Everybody dub now

Posted: March 09, 2011

How about a dancing nun?

Or the head janitor - in heels?

What about an ape playing the banjo?

Or everyone walking, singing, and cartwheeling - backward?

We're talking about "lip-dubs," a video phenomenon embraced by high schools, colleges, and businesses across the nation. Whether the goal is to raise publicity, inspire fund-raising, generate spirit, or just have fun, the everyone-must-participate requirement has made lip-dubs a favorite for institutional team-building.

Locally, students at Springfield Township High School in Montgomery County, Kennett High School in Kennett Square, and Gloucester Catholic High School in Gloucester City have tackled lip-dubs - elementary schools, such as St. Teresa Regional School in Runnemede, are doing it, too.

Even the folks at Dunder Mifflin of NBC's The Office did a lip-dub to the venerable 1968 rocker "Nobody But Me" by the Human Beinz (go.philly.com/office). And in November, the whole staff of NBC's Today did one to the inevitable "I Got a Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas (go.philly.com/todaylip).

Wait, there's a hand raised. What's a lip-dub, you ask?

A lip-dub is a highly elaborate, organized video in which a large number of people lip-sync and perform to a popular tune - the whole tune - all in one unedited take. The camera moves through the halls and rooms of the school or company, revealing crazy people doing their crazy thing, dancing, clowning, lipping. Up stairs and down, through mailroom, cafeteria, gym, classroom, boardroom, the track, and back. All is synchronized to the music, so everything has to happen at a certain time and place.

The main "rule" is: It has to be in one take, with nothing added except titles, credits, and the tune.

If you want a taste of the tension and excitement, watch the "making-of" vid of the Kennett High lip-dub (go.philly.com/kennettlip), where you will see the lip-dub itself played alongside its own behind-the-scenes documentary.

When the director shouts "Action!" the tune to be lip-dubbed starts playing on a radio or player. And forward we go: The cameraman walks a previously choreographed pathway through the school. At every turn await groups of students who have rehearsed their bits of singing, dancing, and acting out. The production assistant walks behind the cameraman, shouting through a bullhorn, with encouragement, timing notes, and directions to the students ready to leap and sing.

The magic of lip-dubs is this: People do them to promote unity, group identity, trust, and cohesion. And it seems, a lot of the time, to do the trick. Call it the modern-media equivalent of the pep rally.

Nikki Moriello, a junior in the video production class at Kennett High, says, "We're sometimes at a loss for spirit at this school, so it was really nice to see the way everyone got excited about it and worked together." Colleen Shiflet, a senior, says, "Out of a school of around 1,300 kids, all but about a dozen were part of it."

And it's that grand participation factor that makes this kind of an endeavor such an accomplishment.

"Doing it in one take adds a lot more spontaneity and tension to it," says Dena Blizzard, a professional comedian, audience-warmup person for the syndicated Nate Berkus Show, and mother of three students at St. Teresa, where she helped produce a lip-dub. "But it also is what makes it really fun. I could not believe we got 180 grade-school kids, from kindergarten all the way to eighth grade, to pull together, but it worked!"

The term lip-dub is credited to Jake Lodwick, Internet entrepreneur (he founded Vimeo, on which you can find quite a few lip-dubs). On Dec. 14, 2006, Lodwick posted such a video online and wrote: "Is there a name for this? If not, I suggest 'lip dubbing.' " He made the first one-man lip-dub, and then the first group one.

"I never anticipated what would happen," Lodwick wrote in an e-mail. "I didn't think so many people would imitate it as a way of creating portraits of their organizations. I wasn't trying to create a communal art form." But that is what lip-dubbing has become.

That communal glue was what Lisa Colangelo, advancement director for St. Teresa, was after. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in nearby Barrington closed in summer 2009, sending many new students to her school, and Colangelo "wanted to do something to unite us, as one big happy family."

She'd seen Gloucester Catholic's lip-dub to Journey's very ubiquitous "Don't Stop Believing" (go.philly.com/gloucesterlip), and she brought the idea to Blizzard, St. Teresa mom and photographer Donna Spagna, and the staff. It took off from there.

It just so happened that Patrick Carr, custodian at St. Teresa, majored in film and media arts at Temple. Colangelo and staff planned the show, and the whole school rehearsed. On the fateful day, to the tune of "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus, Carr moved through the halls with a trusty Panasonic camera "you can get at Best Buy," and the kids, parents, and staff did the rest (go.philly.com/teresa). Ten takes!

Tony Samulis, head of maintenance, first balked at wearing heels, but finally gave in. And, of course, principal Sister Patricia Scanlon did a jig at the end, much to the surprise of the entire school. "They call me the Dancing Nun now," she said.

At Springfield High, principal Greg Puckett got the lip-dub bug and showed teacher Dan Meder's video storytelling class the lip-dub made by Shorewood High in Shoreline, Wash. (go.philly.com/Shorewood). They were awestruck: The entire thing was filmed in reverse - meaning all movements, all singing, had to be done backward, so that when the video was played backward, everything came out forward.

" 'That looks really hard,' " Meder reports saying. "But we didn't even get to the credits before the class was saying, 'We're doing this. We're putting the other projects away and doing this one.' "

Backward. In Springfield's lip-dub, confetti explodes off the floor into the hands of dancing kids (go.philly.com/springfield). Folks somersault backward onto waiting shoulders. And there's a theme, too: Kids enter Springfield as freshmen, pass through its halls and classrooms as the years ascend, and leave with a graduate's mortarboard as classmates cheer. Five takes.

At Kennett, video production teacher Frank Vanderslice and his students used the school's morning TV show to announce where everyone should stand, what to do, and how to dress. "We had only a little time to do it in," Vanderslice said. "The first try, we had a tape malfunction. But the second try - did it!" Nearly the entire school got involved, to the tune of the 1976 Orleans tune "Still the One" - a song the students had never heard of. (Now, it's a watchword on campus.)

It's a sign of these times that regular folks can do lip-dubs pretty much the way professionals do them - same equipment, same techniques. The walls have fallen between institutional TV and the rest of the world. That's why some of these productions are so sparkling and impressive.

Lodwick, coiner of the term, writes that "the low barrier to entry means almost any organization on earth can make a portrait of themselves. . . . Lip-dubs live in a sweet spot: They're easy to make, but relatively watchable, especially for the individuals involved. Sometimes you see poor villagers making them. And there's so much variety; if you do a search on YouTube and sort by upload date, it's not unusual to see a dozen or two uploaded in one day."

Public-distribution sites such as YouTube and Vimeo are often the destination for lip-dubs, as are lip-dub-only websites such as LipDubHub.com and LipDubTube.

J.D. Mousley, a junior at Kennett, calls the actual filming "definitely stressful." Not only must all the timing be perfect, but also there can be surprises - as when student Kyle Irwin leaped unannounced in front of the camera, in an ape suit, playing the banjo. OK - keep it.

"If the downstairs is perfect but the upstairs messes up," says Blizzard of St. Teresa, "you have to start all over."

Shiflet of Kennett High says, "People were so excited and were making so much noise that no one could hear the playback - so we all had to cheer silently."

Ellie Field, a junior at Springfield, says, "It was kind of surreal because everyone was walking backward, singing gibberish, and cheering silently."

Crazy. But the memories seem uniformly happy.

"It's one of the highlights of my career," says Puckett of Springfield.

"I liked doing the karate kicks," says Connor Alvarez, a kindergartner at St. Teresa.

"It made it feel so much greater to be at the school," says Zainis Bob-Grey, an eighth grader at St. Teresa, "which I guess is the idea."

Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406, jt@phillynews.com or twitter.com/jtimpane.


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