The Project of Video Essays

Video essays are a medium for discussing film and occasionally other media that seems to have really arrived in the past few years. I suppose the form is related to documentary, or related to criticism, but it's sort of a transformative work of it's own which is what has probably made them flourish on the internet. Free use is pretty claimable with the right kind of work put into an essay. Today, however, I'd like to talk a little more clearly about what it is I am trying to do with the video essays I'm working on.

So at the moment I'm working through talking about black and white cinematography as part of a broader series of videos I've been working on talking about my understanding of cinematography broadly construed in film. The current essay I'm working on has proven to be far more complex, longer, and denser than I'd expected. So I'm kind of kicking the last part of "Black and White" down the road a little bit to get it done. Sorry, but these things generally take a month to make. I've done two in half that time already so hopefully this next one won't take too much longer.

Working with this rich material has gotten me thinking about what I do with this particular part of my project work; why video essays are so enjoyable and why these more specific ones are harder; also what am I trying to do with the medium, what's my elevator pitch for this work and the short explanation for it. So let's explore some of those problems.

First, where does taking a stab at video essays fit into my personal project work? The work does innervate a lot of the different areas I work in. Video essays connect a lot of my interests and my skills. I like to think I'm pretty adept at film analysis and I've always liked to play with the craft of filmmaking, but doing so is often harder than talking about film itself. In that respect video essays are a marriage of two things I like--working with film analytically and working with film practically.

The resulting work has (I think, or perhaps I just hope) had a few different results. First, looking at what I've been able to do in "Black and White" my values are evident here. What I think is good on screen is what I am talking about here. I'm not relying on other theory out there, I could spend more time reading into the reasons I stand by what I'm saying and someday I might do that. But for now these are just very personal works. Additionally and related, I hope that these essays stand out as really good examples of what I'm taking about. Take "Lightness and Darkness" for instance, that video essay is as good a deployment of the specifics I'm talking about there. Finally, I really hope that some of what comes across is that these video essays are deeply close to how I see the world. I don't go through a day, I don't watch a movie, I don't interact with people without this kind of intertextual sensibility in the background.

So I'm doing these essays because they're something I can do which tickles the parts of my creative mind I'm most interested in. They are simultaneously creative works of their own and are in a sense a manifesto on what I think is good in film. Finally, working in this medium, I hope is illustrative in itself of my own experience of film and indeed of the world. I'm doing this work to communicate my knowledge and my opinions creatively, trenchantly, and consistently with how I like to work with the world.

But this work can be frustrating for a number of reasons. First, and most superficially, it's really only been personally rewarding. This is a bit of a conversation with myself and I'm never totally satisfied with my work. More on that later, I'm sure. Perhaps a little more damning is that I don't get to create a lot for this work. I get to contribute and riff with what has already been done. I'd like to do more doing. Like writing a screenplay, there's something unfinished about a video essay even as I try to complete that loop. I think a direction to possibly take here would be to offer more editorial support in the form of some kind of tangential instruction or lecture. Pairing video essays with vlogs is an idea I've had.

But the flip side to those frustrations is the wonderful difficulty of getting to work with some of the very best material that's ever been produced. I got to work exclusively with The Apartment (1960) for an essay and I learned a lot from it. I struggled to work with such good material. I'm daunted by my next project which will be even better images. But without the video essay the opportunity to struggle with such good material would never be available. You only get to edit The Apartment once unless you work in restoration or video essays you might say. That's pretty cool.

But overall, I want to create a body of work that captures my views at this moment that is articulate about what I'm trying to do in cinema. One day I'd like to put this work to the test of creating from scratch and using the techniques I've worked on. Sometimes I get that option but it isn't often enough.

Additionally I want my work to better the competition in terms of depth and economy. I'm trying to write and construct more nuanced work than what I see out there even in video essays I admire like those by "Every Frame a Painting" or "Nerdwriter" on YouTube. I don't like to say things twice. I want to have the film speak for itself even metaphorically if I can, speak in the language of film rather than the language of text analysis alone. Of course, I am one who wants to provide deeper knowledge in the smallest possible package I can. That's what I'm about here.

As for the elevator pitch? I'm making video essays right now because they're a great way to discuss and make film at the same time and I see ground for me and for the medium to improve by my making them.