Recent research has shown some startling information about video content online. By 2020 80% of consumer social media content will be video (1), and animated content already has a 135% greater reach than photos(2). When you pair these revelations with the news that we often hear from programmers, that they value video trailers, teasers, professional marketing materials, and show videos very highly because they can’t make it to every show they want to see in person, it becomes even more important to share your personal or company brand effectively in video format. But where to begin? Who should you hire? How much can you afford? When are you ready? We asked Double Take – Cinematic Circus for advice about that important element on every circus companies’ agenda, how and when to make the circus trailer.
Hailing from France and the United States, professional circus artists Raphael Herault and Summer Hubbard first met in 2011 while working as acrobats for Cirque du Soleil. In 2016, they ventured out on their own and together created the circus and filmmaking company, Double Take – Cinematic Circus.
Aiming to create unique and high-quality circus shows and videos, Double Take has spent their time studying the characteristics of both circus and cinema in order to find different ways of linking, adapting, and transposing the techniques of each art form onto the other. For the last few years, they have been using their knowledge of circus to help them create circus videos and now, as they head back to the stage, they aim to use their knowledge of cinema to help them create their first circus show titled Jump Cut in 2020. With over 40 circus videos created for over 40 different artists/companies all over Europe, Double Take plans to one day push their work even further by producing a full-length circus feature film, in other words, a circus performance that is not destined for the stage but rather destined to be filmed, edited, and finally projected.
Kim Campbell: What is the most important element of a circus trailer?
Raphael Herault: The most important element of a circus trailer is knowing that there isn’t only one important element. We believe there are at least three essential elements to initially consider when it comes to a circus trailer (both from our end as the filmmakers and from the perspective of the artist/company):
Element 1. Understanding the Purpose of the Trailer and Who the Targeted Audience Is
- Is it to announce and/or create anticipation around a new creation?
- Is it to help find support for a new creation (i.e. co-production, residencies, etc.)?
- Is it to simply sell the act/show?
- Is it to attract programmers?
- Is it to attract more spectators?
- Is it an artistic souvenir for visual pleasure?
- Is it to better explain to your grandmother what it is you are doing?
- Is it a combination of these things?
Element 2. Transmitting All Relevant Information
- If anything, what practical and/or artistic information do you want your targeted audience to understand about the act/show from the trailer?
- Is the act/show indoors or outdoors?
- Does it require the set up of a big top?
- Is your act/show designed for a small or large crowd?
- Is it designed for children, adults, or both?
- Is it a comedy?
- What circus disciplines are performed?
- Is there direct audience interaction(s)?
- Is there spoken text?
Element 3. Conveying the Essence of the Act/Show
- What is the overall feeling of the act/show?
- What is the general color of the act/show?
- What are the subtleties that define the act/show?
- What are the nuances that define each artist?
While these three elements help us (and the artist/company) paint a sort of video roadmap, filmmaking is still an art form after all, so within this framework, we do still leave a little room for coloring outside the lines.
KC: How are circus trailers helpful to artists and circus companies? Do they really get more jobs because of them?
Summer Hubbard: Next to seeing a performance live, a good quality trailer can easily be one of the most powerful promotional devices an artist/company has. And while most artists/companies want a video for the purpose of getting more work; and while a handful of the artists/companies we collaborated with can attest to receiving more work as a direct result of the videos we made for them; it is still important to remember that a good quality video can serve an artist/company in more ways than one.
From selling more shows to reaching more, and newer markets, a professional video (be that a demo, a teaser, a trailer, a condensed captation, a full captation, etc.) not only has the potential to create and/or expand an artist’s/company’s network but also has the potential to define an artist’s/company’s professional and artistic identity.
There are still an array of other factors that can affect an artists ability to receive more work (no matter how good their video is) so, we believe it’s important for artists/companies to consider implementing a broader promotional plan rather than relying solely on the video to do all the work. We like to gather information from the artist’s/company’s graphic designers so that we can directly incorporate into the video similar fonts, themes, and other various aesthetics as a way to support and maintain a professional and cohesive flow between the different tools.
We also like to discuss the artist’s/company’s publishing plan because this can have a profound impact on how well a video does after it’s produced. Who, where, and when will the video be published and how can all those involved in the project work together as a team to distribute it? An artist/company can still reap the rewards of having a professional video even without some savvy marketing scheme, but, we believe that a video functions better, and to its maximum potential when an artist/company has a more global perspective and a plan in play.
So, in a nutshell, a circus trailer can be beneficial to artists/companies in many different ways and can even be an artist’s/company’s most valuable marketing tool. However, it’s best to remember that quality and strategy is key.
KC: How can a company find a good trailer production team in their region? What creative ways have circus companies come up with to pay you for your work?
SH: We believe it’s safe to assume that you can probably find a good video production team in most larger cities (all over the world) with just a quick search on the internet. What poses the greatest challenge for artists/companies is finding a good production team that also has the knowledge and a sensibility for the performing arts, and even more specifically, for circus.
So, when searching for a video team near you, first, we suggest that artists/companies search more specifically for filmmakers that specialize in making videos for the performing arts. Artists/companies can begin by simply searching to see who their local theaters or dance companies are using to make their videos and then continue the search from there. Another useful tip can be to watch other circus trailers in order to find what you like and what you are looking for in a video and then do the research to find the team that made the one you loved the most. Or, an artist/company can watch a video trailer of an act/show they have already seen live in order to evaluate the video’s quality and integrity. Is the video of good quality (both image and sound)? Was it filmed well? Did it deliver relevant and understandable information? Did you want to watch it until the end? Did it ultimately capture the essence of the act/show you saw live? If yes, and if this is exactly what you are looking for in a video trailer, then go on the hunt to find out who made it.
“Video is an effective form of communication that needs to be integrated into each and every aspect of your existing marketing efforts.” – James Wedmore Video Marketing Strategist and Author.
But capturing circus often requires another level of sensibility and understanding (compared to that of other performing arts), so don’t be scared to search outside of your region if you are not content with the work being offered in your area. It may cost you more in the end, but it will be worth the investment if it means that the filmmakers are better equipped to capture your work. For instance, we are based out of Brussels, Belgium, but we are hired to film all over Europe and we know that this is not only because we specialize in both circus and cinema, but it is also partly due to the fact that the artists/companies did their research and believed that by contacting us, their work was in good hands. This is an investment, so we believe artists/companies owe it to themselves and to their work to hire a video team they both like and trust.
KC: But how can artists/companies afford this type of investment?
RH: Well, as circus artists, whenever we enter into a new creation, one of the first things we create is a budget list. This list typically contains items like salaries, scenography, costumes, music, etc. But we all too often forget to add a (promotional) video to this list. We have many examples of artists/companies who came to us with little to no budget at all or came to us so last minute that our schedule was already filled.
With video communication becoming one of the most powerful marketing tools out there, we believe the most proactive solution for affording a circus trailer is for artists/companies to simply budget for them from the start. In doing so, artists/companies not only ensure their financial means of being able to afford one, but they also give themselves enough time to find and hire their desired production team. However, we know that a budget list isn’t foolproof and that an array of things can occur during a creation that renders a trailer budget nonexistent. So when this occurs, it’s not time to give up on the trailer completely, it’s just time to get a little more creative.
One way artists/companies can pay for their circus trailer is by applying for a cultural grant. For example, here in Belgium, there is a cultural grant that artists can apply for that provides funds specifically for making a professional video trailer. Another way to pay is by use of a payment plan. We have used this on a number of occasions where the full price of the video is divided into two or three installments in which the artist/company pays over the course of six months to a year. The main goal of a payment plan is to ensure that the artist/company has the video they need to sell their work, even if they cannot afford it right away, in order to ultimately bring in the money they need to pay for it. A bit of the “serpent eating its own tail” concept.
A final example is “the exchange.” It’s a fairly easy concept: What do you have that I want and/or need in exchange for this video? For example, we recently created two videos for a company who, in exchange, helped us build a part of our show’s scenography. But making deals isn’t foolproof, so we suggest defining the terms of the deal clearly from the start so that everyone is on the same page from day one.
KC: How much should a trailer cost? How much creative control does the company get about the setting and tone of the trailer?
SH: This is a tough question because every filmmaking company has its own particular way of charging for the services they provide, but our rates mainly depend on the amount of time we spend on a project and are molded to fit the needs of each particular artist/company.
To break it down, we have two main fees: a filming fee that is charged for each day we spend filming, and an editing fee that is charged for each day we spend editing. On top of these two fees, when applicable, there are other miscellaneous fees that can also be included like: transportation, accommodation, meals, and music copyrights (just to name a few).
But to be honest, we have really struggled over the years with placing an accurate value on our work because as circus artists ourselves, we know that the artists/companies who struggle the most financially are, paradoxically, the ones in most need of a trailer (“serpent eating its own tail” concept again).
What comes included in our price is more than just the filming and editing. With a deep level of understanding, we give all of our time, love, and energy to each and every project because we know the profound impact this video can have on the life of an act/show. We work closely with the artist/company from start to finish and we happily welcome their creative input. We have had artists/companies who gave us full creative control and others who wanted to be a part of the entire creative process. In any case, for us, the most important thing is that the artist/company feels like the trailer truly represents their work and that they are more than satisfied with it.
In the end, an artist’s/company’s trailer should merely be but an extension of their work so we believe they should have as much control over it as they want.
KC: What advice would you give to a new company that can’t afford to pay much for a trailer of their show? Do they still need one?
RH: We believe that a trailer can be beneficial for any circus artist/company, at any stage of their career and/or the creation, however, we also believe that an artist/company should never compromise on the quality of their trailer just because they cannot afford one. With that said, our first piece of advice for all artists/companies would be to search and apply for any grants they qualify for; keeping a special eye out for those specifically designed to support the making of [professional] promotional videos.
We would also suggest either trying to come up with a creative way to pay for a good quality video (perhaps a payment plan like we mentioned)or to simply wait until the financial means are there to pay for it (perhaps after the act/show is up and running for a while).
Another creative idea we have, that we have not actually tried yet, is the idea that perhaps artists/companies can start thinking about combining forces in order to reduce the costs of their [good quality] trailer. For instance, say two or three separate artists/companies need a video, so they hire us to come and film all of them over the same period of time. This means that the costs for things like filming, transportation, and accommodation can now be split among all of the artists/companies which ultimately reduces the total cost each of them has to pay. And sure, this option will take some meticulous planning, but it is a solid solution nonetheless and can prove to be very useful for artists/companies on a tight budget.
We can’t yet say for sure whether a trailer is compulsory for circus artists/companies, but what we can say, is that one of poor quality can absolutely affect the life of an act/show in a more negative way. So, we always like to suggest that artists/companies choose quality first even if it means having to wait for it.
KC: How long should a circus trailer be and how much of the act/show should be revealed in it?
SH: We believe that the length of a circus trailer really depends on the purpose of it and the overall needs of the artist/company. We have made teasers and trailers that range anywhere from 30 seconds to over three minutes in length and serve a variety of needs and purposes.
KC: Which begs to ask the question of how much to actually reveal in the trailer?
SH: This too depends on the purpose of it and the needs of the artist/company. Is it a trailer for an established artist/company that wants to build anticipation around their next creation– in which case we likely reveal less? Or is it a trailer for a brand new artist/company that introduces their creation to programmers in which case we perhaps reveal more? Either way, revealing too much or not enough is another fine line we must play with in order to meet the trailer’s demands. With that said, we don’t use just one specific recipe when making a circus trailer but rather we use an array of ingredients we can mix and match in order to meet the needs and tastes of every artist/company.
KC: Why did you start doing circus videos?
RH: At some point during our career withCirque du Soleil, due to our fascination with both circus and cinema, we started to take notice of how circus was being captured on the screen and eventually discovered that it could actually be filmed and edited in a much better way. And this was not because the filmmakers were substandard themselves (because they were not), but rather due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the circus art itself, and this is what frustrated us the most.
We began noticing that not only were poor filming and editing choices being made but there was a huge lack of touch, anticipation, and feeling in the videos. For example, filming just the hand of a hand-balancing artist who is actually holding a one arm flag or editing a teeterboard act where we see one artist jumping on the left side of the board and in the next shot we see the same artist but on the right side of the board.
Artists put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into a creation and they deserve to have the video evidence of its existence be of sound quality and integrity so we decided to take on the challenge ourselves. Since creating Double Take – Cinematic Circus in 2016, our goal has been to create unique and high-quality video material for circus artists/companies that not only captures the physical aspects of their work but also the subtle nuances that are the essence of it. We don’t claim to have all the answers yet, but we are definitely on a journey to find them.
Resources (1) Buffer (2) WERSM
A note from Double Take Cinema** We answer these questions with great pleasure based on personal experiences and methods we have developed over the years as both circus artists and filmmakers. However, we do not claim to have all the answers when it comes to creating circus trailers. Furthermore, every artist/filmmaker has their own way of thinking, working, and creating so keep in mind that this is just one way of doing it; the Double Take - Cinematic Circus way.
All photos courtesy of Double Take Cinema.Feature photo Shooting a music video for the group Dour/Le Pottier Quartet featuring Stefanie Theobald in Brittany, France in 2018. Photo credit: Wendie Autrique