Shooting a Promo Video

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Martin French

If you want to make the world and some promoters aware of what you are doing, in choreographic terms, then you need to make a promotional video. With all the easily accessible hi-tech kit available today it’s never been easier, in relative terms, to make your show look good on tape or on DVD. Article19 provides you with some top tips so your promo video will make Spielberg lay down and cry like a baby (settle down, Ed!)

1. Get your hands on a decent camera.

That little video camera you’ve had for years that uses Hi8 tapes and has 4 years of dust on the lens is all well and good for making rubbish holiday videos that no one will ever watch but if you want promoters to actually see your work then get your hands on a decent camera. Any 3CCD camera will do, there is a list over there on the right, and you can rent one from a facilities hire company for about £75 per day (UK Prices). Make sure it comes with an instruction manual so you can learn the finer points of controlling the thing because professional level cameras come with a lot of controls, most of which you wont need, but if the picture looks all blue then you will need to know how to sort it out.

2. Get a tripod while you’re at it.

If you’ve seen the recent cinema release of the Bourne Supremacy then you will realise just how irritating hand held camera work can be and that’s with a professional cinematographer behind the viewfinder. So when you get a hold of a good camera get a fluid head tripod to go with it. Fluid head tripods enable smooth movement for the camera and provide a nice stable platform from which you can work. Some tripods require a masters degree in applied patience to figure out but take the time to learn how to use the thing. A £25 tripod from Jessops will not do.

3. Film your work in context

Most performance work is intended for the stage so film it on a stage with theatrical lighting so promoters can see the work as it will look during a performance. Getting on a stage is not easy so you may have to kick in some doors and persuade your local theatre just why it’s important to support their local contemporary dance company. If you ask and they say no tell us their name and address and we’ll make fun of them.

4. If theatres won’t let you in

If you absolutely must film in a studio then make sure it is nice and clean and there is no clutter in the background (shoes, clothes, plants, small furry animals, that kind of thing). Try and film during the day when there is some natural light coming into the studio because strip lighting is horrible and will make your dancers look green unless you colour correct the image. DanceXchange in Birmingham has some nice studios as do most NDA’s and they are there to help you so ask if you can come in and film your piece. If they say no tell us who they are and we’ll make fun of them as well.

5.Keep it short

Promotional videos should be no less than 5 minutes and no more than 10 minutes in length. Promoters are notoriously lazy…………. sorry, notoriously busy so they don’t have time to sit back and watch you epic performance of 4 hours in 3 acts with a prologue.

6. Pick the key moments

Look at your work objectively and pick the moments that you think will grab the attention of a promoter. Don’t just go for the spectacular moments of physical bravado though. Make sure you don’t leave them out but illustrate the breadth of your work by including the more subtle moments from your masterpiece. Make sure you preserve the continuity of the work, that means don’t show the beginning at the end, the end in the middle and leave the middle in a drawer under your bed.

7. Fill The Frame

Don’t film the work from 50 feet away. Keep the dancers full in the frame (see the illustration above) and track them left and right with your fancy fluid head tripod. If you have a lot of dancers then shoot a wide angle separately and edit between the two shots. You should really film two angles anyway so you can edit between the two because this helps to keep the viewers attention. If you have to film during a live performance don’t get the heads of the audience in the shot. Film from the front of the theatre, we do it all the time so if theatre workers have a problem just explain nicely that in the event of a fire you will pick up the camera and walk out with everybody else. Make sure you are using batteries so you don’t have power cables lying around all over the place.

8. Edit, Edit, Edit

You must get hold of a computer to edit the video and make the presentation nice and professional. All new Apple computers come pre installed with iMovie which is more than adequate for simple editing projects. If you can’t get access to a Mac computer then try your local college or university and see if they will let you use their media lab, most places have one these days. They can show you how to use it in 5 minutes. iMovie will enable you to put titles and other information about your work on the video and you could even overlay you music so it sounds perfect. Editing takes practice so be patient and don’t have 50 cuts in a 10 minute piece.


VHS is awful, plain and simple. If the computer you have can author a DVD, both PC’s and Macs can do this, then use DVD. However, DVD enabled Macs come with iDVD an easy to use DVD authoring program, there is no equivalent on Windows based machines. iMovie can also output video for CD-ROM use. You can find the options to do this under the export menu. Making copies of a CD-ROM is cheap and easy to distribute and the video will look good in this format.

10. This is the 21st Century

Sadly VHS is still the method of choice for distributing promo videos around the dance world. Despite the fact that a DVD player can be had for peanuts and DVD authoring can be done by a five year old, dance still needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future. Best to contact prospective venues and promoters to see if they have a DVD player or if they are willing to watch the video on a CD-ROM. Failing that send them a VHS tape and a calendar that clearly illustrates what year we’re living in!

11. Don’t Forget

To put all of your contact information for the company on the end of the video otherwise promoters will be unable be able to get in touch and tell you they are almost certainly not interested. (touch cynical there? Ed!)

If all else fails then just give us a call and our sister company, Article19 Digital Post, will make it for you, but they are very expensive so start saving. (walking a fine line on our no advertising policy there I reckon! Ed!)

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