An Open Letter to Studios Making Video Content.


We have to talk about something: crappy video for sale.

This is an epidemic in the fitness community. I mean, it’s an epidemic in many communities where people who are experts in their subject matter but not in making videos try to make videos.

But especially when echoey dance studios and instructors who are talking and moving at the same time are involved, we’re going to have people making–and SELLING–videos that are…. not good.

In no particular order, here are some truths:

  1. People have high standards for video. We’re all streaming multi-million dollar production budget content all day. We have very little patience for shittiness.
  2. We can all be blind to WHY things suck when we’re focused on other stuff. Dance teachers making videos probably be like “omg this is such a great angle for this stretch!” while ignoring overwhelming truths like dark lighting or sirens in the background of their videos.
  3. Budget concerns, skill levels with technical stuff–these are all things fitness peeps with no video experience are up against, but I’m here to tell you: you can make a great video if you focus on the things that matter and do something about them.

Here’s the thing about me: I have made a LOT of crappy videos. I took video classes for the first time ever about a year and a half ago as part of my masters degree.

(Quick photo, can’t help it)

yassss. so calming to look at my own degree. I worked hard for you, booboo!

And as a writer excited to tell stories via video (because stories are MY expertise, even preceding dance), that’s what I focused on: dialogue! Action! Content! STORY.

Here’s what I didn’t focus on: lighting! sound! shit in the background! that hum my refrigerator makes while it was behind me the whole time I was shooting!

And when I finished a video, having poured hours of time, energy, worry, love, and hopes of making a masterpiece into, guess what my professor said?

“This is too dark. It’s unusable. You have to reshoot.”

(He was talking about the first scene of this video which I defended at the time and now I look at like… what was I thinking)

I thought he was being a total tyrant. I showed my videos to family and friends. “Look at this story! These scenes! That dialogue! My edits!” I urged them.

Guess what they noticed?

How dark the video was. The weird humming in the background. The camera equipment bag we forgot to remove from a scene.

I was crushed.

I reshot many scenes.

And I finally, finally learned my lesson.

Here’s the sad part though: I now have zero tolerance for crappy technical quality in videos.

Does this mean I require 4k cameras and boom mics and shit?

Hell no! But it does mean I require subjects that are well lit, sound that is cleanly captured, and sequences that are tidily edited. (ie. if I hear you say, “Okay, go!” you failed this test).

That means that I’m having a really hard time watching instructional videos for dance. They are…. not good.

Now, I get it, not everybody has amazing equipment or video skills. Fine.

But making good videos isn’t about pricey gear or fancy editing–it’s about consistent attention to detail.

So here you go dance studios and YouTubers: a free lesson in what to pay attention to.

What’s in it for you?

Happy customers. Professional, evergreen calling cards for your business. And avoiding making an ass of yourself for everyone to see in posterity on YouTube.

Get a notebook.

1.  Never forget this principle: “People will put up with bad visuals. They won’t put up with bad sound.”

Think back on movies you’ve watched recently. Any of them have extremely dark scenes where you had to listen and wait to see what was happening? Chances are, you were able to stick it out and wait for a light to come on. Horror movies in particular tend to leave us in the literal dark while we hear crystal clear sound effects to give us cues as to what’s happening. This may have not only not bothered you, it probably drew you MORE in to what was happening onscreen.

Now think back to the last time you tried to watch your favorite show but the sound was sliiiiiightly too quiet. Totally unwatchable, right?

Tell yourself this until it’s memorized: people can tolerate dark or blurry visuals. They can’t tolerate bad sound. Now shoot your videos accordingly….

2. …and mic your subjects. If you can’t mic them, shoot them in a very small, padded area (rugs and upholstered furniture) and use a “shotgun” mic attached to your camera. My professor used to record vocals in a closet under a pile of blankets. It’s that important!

lav mic
Lav Mic ^ (not that deep!!)
shotgun mic
Shotgun Mic ^ (no seriously it’s not that deep!)

Regardless of your environment or equipment, use a secondary recorder closer to the subject (like an iPhone set to “voice record” hidden behind a yoga block while your subject shows moves on a mat).

And failing the feasibility of any of these techniques or equipment, DO VOICE-OVER.

And for God’s sake, check your equipment early and often.

You will never, ever regret shooting tests with your mics before wasting 4 hours of your time doing hair and makeup, setting up lights, and sweating your way through 5 takes of your video only to realize later that your microphone makes a weird buzzing sound or its battery died. Just FYI.

PS. And on this note, you should also always check your equipment quickly right BEFORE you start the actual shoot. You don’t want to find out the hard way that you forgot to hit the on switch. Which brings me to my next point.

3. Have back ups, all the time. Quick story: one time I used a lav mic (attached to my iPhone) and a shotgun mic attached to my camera to shoot a series of interviews.  The battery died on the lav mic mid-interview (without my knowledge, as I was behind the camera) so the phone itself did the recording. Central air came on with a WOOSH during the interview and ruined the shotgun mic’s audio. But the iPhone recording (since it was placed much closer to the subject than the camera mounted mic was) ended up being so good, it saved the whole project.

Again, nothing beats actual mics (lav mics are your best bet for trying to get voice and nothing else), but an iPhone strategically placed is ALWAYS better than trying to rely on your camera’s teeny microphone, and infinitely better than nothing if your first mic goes out.

This goes double for an echoey studio space.

tl,dr: mic the hell out of your subject.

PS. If you’re worried about syncing audio and video from two different sources, start out each clip with your subject clapping loudly. The keyframe spike in your editing software should help you match up what you’re seeing and hearing.

4. Get a lighting kit.

lighting kit
Do you SEE how much you could elevate your video and photo game for 40 bucks? Do you SEE????

50 bucks, 3 umbrella lights–that’s all you need, and they’ll pay for themselves in video quality time and time again. You won’t believe how much better your shoots look with a proper light. Yes, you can shoot in front of a window, but an umbrella light frees you up to work any time, to work in a location that works better for background or sound reasons, and ensure consistent quality. Just spring for it, you will NOT regret it.

PS. Bonus: the brighter your light, the more a low grade camera can capture. That means your videos look more expensive, less grainy, and bougey af.

Double Bonus: SO many sick photo shoots. YOU CAN DO ALL OF THE PHOTOSHOOTS.

5. Know when to give up on a shot.

I’m currently trying to bear with a studio’s videos (that I paid for) that for some reason continued to film through  3+ minutes of extreme fire engine noise outside, and while moving and refocusing the camera multiple times (to the point where I thought I was watching an earthquake happen). Guys…. if you have to move the camera, wait for a stopping point or just abandon the shot and start over. Same goes for noise you can’t control. Don’t bear with it. Don’t just “quickly make a change.” Pause filming and restart. Or for God’s sake edit it out. This is just part of being a professional person making things you plan to charge for. Suck it up, do it over.

6. Plan edits in advance.

It’s much easier to shoot quickly (and later to put together meaningful videos) if you storyboard what you’re going to be covering to even the most basic extent. What are the sequences you want to show? Which make the most sense to film one after the other, versus saving for the end? (Maybe all the pole stuff vs. floor work, even if you plan to edit it all together at the end).

Then while editing, clip as much of the “before” and “after” stuff as possible. Do you really need to show 30 seconds of a person sitting before starting a move, or standing up and smiling at the end of it? Be ruthless. Also try to keep your sequences short so you can cut if you need to and not lose much time in redos (see above).

RECOMMENDATION: If you’re just learning to edit/not outsourcing your edits, I highly recommend skipping the pro software (which is terrifying and super expensive, and pick up chiller version, like Adobe Premiere Elements (the baby version of Premiere).

You’ll get 90% of the functionality with an interface you can start playing with immediately. And we’re also talking like $130 bucks up front (and you can download the software onto multiple computers with the serial number) vs. $480 for a year (at $20/month).

Here’s a sneak peak at what both interfaces look like. I have a clear preference….

Premiere Pro. Notice how none of the tools are labeled and it looks like the Death Star. You can see that I didn’t even put a clip in because I don’t know how???


Premiere Elements. So simple. Me gusta!

7. Use title cards and subtitles with a purpose

It’s a great idea to caption what viewers are seeing, or are about to see, along with any structural cues (like “Spinal Rotation: Part 3”).

It’s also smart to give your finished videos a title that covers exactly what each video is–especially if you’re shooting tons of them. Is this just a “flexibility” video? Or is this a “Hip-opening and hamstring focus” flexibility video?

Another nice thing to do that viewers will appreciate: list the necessary equipment for a workout in the same place for each video. I can’t tell you how obnoxious it is to be deep into a workout sequence, like, on my back with my foot over my head, and suddenly hear, “okay, now grab your strap” out of nowhere. Like, whaaaaaaa???? We need a strap?!!! Why didn’t you tell me this before we started?!

Have some empathy for your viewers and anticipate the information they’ll need up front. Then don’t be coy about giving it to them.

8. Use music with caution.

It’s great to add music to your videos, but make sure it doesn’t drown our your subject’s voice. You can play with audio gain in your editing software to boost vocals before adding music to help create some contrast, but also choose your tunes wisely. Does the song you like compete with the speaker’s pitch? (ie. not to get too complicated, but a deep voice might get drowned out by heavy bass, while a higher voice might get lost with trebley-music). Use your ears as your guide and combine speakers and (royalty-free) songs accordingly.

PS. YouTube has tons of royalty free music, didja know? This is great for not getting banned from YouTube and Instagram later!

And: this is getting slightly nitpicky, but if you boost volume, do a quick tutorial on appropriate decibel levels. You don’t want viewers at home to be blasted with crackly, overblown sound. A quick YouTube video can teach you to identify a loud and clear, but not “blown out” range of audio.

9. Pay attention to feedback. 

It can be easy to say “f*** the haters!” but if it’s your target audience or more importantly, clients, who are taking issue with something you’ve made, listen. Especially if you’re hearing it more than once. They want to use what you’ve made, so if they’re telling you something is getting in the way of that, listen. It can only help you make better (more sell-able) things in the future. Don’t be afraid to hear tough criticism and learn from it.

Do you have pet peeves that I missed when it comes to workout or instructional videos? Do you make your own videos and have tips? Do I sound like an impossible to please and unreasonable biotch?

Pls advs. xx.

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