Viral Video UBC Lipdub, Andrew Cohen Interview

With near 1.5 million views on YouTube to date, Andrew Cohen’s UBC Lipdub Video is a shining example of how to reach for the sky – literally! The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, which had merely a supportive role, has benefited from the most effective marketing tool in their history, a viral video. A must watch if you’ve not seen, and a must read for the passionate video marketer eager to hear how Andrew's pulled it off!

Welcome Andrew – it's great to have a chance to sit down with you a year after the release of UBC Lipdub! For those of you who don't know, tell us about who you are, and what your claim to fame is!
ANDREW COHEN:Well, I am a recent BFA graduate of UBC, and I wrote, directed, choreographed, and executive produced UBC LipDub.

What is a ‘lipdub' video? Where did the idea for this ‘lipdub' originate?
ANDREW COHEN: A LipDub is a style of YouTube video that follows anywhere from 75 to 1000+ students (or community members) along a designated path in a single tracking shot. People enter and exit frame while lip-synching words to popular music that gets dubbed on top of the images in post. Often, shenanigans ensue, as university students left to their own creative devices can think up some unique things.

LipDub originated (according to my research) by a media design class in Germany as a school project. The premise caught on and soon schools in France, Poland, Israel, Brazil, Spain, USA, and Canada followed suit. Even though the trend started 2 years ago, it continues to be a way for universities, and now high schools and even retirement homes to show their spirit.

In doing research for UBC LipDub, I must have watched 70 or 80 different LipDubs. I saw what worked, what didn't work, what moments I found compelling as an audience member, etc. It was an incredibly influential tool to devise the content I wanted in our video.

How did you get grabbed by the Lipdub bug? What was the ‘ah-ha, I must do this' moment!
ANDREW COHEN: I was sitting in a cafe last October studying (of all things) when I decided to take my requisite 5 minute Facebook break (as all conscientious students do). The first thing I saw was this video that some friends had commented on. I didn't really know what it was, but the screenshot looked bright and fun and the title had “Michael Buble” in it. It was the UVic Lipdub, by your previously interviewed guest Shawn Slavin, actually. I watched it, and by 0:39 (when everyone started bopping their heads in sync) I was hooked. Utterly hooked. I watched the entire thing with bated breath. Then i watched it again.

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Then I watched it again. Then I gave up studying and started researching everything I could about this ….phenomenon. Then I made a list of things I would want to attempt that I hadn't seen.

I took that list to the head of the student society at UBC and pitched him the idea. He immediately recognized this video's potential, and the passion with which I approached this project. He agreed to help produce it, and we were off! Over the next 6 months, I ate, slept, and breathed LipDub. My team went from me in a coffee shop, to twenty eager students, to 60 awesome volunteers, to 1000 amazing cast members on D-Day (Dub Day). Not to sound cliche, but I still remember that day, the entire day. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, but it was the most amazing day. I'm honestly having trouble trying to capture it in words. As a member of this generation that often tunes out be it in the form of plugging in to an iPod, or streaming YouTube videos, what have you…the feeling of being so unbelievably present and aware for the duration of the day is something that I know does not happen often.

But I'm getting ahead of myself…

People are often shy when it comes to the camera – even creating a simple webcam video can seem like a burden! How did you know it would work? During preparation, what gave you the confidence to go ahead and run with it?
ANDREW COHEN: My initial reaction was surprise and excitement to the first LipDub I saw. Then I showed it to dozens and dozens of people. Everyone had a similar reaction – one of awe and delight.

That's how I knew I was on the right track.

Call it grassroots market research if you like.

Also, everyone I approached to join the team was hooked almost instantly. It was truly one of the easiest sells of my life. Everyone wanted to be a part. And if they didn't, it was alright because LipDub was a rather fluid concept that could be changed based on whether or not we had a bus or a bouncy castle or a helicopter. But in the end, we had all three.

What was the shoot-day like?
ANDREW COHEN: Shoot day was insane/amazing. D-Day we called it. Crew was called for the crack of dawn. Blue skies, no clouds, gorgeous. Around noon the cast members began arriving. We quickly sorted them through our computers and they were split into their performance area. They learned the flashmob dance sequence. Then we began filming. We started with the dance sequence behind the Museum of Anthropology. As soon as we started filming, the sky filled with ominous grey clouds…which we were prepared for. Note: the blue ponchos. We had our helicopter for 30 minutes only so we had to stay right on schedule – which we did. We set it up and shot it over and over again. I made the cast run in and out and dance their faces off…maybe ten times in thirty minutes…in plastic ponchos.

They were all troopers!

Then we set up for the long shot. The long shot opened with a one minute spoof on the Old Spice Commercial, then travelled a distance of approx. 1.2 km on steadicam and transit bus. Our Cam Op/DP was awesome, as he went up and down stairs, on and off a moving bus, onto mulch… I didn't make it easy for him, that's for sure. I walked along side the camera cueing the performers, the Sound Op was behind me with a blaring speaker, and the First AD beside me with a stopwatch so we knew where we were on our time sheet. We had this beast planned out every second.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of the 2010 Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and I had advisors who worked on the ceremonies that helped us with our logistics. Their expertise was invaluable. Nothing like solid organization!

What was the reaction like upon release?
ANDREW COHEN: We released the video at our Launch Party in Robson Square, in downtown Vancouver. We had a free concert with up-and-coming local bands, along with the official premiere of our video on a 10ft screen. This was the first free concert that Robson Square had hosted (outside of the Olympics) and we were honoured that they partnered with us to make the launch a success. Media came down, as did a speaker from our charity partner–the Make-A-Wish Foundation, as did hordes of fans and intrigued passersby.

Due to a technical glitch, the video actually froze in the middle (nothing like a live performance, eh?) so we restarted, and the crowd applauded. The response was overwhelming.

Simply overwhelming. For days, my inboxes were flooded with messages of thanks, of congratulations, of support.

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My team and I convened nightly to count how many hits we were getting, reading comments, etc. It was an amazing social experiment for us to see what happened when people take ownership of a project like this. When people from universities…that shall remain nameless…started bashing our video, the outpouring of support from the online community was absolutely astounding. Within seconds, seven new people would go to bat against whatever these naysayers were spouting. Some of them had no affiliation with the project or UBC and were still defending us. That really showed me just how much people can attach themselves to things they love; things they feel represent them in a way.

The heads of UBC were incredibly thankful, as this was the most effective marketing tool they ever had…and they hadn't even commissioned it.

We were just some ambitious students that wanted to see how many new faces we could meet.

What made ‘it' Viral? Choosing one element, what was ‘it' that made the video viral?
ANDREW COHEN: I'm still trying to figure that out. We did our absolute best to ensure that the 1000+ people that participated on Dub Day had the best possible experience, in hopes that they would feel proud of what they were a part of and want to share it.

What's something you learned that surprised you about creating a video of this scope? Or, if you were doing this exact video again, what would you do differently?
ANDREW COHEN: Differently? Um…we would have had a better sound system for the pool. I screamed my head off, then when my voice gave out, I flailed like a lunatic. It sorta worked…

In your opinion, what is a common misstep you see many organizations trying to create viral video making that could easily be corrected?
ANDREW COHEN: I think it's hard for commercial organizations to create viral media for millenials. Corporations that think and operate like corporations usually miss the point entirely. I think it's a challenge for a 50-year-old in an office to be able to make a 20-year-old in a dorm laugh.

So all you corporate big-wigs, hire us to be on your teams…and don't be disheartened by some unconventional not-entirely-thought-through concepts.

Any advice on creating a viral video?
ANDREW COHEN: Passion. If you have it, and you can convince your team to have it, then you're golden. If there were a formula, everyone would do it. I guess that's what makes the successes sweeter — because they are so rare.

What equipment was needed to create this?
ANDREW COHEN: We had 5 cameras; the main camera was a Panasonic HVX 200 (Amazon Review), we also had a Canon 5D Mark II (Amazon), a GoPro HD …I can't remember what the underwater camera was), fig rig, steadicam, gyroscope, helicopter, scuba gear, portable speaker, megaphone…and an army of excited students.

Thank you! Anything parting words you'd like to leave us with? Any particular Lipdub favourites we must watch?
ANDREW COHEN: My favourite moment in our LipDub is the ‘Braveheart moment' when the camera emerges from the truck and a mass of blue-clad students come barrelling onto the field. Gives me chills every time.

LipDub was easily one of the best experiences of my life. The response was overwhelming, and I still feel the effects of it. I decided to start a company with some of the key players to be able to create more large-scale community-based event-videos like LipDub. We have also branched out

Reel Designer

Reel Designer is an online resource magazine showcasing expert-lead best practices, interviews and original articles on product strategy, video production and marketing, and, user experience design.

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