Mistakes to avoid when producing a dance or exercise DVD

Maybe you’re producing your very first video, maybe it’s your fiftieth. Chances are, you’re going to make some mistakes… mistakes that have been made before by other people, and that you could have avoided. Mistakes that will lead either to customers ignoring your DVD, or to them being unhappy with it.

Wouldn’t you like to make a DVD that your customers will buy, and then be so satisfied with they’ll leave positive reviews online and recommend it to their friends? In writing this blog, I’ve looked at a lot of videos, and I see the same problems come up. I sometimes wonder why producers don’t think of these things, but I suspect it’s because those of us who use dance and workout videos have a different perspective on them than the people who make them.

This checklist is primarily intended for producers of dance DVDs, but quite a few of the tips apply to general workout videos too.

Content

Quality and Length of Content

Think about what you have to offer: are you covering ground that’s already been covered by a million other videos, or do you have something new to offer? Do your research, whether on Amazon, or by reading reviews in blogs and magazines. Moreover, do you have enough content? I’ve loved some shorter DVDs because they had a unique approach or taught me something truly new, but there is a line below which it’s not really decent to ask someone to pay full price for a DVD. Don’t count performances or non-instructional extras when you figure out what you’re offering.

Content in DVD Sets

If you’re putting out multiple videos, make sure the overlap between them is minimal, so your most loyal customers — those buying more than one — will not feel ripped off. If the sets build on each other, make it easy to see that. If they work independently, make it easy to figure that out too.

Skill

Your technique should be perfect. This should go without saying, but alas, it doesn’t. If you don’t have amazing technique, you probably should not be demonstrating moves for instruction on a video. In a class environment, you can correct mistakes you see even if you still haven’t mastered the move, but with a video you can’t. And if you have special knowledge you want to share, either make a lecture video, or get someone with better technique to do the demos. But here’s another thing: if you choose to have backup dancers/yoginis/etc. doing the moves with you, make sure their moves are also carried out exquisitely, even if they’re modified for difficulty. We learn what we see, and if we see you do bad technique, we’ll absorb just that.

Guidance

Don’t leave your students in the lurch — give them some advice about how to use the video, what they need to make it work, how to plan their practice sessions. This is especially true if you have a lot of material, if it’s especially difficult, or if you’ve made a complicated DVD menu. This is also an opportunity for you to teach them how you approach practice, which is often just as valuable as technique.

Warmup and Cool Down

People disagree on this one — not everyone thinks there needs to be a warmup and cool down on every video. I get that. But I will say that I think it’s pretty great if there is one, and if it’s easy for me to press “play” and get a full practice session, with warmup, instruction and/or drills, and cool down.

Space and Supplies

Imagine yourself buying your video, and trying to use it. What does it require? Does someone need lots of special props and supplies to do it? You’re probably filming in a studio — are you doing large traveling moves that someone might not be able to do in a small living or rec room? I’ve often seen cardio workout videos that require you to cover lots of room, which is possible in a gym, but difficult in the space I’ve cleared out in my living room. What about flooring? If you have a lot of spins or moves on the floor, have you thought about the fact that your audience’s practice space might be carpeted? It doesn’t mean you can’t include them, it just means you have to deal with that issue, either by suggesting a hardwood floor, or by providing a variation of the move.

Music

Please, please make sure your movements match the music. This is as true for exercise videos as it is for dance instructionals. It’s just that much easier to follow along if everything is in time. And if you’re teaching dance, dancing to the music is something you’re also teaching whether you address is explicitly or not, so make sure that part of things is perfect. Perfect.

More Music

If you’re teaching a choreography, please for the love of God choose music that’s currently available, and ideally, available without too much effort. Your customers should not have to order a CD from abroad to get the track — try to choose things they are likely to be able to buy online, or at least in the same country. Then provide credits, so your customers can find that music easily. If you’ve cut the track to make it fit the choreography, then give your customers easy-to-follow instructions to edit the track, or make it possible somehow for them to get a legal edited version.

Mirroring

I think of this as the mark of the pro. Either film yourself (or the talent) facing the audience, but move your left arm when you say “right” so they can follow along, or film yourself from the back facing a mirror. Bonus points if you’re teaching dance for showing a move both from the front and the back, and drilling it both ways.

Formatting and Production

DVD chaptering

The first rule is to do DVD chaptering, unless you really just mean for the program to be done as a single workout or practice session. But even better is sitting down and thinking about how someone might use the DVD the first time around, and how they might use it a second, or tenth time. Make it easy to skip the introductory bits. Make it easy to do all the drills without the instruction. If you can provide different built-in programs so they can choose a short version or a long one, even better. I’ve even seen dancers include different angles of the same program.

More chaptering

Have frequent chapters, it makes it easier for us to repeat a section. Put all of them in the menu, or in submenus, so we can get to them easily.

Timing

Write down the exact length of each section/program/workout both on the DVD cover and in the menu. Make it easy for people to see if they have time to do the DVD, or if they can fit one section of it into their day. Make sure this timing is accurate — on many DVDs I see it’s not.

Visibility

Ahem, cough, cough. If you’re wearing green, don’t film yourself against a green background. If you’re wearing black, don’t film yourself against black curtains. I’ve seen both of these, from dancers I adore. Again, this is a matter of putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. Maybe she has weird lighting in her practice room, or is using a laptop that doesn’t show contrasts as well from a distance. Maybe she’s using a projector, and the contrasts are also not that strong. Maybe she’s taken off her glasses, and can still see pretty well without them, but not every detail. (Maybe all of these examples are from my own experience…) Make it easy on her eyes, please. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that while I think black backgrounds look cool and modern up close, they should be avoided for the home video market altogether. Put your dancer against a bright, light background, either a studio or plain white, and have them wear clothes that make movements easy to see.

More Visibility

Camerapersons are wild creatures, and need to be led with a firm hand, lest they go astray. You’re teaching a choreography, and there they go focusing just on your abdomen. You’re demonstrating hands, and suddenly the camera is pointing at your feet. Did he get tired? Did his head and arms droop and bring the camera downwards? I don’t know. But look, during this complicated traveling move, suddenly the camera has become intensely interested in your facial expression! Discipline your cameraman — or woman — and make sure that camera is pointing where it needs to at every single moment.

Marketing

Trailer

If you have enough time to make a video, you have enough time to make a trailer for it, and make it widely and easily available. Put it on your site, put it on YouTube and on Amazon. Oh, and in the trailer, I don’t want to see you dancing or see shots of you looking pretty — what I want is to get a sense of what material is covered by the video and see a clip of how you teach or demonstrate. This should be the substance of the trailer, not the performance or your general thoughts on the dance, because the instruction is what I’m going to love or hate when I use the video.

Title

Make sure the name of your DVD really fits what it offers. Don’t call it a beginner DVD when the moves are advanced, or when you only have a very fast breakdown of them. Save the word “beginner” for people who have never done whatever it is you’re teaching in their entire lives, ever, and are now standing in their sweat pants in front of their tv learning their first steps from you. Use “advanced beginner,” “intermediate,” etc., as appropriate, if you’re expecting a bit of background.

Promises

Don’t make BS promises. Look, I know maybe it’s good business sometimes to make them, but please, just for me, don’t. Don’t tell your customers they’ll lose weight doing your program when they almost certainly won’t. Don’t promise them enlightenment or goddess-hood, unless you can guarantee it. Don’t tell them they’ll be a perfect dancer after one DVD. Because you know what will happen? They’ll find out that you were lying, and will leave unhappy comments all over the internets. Maybe you were offering something of value, but you misrepresented it, and so you didn’t do your own work justice either. You can promise them fun, you can promise them a new experience, or quality instruction, or a great tool to use in their practice. You can promise them relaxation, and you can even say, “if you do this x number of times a week, and pay attention to your diet, you’ll have positive results.” You can promise them a challenge. But be honest.

Your Thoughts?

Consumers of dance and workout DVDs, have I missed any big mistakes? What do you wish producers knew?
Producers and artists, what are the big mistakes you learned from? Anything here you disagree with? What do you wish customers knew?

photo credit: GS+ via photopin cc

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14 thoughts on “Mistakes to avoid when producing a dance or exercise DVD

  1. Brilliant! Yes to all of these!
    On the marketing side, I would also say “Don't hide your light under a bushel”…in other words, once you've followed all the other tips here, you're going to have an awesome, unique, professionally produced DVD. Now tell people about it! Sell it! Share your brilliance with the world…we want to see it.

  2. Vicki says:

    This is exactly the stuff I complain about! Chaptering is huge. I think WDNY has made leaps and bounds in regards to this. When teaching a choreography/combination make SURE to have a practice session WITH the music. This is essential to learning AND it has to be chaptered so we can keep repeating it. I have some great videos that have all of the above listed except they are not chaptered for practice. I end up not using them because they are too much of a hassle.

    In today's digital age I would think we should be able to buy the exact music they use in their videos via a link. If it's edited on the DVD sell us that edit. Editing is way to complicated to add to a bellydance instructional video. I would think the artist would love getting sales this way. Note to consumers: You may want to contact the company if you can't find a song that is used. One that I had I could not find anywhere so I e-mailed them. Turns out they did the music just for the video and sent me the file for free. They did not advertise that they would do so but it turned out that anyone that asked they gave.

    I prefer for there to be a performance included so I can see if I like the dancers technique. Although I can say I have some videos where I don't care for their technique but learned a great deal from their instruction. It's a fine line though.

    I would like to point out in performance videos giving credit to the musicians is super important! Those of us buying these videos are the same people buying the CDs. I did write a letter to a certain big company for not doing this properly and pointed out to them that it is illegal to not do so.

    Thank you for writing this and writing it well.

  3. I'd like to add sound, some DVDs have very bad sound quality, like echoing, or where it sounds plain weird. Another thing that is very annoying is when there is a performance video in the DVD and there are a lot of close ups, so we can't see what the rest of the body is doing. Often a problem in performance DVDs but also in instructional DVDs where they have a choreography performed in the end.

  4. This is really good advice. A couple of thoughts:

    1) Selling a cut version of the music (legally, at least) is difficult and expensive.
    You have to license the rights to the recording and the composition, then keep careful records and pay royalties on them indefinitely. In most cases, that's not worth the hassle. So the only times I'd recommend doing a choreography to a cut song are when you have very broad permission. (i.e., if you own the copyrights, or if you license it through a royalty-free library.)

    2) There is a really easy solution to mirroring: just flip the footage in your editing software.
    Even iMovie and Windows Movie Maker can do this. The downside is that you have to flip *all* the footage, so if you ever turn your back on the camera, you'll have to do opposite cues then. (And don't wear anything with words – that's a dead give-away.)

  5. i says:

    Nadira,

    Yes — the cut version is a problem. I think the better idea is to do a choreo for a song as is, or a choreo that can be mostly repeated, or repeated in parts, and then show how. But I've seen one producer offer customers the cut version if they can prove to her that they legally bought the original.

    Thanks for the flipping tip! Just facing a mirror solves this too, though I must confess I prefer to see the instructor head-on.

  6. i says:

    Vicki,

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, I prefer just being able to buy the thing online too. But there is some *really* good music that's still only available on CD. Still, the producer should then choose a CD that's distributed internationally. American DVDs are sold here in Europe, so it's annoying if people can't get the music.

  7. i says:

    Amulya,

    Yes! The performance video is not a music video! It's part of the instruction, and should be filmed as such. I repeat for posterity: discipline your cameraman!

  8. Technically, that's still illegal. My personal/moral opinion is that it fits the *spirit* of copyright law, but since it's against the *letter* of the law, you can still get in big trouble for that. So my advice to producers is to not go down that road. [With the caveat that I'm not a lawyer, just someone who has done a lot of reading on copyright. So that's personal advice, not legal advice. 🙂 ]

    I can think of one exception to the no-cutting rule: I don't mind if the choreography covers the first few minutes of a longer song, as long as the choreography ends at a “mini-ending” in the music. For example, Alf Leyla Wa Leyla has several places that could be a satisfying ending. (Most recordings of that song don't include the full overture.) As long as there's a full, silent pause at that point in the song, cutting off the end is really easy.

  9. Tribal Lily says:

    Also, the teacher should know her material well — maybe having taught it a couple of times live — and it probably helps to imagine “students” following the instructions behind the camera(s). Especially for intermediate/advanced material. For instance, it's rarely necessary to say “lift your left arm” because you can see that movement very clearly even on smaller TV screens. More useful instruction and verbal cues could be something like “reach up and pause, and keep your chest up!” while doing the combo/choreo. The video and the audio usually don't need to tell the same thing twice (at least not after the breakdown).

    Maybe you got my point? I guess teaching in front of a camera is a “choreography” of its own. 😉

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