So, you want to make a Video?

By Pam Archer

Pam is the owner of Archer Fitness Consultants, Inc. in Kingsport, Tennessee. She is Co-Host of the “Jenny’s Fit In 15” TV show on The Health Network. She has produced six exercise videos and starred in seven.  Pam is also an International Fitness Presenter who has presented at World Fitness IDEA! 

I doubt that there is an instructor in the industry who hasn’t wanted to be in or star in an exercise video. Evidently, from the burgeoning store shelves, just about all of us have tried! Having produced 5 videos myself, starred in seven and been the creative consultant for two more, I write this article from a wealth of experience and will share with you a realistic view of the process and what it entails. While many “sales” people in the industry will pump you full of hope and the promise of becoming famous, I will tell you the REAL truth of the matter and what you can expect to happen should you decide to pursue your dream of having your own video.


Before you dive headfirst into some very deep waters, there are some questions to which you should give serious thought:


What is the monetary investment in this project going to be?


What is my time investment in this project going to be?


What are my expectations from this project?


Who is my target market? Is it instructors or the Wal-Mart shopper, because these are vastly different markets and your video would be very different for each of the two groups.


How am I going to market it?


Do I have a unique edge or unique idea to present in this video project?

You might be furrowing your brow at some of these questions and asking the question ”What does this have to do with anything?”. Let me go through the questions, one by one, and give you some insight:

What is the monetary investment in this project going to be?
This is an open-ended question, but I can tell you that you would want to put your best foot forward for your first project. My first video “Step 2 Step” was about $16,000 in production costs and several thousand more in marketing costs. This is outstanding, considering most videos productions, such as the Crunch series, cost closer to $50,000 to produce! I was wiser with the production of the next four, in that I recorded them all on the same day, saving production costs. (I must add that this was not wiser for my body or mind!) It was also cheaper for the graphic designer to design four sleeve covers at once, as opposed to one at a time several months apart. Even the duplication costs were cheaper by doing multiples. I spent about $6,000 total for the last four and will tell you how I did that later in this article. I can tell you where you can cut costs and where you should not cut costs.

What is my time investment in this project going to be?
You can count on it becoming a full-time job for several months before and following production! There are a million details to take care of aside from the obvious choreography preparation and rehearsal time. Have you ever thought about how you get a UPC , (Universal Product Code), and once you get one, how you actually get it applied to your sleeve cover and even where it should go on the sleeve cover? Some distributors require that the UPC be in a specific place on your video sleeve. You can’t sell your video in a store without a UPC to scan. Did you know that you had better have your selected title searched for title and/or trademark infringement? How about that copyright to your video and your sleeve cover design? What if your back-up talent decides they want a piece of the pie when your video sells a million copies? What if MTV decides to take your video and distort the faces of your back-up talent? Are you protected? I know that some of this may sound pretty far-fetched, but stranger things have happened. Are you going to market it yourself or will you hire a sales person? If you market it yourself, count on hours of letter writing, making phone calls, crying over rejection letters and pursuing all kinds of avenues of distribution.

I spent hours soliciting sponsors for clothing, shoes, steps, hair & make-up, even the carpet that was used on the set of the first video and the plants and flora in the background of the studio that I teach in on the last four. This saved considerably on production costs. I also approached a local TV station and they gave me a flat fee quote for rental of the entire studio for two days (between news broadcasts), including their engineers, director, producer, sound person, camera operators, the whole kit and caboodle. The price also included 21 hours of editing and two master copies. The price was ridiculously low, something like $1,200!

What are my expectations of this project?
If you are hoping to make a million dollars on your video, I can tell you that your chances are greater of winning the lottery! Selling a 1,000 units of a video is big sales, unless you are a celebrity or are hired talent for a major exercise video production company such as Dragonfly Production, which produces the Crunch Fitness series, Buns of Steel, Yoga Zone, Cosmopolitan, etc. or Reebok.

If you are counting on your friends and family and fellow instructors to buy enough videos from you to offset the cost of production, you are living in la-la land. Your friends and family expect you to give them a gazillion copies of your video BECAUSE they are your friends and family. Your fellow instructors might buy one copy and then they make copies of it for all of their friends!

If your goal is to make a name in the industry, then a video will do that for you…if you get it to the right people. It can open many doors for you. My “Step 2 Step” video won an invitation for me to present at World Fitness IDEA for two years, without even making application to present! I had a unique idea, because I am the creator of partner double-stepping and a pioneer in the use of multiple steps and they wanted that new idea presented at the conference.

I sent the last four videos to a magazine, just hoping for a review. The fitness editor passed them along to the producer of Crunch Fitness, because they were doing a new TV show and thought that I was the perfect person for the job! That’s how I landed the fitness pro spot on “Jenny’s Fit In 15’ on The Health Network. That one contact paid for the production of those videos! I should add that I have never, and probably will never, recover the cost of making “Step 2 Step”, but I have to consider it well spent advertising money.

Who is my target market?
Was this ever an eye-opener for me! I am a choreographer and I couldn’t wait to share my great new combinations with everyone! The rude truth is that the consumer market is frustrated with the fancy choreography of the current video selection and as a result, the sales for exercise videos are not all that great unless your name is Billy Blanks! Bingo! Just one of the many reasons that Tae-Bo has been such a hit. It is basic movement that looks easy to do (though technically correct martial arts movement takes years of practice to perfect) and is repetitive. Do you recall when the men stopped coming to step class? About the first time we added a grapevine, mambo or pivot! No offense meant, but the consumer market is also frustrated with the perfect, tiny bodies that are in the typical exercise video. It is intimidating and demoralizing for the average person to work out with perfect people. When they don’t achieve that look, because they have bought into the idea that it is realistic for them to try to achieve that look, the video ends up in the next garage sale, on E-Bay for $2.00, or on the floor at the back of the closet.

Instructors are always looking for new choreography and are great customers, but there are many more video selections out there than there are instructors to purchase them. “Step 2 Step” is no longer in production, but I have some fabulous, creative choreography and strength training ideas on “Step In Line”, “Getting High On Low”, “Wrap Up Warm Up” and “Assistance with Resistance”. In fact, I have a whole garage full of ideas! You can get my great ideas for only $5.00 each, plus shipping and handling. I would love to be able to park my car in my garage. I would also love to get out of debt on these things so that I could replace my 200,000-mile Mitsubishi! Are you getting the REAL picture of video production now?

How am I going to market this project?
This is where reality sets in! How do you get your product on the shelf? I hate to be the bearer of grim news, but the chances are slim to none! Video shelf space is very limited and is rented or sold to major production companies such as Disney, Parade Video, and other big names in the distribution industry. I went in through the back door with “Step 2 Step” and took my product to the manager of a local Wal-Mart. I did some live demonstrations in the store and he believed so much in my product that he presented it to corporate headquarters himself. He actually secured a contract with them for me. Do you want to know the clincher? If ANY distribution company takes your product, you must guarantee return on the product. Well, I don’t know about you, but we couldn’t afford to have 50,000 videos out there and then have to give a refund on them after paying for duplication. Needless to say, we didn’t sign the contract. I did sign with another distributor. They purchased some videos in January of 1999 and have requested this week to return $1,000 worth of them!

What I am saying is that you had better have a buyer and/or sponsor for you product before you invest in producing it. There are some companies who will listen to your ideas for projects and even fund them, but it is difficult to get an audience with them without an inside contact.

Do I have a unique edge or idea for a project?
Just how many step videos do you estimate are on the market now? Thousands! What makes yours unique? Mine was unique, but not marketable to the home consumer because most home users don’t have two steps. There are so many kickboxing or forms of the same, videos available that I know of one major video production company that had a studio reserved two years ago and they stopped production because the market is so saturated with the product. Just how many Pilate based videos can we turn out in a week’s time? A gosh plenty! Tae Bo was the first and only video to be hugely successful since the first Step video came out and nothing has compared to it. It sold over 80 million copies the first year. Unless you have something really different and special, my advice would be to “don’t even go there”.

My goal in writing this article was not to discourage you from pursuing your dreams, but to enter into it with your eyes wide open. I am a firm believer in shooting for the stars, and I am also a risk taker. I have paid the price (and so has my poor, literally, husband), but I made it to the top in my field. At least I can go to my grave knowing that I did it and not wondering “what if”. The deciding factor in making my first video came from a statement that my pastor made in a sermon. He said, “Many great poems, books, paintings and other art forms have been buried in East Lawn Cemetery because people were afraid to follow their dreams.” After the sermon, a friend said “Pam, don’t let your ideas be buried in East Lawn Cemetery.” It was off to the studio for me! My industry has also been my ministry. I believe that when I see my Lord in heaven, one day, that He will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, well done.” That’s all I really care about, the rest will be edited!




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