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Sterling native helps residents rock the retirement home

Grand Valley film graduate directs senior citizens’ lip dub

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 17, 2011

 A resident of Clark Retirement Community sings his heart out in the exercise room to Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good” in the lip dub directed by Sterling Heights native Alan Ledford.

A resident of Clark Retirement Community sings his heart out in the exercise room to Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good” in the lip dub directed by Sterling Heights native Alan Ledford.

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The residents of Clark Retirement Community in Grand Rapids are “feeling good” — and it’s due, in large part, to the efforts of a Sterling Heights native.

Alan Ledford is garnering attention as director of Clark’s “lip dub,” which has become a YouTube phenomenon, tallying more than 1 million views by early August.

The one-take video depicts the elderly but spry residents lip-syncing to Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good” while performing antics throughout the housing complex, including swiping Depends from one another, serving up prune juice in goblets and racing wheelchairs with “Mario Kart” sound effects.

Ledford — a 2007 Henry Ford II High School graduate who recently earned his film and video degree from Grand Valley State University — proudly declares the project “the first retirement community lip dub in the world.” It joins a growing number of lip dubs being produced by institutions and communities.

After seeing a lip dub done by and for GVSU to Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” Clark’s Marketing and Admissions Director Jane Brierley contacted the college to inquire about replicating the feat at the retirement community.

“I saw the GVSU lip dub in the fall and thought it was amazing,” she said. “I watched it several times and thought, ‘Why can’t Clark do that?’ Which morphed into, ‘Clark can do that!’”

Kim Roberts, associate professor of film and video production at GVSU’s School of Communications, assembled a group of seniors to take on the task, including Ledford.

“Alan has taken courses from me from the very beginning of his time at GVSU, so I’ve had the pleasure of watching his skills escalate,” she said. “He is a talented director, and more importantly to me, he is a visionary. His creative spirit and the fact that he is a perfectionist meant the production would be successful. It was an easy choice.”

The production team presented the concept to Clark residents by screening the GVSU lip dub in the facility’s chapel. When they asked who was interested in appearing on camera, “to our surprise, we had a line from one side of the chapel to the other,” recalled Ledford. “The word soon spread around the community, and the support never stopped.”

The preparation, he said, was extensive.

“All the art, the actions, the lip-syncing, has to be on the mark the whole time as the camera operator is trying to get on his/her marks to make it look good,” he explained.

It started with mapping out a route, chosen to best highlight Clark’s main attractions, then timing out the song along it with “marks” or “beats,” determined by the director, where actions occur and different participants come into play. Assistant directors are assigned to segments of the route to oversee those sections specifically.

Then came a series of rehearsals, during which Ledford and first assistant director Chris Coleman of Clinton Township followed the cameraman with iPod and speaker system in tow so performers could hear the song.

“During the take and rehearsals, if you could hear the real audio, all you would be able to hear is me singing as loud as I can with everyone very off-key,” said Ledford.

More than 100 residents ultimately signed on to participate, said Brierley.

“With every practice, the residents became more excited,” she said. “The crew gave them discs with the music on it, so they could practice on their own, too.”

Crew members, who pulled an all-nighter erecting sets, ended up shooting eight takes over 2 1/2 hours on June 28, opting to run with the third.

Though the planning and execution was laborious, the post-production work was negligible — and that’s the whole point of a lip dub, said Ledford.

Since the film’s debut, residents have been reveling in their newfound fame. They’ve been mentioned on “Good Morning America,” the “Today” show, “Inside Edition,” CNN, Fox News, CBC in Canada, and on various radio stations and websites, said Roberts.

Ledford said they’ve received a flurry of positive feedback, including from Bublé himself and from comedian Daniel Tosh of Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0.”

To his knowledge, Ledford said, the lip dub phenomenon in Michigan began with colleges trying to one-up each other. First it was Calvin College’s, then GVSU’s, which he also worked on, he said.

The city of Grand Rapids followed suit, filming what it deemed a world record-setting lip dub of Don McLean’s “American Pie” in response to an article in Newsweek that declared the western Michigan community one of America’s “dying cities.”

Traverse City’s lip dub, shot late last month, premiered at the Traverse City Film Festival.

“I think the lip dub craze is just as much about the experience of the event as it is the final project, and that’s why it’s been catching on so much,” said Ledford. “A lip dub involves everyone, and (it’s) a huge exciting event that who wouldn’t be a part of? You don’t have to be an actor, either, which is great for a lot of people (who are) normally camera shy.”

Roberts credits lip dubs’ upbeat, fast-moving nature, the challenge of capturing so much action in a single shot, and the “uplifting” sentiment generated by seeing “a lot of people come together for a common goal or to show pride in their community” for the technique’s swelling popularity.

“Interestingly, some people don’t get their value at all and see them as cheesy or amateur videos,” she said, “but I’m currently in Boston at a University Film & Video Association conference, and discussions about their value and challenge as legitimate productions are taking place.”

To view Clark’s lip dub, visit www.youtube.com and search for the user channel “ClarkLipDub.”

Staff Writer Chris Jackett contributed to this report.

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