LipDub Videos Show High Schoolers' Directorial Chops

Filed under: Amazing Kids

Move over, Martin Scorsese -- you've got competition. Students at high schools and universities are trying their hand at one-shot videos featuring hundreds of cast members lip-syncing to catchy pop tunes.

Senior Luke McDaneld at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Kan. shot a so-called "lipdub" video as part of the school's homecoming festivities, reports.

With the help of the school's film/media director Jeff Kuhr, he planned the three-minute video -- which includes 350 students representing just about every group in the school, from the orchestra to the drum corps to the hip hop step team -- lip-syncing to Kim Wilde's "Kids in America." (In case you're wondering, the teens sporting Burger King paper crowns are candidates for the school's homecoming court.)

"We literally had no time where we get the entire school to practice with us. [Luke]...and I spent a week or so mapping possible paths, timing them out to the song, mentally placing the crowds of people we hoped would participate," Kuhr tells

The enthusiasm of the students is infectious -- we especially love the closing scene in the gym, where the music fades out and you get to hear the joyful singing of the teens. McDaneld's directorial prowess is impressive -- we think he has a long career in cinema ahead of him, despite the fact that it took three takes to get it right.

The one-take video concept is going viral, too. Students at Hempfield High School in Landisville, Penn. created a "lipdub" video to Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA," and even college kids are getting into the act. Students studying communications at the University of Quebec in Montreal created a similar clip to the tune "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas that has generated more than four million views on YouTube.

Movie history is filled with famous long takes from directors like Orson Welles (the opening shot of "Touch of Evil"), Martin Scorsese (the "Copacabana" scene from "GoodFellas") and cinema enfant terrible Quentin Tarantino, who used the technique in his breakthrough film, "Reservoir Dogs."

Or, say, Alfred Hitchcock, says Dr. Paul Levinson.

Levinson, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University and author of "The New New Media," says that the long shot -- or "mise-en-scene" -- has long been used by film auteurs to give audiences the feeling of being present during the action on screen.

"The thing that is very powerful about mise-en-scene is that when you have a continuing image like that, you feel like you are actually going along with the action and seeing it with your own eyes," Levinson tells ParentDish. "It seems like we are really there."

The long shot was once an impressive feat of planning, ingenuity and engineering. Today, technology is so much more advanced that even amateurs -- like high-school students -- can create short films with all the finesse of a professional production. Lighter and more powerful cameras make it much easier to film a mise-en-scene.

That doesn't mean that it doesn't take talent, Levinson points out. "It takes a tremendous amount of work to imagine and plan that scene," he says. "And, this is the perfect project for high school students. They have the intensity that it takes, and they take great delight in the idea that so many people are looking at their work."

It's that intensity and talent that got the kids at Shorewood High School in Seattle noticed. Their school's video production instructor, Martin Ballew, partnered up with senior Javier Cáceres to develop a particularly creative version of the lipdub genre. Set to Hall & Oats' 1980's hit "You Make My Dreams Come True," the short film features students lip-syncing -- in reverse.

How did they do it? The two gathered 27 production students for three weeks of preparation before asking 500 students to participate in the final shoot, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Then, they asked the players to lip-sync the words backwards, mouthing the syllables in reverse: To reverse the phrase, "You make my dreams come true," the first syllable out of your mouth isn't "eurt," but "urk." Javier Cáceres, who was inspired by indie director Spike Jonze, spent hours rehearsing the backwards lip-syncing in front of a video camera before getting it just right.

The result? Mind blowing. Just ask the 800,000-plus people who've watched it on YouTube. According to Levinson, that medium is largely responsible for providing budding filmmakers like Cáceres with an audience. The rise of YouTube gives those who were once just consumers of media an opportunity to become producers, he says. There's even a how-to site for wannabe lipdubbers:

"It's never been easier to do a three-, five- or 10-minute piece and in principal, millions of people can see it now," Levinson says. "Back in Hitchcock's day, you couldn't do that without a great deal or money, or without going through a great many gatekeepers."

Related: Fed Up: School Lunch Project -- Blog Documents School Lunches

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.