A good behind-the-scenes look at making a lip dub
What is a lip dub? A lipdub is a type of music video. In the video people lip-sync to music, and later the original version of the music is dubbed in, replacing any audio that was recorded during the making of the video.
That’s the simple definition. However there are certain important elements that are commonly used in the videos described as lip dubs, and a lot of these elements are what make a great lip dub video versus a common piece of YouTube crap.
The thing that these elements have in common is that they are intended to make the video visually interesting. People aren’t watching lip dubs to hear the music or see how well people can lip-sync; viewers want to see something that will stimulate their visual cortex.
So if you are ready to make a lip dub, let’s look at the key elements for doing it right. The most important element is the music. It needs to be a song that people are going to like, preferably something fun and upbeat. It doesn’t matter how good the video part of your video is if the music is no good. People will stop watching it and move on to something else if they don’t like the song, or if the music isn’t exciting enough to keep their attention.
Once you have selected your song, you need to deal with the legalities, assuming you want to make your lipdub available to the public. You need to get a synchronization license and master use license from the publisher and record company. If you don't get permission to use the song, the music company can have the video taken down from any website or have the audio removed. Then you'd only have a silent video of people strangely moving around.
Concerning the video part, it should be mentioned that you should make sure you can get a couple hundred of your friends to be in it. You can make a good lip dub with a much smaller number, but you’ll see why that’s hard to do as we consider the most important aspects of the visual components.
The first important visual aspect is the near universal convention that lip dubs be done with one continuous shot. It adds a “wow” factor that would be a lot less if the video were a typically edited product that allowed parts to be added in or redone using multiple takes. Some great lipdubs do cheat a little by disguising their cuts, but they do try to make it look like it could have been a continuous shot.
The second important aspect of the visuals is that lip dub videos move, literally, and at a good clip. They are the opposite of home videos where the camera stays still and focuses on one thing for a torturous length of time. In a lip dub the camera is moving most of the time, going through the scenery. For that reason, a Steadicam is essential. It keeps the picture from bouncing around with the moving cameraman. You can rent a Steadicam, and while you're at it, you might as well hire a professional cameraman to operate it to create a better product.
Because the videos move and are timed to a specific song, it's essential to establish "marks" along the path you are going to travel through your location. You need to determine where the camera needs to be at certain points in the song so you can ties the visuals to the lyrics and so the cast knows which segment of the song they'll be performing at their spot.
The third important aspect of the visuals is that lipdubs are all about the variety in the performance, the appearance of the people moving around and lip-syncing before the camera, and the locations the camera passes through. It’s a showcase of how many varied visual elements you can cram into a song-length video.
You can probably see now that if the video is one continuous shot, with the camera moving fast and the focus of the shot on the variety of the participants and the locations, you need a lot of people involved. If you had a small number of people it would require a lot of quick changes by the cast in appearance and props and a lot of running to the next location to be ready for their next on-camera moment.
To create the variety, here is a list of elements that are commonly used within the lip dup videos:
1) In general the camera moves at a good clip, but the speed should vary when moving from one “scene” to the next.
2) When moving the camera, don’t only move forward, in one direction. A good lip dub turns directions constantly, moves forward, backward and sideways, turning corners, entering rooms, moving up and down stairs. It also points in directions other than only straight ahead.
3) The cast should wear a variety of clothes/costumes, use lots of different props, and perform a lot of different actions.
4) The cast needs to look like they are having a good time. The video is supposed to be fun, not work.
5) The camera moves past some people and moves with others, following them and sometimes chasing them.
6) The camera and the cast is always leading to the next thing to be shown, drawing the camera and the viewer along to see the next “reveal”. A common way to do a reveal is opening doors, exposing the next scene and set of performers.
7) When people lead the camera from one scene to another, the people on the next scene should already be on the move as the previous one slow or go off camera. Think of it like passing a baton in a relay, where both racers are moving at the same time.
8) The video is about the people, so don’t leave gaps where there is far more scenery than cast. It’s important to keep the camera close enough to fill much of the viewing area.
9) Some miscellaneous elements that are commonly used: people throwing stuff, the camera going between a double line of people, the camera moving directly through a line of people as they divide and go to the left and right, and a group of people moving with all stopping except one who moves forward to transition to the next location.
10) There should be at least one massive crowd scene. It adds another “wow” for the immenseness of the undertaking.
11) Don’t forget Waldo!
Here is a link to my playlist of the best lip dubs on YouTube.
All of the best lip dub videos are in this player: