The Making of Princess Rap Battles
What happens when Snow White and Elsa face off in a rap battle? If you don’t already know, where have you been? Whitney Avalon’s Snow White vs Elsa video has more than 130 million views and counting, and it isn’t alone. After the runaway success of the first princess rap battle, Avalon and her partner Steve Gossett have created many more epic matchups to the delight of their fans.
Avalon, an actor and singer, started creating original shorts and songs for YouTube for fun while pursuing her acting career through commercial, television, and film work. She and Gossett, a filmmaker himself, had no idea that their first princess rap battle would put them on the YouTube map. Today, they rely on Adobe Creative Cloud, including Adobe Premiere Pro CC for editing, to produce their wildly popular rap battles, Avalon’s original content, as well as more traditional commercial and branded content.
Adobe: How did you two connect?
Avalon: We originally met at a small film festival here in Los Angeles called Channel 101. Dan Harmon from Community and Rob Schrab of The Sarah Silverman Program started it and I was fortunate enough to act in a bunch of shorts for the festival when I first got to Los Angeles.
Gossett: One of the things that really drew us together is that we both like quality. We wanted to make all of our content as smart and as high quality as possible, which has been one of our big advantages over people who upload 10 videos a day. That’s not who we are.
Adobe: Where did you get the idea for the princess rap battles?
Avalon: After years of being called Snow White because of my light skin and dark hair, I had the idea of writing a rap about how pale I am and it evolved from there. Snow White was the first Disney princess ever so she’s very old school. The newest Disney princess at the time, Elsa from Frozen, is the opposite ideology so we decided to create a battle between the two princesses. It went crazy viral, and now we spend a lot of our time creating other rap battles and ancillary content. We’ve been very fortunate to work with some incredibly talented people like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Eliza Dushku, and Laura Marano, who are willing to dress up in character and rap.
SNOW WHITE vs ELSA: Princess Rap Battle
Adobe: How much work goes into each production?
Avalon: When we did Katniss versus Hermione, we reread all 10 of the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games books and watched all 11 movies, which was eight weeks of solid research. We wanted to make sure we knew everything about the characters, their relationships, and their back stories before they faced off. Writing and pre-production overlap and take a few weeks, and the shoots used to take a day but more recently we’ve extended them to two full days. We have custom sets, which involve extra days of setup and teardown. They’re actually surprisingly big productions for something that ends up only being a couple of minutes long.
Gossett: Post production lasts anywhere from three to four weeks, depending on the amount of visual effects. We’ve used an assistant editor on the last couple of videos to help streamline our process. Once we get into post we’re usually trying to finish by a certain day. For example, when we did the rap battle with Sarah Michelle Gellar as Cinderella, we want to get it out before the live action Cinderella movie. When we did the Mrs. Claus and Mary Poppins rap battle, we wanted it up for Christmas.
In addition to the main video, we create behind the scenes videos that are pretty popular. I take a lot of joy in showing how everything is made.
CINDERELLA vs BELLE Behind the Scenes
Adobe: What is your post-production process?
Gossett: After we ingest the footage, rename files, and organize it in bins, Whitney and I will sit down and go through all of the footage to identify the great moments and start building around those touch points. Often it will be a key story moment or a fantastic performance that we know we want to build around.
I then create a sequence that includes all of the individual subtitles lined up with the audio track that we used on set. After that, each verse gets its own sequence which means precisely lining up 20+ takes of different sizes on top of each other. Next, I do a prototype of the actual battle, taking a locked off wide shot and creating the battle from each side by punching in digitally to figure out where the cuts will go. I apply those cuts to the stacks for each verse and then use the labels in Premiere Pro to identify the bad, good, and great takes for each cut.
After watching all the great takes together, I’ll edit down the footage until we have a rough cut of the battle. Everything starts to take form with graphics, sounds, and VFX. We use Photoshop for the graphics, our VFX people use After Effects, and I do the color grading right in Premiere Pro. After enough time and effort fixing every little thing you can think of, we’ve got a final video!
Avalon: I’ve created the series logo and thumbnails, as well as retouched all the promotional photos, in Photoshop.
RAPUNZEL vs ANNA: Princess Rap Battle
Adobe: How do you differentiate between your more traditional client content and what you produce for YouTube?
Gossett: Part of what makes it work for us is that we use the same approach for digital and traditional content. People often try to reinvent the wheel but there’s a reason why there’s a person in charge of the camera department and a person in charge of sets and a person in charge of food. Our cast is union, we have insurance, and we play by those rules. Just because the digital landscape is newer doesn’t mean that the old ways are wrong.
Adobe: Do you find that perceptions of YouTube content have changed since you first started?
Avalon: Slowly. People have started to respect original content more, no matter where it originates.
Gossett: It makes a big difference if everybody has seen something you’ve done. More and more people are understanding that high-quality TV doesn’t have to come out of the box on your wall.
Adobe: What are your goals for the future?
Gossett: We’re going to continue to make the rap battles, but we also both want to make longer form content. There are some great opportunities to make awesome stuff that can be seen on lots of different platforms.
Avalon: We also have a longer form TV show pilot that we’re working on and I have more original comedy songs and comedy music planned, both collaborations and originals of me singing. As a production company, we’re still making commercials and branded content. There’s a lot more to look forward to in 2017.
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