Creating Content Quickly For Vail Dance Festival

by | Aug 16, 2018 | Video Tip

8 years ago, Damian Woetzel asked me to film Vail Dance Festival.  I said YES, without even thinking about it.

I grew up in Colorado, so how could I say no?  The mountains, the dry air, the sunshine… there’s nothing like Colorado.  When I thought about it more, I couldn’t help but think, wow this is for me!!!

Damian asked me if we could film the show and deliver a sizzle (a promo video) to him the very next day.  Again, without thinking twice, I said yes.

This was the beginning of my practice to get things done really quickly.  This discipline has now stuck with my Nel Shelby Productions team.  We can work fast if we plan for it.  And now, this is the norm for Vail Dance Festival.

Film, edit, approve the edit, share.

This is how we roll out a lot of content quickly.  As the desire for more content continues — not just at Vail Dance Festival, but all over — I am realizing that in order to serve more artists, I must step back from doing every single film shoot and edit.

What I need to focus on is training my teams at Vail Dance, Jacob’s Pillow and in New York to be incredible artists behind the camera and behind the computer.  I still keep close tabs on the edits and filming, but I, myself can not do everything and slowly I am realizing that this is OK!! There are just not enough hours in the day.  After much soul searching and asking myself, am I really ok with this? I decided YES.

Vail helped me come to this realization. In the last 3 weeks, my team created 28+ videos for the festival! The only way that’s possible is if I delegate to my incredible team, and if I take on the role of director and producer.

I began my studies in Broadcast Video sitting in a control room live mixing cameras.  I remember directing those cameras and thinking, this is so fun.  At that time, I thought I wanted to be in front of the camera, but I soon figured out that being behind the camera or in the control room was much more my thing.  Now, everything has come full circle!!

Directing live is exciting for me.  This is where my passion began.

For 16 years now I have been live mixing two cameras at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.  This started because of Norton Owen and Carmella Vassor Johnson back in 1999 when they realized it was a necessity in order to document everything we needed to at Jacob’s Pillow.  I was grandfathered into this way of working and it is now natural.  Since then, we have filmed and mixed up to 3 cameras at all Jacob’s Pillow shows.

Then, last summer, Mike Imhoff (President of the Vail Valley Foundation) told me he wanted a very large screen on the lawn of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.  And he wanted my cameras mixed live to give audiences a good show from their lawn seats that are further away from the stage!  To my excitement, Vail put this plan into action this summer.

I directed 4 cameras and mixed them live to the large screen.  I was tucked away in a small room backstage with the live switcher, some motors, a speaker and my intercom.  People kept apologizing to me because I was tucked away in a small room, but I was in my happy place.

Choreographing on the Screen

Live performance – there is nothing like it.  I equate it to my life as a performer.  Performing has always been something I love doing and directing live is like performing in a different form.  Butterflies still hit my stomach like they did when I performed on stage, I still have to give myself a pep talk that it will go smoothly, I still have remind myself that this is live theater and all will be ok…then the lights go out and butterflies leave and I am in the zone.

One of my good friends recently said to me, “You are choreographing on the screen, you are manipulating what the audience sees!”

Exactly!!!  While the live mix can never be identical to the live performance, it is its own performance.  I try to get myself in the minds of the audience – what do they want to see?  That’s how I decide how to live mix.  Just like a live performance, some may not like what happens moment-to-moment, but by the end everyone has had a shared experience.

And that’s exactly what my goal is: to give everyone a shared experience.

Nel Shelby is Owner & Filmmaker for Nel Shelby Productions, her New York City-based company dedicated to dance videography and editing. Nel shares her mission to preserve and promote the art of dance with her husband, Christopher Duggan, a dance and wedding photographer. They collaborate on projects with dance companies of worldwide renown, up-and-coming choreographers, dance educators, dance schools and more. Nel is Video Producer at Jacob’s Pillow and Vail Dance Festival and is also the proud Director and Producer of PS DANCE! — a New York Emmy-nominated documentary about dance education in NYC’s public schools.