I founded my video production company when I realized that all of my college dance footage was fuzzy, far away and completely unusable. There was clearly a need for better quality performance video, and I wanted to be the one to lead the charge.
Now, my company, Nel Shelby Productions, creates marketing videos and fundraising videos and on-camera interviews and films and documentaries. Still, the biggest part of what I do is document performance.
Documenting live performance just does not go out of style. It is a need for so many reasons (presenters, reconstruction, marketing, family, keepsake, legacy). Just talking about your work only goes so far, but the ability to show someone what your work looks like on stage is irreplaceable.
It takes a lot of time to put together a show, I know! All of your energy is focused on making it the best experience possible. You’re concentrating on how your audience is going to see your work. You have to think about the possible presenters and VIPs who might attend.
If you’re thinking ahead, you know you want to film your show for a variety of reasons: to use the video for marketing purposes, to document your work if you ever want to reconstruct it at a later time, to show to presenters for tours and upcoming events, to add quality clips into institutional promos and reels.
With all of the tasks of putting together a show running through your mind, you might tell your videographer to show up and film it! No details, just please show up!
It can be difficult to decide on exactly what you want for your performance video, and it can be equally as challenging to put what you want into words. While it might be easier to say you don’t have a preference for the look of your video, let’s be honest - that’s probably not true!
Here are six things to think about as you begin or continue your journey in filming live performance. This list includes things we have discovered after filming dance for over 17 years. Happy filming!
Your Video Checklist
1 – Decide on your Videographer
Choose the best videographer for the job. Ask what type of cameras they’ll use - see if they’re shooting in high-definition or 4K. Make sure whatever they shoot will be the quality you need. Decide on how many cameras you want to use. Things to consider: what’s your budget? What will you use the footage for? Do you want the videographer to also edit the video or will you do that yourself? It’s helpful to share why you need the video with your potential videographer - that means they can plan for your needs or tell you if they’re not a right fit!
2 – Invite your Videographer to Dress Rehearsal
Things your videography team needs to consider: lighting, sound, how many performers, what the movement looks like, etc. All of this is easier to see and discuss in a full dress rehearsal setting. Issues with dark lighting or rough sightlines can get the troubleshooting they need before the film shoot.
3 – Take Note of Important Moments
You’ll want to have a conversation with your videographer about some moments you don’t want to miss on camera. Is there a set piece that you’d like to stay in the frame at all times? Is there interplay between musicians and dancers onstage? What’s important to you?
4 – Talk About The Look Of Your Footage
If you’re filming from multiple angles and one of the cameras is zooming in on the action, what type of footage do you want from that viewpoint? Do you want it to come in closer on certain duets or solos but stay full-body? Zoom in half-body to highlight certain movements? Do you want close-ups of the performer’s faces?
5 – Think About Camera Locations
The options for where your cameras can physically be set-up in the venue varies per location. Different theaters have different rules. Check in with your venue to see if they have union regulations or other specifications around where the cameras can go. Make sure to alert your videographer of any rules.
6 – Don’t Forget About Sound
Is there live music? Are the musicians mic’d? It’s important to let your videographer know so they can add amplification where needed and speak with the venue for connecting to the sound board. Will a photographer be at your show? If they don’t have a muffler for their camera, you’ll need to think about where the videographer needs to be in relation to your photographer. You’ll hear the clicks from the camera on your video!
Nel Shelby is a dance filmmaker and owner of Nel Shelby Productions, a video company that preserves dance through documentation of live performances and uplifts the arts through marketing reels, documentaries and creative films. Nel Shelby Productions is a sponsor of Digital Marketing Boot Camp for the Arts in 2018. (headshot by Whitney Browne)