I get your e-mails constantly: “Look at the just-released video for our next world premiere.” “See our artistic director talk about our upcoming holiday show.” “Watch our cast of Marat/Sade lip sync to Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’.”
Aside from the last example, I need to understand why I want to watch your video. Frankly, unless you have a cast of LOLcats performing Cats, the novelty has worn off. I am sinking in the internet video glut.
Let’s be honest: you’re asking me to take time to watch your commercial. My usual practice, when watching television via my DVR, is to fast-forward through commercials. So if you’re going to ask me to take the time to willingly watch your advertisement – oh, I’m sorry, your “trailer” – it had better be pretty compelling.
But that’s no excuse for asking me to spend my time watching a series of still photos with voiceover narration. If I want to watch a slideshow, I can haul out my old Kodak carousel projector and narrate them myself. Even Broadway shows are using still images on video to sell a live, active art, due to financial constraints, and they’ve got more to spend than you do. Yet inexplicably, some look like perfume ads — and I have yet to see one singing child or live dog this season.
Your audience doesn’t know your limitations, and competing forms of entertainment are likely outshining you. You have to do better.
Why is your video low-res, or in a single take? I realize that minimal quality may hold sway in home-made YouTube novelties and on “Americas Funniest Home Videos,” but the work on your stage is so sophisticated. Your videos should reflect that quality. And even your phone can shoot in HD.
But here’s the challenge. It stands to reason that your theatre is filled with people who know how to make great theatre, but do they necessarily know how to make compelling videos? Yes, programs like iMovie have given the average nine-year-old the ability to assemble footage with great ease. At that age, Spielberg was cutting Super 8 film on his mom’s kitchen table with an Exacto knife. But software is not enough.
Let me digress for a corollary story. In the mid-1980s, when I started working professionally, every company heard that they needed to get into “desktop publishing,” a means by which they could create all kinds of printed materials without resorting to waxing machines, t-squares and razor blades to create print-ready mechanicals. All they needed was one of those snazzy new Macintosh computers (PCs were woefully behind in this area) and a piece of software called Pagemaker. The result was, for a few years, a rash of the worst-designed documents you’ve ever seen. What no one seemed to catch on to was that desktop publishing was simply a new set of tools – you still needed a designer to operate it.
That’s where I feel theatres, and other arts organizations, are with video. The price point for the necessary tools is quite low, but your filmic expertise may be too. Do you actually have someone in-house with the skill to represent what you do well? Is there someone inventive on your staff who can create, with a modest budget, a piece so compelling that we may not realize we haven’t seen a single moment of your show in action and, better still, want to share it with others? Don’t confuse web design with video production – the same person may not be skilled at both.
If you don’t have resources that rival commercial ad production, or images of the work itself, do what theatre has always done: turn your limitations into an asset. Brainstorm creative concepts throughout your building. Find out if someone on staff, but possibly outside the marketing office, has film or video training. Don’t be afraid of humor. Whatever you can use, keep it moving. Remember, as a generalization, the stage is a verbal medium, but film and video are visual. Oh yes, and remember that most people will watch what you create in a screen window of only a few inches in dimension. Don’t make Cinemascope video for smartphone screens.
It’s been years since arts groups got wise to the value of professional and often sophisticated graphic design. It’s time to apply that to video as well.
Oh yes, and if you manage to produce a video of LOLcats performing Marat/Sade Gangnam style, I predict you’re going to go viral.