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Before You Hire a Video Company

Own a dance studio? Thinking of hiring a new video company?

Here's what you should know:

Fortunately. as technology improves, so do the chances of getting a high quality recording of your event! Unfortunately, with prosumer and professional cameras being affordable to the average consumer, sometimes a person who owns one automatically thinks they are a professional. So consider the following --

1) Has your 'potential hire' ever filmed a stage event before? This is a biggie! Stage is a very different animal! This is an environment where lighting varies greatly from show to show and sometimes even within a single show, or a single dance! The videographer is not in control of the conditions and must understand some key elements:

  • Lighting may change, may be uneven, or very low. They should have an intimate knowledge of the iris control on their camera and care about the product and their work enough to constantly adjust or be ready to adjust it to maintain the ideal image exposure. You do not want glowing dancers, nor silhouettes! And compensating in editing is NOT the same as having your settings adjusted properly the first time!
  • Sound is a variable as well. Ideally you want a clean feed from the board for your main audio track. This will give a professional soundtrack of the music as the main element. Secondly you want to hear applause when appropriate (i.e. at the end of each piece as well as anytime the audience shows their appreciation by clapping during those key moments during the piece, but you do not want to hear idle chit chat, crinkling candy wrappers, or theatre doors slamming). Third you want to have a dedicated tap mic. Even though a theatre may have tap mics in place, they rarely provide the camera operator with a clear, audible tap. These elements should be properly mixed together, either on site or in editing. The camera operator should have a strong working knowledge of audio, as it affects the product, as well as be prepared with every cable you may need and an ability to compensate for the occassional inexperienced audio tech. These are sometimes just high scholl students who are very limited in their knowledge and experience. You may not be allowed a feed, you may get an over-modualted feed, or you may be dealing with drastically changing audio levels. Your 'potential hire' should be familiar and comfortable with the challenges that live audio capture can pose and be able to deliver professional sound, as well as communicate with the director of the event, anything that threatens overall sound quality.
  • Focus. All too many rely on auto settings. These will give you "acceptable" results, at best, and that speaks to all camera functions. Focus is a big one. Auto focus can be thrown off by a number of factors including darkness, strongly colored lights and lighting effects. This will result in a period of time where your image is blurry! This is made worse if you are only hiring for a 1 camera shoot.
  • Backup, backup, backup! We can't stress it enough! Technology is fallable and so are the humans that run it. Even the best of professionals and even the newest of equipment can twitch. Having backup of video, audio and recording sources, will ensure never having to tell someone you missed their child's first recital dance! For a live event, which is of such importance in the lives of so many...you backup....period! Make sure your 'potential hire' is of the same opinion.
  • You have MANY clients! Your 'potential hire' should be aware that they are not just working with one end user, but that you, their client, have many clients and that is the DVD's are late or poor, you the client will hear it hundreds of times over! They should understand your position and make sure their product AND service is efficient and practised at handling this structure smoothly and professionally! They should have a dedicated customer service person/department, realistic scheduling, acceptable turnaround, and a product they can stand behind. Many event videographers who decide to take on a recital or two, are rarely prepared for this.
2) One man operation or big company? Both have their advantages. decide which works best for your operation. Let's take a look at both:

One man operation -- THE PROS:
  • Potential for better priced DVD's.
  • Lower overhead
  • Dealing with the same person each year
  • There are some very talented individuals 
  • Assumably, accountable for his work
  • May be able to offer more extensive customizations

  • Turnaround may depend on how backed up he is with other projects
  • May do a little of everything and not have the all around experience of working with a live stage event and hundreds of customers
  • If they start taking on even 1 other event, they may not be available the next year if two events fall on the same date
  • May not be able to handle the running of their business, the editing and the customer service effectively alone
Big company -- THE PROS

  • Staff in place for each aspect of the process
  • Tried and true professionals so multiple bookings are not a problem
  • Dedictated service staff for customer service
  • More staff for a faster turnaround

  • Understanding of the dance industry, dance studios, customer wishes, choreographer wishes, owner wishes
  • Crews with a deep knowledge of the technical requirements of live stage events, as well as critical capture points like feet, exits and entrances, formations and choreography and the priorities of the client and customers
  • A system for delivering a high quality, consistent product in a timely manner
  • A timeline and format for every aspect of the production, from the website and multiple ordering and payment options, contract, order foms, to the sales staff and crew at the event, to the editors, duplicators and customer service reps. 

  • Prices may be higher than a one man operation, but may also be competitive among other companies.
  • You may be working with a different crew each year.
  • May require a minimum number of orders to ensure exspenses are made, so for some dance studios with fewer clientelle this may not be a viable option
Either option is valid in it's own right and is simply dependent upon what works best for your studio. But in either case, all the points brought up in the question 1) should be addressed to ensure you are forging a business relationship with someone who will seve you well this year and for years to come. The DVD is ultimately a reflection on the dance studio, whether that is a fair position or not, and so should be an EXCELLENT product!

3) Is that appropriate?This is a family event. While it is understandable that this is a job where your camera operator will be loading and unloading equipment, crawling on the floor to tape down wires, and moving about with purpose, attire should still be appropriate for the event. Wires should be taped down safely. Equipment should be in an agreed upon location, not infringe upon fire codes, and never be unattended for extended periods of time while there are patrons in the facility. Crew should treat every other professional in the theatre/with the event, with respect.

Video sales staff should be dressed casual professional at the very least as they are the image of the video company and of the dance studio. Customers should feel safe and guided in the ordering process, be spoken to with courtsey and respect, and walk away feeling very good about the transaction.

4) Are your preferences understood? Always make sure you communicate what you are looking for. Indicate what you did not like from the past. There are many ways to shoot a dance performance and which one(s) are used depends largely upon what you the client are looking for. Some want 1 camera, some want 2. Some very large productions may want 3 or more. Some want the entire chorepgraphy, some want some close-ups. Titles? Credits? Pre-show footage? Multi-dvd sets? Home mailing as an option? Home mailing mandatory? No home mailing? Crowd enthusiam throughout? Minimal crowd noise? Cheat bright? Use textbook exposure correctness? Take me out of the DVD? Leave me in the DVD? There are endless possibilities. Make sure you take the time, if not offered it, to speak with the company and let them know what you are looking for. You should only have to do this the first year if they maintain detailed client files, and only again if you have a change of situation or preference. There is untold effort, detail and care that go into your production. The final production DVD should document it with all the quality it deserves....and with a mind towards your vision!

5) Demo? References? It is highly advisable to see a sample of the same type of work! Again, stage events, live events...very different animal! HD means nothing if the cameras are not set properly, the shots framed well, and the images reflective of the preferences of both client and customer in a blend that makes for a well received product all around. A picture is worth a thousand words! And references? All the better. While some clients are open to giving references and others are not, we advise respecting the 'potential hire's list of references, so as not to upset their clients who may not wish to be contacted. However, we do advise calling more than one of the references. Generally a company who has longstanding clients and multiple good references are a fairly sure thing. They are not generally great in one place and horrible in another, especially if they are steadily busy in the dance world as well as in general. Many companies also offer additional references upon request, which is also a good sign. 

In conclusion, there is a lot that goes into a dance studio's production and there is a lot that goes into the filming of it. There should be mutual understanding of needs and of the processes. A video company should be equally concerned with the image of their own company and the image of that of their client's company. Each project should reflect their pride in their work and promote and enhance the company to which they share their craft. A dance studio director should express their preferences well in advance. Every dance studio is different and therefore the needs of each varies. In any case, a dance studio should be well-informed on the requirements of video, the challenges an event's technical aspects may pose and ability of the 'potential hire' to cope with and/or overcome such challenges. A demo is very telling and references are gold. By mutual understanding, open communication, and a common goal to produce/document an exceptional performance/product, the business relationship can be not only mutually powerful....but a beautiful dance between professional artists!