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★FitStars: Workout DVD Choreographer Cal Pozo

CalPozoI’d love to go behind-the-scenes espionage-style on a workout DVD shoot some time. I find the whole thing just so darn interesting. How do they find the uber-fit people you see in the videos? How many takes does it take? What happens if someone can’t do a move properly? And who actually creates all that choreography? While I can’t answer most of the questions, I bet Cal Pozo can. He’s played a role in hundreds of workout DVDs.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Pozo came to the U.S. as a teenager with nothing but ambition. He quickly became a Broadway dancer, teacher and choreographer. Today he works as a producer, multi-camera director and choreographer of fitness titles including more than 300 best-selling video/DVD productions such as Dancing with the Stars and The Biggest Loser titles. He has also produced DVDs and television series for popular FitStars including Denise Austin, Kathy Smith, Leslie Sansone and David Kirsch. And he has his own line of how-to-ballroom-dance books and dance DVDs. Like whoa!

We recently got the opportunity to pick Cal’s workout-DVD brain, and here’s the behind-the-scenes scoop on those fitness DVDs we love so much!

  • FBG: How did you get your start in producing fitness DVDs?
  • CP: I had been working in New York City as a Broadway dancer and teacher for many years. An injury that required some surgery and a rehab period that included Pilates and strength training got me interested in fitness. Subsequently, I wrote a book on exercise which prompted a call from a media company about producing and starring in a series of workout videos. I did not like the being-on-camera experience as much as I enjoyed the production phases of getting the video done. The same company who distributed those videos then asked me to produce others. From that day to the present, a 25-year period, I have designed, produced and directed more than 300 workout programs, plus a sizable number of dance and dance-based exercise programs.
  • FBG: Have you always been fit?
  • CP: I have always been fit except for the time after my hip injury—a time when I gained 30 pounds and felt and looked like a blimp.
  • FBG: Who are some of the most notable people that you’ve worked with during your career?
  • CP: I have worked with media celebrities like Regis Philbin, whose workout program My Favorite Workout (on cassette) I produced some many years ago, and with quite a number of fitness media celebrities like Denise Austin, Jennifer Kries, Leslie Sansone, Kathy Smith, Tracey Mallet, David Kirsch and Tony Little. I’ve also helped launch the fitness video careers of popular trainers like Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels whose first video programs I produced in association with the producers of The Biggest Loser and Lionsgate Films.
  • FBG: Is there one fitness professional you like working with best?
  • CP: If there was one I enjoyed working with best I would tell you. To me, what’s enjoyable about producing and directing a workout program is not what the consumer sees, i.e. the final program. But the process of communication between myself and the members of my team and, especially, the connection I establish with the instructors whose work I am about to record. Every dancer I know loves to learn—to take the experience of physical movement to the max. And I will be a dancer ’til the day of my last breath. Every instructor whose work I’m recording on tape has something different to offer, uniquely his or hers, something interesting to add to the mix of exercise choreography and exercise technique. And I love learning just what that uniqueness is. Hence, every instructor I work with is my favorite during the time I’m working with them. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been working with some of them, like Denise Austin for example, for more than 20 years.
  • FBG: What goes into making a fitness DVD behind the scenes? What is your role exactly as a producer?
  • CP: I am pretty much a hands-on-kind of director. When I am assigned a production job, I start spinning a lot of wheels to get my pre-production phase started. To me that’s the most important phase of production. The easiest is the actual shooting. For example, I design every set you see in my programs and start by sending several sketches to the artists and/or executive producers for their input. I don’t use licensed music on my programs. I have a few composers whose work I like and trust and work closely with them. I also work with the featured instructor and the program’s actual choreographer to make sure the music fits the choreography and vice versa, and that the composition maintains a specific phrasing and pace. Sometimes I even select and purchase all wardrobe. And sometimes I act as the producer, director and also the choreographer, as in the case of my Dancing With the Stars DVD workouts. Does that sound as if I am a control freak? It might. But I’m really not. I love to work as a team and do.
  • FBG: Do you work out to fitness DVDs? If so, what’s your all-time favorite?
  • CP: I work out to DVDs all the time. Primarily those DVDs that I am about to produce. Generally, I get all of the DVD’s choreography on tape a few weeks before shooting. Then I work out to that tape all the way up to the day rehearsals start. That way I can plan my camera positions and angles and make whatever suggestions I think will make the consumers able to follow more easily and will help the instructor get his or her message across with better visual support.
  • FBG: What workout DVD did you have the most fun producing?

    Dancing with the Stars workout DVD

    Cal Pozo with the ladies of Dancing With the Stars.

  • CP: Two years ago I was hired to produce and choreograph a workout video to be released as a tribute to the 25th Anniversary of the film Dirty Dancing. We were able to use some of the movie’s original tracks, and then I choreographed some dance sequences that simulated some of the movie’s dance routines. We filmed in Miami. We had a great cast of dancers, some of them from the Miami Ballet, a company I had studied with many years back. And as leads, I hired a New York dancer, John Burne, and a very talented dancer and fitness expert Tracey Mallet. And we just had the greatest time. The DVD made its debut in the U.K. where it broke all records and was then released in the U.S. by Lionsgate Films.
  • FBG: What goes into making a workout DVD that most people don’t know?
  • CP: Let me put it this way: What ends up being a 45- to 55-minute workout DVD generally takes six to eight weeks to plan, three to four days to shoot, and 10 to 20 days to edit, author and master.
  • FBG: What’s your favorite making-a-workout-DVD memory?
  • CP: I would say a DVD line I created titled The Method. It was the first workout program (VHS back then) to introduce to home-video consumers what today is known as the Pilates system. The first release of the series was hosted by a wonderful and talented Pilates instructor I met in New York, Jennifer Kries, whose video career that series launched. For the series, we hired a cast made up exclusively of Broadway and ballet dancers who themselves had experienced Pilates work. The series was so successful that we developed a television series that was then shown on the Health Network for two years.
  • FBG: Any other thoughts or anything you’d like to tell our readers?
  • CP: There are many advantages to exercise videos, but to me the most important one is variety. Whether one seeks a better-looking body or just a healthier and better fit one, it is variety of exercise that is the key to results. Having your own personal exercise video library where you can get instruction from various teachers and even develop a variety of exercise regimes that will work for you will definitely give you results at a very low cost.

We couldn’t agree more, Cal! Stay tuned to tomorrow’s post where we’ll review two of Cal’s latest Dancing with the Stars workout DVDs. Can’t wait! —Jenn

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