Cosplay Music Videos Tutorial: PART ONE – Formats

by ignotae

Hey guys! So this is a quick tutorial on my process for planning, developing, and directing CMVs. I’m not an expert. At all. I don’t have formal training in film school, but I do love visual arts including film, as well as creative writing, and I have lots of background in Technical Theatre and English. As it pertains to CMVs at the time of writing (Sept 2012), I have scripted 3 videos and directed 2, and am currently involved in the production of ~4 more.This tutorial will be as comprehensive as possible, but please keep in mind that there are wellsprings of information out there that’ll better help you with the language of scriptwriting, camerawork, and directing. So don’t be shy, and don’t be afraid! You don’t NEED any special experience. I will recommend, however, that you be as structured as possible, and hopefully this write up will help you : )

PART ONE – CMV Formats.

I’ve always imagined that a Cosplay Music Video can take a couple of formats. These are the ones I’ve come up with, and keep in mind that there is ALMOST ALWAYS overlap; multiple forms can and usually are used in the same video.

  1. ShowcaseCostume-oriented. The video equivalent of a costume photo montage, sometimes with fancy camera movements to add extra flavour.  Designed to show off craftsmanship, group, etc.
  2. PerformanceA demonstration of physical skills, like with martial arts, dance, free running, etc.
  3. Lip Dubin other words, a lip synch.
  4. ConceptualA movie where symbolism is prevalent, and specific themes are kept in mind. May be very abstract.
  5. Story-BasedA video that has a clear narrative, or where only a section of a larger narrative is told and the viewer must “guess” on what happens next.
  6. Re-creation scene replication of original content, though not necessarily with the same camera angles. For example, a recreation of an anime opening, a video game cut-scene, or series of manga or comic panels.
  7. Parody/Gag – Pretty much what it sounds like; a goofy video, a series of funny vignettes set to music, a video that uses a parody-song for its music.

Cosplay showcase videos are pretty common at conventions, but tend to be a creative project executed by the videographer alone. The showcase I’m referring to here would be if you have a group of cosplayers set up and you want to immortalize your costumes in video form as opposed to or in addition to regular photography! I think every single cosplay music video out there has the potential to be this; it all depends on the extent to which you focus on the costumes/cosplayer. Despite what you might think, these should also be scripted out to show consideration for everyone involved, including the videographer.

A good example of the Performance type would be the Assassins Creed Free-Running video on youtube, but can also extend to dances, etc. In these the focus is on the display; you’re aiming to showcase a particular skill set, and the costumes may take a backseat.

Lipdubs tend to be really popular, and there are lots out there; it can be really tricky to integrate this into your videomaking, so I advise caution unless you have a way to play the song through speakers. Using lipsynching automatically means you’ll need MORE TIME to film each scene, in case the cosplayer accidentally goes off time or can’t get the actions down simultaneously.

Anecdote: for a recent filming project wtih Andalantie, we had an Iphone synched up to some external speakers and a list of timing points linked to particular scenes. We cued up the song to start at that timing point and therefore had live audio for when we were recording, and doing this allowed our actors to move  their mouths or match thier movements directly to the portions of the song. Occasionally someone would slip up or get a move wrong, though, at which point we had to reset the set and try again. Some scenes required 5 or more takes before we had 2 or 3 we thought we could work with.

Conceptual ones, as you can imagine, are trickier to nail down. I think you have to have a good writer for this, who understands the character(s) involved and the storyline they fit into in-series. I automatically think of damaramegido and klmedia’s Aradia: Metamorphose video with regards to this, but I’m sure there are other conceptual videos out there. Whenever I picture a conceptual video, I immediately think EMOTION; in other words, you’re writing it to have a specific emotional impact.

I’m pretty sure almost every CMV can be story-based, and I’d argue that having a narrative is more interesting to watch than simply showcasing outfits for a few minutes. The most important thing is to have a clear story in mind when you’re scripting, and don’t overcomplicate things. These are the ones that I favor, and I’ve got my own process for creating them which I’ll explain in a bit. I feel like having a story with THEMES underlying it – for instance, Life and Death, or Triumph Over Adversity, or Coping With Loss/Regret – enables more people to connect with what’s going on, even if they know nothing about the series in question.

There’s definitely nothing like seeing your favorite series and characters come to life on the screen! Re-creations can be AWESOME. And I’ve used some of them myself, most notably in Kids: Rise Up where I tried to visually recreate some scenes from [S] Cascade. These should be used carefully, though, since you risk alienating people who aren’t in the fandom if you solely rely on in-series content. Even so, I must admit that if you can pull off the opening or ending to an anime, I’d be impressed and excited about it : )

Parodies or Gag videos… I tend to think that these videos would involve the use of a parody-song, or a gag-song, and the content would reflect that? I’m thinking of course in terms of Homestuck still, where I got permission from Inky to make You Don’t Know You’re Homestuck using her song, but there are definitely others out there. These would also encompass “Random” videos, I guess, but I think even those could be fulfilling and hilarious if you plotted them out in advance : O

I mentioned there was overlap. And I mean, there’s almost ALWAYS overlap. Speaking solely about the ones I’ve worked on, here’s how I’d categorize them:

  • You Don’t Know You’re Homestuck – Story-based Parody + Lip Dub with a smattering of Showcase
  • [S] Kids: Rise Up – Conceptual Story-based, Re-creation and Showcase
  • Gangnam Style: Canada – Re-Creation Parody/Gag, Performance

You don’t HAVE to categorize your CMVs, but I think it’s a fun exercise to think about because it helps you with the next step: Scripting. If you know what you want, you’ll hopefully know better how to get there!