As yoga and other practices have gained popularity over the last decade and entered the mainstream – in large part due to celebrity involvement – a greater number of people are becoming interested in the ancient practices and systems of belief. Gaiam claims that their ‘yoga for beginners’ collection still ranks among their top sellers, and it is certainly a growth industry. While instructors rarely make much profit from yoga DVDs, they are an excellent tool for teaching and building a following.
Today, yoga DVDs are largely aimed at individuals who do not have the means or the time to make it to a yoga class. Consequently, a video must be put together with the knowledge that it may be watched up to 7 times a week. Emphasis must be placed on production value, such as including the right amount of verbiage and ensuring that it is delivered in a compelling and polished manner, as well as paying special attention to the setting, lighting and sound of the production.
Five Keys To yoga DVD Success
According to industry insiders, five of the most important elements to consider when making a yoga DVD include:
– stage presence
– marketing and distribution
While some teachers are fortunate enough to self-fund their own projects, most instructors must look for alternate ways to financially back their ventures. This is where production companies like Acacia, Gaiam and Natural Journeys come into the picture.
Dare to be Different
When these production companies were asked what it is that makes them decide to take on a new project, they unanimously responded ‘differentiation’ – the ability to make a new product truly stand out. While Elizabeth Martin from Acorn Media, borrows one of Shiva Rea’s terms, “original shakti,” to describe differentiation, Susan Haney, Vice President of marketing at Gaiam specifically refers to “what’s not being served.” Fifty-six percent of top selling mind/body yoga DVDs are generated by Gaiam. In an attempt to retain that figure, or perhaps even to enlarge it, Gaiam continues to “look for new methods that involve the mind and body.”
Directors also place great emphasis on differentiation. James Wvinner, who directed yoga DVDs for both Shiva Rea and Duncan Wong, finds it very appealing when teachers bring other influences into the mix, such as dance, martial arts or alternate spiritual practices that enhance the viewing experience and set the production apart from everything else that is out there.
Natural Journeys, is one of the largest companies producing mind/body-yoga related DVDs in the United States. The executives at Natural Journeys say, “a couple things need to happen as far as we’re concerned [when taking a DVD project on board].” In particular, three questions are asked:
1. How is this project different from any other? What new benefits does it provide?
2. How diverse is the product? In other words, will it service more than just the yoga market, and will the product fit into a diverse fitness category?
3. What development does the product provide? Audiences appear to be moving away from pure fitness regimes and gravitating toward programs that help them developmentally throughout a week, a month, or their entire lives. In other words, how is the yoga DVD going to relate to the viewer’s sense of spirituality and outlook on life?
Remaining True to Yourself
While differentiation remains vital in a somewhat homogenized industry, truth and authenticity in a project retain equal importance. Shiva Rea, whose DVD Yoga Shakti reached number one on Amazon, points out that there are over 1500 yoga yoga DVDs currently on Amazon, so in order to make your work stand out, “you really need to put your heart and soul into it.” She continues, “You’ve got to have a core integrity as far as the actual practice. It’s a labor of love and an artistic process as much as creating an instructional DVD.”
Director Ron Hamad, who shot Anna Getty’s instructional DVD and fellow director, James Wvinner, both cited truth and meaning in a project as being essential. Internationally renowned teacher Seane Corn elaborated: “If you really want to succeed as a yoga teacher, teach your truth. Shiva, Rodney, and [I] would still be teaching if our success was taken away. Any success that we have cultivated is a reflection of that love [of teaching.]” Honesty and authenticity are readily apparent to the discerning viewer. Even Gaiam contends that while the celebrity connection can be huge from a PR standpoint, authenticity remains key.
Engaging the Audience
In addition to truth and differentiation, the instructor must have the ability to engage the audience. In Rodney Yee’s mind, you have to “break the glass,” and “some have the ability, some don’t.” Rodney, who has made over 30 DVDs to date, believes that it is absolutely crucial to keep your audience in mind when filming.
On a more general level, engaging the audience involves exciting visuals and stimulating music. Acorn Media believes that “the visual and the music need to be something that you would take pleasure in watching even if you weren’t practicing along with them.” Across the board, it seems that the idea of shooting on a seashore or on a cliff has had its day, as has the yoga video that entails two still cameras and a yoga instructor practicing in a studio. James Wvinner mentions that “it is one thing to go to Hawaii and shoot in bright sunlight, it’s quite another to create in a more abstract location using beautiful light from a sunrise or a sunset; people respond to it.” Director Ron Hamad also believes that people respond to beauty, as it is a way for them to access the Divine.
New Trends in the Marketplace
Besides beautiful scenery, well thought out locations, and wonderful soundtracks, new yoga DVDs are focusing on the whole package, enabling viewers to get more for their money. DVD options are beginning to include more health, nutrition and spiritual information; workouts are starting to have the potential to be customized. One example of this is Shiva Rea’s groundbreaking ‘yoga matrix’ which allows viewers to build their own practice by using the DVDs menu options to organize the sequences into a customized individual program.
According to Elizabeth Martin former Acorn Media’s publicist, from a financial standpoint, production companies appear to be moving away from the middle; they are either slashing productions costs or raising them. Acorn Media is moving toward the latter category with a number of big budget productions including Duncan Wong and Shiva Rea. Shiva Rea’s series consists of four yoga DVDs shot among the stunning scenery of White Sands, New Mexico. The four discs – Fluid Power, Wave Motion Within Yoga; Yoga Trance Dance; Creative Core Abs; and Radiant Heart – were all made at the same time, with the intention of appealing to a broader audience. This concept illustrates how companies are also getting the most for their dollar by producing multiple products per shoot.
Offering stunning and thoughtful visuals, Shiva Rea’s yoga DVDs were shot by cinematographer Sion Michel, who worked on the cinematic release of Memoirs of a Geisha. The difference between Fluid Power Yoga and its counterparts shot five years ago is striking, and illustrates the shift towards making yoga DVDs look more like feature films. In particular, it is aimed at more advanced yoga practitioners – something that hasn’t previously been focused on in the mass market. Similarly, Rodney Yee’s project, entitled Advanced Yoga also targets the more experienced yoga practitioner, and feature more of Rodney’s own personal yoga practice. Additionally, Rodney Yee’s yoga DVD marks a change from what has already been done, as it is shot using 360 degree angles.
Marketing and Distribution are Key
While a great deal of energy must be put into the production of a yoga DVD, teachers Rodney Yee, Seane Corn, Shiva Rea and Anna Getty all agree that the follow-up energy to a DVD project is equally important. Anna Getty stresses that you must try to get as much publicity and coverage as possible. Rodney continues, “you can have the best yoga DVD out there and if people don’t know about it, it won’t sell.” What use is differentiation if you do not have the ability to communicate it?
One of the most efficient and cheapest ways to publicize is through word of mouth. Acorn Media points out that DVDs placed in prime retail locations begin to sell well, but without word of mouth, their revenue steadily declines. Gathering a local following can also be a wonderful marketing tool. Seane Corn speculates that if teachers can sell through their students or at their local studio, they will create a name for themselves, and consequently find themselves in a better position to approach a production company for future financial support. Nowadays the internet is the largest low-cost outlet that can be used for marketing and distribution using methods including mass emailing, blogs, social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and web exchanges with colleagues and studios.
Advice from the Pros
According to Wvinner, one of the best pieces of advice for instructors looking to make yoga DVDs is to do a simple taping of their practice prior to making the final DVD; this allows friends and colleagues to sample the product, to ensure that the asana flows. Further down the road, Seane Corn strongly cautions against being lured by the first corporation that approaches you to make a yoga DVD. “When you get offered a deal, very often it’s impulsive to say yes, [and] compromise your vision and yourself energetically and artistically just to get your product out. If one comes to you, there’s going to be two or three. Get a lawyer, protect yourself financially, always have control of the intellectual content. If you can’t be a business person, make sure that you align yourself with people that you trust.”
From a director’s point of view, Ron Hamad retains that you have to remain true to your own integrity. “If you don’t think that you can serve it [due to a lack of finances] and have the outcome be something that you can feel good about, then don’t take it.” And, if you are planning on making your own DVD, James recommends that you approach the project as a film, rather than a yoga DVD. “Getting a book on basic film making is a good start.”
On all fronts, executives at Natural Journeys, stress a fundamental message that is often overlooked, “Really understand first what it is that you are selling. Then focus your energy on how you’re going to sell it.” And finally, Anna Getty advises that one should “honor the energy of the project and keep it close to your heart until it’s finished. Sometimes the energy is in letting everyone know about it, rather than in doing it.”
The Future of yoga-related DVDs
Today, more than ever, time has become a precious commodity. The increase in demand for home yoga practice DVDs supports this conclusion. Similarly, for as long as our culture remains weight- and health-conscious, the high demand for yoga and other mind-body practices – in particular, those that simultaneously market weight loss – will remain.
While we can speculate as to whether internet-based, iPod-streaming or downloadable classes will take over, no one can say for sure what the future holds. As technologies continue to improve and become more accessible, the opportunity for teachers to make their own yoga-related DVDs will increase, as will the capability to market them to the world. Regardless of what the future format of DVDs will be, one thing is certain: there will always be people looking for a home yoga practice.
Teachers and producers of yoga DVDs will continue to be faced with the challenge of maintaining the integrity of an ancient practice, while simultaneously giving it mainstream appeal. It is at this crossroads that it is particularly important to stay true to yourself and your unique strengths and talent. While there are bound to be a number of challenges and lessons along the way, as Anna Getty points out, “what could be a better investment than investing in an idea that you believe in?”
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