning, and later critique for the students. I still offer this, but we have simplified our shooting to the point now that 90 percent of the follow camera footage is utilized, only reverting to the full stage “save” shot when absolutely necessary, or to enhance the perceived production quality of two-camera coverage.
Over the years our dance instructors/choreographers have become comfortable with our shooting and editing techniques and have not requested or demanded the raw, basic-cuts full stage shot. It is there when needed, though.
This has provided us time and again with a means for satisfying not only the teacher, but the parents, and students to a degree (those less technically inclined than their choreographer), who want to see a few close up shots of the action. Yeah, the solos and small ensembles are easiest, but other than the wide establishing shot of the opening, special standout performers in the larger casts, and the often dramatic close and pose-on-the-beat at the end, some tighter angles and sweeps during each performance usually become welcomed and accepted by all.
I never adjust the gain. I lock and load on very little or no gain (we still use Canon XL1 and GL2 models), often use the spotlight settings, and do not attempt to compensate during or in post, for extremely dark, dramatic or high red spot/background productions. Our cameras come close enough to providing an acceptable image quality that is close, if not always spot on, to what the stage lighting and mood truly was.
I also rarely shoot for audio from the boards, or place microphones focused on the “sweet spot” from the speakers. I do use auxiliary and backup audio acquisition, but mostly for another “save” element if needed in post. I have lately changed this approach somewhat.
I continue to use the on-camera mics for audio acquisition - most auditorium and stage environments offer excellent acoustics, and the volume is certainly usually adequate for all but the inevitable narratives.
In addition I have now added four (and eventually, possibly more) Zoom H2 digital recorders, usually placing two in some perspective on the house speaker “sweet spots”; one near front center stage, and the other side-by-side with the front center stage Zoom, but using both sides, and lowering the recording levels to use for ambient sound, spoken narrative from on-stage, and the applause, cheers, and whistles that emit from the audience.
Audio is where I do most of my post production work, sweetening and adjusting levels to give balance to the whole production. This approach has earned many positive comments from the clients (teachers, students and parents) who have long since accepted, supported and voiced their appreciation for how we cover the visuals.
I don’t do “house sound” ever! Anywhere! The professionals jack around with their boards too much, and the amateurs or those “professionals” without a lot of experience (tongue-in-cheek comment intended) forget, overcompensate or overload at the the wrong moments, often sitting back to text message on their cell phones and not riding the levels as any conscientious audio person would do - paying strict attention to the levels from the stage.
I have replaced no less than three times the audio circuits in our two XL1 Canons due to depending on preset and pretested board levels prior to production, only to have everything go to hell in a hand basket once the show gets under way.
A two-hour show takes four hours or less of our acquisition time due to the simple, cable free, set up of camcorders and the Zoom H2 recorders which are usually preset for direction and levels desired.
Currently, before we head into solid state recording high definition tools next year, it takes less than three hours to ingest (digitize) the footage and assess the audio sweetening needs. Then, perhaps a couple hours to ingest audio from the Zoom H2s, and sync the audio, layer the levels, etc.
Another three, maybe four hours to essentially “clean up” edit the footage, create opening/closing titles and credits, and set up the DVD for chapters and burn the master. Having a DVD duplicator tower with a hard drive helps speed up the duplication process. In fifteen hours or less I have usually videotaped, edited, produced, generated graphics and mass duplicated my dance recital. And in every instance I have made more on an income-per-hour basis than my highest paying wedding gig ever.

Simple approach to production, right? Now for marketing. Keeping with the simplicity, economy of effort and affordability concept, I start off with simplicity of expectations - mine. I expect every dance studio, high school dance class or community dance venue to accept my initial “get acquainted” offer. I do not expect to get rich and retire on the next new dance recital gig. I do expect positive growth in sales and continued loyalty through the years a venue is on board.
I direct mail a one-page letter, including a sample production DVD of snippets and perhaps a full number or two from past productions. The letter offers, at no risk to school, owner or board of directors, full professional coverage as reflected in the sample DVD, with two cameras and two operators for performances of two hours or less, and professionally edited and produced DVD for the “get acquainted” price of 20 copies at $25.
Buy the service outright by ordering and paying for all 20. Pay for them from a video production budget, if any. Or sell direct to parents, collecting the money and presenting us with individual checks or a single check for the minimum production agreement (the minimum presented upon our arrival to shoot), and we will deliver quality DVDs with custom graphics, and plastic library cases with custom color inserts within four weeks.
We have never sold less than double the minimum with only one exception, and that dance school only usually has about fifteen students, but purchases 20 copies without hesitation. It is a small organization located in a very low income area. Most of its students are admitted by the instructor free of charge, or even subsidized by the owner/instructor for costumes, etc., who is in the business more as a labor of love than a for profit commercial enterprise.
We have, over the years, sent out at least 400 direct mail pieces such as described above. We have a response level of 375. Many are still with us, and have been for more than ten years. Others come and go, depending on the fluctuation of the economy. Several have left to allow a volunteer parent to flex their production wings, only to return the next year begging us, virtually at any price, to forgive and return.
On average, our dance recitals sell 75 units at $35 each. We also get other gigs, individual jobs and side-productions, personal editing for individual show-and-tell students who seek to ad some of our footage to their video resumes, and more. We have recitals selling well over 400 units, and a couple that hit the 500+ mark.
Very few of the really large operations leave us. They are pleased with the production levels, with the packaging and delivery, and with the professional quality of our interactions, as well as the occasional production meetings we attend at their request. Some of them react and respond positively to our suggestions regarding a compromise on video related issues such as audio quality and levels, lighting (those horrible reds) and a time or two even venues for their annual productions.
There are a lot of other ways to approach this market, and the production thereof, but by focusing on simplicity, economy of effort and affordability, you can acquire a lot of this kind of business available in your service area demographic.

1 comment:

Jūs said...

What a great entry! Thank you! I've recently been getting into dance recitals, pretty much by request and with great reluctance. It's good to know this can be a potentially lucrative endeavor.