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Video Clips in Focus

By Kristy Johnson

So what exactly does it take to become a back-up dancer for the likes of Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Usher? How does video clip choreography differ to that of a show or tour? What pressures do you experience as a dancer? Dance Informa caught up with LA based dancers Marc Inniss and Kevin Wilson, plus Sydney based Ilona Fabiszewski to answer these questions…

How does the choreography in a video clip differ from that of a show or tour?

IlonaIlona: Generally you just choreograph smaller sections for a video clip. For example you might do 4 lots of 8 counts to the chorus, and have 3 different versions rather than choreographing the whole song. Dancing for the camera is very different to the stage, there is no point doing amazing footwork and big arms if it’s a tight shot. So you always need to consider the frame of the shot when doing the movement. 

Kevin: When shooting video choreography you may not have to do as much choreography because music videos normally have a storyline.  Sometimes the dancers will only be used for a chorus and breakdown. For live performances you will do a lot more choreography because you don’t have the option of video edits.

Marc: The choreography in a show doesn’t differ much from the video; usually it would be the same choreography from the video, especially if it’s a hit song! People want to see what they remember.

What are the typical pressures/difficulties you encounter as a dancer on the shoot for a video clip?

Ilona: Maintaining your energy and vibe for the entire shoot. Music videos can take hours to shoot, so there is a lot of waiting around whilst lighting and camera angles are changed. You need to be able to switch your energy and character back on as soon as they say ‘action’. It’s a lot of stop and start.

KevinKevin: Difficulties vary. Sometimes it’s weather. Sometimes the surface you are dancing on. For example, I was shooting a video in NYC and they kept wetting the street with a fire hose to create a certain atmosphere.  It made the ground really slippery and dangerous. In circumstances like this, a lot of times you will be given a bump in pay called ‘hazard pay’. There is also huge pressure to maintain your stamina because you will do the dance multiple times sometimes, back to back, without a break in between – just enough time for makeup touch ups and a quick drink of water.

Marc: Mostly the hurry up and wait rule. It’s like they get you in early for wardrobe and makeup if necessary, and then you wait until it’s your scene and do it for 4-8 shots…or sometimes more.

For a typical video clip, how many hours would you spend in front of the camera?

Ilona: A music video can take around 10 hours, sometimes more, sometimes less. Of this time, it’s hard to say exactly how many hours are with the camera ‘shooting’. Generally you are on set in the same spot ‘camera ready’, for the whole 10 hours unless there are several locations, and apart from meal breaks of course! 

Kevin: Depending on how much choreography you’re doing, normally on a 12 hour shoot day you will spend 4 – 6 hours in front of the camera. That leaves a lot of downtime also. In music videos, it’s always about the artist, so there are a lot of solo shots and setups in which the dancers are not used. In some situations, the dancers can be used in other scenes, as friends, love interests, or club goers. This would require more time in front of camera, but not necessarily choreography.

MarcMarc: That depends on what the director wants. I’ve been on sets from 6pm to 9am, and then sets where I was only on there for an hour. It all depends if the directors get enough footage that they can use.

On average, how much would you get paid for a video clip?

Ilona: In Australia a lot of music videos are unpaid or they pay a few hundred per dancer. It depends on the artist and the budget. 

 Kevin: Including rehearsals you could easily come away with $800-$1200. This always depends on how many days of rehearsals, if there is overtime, how many shoot days etc. There is a bit of regulation that happens for music videos by Dancers’ Alliance. They set rates for rehearsals, shoot days, surface conditions etc. Although there is an effort made to protect dancers, these standards are not always followed. They are sometimes negotiated.

Marc: Touring definitely pays more, is more consistent than videos, and you meet more people. So I would pick touring (over videos).

What advice would you give to dancers who would like to appear in film clips?

Ilona: As far as getting work in video clips, most of my experience has been through word of mouth and networking. I was either recommended by a friend or dance contact, or there was an audition. Some auditions are through agents only (being signed to an agency may be your only chance of attending the audition) and some are ‘open’ auditions. Get yourself out there in the dance community. Perform in shows, attend classes of choreographers, network and sign to an agency. These will all help open doors and opportunities. 

Kevin: Music videos are a lot of fun to do.  As a dancer, everyone should at least try to do one. You can learn a lot from the experience, like how to work on a set and work with an artist in an intimate professional manner. It can give you an understanding of other elements required to produce a video, like lighting, camera, director, and craft services. It will also prepare you for working in film and television. I wouldn’t advise dancers to set their sights only on doing music videos. I would really push to do live tours and live shows. You will receive a consistent weekly pay cheque for tours and live shows. The rehearsal process is a lot longer also, which will allow you to make more money. 

Marc: Well just be prepared for the hurry up and wait rule! And make new friends…you never know who you could meet there and it could lead to your next job!

Photo credits: Ilona’s photos by Simon Hewson/Fa tog ra fi, Kevin’s photo by Patrick Mattison

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