Representing 'Dal‑ifornia'

- August 17, 2010

Three students with an idea. Four months of planning. An eight-hour shoot. Five attempts at one single take. Oh, and one inescapable pop song.

These numbers alone don’t add up to something “going viral” online. No, there’s likely something else behind the rapid success of the Dalhousie Student Union’s new “lip dub.” Released on Friday, and featuring dozens of Dal students, the song-and-dance spin on Katy Perry’s summer hit California Gurls (rebranded Dalifornia Gurls, of course) has almost 9,000 views on YouTube as of Tuesday morning and is quickly becoming a Facebook and Twitter sensation. It was even featured on CTV News this week.

The swift response and glowingly positive feedback is a bit overwhelming to the video’s organizers.

“I’m blown away,” says Sarah Bouchard, political science and religious studies major. “I did not expect it.”

“It’s only been a few days, but the number of’s been ridiculous,” adds Logan Astle, who just completed his physics and chemistry degree and is starting engineering in the fall.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “lip dubs,” don’t feel too out-of-touch: they’re a rather recent phenomenon, one driven largely by university students. They’re performance videos that combine “lip syncing” (mouthing the words to a song) with “audio dubbing” (replacing the audio of the video with the original song file) and usually involve large groups of people singing along to pop songs in a hyper-stylized, theatrical fashion – often in one take.

Dalifornia Girls, we're unforgettable ...

The most famous lip dub – a video for the Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling by students at the Université de Québec à Montréal – caught the eye of several members of the DSU’s orientation week committee last year, but it was simply too late to think about planning one of their own. They returned to the idea this year, though, and it was greeted with great enthusiasm by the DSU executive and the rest of the committee.

“I think, for me at least, I just thought that if I were a first-year student coming to Dal, that would be one of the best things to get me excited for my orientation week,” says Gillian Fung, who just finished her BSc and is working on an electrical engineering degree. “It just looks like everyone in the video is having so much fun and it looks like they love where they are. And we wanted to capture that for our first-year students.”

Moving pieces

The trio began brainstorming ideas for the lip dub back in April. They watched every other university lip dub video at least twice, taking notes on what they liked and didn’t like, and realizing very quickly that they’d need some professional camera equipment to pull off something that matched their vision. The also started a lengthy list of possible props, costumes and – of course – songs.

Deciding on a soundtrack for the video wasn’t easy. Right up until a final “decision day” in early July, the group was torn between songs by Katy Perry and Joel Plaskett.

“We had set out clear goals of what we wanted in a song, what we wanted it to portray: something upbeat and happy, simple lyrics, and something that was popular,” says Ms. Fung. “We needed something that might not be everyone’s favourite song, but something everyone had heard – especially the first-years. Part of us really wanted Joel Plaskett, but we were like, ‘This video isn’t for us.’”

East coast represent / Now put your hands up...

Having decided on Perry’s hit, the team began storyboarding dozens of sight gag for the video, mapped out on floor plans put together by Ms. Fung. They met nearly every day (they’re all working on campus this summer) and would send excited e-mails among themselves anytime one of them came up with a great idea. In the final days before the August 8 shoot, they began taking their own handheld cameras around the SUB, testing shots and reworking the timing of the various segments.

“We made a lot of changes,” says Ms. Fung. “We had so many ideas, but we didn’t know how long it would take to walk around the building and what was reasonable.”

Take five

They also didn’t know how many people would show up. Though they’d scaled back their plans – an overly ambitious first draft of the routine, affectionately called the “what the heck?!” version by Mr. Astle, called for 240 participants – the organizers simply didn’t know how many responses they’d get to their open call for students to take part.

Daisy Dukes / Bikinis on top ...

But arrive they did: over 40 of them, enough to make the video work provided that the students didn’t mind taking on several roles and spending their entire Sunday in the SUB, much of that time just waiting and preparing for the one-take shot attempts.

“Everyone was so great on the day of,” says Ms. Bouchard. “We had given everyone their role, and then we tracked them down an hour later and gave them even more roles! But everyone wanted to make it work and to work together as a team. They were like, ‘No, we can do this!” Take the conveyer belt of students, for example [at the 3:43 mark] – we weren’t going to do that, and everyone was saying, ‘No, it will be so much fun, we’ll make it work!”

It wasn’t easy getting the best take. A few of times, things went awry. The bit in the elevator was off-time. The balloons didn’t quite fall on cue. And the Dalhousie Tiger, played fearlessly by Mr. Astle, may have accidentally tackled the girl on the stairs [1:15] on one take when his feet gave out from under him. But with a professional steadicam operator filming the routine, things came together towards the end of the day. They got the take they were looking for on the fifth attempt.

“If [everyone] was tired, they didn’t show it,” says Mr. Astle. “Even after the hours they’d been waiting for us to do the walkthrough and get going, as soon as we started the song the first time, as soon as that music started playing in the SUB, everyone just got hyped up: cheering, yelling directions out at each other. It was ridiculous how much energy poured out.”

Something worth sharing

As soon as the video went online Friday afternoon, that energy went digital.

Dalifornia ...

“I left to go home last week, so I was in Maine,” says Ms. Bouchard. “The day it was released, I had a million text messages, Facebook and e-mails asking, ‘Have you seen it?’...All my friends in Maine watched it and they were like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool, I can’t believe you guys did that.’ It was great to get their fresh perspective on it...people who didn’t know anyone in the video, or anything about Halifax or Dalhousie.”

“It’s neat to read all the YouTube comments,” says Ms. Fung. “We’ve had comments from people who’ve graduated and say, ‘Oh, I wish I still went to Dal, I wish they had this when we were going there, this is so cool.’ But we’ve also had exactly what we were looking for, which is first-year students coming here saying, ‘I’m so glad that I chose Dal,’ or ‘Now I’m really excited for my orientation week, I can’t wait to get there.’”

DSU President Chris Saulnier is pleased as punch. “This is such a great way to get people excited,” he told Dal News – just before he was off to join the orientation committee around the television to watch the CTV News clip.

You all could be / Dalifornia girls ...

So back to the big question: why so popular so quickly? What is it about this self-consciously silly little video that’s connecting with people? Might it be the shameless enthusiasm on display? The presence of a Dal spirit that, perhaps, all too often hides in the corners of campus rather than out in the open?

“It’s such a big school that sometimes the school spirit is hard to direct and it gets lost,” says Ms. Fung. “I think and hope, for at least the people that go to Dal, that they’re sharing this video being like, ‘This is my school, I’m so proud that I go here because this is a look at the fun we have at our school.’”

“It’s so full of energy, and that’s what we were really trying to take from the Montreal one,” says Ms. Bouchard.

East Coast rocks yeah!

“And that’s something we always strive for, especially during orientation week – to make sure that students are energized in a positive way,” adds Mr. Astle, who adds that he knows several orientation week leaders who are taking the enthusiasm of the video to heart. “This is a really good head start for us.”

So the next question, then: is the DSU going to be a one-hit wonder, or is there a follow-up video in the works? The committee is planning some smaller video projects for orientation week, but they’re waiting until the fall to consider a second lip dub.

“We have a lot of good ideas that didn’t get used that I’d like to see put to use,” says Ms. Fung.

“We did this during the summer when there are a very limited number of students around and able to give us a full day for this sort of thing,” says Ms. Bouchard. “It would be fun to try and do one during the school year when we’d have 16,000 students to draw from.”

“Really, I’d just like to give everyone else the opportunity to take part in something like this,” adds Ms. Fung.”It really was as much fun as it looks.”

Did you see it?

Pirate! Mermaid! Dalifornia girls!

Even if you’ve watched Dal-ifornia Gurls several times over, you might not have caught everything. Here’s a few cool details shared by the production team:

  •  You probably noticed the orange-faced “oompa loompa” that does the weird dance in front of the “Dal-ifornia” signs. But did you catch his first appearance, popping out of a garbage can at the :36 mark?
  • Curious who plays the pirate that keeps showing up in the video? That’s no student – that’s none other than DSU President Chris Saulnier’s father!
  • If you listen closely at the end of the video, you can hear organizer Sarah Bouchard (off script) yell out: “And the sun came out!”


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