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What is a Video Essay? The Art of the Video Analysis Essay

I n the era of the internet and Youtube, the video essay has become an increasingly popular means of expressing ideas and concepts. However, there is a bit of an enigma behind the construction of the video essay largely due to the vagueness of the term.

What defines a video analysis essay? What is a video essay supposed to be about? In this article, we’ll take a look at the foundation of these videos and the various ways writers and editors use them creatively. Let’s dive in.

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What is a video essay?

First, let’s define video essay.

There is narrative film, documentary film, short films, and then there is the video essay. What is its role within the realm of visual media? Let’s begin with the video essay definition. 


A video essay is a video that analyzes a specific topic, theme, person or thesis. Because video essays are a rather new form, they can be difficult to define, but recognizable nonetheless. To put it simply, they are essays in video form that aim to persuade, educate, or critique. 

These essays have become increasingly popular within the era of Youtube and with many creatives writing video essays on topics such as politics, music, film, and pop culture. 

What is a video essay used for?

  • To persuade an audience of a thesis
  • To educate on a specific subject
  • To analyze and/or critique 

What is a video essay based on?

Establish a thesis.

Video analysis essays lack distinguished boundaries since there are countless topics a video essayist can tackle. Most essays, however, begin with a thesis. 

How Christopher Nolan Elevates the Movie Montage  •  Video Analysis Essays

Good essays often have a point to make. This point, or thesis, should be at the heart of every video analysis essay and is what binds the video together. 

Related Posts

  • Stanley Kubrick Directing Style Explained →
  • A Filmmaker’s Guide to Nolan’s Directing Style →
  • How to Write a Voice Over Montage in a Script →

interviews in video essay

Utilize interviews.

A key determinant for the structure of an essay is the source of the ideas. A common source for this are interviews from experts in the field. These interviews can be cut and rearranged to support a thesis. 

Roger Deakins on "Learning to Light"  •  Video Analysis Essays

Utilizing first hand interviews is a great way to utilize ethos into the rhetoric of a video. However, it can be limiting since you are given a limited amount to work with. Voice over scripts, however, can give you the room to say anything. 

How to create the best video essays on Youtube

Write voice over scripts.

Voice over (VO) scripts allow video essayists to write out exactly what they want to say. This is one of the most common ways to structure a video analysis essay since it gives more freedom to the writer. It is also a great technique to use when taking on large topics.

In this video, it would have been difficult to explain every type of camera lens by cutting sound bites from interviews of filmmakers. A voice over script, on the other hand, allowed us to communicate information directly when and where we wanted to.

Ultimate Guide to Camera Lenses  •  Video essay examples

Some of the most famous video essayists like Every Frame a Painting and Nerdwriter1 utilize voice over to capitalize on their strength in writing video analysis essays. However, if you’re more of an editor than a writer, the next type of essay will be more up your alley. 

Video analysis essay without a script

Edit a supercut.

Rather than leaning on interview sound bites or voice over, the supercut video depends more on editing. You might be thinking “What is a video essay without writing?” The beauty of the video essay is that the writing can be done throughout the editing. Supercuts create arguments or themes visually through specific sequences. 

Another one of the great video essay channels, Screen Junkies, put together a supercut of the last decade in cinema. The video could be called a portrait of the last decade in cinema.

2010 - 2019: A Decade In Film  •  Best videos on Youtube

This video is rather general as it visually establishes the theme of art during a general time period. Other essays can be much more specific. 

Critical essays

Video essays are a uniquely effective means of creating an argument. This is especially true in critical essays. This type of video critiques the facets of a specific topic. 

In this video, by one of the best video essay channels, Every Frame a Painting, the topic of the film score is analyzed and critiqued — specifically temp film score.

Every Frame a Painting Marvel Symphonic Universe  •  Essay examples

Of course, not all essays critique the work of artists. Persuasion of an opinion is only one way to use the video form. Another popular use is to educate. 

  • The Different Types of Camera Lenses →
  • Write and Create Professionally Formatted Screenplays →
  • How to Create Unforgettable Film Moments with Music →

Video analysis essay

Visual analysis.

One of the biggest advantages that video analysis essays have over traditional, written essays is the use of visuals. The use of visuals has allowed video essayists to display the subject or work that they are analyzing. It has also allowed them to be more specific with what they are analyzing. Writing video essays entails structuring both words and visuals. 

Take this video on There Will Be Blood for example. In a traditional, written essay, the writer would have had to first explain what occurs in the film then make their analysis and repeat.

This can be extremely inefficient and redundant. By analyzing the scene through a video, the points and lessons are much more clear and efficient. 

There Will Be Blood  •   Subscribe on YouTube

Through these video analysis essays, the scene of a film becomes support for a claim rather than the topic of the essay. 

Dissect an artist

Essays that focus on analysis do not always focus on a work of art. Oftentimes, they focus on the artist themself. In this type of essay, a thesis is typically made about an artist’s style or approach. The work of that artist is then used to support this thesis.

Nerdwriter1, one of the best video essays on Youtube, creates this type to analyze filmmakers, actors, photographers or in this case, iconic painters. 

Caravaggio: Master Of Light  •  Best video essays on YouTube

In the world of film, the artist video analysis essay tends to cover auteur filmmakers. Auteur filmmakers tend to have distinct styles and repetitive techniques that many filmmakers learn from and use in their own work. 

Stanley Kubrick is perhaps the most notable example. In this video, we analyze Kubrick’s best films and the techniques he uses that make so many of us drawn to his films. 

Why We're Obsessed with Stanley Kubrick Movies  •  Video essay examples

Critical essays and analytical essays choose to focus on a piece of work or an artist. Essays that aim to educate, however, draw on various sources to teach technique and the purpose behind those techniques. 

What is a video essay written about?

Historical analysis.

Another popular type of essay is historical analysis. Video analysis essays are a great medium to analyze the history of a specific topic. They are an opportunity for essayists to share their research as well as their opinion on history. 

Our video on aspect ratio , for example, analyzes how aspect ratios began in cinema and how they continue to evolve. We also make and support the claim that the 2:1 aspect ratio is becoming increasingly popular among filmmakers. 

Why More Directors are Switching to 18:9  •  Video analysis essay

Analyzing the work of great artists inherently yields a lesson to be learned. Some essays teach more directly.

  • Types of Camera Movements in Film Explained →
  • What is Aspect Ratio? A Formula for Framing Success →
  • Visualize your scenes with intuitive online shotlist software →

Writing video essays about technique

Teach technique.

Educational essays designed to teach are typically more direct. They tend to be more valuable for those looking to create art rather than solely analyze it.

In this video, we explain every type of camera movement and the storytelling value of each. Educational essays must be based on research, evidence, and facts rather than opinion.

Ultimate Guide to Camera Movement  •  Best video essays on YouTube

As you can see, there are many reasons why the video essay has become an increasingly popular means of communicating information. Its ability to use both sound and picture makes it efficient and effective. It also draws on the language of filmmaking to express ideas through editing. But it also gives writers the creative freedom they love. 

Writing video essays is a new art form that many channels have set high standards for. What is a video essay supposed to be about? That’s up to you. 

Organize Post Production Workflow

The quality of an essay largely depends on the quality of the edit. If editing is not your strong suit, check out our next article. We dive into tips and techniques that will help you organize your Post-Production workflow to edit like a pro. 

Up Next: Post Production →

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How to Write a Video Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide and Tips

  • by Joseph Kenas
  • January 5, 2024
  • Writing Tips


The video essay has become an increasingly popular way of presenting ideas and concepts in the age of the internet and YouTube. In this guide, we present a step-by-step guide on how to write a video essay and tips on how to make it.

While it is easy to write a normal essay, the structure of the video essay is a bit of a mystery, owing to the newness of the term.

However, in this article, we are going to define what is a video essay, how to write a video essay, and also How to present a video essay well in class.

What is a Video Essay?

A video essay is a video that delves into a certain subject, concept, person, or thesis. Video essays are difficult to characterize because they are a relatively new form, yet they are recognized regardless. Simply, video essays are visual compilations that try to persuade, educate, or criticize.

What is a video essay?

These days, there are many creatives making video essays on topics like politics, music, movies, and pop culture.

With these, essays have become increasingly popular in the era of video media such as Youtube, Vimeo, and others.

Video essays, like photo and traditional essays, tell a story or make a point.

The distinction is that video essays provide information through visuals.

When creating a video essay, you can incorporate video, images, text, music, and/or narration to make it dynamic and successful.

When you consider it, many music videos are actually video essays. 

Since making videos for YouTube and other video sites has grown so popular, many professors are now assigning video essays instead of regular essays to their students. So the question is, how do you write a video essay script?

Steps on How to Write a Video Essay Script

Unscripted videos cost time, effort, and are unpleasant to watch. The first thing you should do before making a video writes a script, even if it’s only a few lines long. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of writing a script. All you need is a starting point.

A video script is important for anyone who wants to film a video with more confidence and clarity. They all contain comparable forms of information, such as who is speaking, what is said, where, and other important details.

While there are no precise criteria that a video essay must follow, it appears that most renowned video essayists are adhering to some steps as the form gets more popular and acknowledged online. 

1. Write a Thesis

Because a video essayist can handle a wide range of themes, video analysis essays lack defined bounds. The majority of essays, on the other hand, begin with a thesis.

A thesis is a statement, claim, theme, or concept that the rest of the essay is built around. A thesis might be broad, including a variety of art forms. Other theses can be quite detailed.

A good essay will almost always have a point to express. Every video analysis essay should have a central idea, or thesis, that ties the film together.

2. Write a Summary

Starting with a brief allows you and your team to document the answers to the most pressing project concerns. It ensures that everyone participating in the video production is on the same page.

This will avoid problems of mixing ideas or getting stuck when you are almost completing the project.

3. Choose a Proper Environment and Appropriate Tools

When it comes to writing your script, use any tool you’re familiar with, such as pen and paper. Also, find a writing atmosphere that is relaxing for you, where you can concentrate and be creative.

Consider what you don’t have to express out loud when you’re writing. Visual elements will be used to communicate a large portion of your content.

4. Use a Template

When you don’t have to reinvent the process every time you sit down, you get speed and consistency.

It’s using your cumulative knowledge of what works and doing it over and over again. Don’t start with a blank page when I sit down to create a script- try to use an already made template. 

5. Be Conversational

You want scripts that use language that is specific and targeted. Always avoid buzzwords, cliches, and generalizations. You want your audience to comprehend you clearly without rolling their eyes.

6. Be Narrative

Make careful to use a strong story structure when you’re trying to explain anything clearly. Ensure your script has a beginning, middle, and end, no matter how short it is. This will provide a familiar path for the viewers of your video script.

7. Edit Your Script

Make each word work for a certain position on the page when you choose your words.

script editing

They must serve a purpose.

After you’ve completed your first draft, go over your script and review it.

Then begin editing, reordering, and trimming. Remove as much as possible.

Consider cutting it if it isn’t helping you achieve your goal.

 8. Read Your Script Loudly

Before recording or going on in your process, it’s recommended to read your script aloud at least once. Even if you won’t be the one reading it, this is a good method to ensure that your message is clear. It’s a good idea to be away from people so you may practice in peace.

Words that flow well on paper don’t always flow well when spoken aloud. You might need to make some adjustments based on how tough certain phrases are to pronounce- it’s a lot easier to change it now than when recording.

9. Get Feedback

Sometimes it is very difficult to point out your mistakes in any piece of writing. Therefore, if you want a perfect video essay script, it is advisable to seek feedback from people who are not involved in the project.

Keep in mind that many will try to tear your work apart and make you feel incompetent. However, it can also be an opportunity to make your video better.

The best way to gather feedback is to assemble a group of people and read your script to them. Watch their facial reaction and jot own comments as you read. Make sure not to defend your decisions. Only listen to comments and ask questions to clarify.

After gathering feedback, decide on what points to include in your video essay. Also, you can ask someone else to read it to you so that you can listen to its follow.

A video essay can be a good mode to present all types of essays, especially compare and contrast essays as you can visually contrast the two subjects of your content.

How to make a Good Video from your Essay Script

You can make a good video from your script if you ask yourself the following questions;


  • What is the video’s purpose? What is the purpose of the video in the first place?
  • Who is this video’s intended audience?
  • What is the subject of our video? (The more precise you can be, the better.) 
  • What are the most important points to remember from the video?- What should viewers take away from it?

If the context had multiple characters, present their dialogues well in the essay to bring originality. If there is a need to involve another person, feel free to incorporate them.

How to Present a Video Essay Well in Class

  • Write down keywords or main ideas in a notecard; do not write details- writing main ideas will help you remember your points when presenting. This helps you scan through your notecard for information.
  • Practice- in presentations it is easy to tell who has practiced and who hasn’t. For your video essay to grab your class and professor’s attention, practice is the key. Practice in front of your friends and family asking for feedback and try to improve.
  • Smile at your audience- this is one of the most important points when presenting anything in front of an audience. A smiley face draws the attention of the audience making them smile in return thus giving you confidence.
  • Walk to your seat with a smile- try not to be disappointed even if you are not applauded. Be confident that you have aced your video presentation.

Other video presentations tips include;

  • Making eye contact
  • Have a good posture
  • Do not argue with the audience 
  • Look at everyone around the room, not just one audience or one spot
  • Rember to use your hand and facial expressions to make a point.

what is a video essay

Joseph is a freelance journalist and a part-time writer with a particular interest in the gig economy. He writes about schooling, college life, and changing trends in education. When not writing, Joseph is hiking or playing chess.

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What Is a Video Essay? Definition & Examples Of Video Essays

what is a video essay

A video essay consists of a series of videos that collectively, present an in-depth analysis or interpretation of a given subject or topic.

In this way, a video essay can be thought of as a condensed version of a lengthy written article.


What is a video essay.

A video essay is an audio-visual presentation of your thoughts on a topic or text that usually lasts between 5 and 10 minutes long.

It can take the form of any type of media such as film, animation, or even PowerPoint presentations.

The most important thing to remember when creating a video essay is to include voiceover narration throughout the whole project so that viewers feel they are listening in on your thoughts and ideas rather than watching passively.

Video essays are typically created by content creators’ critics to make arguments about cinema, television, art history, and culture more broadly.

Ever wondered how ideas unfold in the dynamic world of video?

That’s where video essays come in.

They’re a compelling blend of documentary and personal reflection, packed into a visually engaging package.

We’ll dive deep into the art of the video essay, a form that’s taken the internet by storm.

In this article, we’ll explore how video essays have revolutionized storytelling and education.

They’re not just a person talking to a camera; they’re a meticulously crafted narrative, often weaving together film footage, voiceover, text, and music to argue and inform.

what is a video essay

Stick with us as we unpack the nuances that make video essays a unique and powerful medium for expression and learning.

Components Of A Video Essay

As storytellers and educators, we recognize the intricate elements that comprise a video essay.

Each component is vital for communicating the essay’s message and maintaining the audience’s engagement.

Narrative Structure serves as the backbone of a video essay.

Our crafting of this structure relies on a cinematic approach where the beginning, middle, and end serve to introduce, argue, and explore our ideas.

Film Footage then breathes life into our words.

We handpick scenes from various sources, be it iconic or obscure, to visually accentuate our narrative.

The Voiceover we provide acts as a guide for our viewers.

It delivers our analysis and commentary, ensuring our perspective is heard.

what is a video essay

Paired with this is the Text and Graphics segment, offering another layer of interpretation.

We animate bullet points, overlay subtitles, and incorporate infographics to highlight key points.

Our sound design, specifically the Music and Sound Effects , creates the video essay’s atmosphere.

It underscores the emotions we wish to evoke and punctuates the points we make.

This auditory component is as crucial as the visual, as it can completely change the viewer’s experience.

We also pay close attention to the Editing and Pacing .

This ensures our video essays are not only informative but also engaging.

The rhythm of the cuts and transitions keeps viewers invested from start to finish.

In essence, a strong video essay is a tapestry woven with:

  • Narrative Structure – the story’s framework,
  • Film Footage – visual evidence supporting our claims,
  • Voiceover – our distinctive voice that narrates the essay,
  • Text and Graphics – the clarity of our arguments through visual aids,
  • Music and Sound Effects – the emotive undercurrent of our piece,
  • Editing and Pacing – the flow that maintains engagement.

Each element works Along with the others, making our video essays not just informative, but also a cinematic experience.

Through these components, we offer a comprehensive yet compelling way of storytelling that captivates and educates our audience.

The Power Of Visual Storytelling

Visual storytelling harnesses the innate human attraction to imagery and narrative.

At its core, a video essay is a compelling form of visual storytelling that combines the rich tradition of oral narrative with the dynamic appeal of cinema.

The impact of visual storytelling in video essays can be profound.

what is a video essay

When crafted effectively, they engage viewers on multiple sensory levels – not just audibly but visually, leading to a more immersive and memorable experience.

Imagery in visual storytelling isn’t merely decorative.

It’s a crucial carrier of thematic content, enhancing the narrative and supporting the overarching message.

By incorporating film footage and stills, video essays create a tapestry of visuals that resonate with viewers.

  • Film Footage – Brings concepts to life with cinematic flair,
  • Stills and Graphics – Emphasize key points and add depth to the narrative.

Through the deliberate choice of images and juxtaposition, video essays are able to articulate complex ideas.

They elicit emotions and evoke reactions that pure text or speech cannot match.

From documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth to educational content on platforms like TED-Ed, video essays have proven their capacity to inform and inspire.

Sound design in video essays goes beyond mere accompaniment; it’s an integral component of storytelling.

Music and sound effects set the tone, heighten tension, and can even alter the audience’s perception of the visuals.

It’s this synergy that elevates the story, giving it texture and nuance.

  • Music – Sets the emotional tone,
  • Sound Effects – Enhances the realism of the visuals.

Crafting a narrative in this medium isn’t just about what’s on screen.

It requires an understanding of how each element – from script to sound – works in concert.

This unity forms an intricate dance of auditory and visual elements that can transform a simple message into a powerful narrative experience.

The Influence Of Video Essays In Education

Video essays have become a dynamic tool in academic settings, transcending traditional teaching methods.

By blending entertainment with education, they engage students in ways that lectures and textbooks alone cannot.

what is a video essay

How To Create A Powerful Video Essay

Creating a compelling video essay isn’t just about stitching clips together.

It requires a blend of critical thinking, storytelling, and technical skill.

Choose a Central Thesis that resonates with your intended audience.

Like any persuasive essay, your video should have a clear argument or point of view that you aim to get across.

Research Thoroughly to support your thesis with factual data and thought-provoking insights.

Whether you’re dissecting themes in The Great Gatsby or examining the cinematography of Citizen Kane , your analysis must be thorough and well-founded.

Plan Your Narrative Structure before jumping into the editing process.

Decide the flow of your argument and how each segment supports your central message.

Typically, you’d include:

  • An intriguing introduction – set the stage for what’s coming,
  • A body that elaborates your thesis – present your evidence and arguments,
  • Clearly separated sections – these act as paragraphs would in written essays.

Visuals Are Key in a video essay.

We opt for high-quality footage that not only illustrates but also enhances our narrative.

Think of visuals as examples that will bring your argument to life.

Audio selection Should Never Be an Afterthought.

Pair your visuals with a soundtrack that complements the mood you’re aiming to create.

Voice-overs should be clear and paced in a way that’s easy for the audience to follow.

Editing Is Where It All Comes Together.

Here, timing and rhythm are crucial to maintain viewer engagement.

We ensure our cuts are clean and purposeful, and transition effects are used judiciously.

Interactive Elements like on-screen text or graphics can add a layer of depth to your video essay.

what is a video essay

Use such elements to highlight important points or data without disrupting the flow of your narrative.

Feedback Is Invaluable before finalizing your video essay.

We often share our drafts with a trusted group to gain insights that we might have missed.

It’s a part of refining our work to make sure it’s as impactful as it can be.

Remember, creating a video essay is about more than compiling clips and sound – it’s a form of expression that combines film criticism with visual storytelling.

It’s about crafting an experience that informs and intrigues, compelling the viewer to see a subject through a new lens.

With the right approach, we’re not just delivering information; we’re creating an immersive narrative experience.

What Is A Video Essay – Wrap Up

We’ve explored the intricate craft of video essays, shedding light on their ability to captivate and inform.

By weaving together compelling visuals and sound with a strong narrative, we can create immersive experiences that resonate with our audience.

Let’s harness these tools and share our stories, knowing that with the right approach, our video essays can truly make an impact.

Remember, it’s our unique perspective and creative vision that will set our work apart in the ever-evolving landscape of digital storytelling.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is visual storytelling in video essays.

Visual storytelling in video essays is the craft of using visual elements to narrate a story or present an argument, engaging viewers on a sensory level beyond just text or speech.

Why Is Visual Storytelling Important In Video Essays?

Visual storytelling is important because it captures attention and immerses the audience, making the content more memorable and impactful through the integration of visuals, sound, and narrative.

What Are The Key Elements Of A Powerful Video Essay?

The key elements include a central thesis, thorough research, a well-planned narrative structure, high-quality visuals, fitting audio, effective editing, interactive components, and a compelling immersive narrative experience.

How Do I Choose A Central Thesis For My Video Essay?

Choose a central thesis that is focused, debatable, and thought-provoking to anchor your video essay and give it a clear direction.

What Should I Focus On During The Research Phase?

Focus on gathering varied and credible information that supports your thesis and enriches the narrative with compelling facts and insights.

What Role Does Audio Play In Video Essays?

Audio enhances the visual experience by adding depth to the narrative, providing emotional cues, and aiding in information retention.

How Can Interactive Elements Improve My Video Essay?

Interactive elements can enhance engagement by allowing viewers to participate actively, often leading to a deeper understanding and connection with the content.

Why Is Feedback Important In Creating A Video Essay?

Feedback is crucial as it provides insights into how your video essay is perceived, allowing you to make adjustments to improve clarity, impact, and viewer experience.

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what is a video essay

Matt Crawford

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A video essay is a type of video that is used to present a single, cohesive argument or idea. They can be used to communicate a complex idea in a way that is easy to understand. They can also be used to show how a

what is a video essay

It is indeed.

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Absolutely, Greg.

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Great post! I found the definition of video essays to be particularly insightful.

As someone who is new to the world of video essays, it’s helpful to understand the different forms and purposes of this medium. The examples you provided were also enlightening, particularly the one on the First Amendment.

I’m looking forward to exploring more video essays in the future!

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I found this post to be incredibly informative and helpful in understanding the concept of video essays.

As a budding filmmaker, I’m intrigued by the idea of blending traditional essay structure with visual storytelling. The examples provided in the post were particularly insightful, showcasing the versatility of video essays in capturing complex ideas and emotions. I can’t wait to explore this medium further and see where it takes me!

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I found this post really fascinating, especially the section on the different types of video essays. I never knew there were so many variations!

As a student, I’m definitely going to start experimenting with video essays as a way to express myself and communicate my ideas. Thanks for sharing!

' src=

Interesting read! I’m curious to explore more video essays and see how they can be used to convey complex ideas in an engaging way.

Appreciate the comment

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How to Create a Video Essay for Your College Application

Some colleges may accept a video essay in lieu of the traditional written essay as part of the college application process.

[Featured image] Job candidate smiles at her tablet as she logs on for a video interview with a hiring manager in an open office space.

A video essay serves as a personal introduction on a college application. As a modern trend in the application process , some colleges and universities allow prospective students to submit a video essay, either in the place of the traditional written essay or, sometimes, as a separate element of the application packet.

With a video essay, you can naturally highlight your personality while providing the decision-makers with a glimpse into your world. You have the power to present yourself in your best light— literally —in a more personal medium than the regular written word.

What was once limited to art and design schools is now part of the normal process for schools like theUniversity of Chicago and Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. This modern twist on essays allows students to express themselves in a way that was once reserved for social media.

To impress the college admissions representatives of your chosen school, take the proper measures when planning. When preparing your video, give plenty of forethought to make your best first impression.

Learn more: How to Write a Personal Statement

How to make a video essay

Verify how long the video can run; this should be listed in each of your institutions’ requirements. For example, the University of Chicago allows videos of up to two minutes. Stay within the university’s range to be considered. The challenge is to focus on your presentation and choose your words wisely.

1. Choose a topic.

Next, decide on the topic of the video. Some schools may invite you to discuss a particular topic, and others will want the video essay to serve as a personal introduction in place of an interview.

If the video serves as an interview, include the answers to the following questions: 

Why do you wish to attend this specific school?

What will you bring to the college campus?

What will you do when you arrive?

Overall, you can use the video to show why you’ll be a natural fit at the school.

Read more: What Should I Major In? 5 Things to Evaluate

2. Create an outline and script.

Show off your production skills, but don’t overextend yourself. University representatives will focus on various aspects of your video in addition to its production. Plan your talking points, create a script, and practice by recording yourself multiple times before finally hitting the send button.

A video script is different from a written essay . Make a logically organized list of the topics you want to cover in a way that allows you to speak naturally and comfortably at the camera. Use the outline to guide you as you record in lieu of memorizing a script.

Record yourself with your phone’s camera, and practice the presentation repeatedly until you feel comfortable. Time yourself to stay within the time limit predefined by the college or university you're applying to. Once you feel satisfied with your script, you’ll be ready for the next step.

3. Use imagery and audio files.

Think about the scene you are depicting in the video. Verify your background. If you’re in your bedroom, for example, make sure it’s tidy and clean. Display things that visibly render your interests, such as a trophy from a swim meet or a stack of your favorite nonfiction books.

You can also film your video in a nearby park or landmark to represent your interests and make good use of the natural lighting. Use the setting to reveal a part of your personality and gain the interest of your college admissions representative. 

Along with video of you talking, you may wish to include additional images, video, and audio files that go along with your message. Collect all your content first before initiating the editing process.

4. Upload files into editing software.

Demonstrate your presentation skills by doing more than one take of your video and editing them to create a polished final cut. For this, you can use any of the trusted free editing software, including iMovie and Lightworks, which are typically user-friendly. You can drag and drop any file you upload and add sound and visual effects as you edit your content.

For tutorials on new software, look for relevant courses on Coursera like Mastering Final Cut Pro , where you’ll learn skills to make your video look professional.

Keep your post-production simple since you will principally be ranked on the content of your video rather than the graphics and transitions, that is unless you’re applying to become a videography student.

5. Share or submit your work.

Follow the submission guidelines described in the university’s application process to ensure you meet all requirements. You may only need to submit a link to your video upload from a commonly used video-sharing website.

If such is the case, upload your completed video essay for free on popular video-sharing platforms like Vimeo or YouTube. Once you’ve uploaded your video to your preferred site, you will have the option to copy a shareable link. Before you send the link, test it on your computer or phone to make sure it leads to your video.

Use the Common App to submit your essay.

Many high school juniors and seniors are familiar with the Common App , which is used by hundreds of colleges and universities to streamline the process of application. For the 2021-2022 school year, there were seven different essay prompts that you could choose from for the traditional written essay.

For some institutions, you may have the option to submit your essay through the Common App. You may also be able to submit a video essay in place of a written essay or as its complement. You’ll need to research and follow the directions of the institution you’re applying to.

Take note of these best practices of video production to make sure your video is both memorable and favorable.

Videography tips for success 

Apply your top-notch creativity in this nontraditional medium to produce your video essay. Discuss ideas for your video with a guidance counselor, parent, or trusted teacher. Ask them for feedback to make sure the message resonates properly.

Reach for success in these other ways:

Have good lighting and sound: Avoid distracting the viewer with shadows, cluttered backgrounds, or loud background noises. Sit near a window to use natural sunlight and prevent a washed-out appearance.

Dress for success: Wear a presentable outfit like you would for an in-person interview. Aim for business or business casual attire, tidy hair, and positive body language. This will improve your confidence as well as send the message that you’re serious about this application.

Answer questions directly: If the school asks specific questions on their application process or has prompts that need to be included in your video essay, make sure to directly provide the answers to each of them. Avoid getting carried away during the creative process.Write the questions and timestamp of the video where they’re answered.

Be yourself : Perhaps one of the most important video tips is to be authentic and relaxed. Review your script and practice repeatedly so you can naturally express yourself without reading it. Give yourself plenty of time to complete the project, and remember to meet the submission deadline.

Express yourself: Interviewing Skills to Benefit Your Career

Practice your presentation skills and increase your confidence before working on your video essay with the following courses from top universities, available on Coursera: 

Effective Communication: Writing, Design, and Presentation Specialization

Storytelling and influencing: Communicate with impact

Speaking Skills for University Success

Speak English Professionally: In Person, Online & On the Phone

Keep reading

Coursera staff.

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

Visual Rhetoric

Video essay resource guide.

PAR 102 (M-Th, 9 AM- 5 PM) Fine Arts Library Media Lab (same hours as FAL) PCL Media Lab (same hours as PCL)

About video essays

What are they.

“The video essay is often described as a form of new media, but the basic principles are as old as rhetoric: the author makes an assertion, then presents evidence to back up his claim. Of course it was always possible for film critics to do this in print, and they’ve been doing it for over 100 years, following more or less the same template that one would use while writing about any art form: state your thesis or opinion, then back it with examples. In college, I was assured that in its heart, all written criticism was essentially the same – that in terms of rhetorical construction, book reviews, music reviews, dance reviews and film reviews were cut from the same cloth, but tailored to suit the specific properties of the medium being described, with greater emphasis given to form or content depending on the author’s goals and the reader’s presumed interest.”

Matt Zoller Seitz on the video essay .

what makes a good video essay? 

Tony Zhou on how to structure a video essay

Kevin B. Lee on what makes a video essay “ great “

why should we use them? what are their limits?

Kevin B. Lee’s  experimental/artistic pitch for video essays

Kevin B. Lee’s mainstream pitch for video essay

“Of all the many developments in the short history of film criticism and scholarship, the video essay has the greatest potential to challenge the now historically located text-based dominance of the appraisal and interpretation of film and its contextual cultures…”

Andrew McWhirter argues that t he video essay has significant academic potential in the Fall 2015 issue of  Screen

“Importantly, the [new] media stylo does not replace traditional scholarship. This is a new practice beyond traditional scholarship. So how does critical media differ from traditional scholarship and what advantages does it offer? First, as you will see with the works in this issue, critical media demonstrates a shift in rhetorical mode. The traditional essay is argumentative-thesis, evidence, conclusion. Traditional scholarship aspires to exhaustion, to be the definitive, end-all-be-all, last word on a particular subject. The media stylo, by contrast, suggests possibilities-it is not the end of scholarly inquiry; it is the beginning. It explores and experiments and is designed just as much to inspire as to convince…”

Eric Fadden’s “ A Manifesto for Critical Media “

the web video problem

Adam Westbrook’s “ The Web-Video Problem: Why It’s Time to Rethinking Visual Storytelling from the Bottom Up “

Video essayists and venues

Matt Zoller Seitz (various venues) A writer and director by trade, Zoller Seitz is nonetheless probably best known as a prominent American cultural critic.  He’s made over 1000 hours of video essays and is generally recognized as a founder of the video essay movement in high-brow periodicals.  A recognized expert on Wes Anderson, Zoller Seitz is also notable because he often mixes other cinematic media (especially television) into his analysis, as in the above example, which doubles as an experiment in the absence of voiceover.

carol glance

Various contributors, Press Play Co-founded by Matt Zoller Seitz and Ken Cancelosi,  Press Play  (published by Indiewire)   is one of the oldest high-brow venues for video essays about television, cinema, and other aspects of popular culture.

Various contributors, Keyframe   (A Fandor online publication) Fandor’s video essay department publishes work from many editors (what many video essayists call themselves) on and in a range of topics and styles.  Check it out to get an idea of all that things a video essay can do!

fantastic mr fox

Various contributors, Moving Image Source A high-brow publication for video essays.

Tony Zhou, Every Frame a Painting The master of video essays on filmic form, Tony’s arguments are clean, simple, and well-evidenced.  Look to Tony as an example of aggressive and precise editing and arrangement.  He’s also an excellent sound editor–pay attention to his choices and try out some of his sound-mixing techniques in your essay.

Adam Johnston, Your Movie Sucks (YMS) Although an excellent example of epideictic film rhetoric, this channel is a great example of what  not  to do in this assignment (write a movie review, gush about how good/bad you think a movie is, focus on motifs or narrative content instead of  film form  as the center of your argument).  What you  can  learn from Adam is a lot about style.  Adam’s delivery, pacing, and editing all work together to promote a mildly-disinterested-and-therefore-credible ethos through a near-monotone, which I’ll affectionately dub the “Daria” narratorial ethos.

Adam Westbrook, delve.tv Adam Westbrook is part of an emerging group of professional video essayists and delve.tv is his version of a visual podcast.  Using the video essay form, Adam has developed a professional public intellectual ethos for himself through skillful overlay of explanation/interpretation and concept.  Check out Westbrook’s work as a really good example of presenting and representing visual concepts crucial to an argument.  He’s a master at making an argument in the form of storytelling, and he uses the video essay as a vehicle for that enterprise.

:: kogonada (various venues) If you found yourself wondering what the auteur video essay might look like, :: kogonada is it.  I like to call this “expressionist” video essay style.  Kogonada is the ultimate minimalist when it comes to voiceover/text over–its message impossibly and almost excessively efficient.  Half of the videos in his library are simple, expertly-executed supercuts , highlighting how heavily video essays rely on the “supercut” technique to make an argument.  Crafting an essay in this style really limits your audience and may not be a very good fit for the constraints of assignment (very “cutting edge,” as we talked about it in class), but you will probably draw inspiration from ::kogonada’s distinct, recognizable style, as well as an idea of what a video essay can do at the outer limits of its form.

Lewis Bond,  Channel Criswell Narrating in brogue-y Northern English, Bond takes his time, releasing a very carefully-edited, high-production video essay once every couple of months.  He’s a decent editor, but I feel his essays tend to run long, and I feel rushed by his narration at times.  Bond also makes a useful distinction between video essays and analysis/reviews on his channel–and while most of his analysis/reviews focus on film content (what you don’t want to imitate), his video essays stay pretty focused on film technique (what you do).  Hearing the same author consciously engage in two different modes of analysis might help you better understand the distinction between the two, as well.

Jack Nugent,  Now You See It Nugent’s brisk, formal analysis is both insightful and accessible–a good example of what it takes to secure a significant following in the highly-competitive Youtube marketplace.  [That’s my way of slyly calling him commercial.] Nugent is especially good at pairing his narration with his images.  Concentrate and reflect upon his simple pairings as you watch–how does Nugent help you process both sets of information at the pacing he sets?

Evan Puschak, The Nerdwriter Nerdwriter  is a great example the diversity of topics a video essay can be used to craft an argument about.  Every week, Puschak publishes an episode on science, art, and culture.  Look at all the different things Puschak considers visual rhetoric and think about how he’s using the video essay form to make honed, precisely-executed arguments about popular culture.

Dennis Hartwig and John P. Hess,  FilmmakerIQ Hartwig and Hess use video essays to explain filmmaking technique to aspiring filmmakers.  I’ve included the channel here as another example of what  not  to do in your argument, although perhaps some of the technical explanations that Hartwig and Hess have produced might help you as secondary sources.  Your target audience (someone familiar on basic film theory trying to better understand film form) is likely to find the highly technical, prescriptive arguments on FilmIQ boring or alienating. Don’t focus on technical production in your essay (how the film accomplishes a particular visual technique using a camera); rather, focus on how the audience interprets the end result in the film itself; in other words, focus on choices the audience can notice and interpret–how is the audience interpreting the product of production?  How often is the audience thinking about/noticing production in that process?

Kevin B. Lee (various venues) A good example of the older, high-brow generation of video essayists, Kevin’s collection of work hosted on his Vimeo channel offers slow, deliberate, lecture-inspired readings of film techniques and form.  Note the distinct stylistic difference between Kevin’s pacing and someone like Zhou or Lewis.  How does delivery affect reception?

Software Guides

How to access Lynda tutorials (these will change your life)

Handbrake and MakeMKV  (file converters)

Adobe Premiere  (video editing)

Camtasia  (screen capture)

File management

Use your free UTBox account to upload and manage your files.  Make sure you’ve got some sort of system for tracking and assembling everything into your video editing software.   UTBox has a 2 terabyte limit (much higher than Google Drive) and is an excellent file management resource for all sorts of academic work.

Adobe Premiere saves versions with links to your video files, so it’s imperative that you keep your video files folder in the same place on every machine you open it up on.  That’s why I keep all my video files in a big folder on box that I drop on the desktop of any machine I’m working on before I open my premiere files.  The Adobe Premiere project walkthrough  has more details on this.

Where to find video and how to capture it

About fair use . Make sure your composition complies with the Fair Use doctrine and familiarize yourself with the four criteria.

The best place to capture images is always from a high-resolution DVD or video file .  The first place you should go to get the film is the library– see instructions for searching here .

To import the video and audio from your DVD or video file into your video editing software (like Premiere), you will first need to use a software to convert it to an .mkv.  See instructions on how to do that here .

Camtasia tutorials .  Camtasia is a program that allows you to capture anything that’s going on on your screen .  This is a critical tool for this assignment as you decide what kind of interface you want to present to your reader in your video essay.  Camtasia also allows you to capture any high-quality video playing on your desktop without licensing restrictions.

You can also use Clip Converter to capture images and sound from pre-existing YouTube videos , and it may be a little faster and easier than Camtasia.   I suggest converting things into .mkv before putting them into your video editor, regardless of where you get the material from.

Film theory and criticism

  • /r/truefilm’s reading and viewing guide

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Home Resources Free Guides Video Essays Guide Introduction to Video Essays


Introductory guide to video essays, introduction to video essays, studying and researching film through film, “if it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed” – stanley kubrick, "...why can filmmaking, film curation, and film criticism not co-exist” – lindiwe dovey.

Drawing on the inspiring work of pioneering educators and researchers engaging with this creative method, this guide aims to offer a research-led introduction for students, teachers and researchers approaching the video essay for the first time.

From 2014, with the foundation of [in]Transition, the first online, open access, peer-reviewed journal of videographic film and moving image studies, an increasing number of academic journals have been welcoming video essays. However, the written word remains the dominant language to disseminate scholarly work, with shared conventions in terms of register, structure and length. In contrast, a glimpse at the range of published video essays evidences the diversity of approaches. While this may be a great opportunity for innovation and creativity, it also presents challenges. How to make video essays? What are their pedagogical benefits, as compared to written papers? What are the technological expectations? How to design assessment briefs to ensure they are equivalent to written papers? Is such equivalence relevant? If the approaches are so varied, what are the criteria of evaluation? What are the copyright issues, if any, when reusing creative work for the purpose of making an argument, audiovisually? And, more importantly, where to start?

Video essays are scholarly videos that invite researchers and class members to explore the audiovisual and multimedia language to make an academic argument. When applied to film research and pedagogy, the video essay is thus a recursive text. That is, the object of study, film, is mediated, or rather, performed, through the film medium. This is a kind of academic piece that encourages creativity, but more importantly, action. As such, video essays have a transformative dimension. When used in the classroom, for instance, as creative assessment methods, they foster a collaborative environment where teachers and students - that is, class members - are co-producers of knowledge, informed by different positionalities. Video essays can thus contribute to a kind of education that Paulo Friere (2018[1978]: 80-81) referred to as the “problem-posing education”, as “the practice of freedom”. This contrasts with the “banking” or “digestive” education as the practice of domination, where students are mere passive recipients of the knowledge transferred from tutors. As universities seek to decolonise the curriculum, video essays seem as pertinent as ever to foster active, creative and critical modes of learning, based on thinking through making. However, the experimental potential in video essays also leads to a certain degree of uncertainty to all class members and eager researchers who would like to venture into this creative arena of knowledge production. Creative educators and researchers are collectively seeking an academic space for video essays, legitimising their production, and suggesting ways of engaging with this kind of recursive language.

As Christian Keathley notes, “the essential question faced in the production of scholarly video is not technical, but conceptual” (2012). That is, video essays, like any other scholarly work, are concerned with the contribution to knowledge. But, how to achieve this? In this guide, we first look at the existing guidelines for the production and evaluation across the different journals, finding some coherence across them. We then suggest some ways of making them, dividing the process in three phases: preproduction, production and postproduction, in alignment with the filmmaking process. These guidelines do not aim to be prescriptive by any means. Rather, they seek to assist the video-making process . Due to our emphasis on the academic value of video essays, we further offer an overview to copyright considerations to take into account for its lawful, ethical and rigorous publication . We also include several journals and dissemination spaces. Finally, we share a case study of the application of the video essay as a creative assessment method at SOAS, University of London.

How to make video essays. Dr Shane O’Sullivan, Senior Lecturer in Filmmaking at Kingston University and Curator of Archives for Education .

Finding Coherence Across Journals

How to make video essay guides, copyright considerations, dissemination.

what is a video essay

  • Social Media Center
  • Directories

Media Production and Film Studies

  • Library Resources
  • Finding Books
  • Professional Organizations
  • Careers in Media
  • The Video Essay

So you want to make a video essay...

The video essay: how-to, featured video essays.

  • Copyright & Fair Use
  • Getting Help

Additional Resources

Academic Journals

  • in[Transition] : The first open access, peer-reviewed journal on videographic criticism
  • AUDIOVISUALCY: Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies : An online forum for video essays or works of audovisual screen studies that have an analytical, critical, reflexive or scholarly purpose; fully attribute all sources used; are made according to Fair Use principles; are non-commercial in nature.

Video Essay Channels

  • Every Frame a Painting  
  • Indietrix Film Reviews
  • 100 Years of Cinema  
  • Channel Criswell  
  • Lindsay Ellis

Library Guides

  • Tufts University Library: Multimedia Production
  • Edith Cowan University Library: The Video Essay
  • Pace University Library: Film Criticism

What is a video essay ?

Christian Keathley, a Professor of Film & Media Culture at Middlebury College & co-founder of in[Transition], defines video essays as

“short critical essays on a given film or filmmaker, typically read in voice-over by the author and supplemented with carefully chosen and organized film clips”

Video essays have found incresased popularity in recent years on digital content sharing platforms like YouTube & Vimeo. Despite their scholarly-focused and argument-driven nature, video essays have since been associated with (and mistaken for) other popular forms of commentary (e.g. movie commentaries, reaction videos, online fan-edits, etc.) shared on the same platforms. The two do have similarities in their accessibility and utilize the same set of creative tools and texhniques. However, the video essay in its academic form does follow certain conventions (a written critical component from the author, scholarly research, and peer review), as opposed to popular commentaries. 

Video essays as a medium are an important audivisual form of scholarship, particularly in terms of expression, creation, and accessibility. Traditional essays may not always lend themselves to the fullest expression of film and how we interpret/analyze visual images. As students of film and media studies, it is important to both understand the medium from a critical point of view, as well as from a creative point of view. 

  • Planning & Preparation
  • Gathering Materials & Filming
  • Editing & Sharing
  • Understanding File Formats

So you've been assigned a video essay for class, or you want to make one on your own...

Where do you start? Like any other form of traditional essay, you will begin by Developing A Topic , whether it's a persuasive argument, a narrative story, or a research question. If you’re telling a story, think about good elements of narrative. If you’re making an argument in your video essay, think about the elements of making an effective argument. If you're drafting a research question, make sure to be specific and answer the following: who?, what?, where?, when?, why?, and how?

For more information about developing a topic or researcj question, please check out the following resources: 

  • Pace Library Guide: The Research Process, Step-By-Step
  • Pace Library Guide: Getting Started with Research

Once you have a well-developed topic and/or research question, then you can Create an Outline and Write a Script for your video essay. Utilizing your background research, evidence from whichever piece(s) of media you are analyzing/discussing, and your own arguments/interpretations of that media, you can build an outline and write a basic script to refer to when filmming and/or recording your video essay. This script will especially be important if you plan to record a voiceover. 

For more information about how to write a script/create an outline, please check out the following resources: 

  • Excelsior Online Writing Lab: Video Essays
  • How To Make A Video Essay: Writing   by  Indietrix Film Reviews

Now, you've got your script and you're ready to start gathering materials (scenes, images, audio, etc.) to edit into your video essay.  The best place to capture images is always  from a high-resolution DVD, Blue-ray, or video file. 

There are a couple of different places you can acquire these files. Of course, you can always invest in your own copies of the physical media. This is the best (and most ethical ) way to get high quality images, video, and footage.

Should you wish to do a screen capture, you can use platforms like Camtasia or Clip Converter to record images or footage directly from your screen. These aren't always the most ethical means to record footage, so if you choose to do so, be sure to consult Fair Use Guidelines before doing so. For this process, you will also likely need a DVD Drive, whether external or internal. Having one that can read DVDs and Blu-rays is a plus! Resoruces for how to do these technical processes are included below. 

Before you actually aquire any footage or media for your video essay, it's important to weigh the ethical considerations (i.e. Fair Use & Copyright Law) no matter what the media is or your intention to use it. 


  • How To Make A Video Essay: Footage and Voiceover   from  Indietrix Film Reviews  
  • How To Make Video Essays:  This video is especially helpful in terms of the technology of filming and recording voiceovers for video essays, less so the other aspects of video essay production. 
  • Camtasia: Screen Capture & Recording Tutorials

As for finding stock photos or images to use that are in the Public Domain , check out this well-curated list of public domain image libraries, websites, and archives at the Tufts University Library Multimedia Production Resource Guide . 

Use editing software and experiment with available functionality to enhance and support your argument. Add a voice-over, sound effects, music and other aspects of multimodality. Be sure to include references and credits to all sources used in creating the video essay. 

For more information on editing video essays, please check out the following resources: 

  • How to Make a Video Essay: Editing by  Indietrix Film Reviews
  • Vimeo: Editing Basics

When creating, saving, uploading, and sharing video essays, it's important to have a basic understanding of digitail file formats, for videos, audio, and images. 

Linked below are some resources (websites, videos, & infographics) to help you learn how to navigate each file format and learn their best uses. It's likely you'll become aware of and proficient at most of this as you move through your Film & Screen Studies coursework, so think of these resources as a brief introduction to the topic and/or as little reminders for you to refer to in the future. 


  • Portable Moving Images: A Media History of Storage  Formats  by Ricardo Cedeño Montaña
  • Images on the Move: Materiality - Networks -  Formats   Editor: Olga Moskatova

Blog Posts: 

  • Understanding Video File Formats, Codecs and Containers by Andy Owen at TechSmith
  • Video Formats – Meaning, types and everything you should know   by  Akeem Okunola at InEvent
  • Image file formats: When to Use Each File Type   by Samual Lundquist at 99Designs

Other Resources: 

  • Introduction to Digital Format Preservation, The Library of Congress

what is a video essay

Image Credit: WonderShare, "Top 9 Video Formats You May Want to Know In 2023." 

The Place of Voiceover in Academic Audiovisual Film and Television Criticism from Ian Garwood on Vimeo .

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Video essays and digital storytelling

How to use this guide

What is a video/multimedia essay?

  • Digital storytelling
  • 1. Planning and storyboarding
  • 2. Gathering images/video/audio
  • 3. Video editing
  • 4. Creating credits

This guide will take you step-by-step through the process of creating a video essay or digital story. The guide is laid out in the order you might approach your given assignment.  Tips, recommendations, and links to various tools are provided along the way.

You can work through each step by using the left navigation, or you can jump into the topic of your choosing.

What is a video essay?

Video essays use audiovisual materials to present research or explore topics. Like written essays, they may contain an introduction, argument, supporting evidence, and conclusion.


Writing an essay, multi-media or otherwise, is about telling a story. Stories have a structure, and the academic structure for an essay is different than the structure for a novel or biography. Nonetheless, some of the same basic story structures apply.

Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and there has to be some kind of coherence or flow to their telling. In the case of telling a digital story, this linear structure can be stretched a little because of the options that multimedia affords. And, because the story is told "on camera", there is some work to be done prior to its telling. A video essay parallels what you would do in a written essay in regards to determining:

  • what story you want to tell;
  • how that story will be structured (what gets included);
  • what order it goes in to build your argument or thesis; and
  • because it is academic, how and where you need to support your story elements with reference to the academic literature (citations).

--Introduction courtesy of Dr. Robin Cox, Associate Professor, Royal Roads University

  • Next: Digital storytelling >>
  • Last Updated: Aug 18, 2023 1:01 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.royalroads.ca/videoessayhowto

The Video Essay As Art: 11 Ways to Make a Video Essay

Part one in a series of commissioned pieces on video essay form, originally published at Fandor Keyframe.

This feature piece, the first in an ongoing series, was originally published by Fandor Keyframe in May 2016. You can read the other pieces in this series here .

When you think of the video essay, you might imagine someone expressing their love of a movie over a selection of clips, a compilation of a famous director’s signature shots, or a voice that says: “Hi, my name is Tony.” But these are just a few of a remarkable variety of approaches to making videos exploring film and media, a diversity of forms that is continually evolving and expanding. Here’s an attempt to account for some of the more recognizable modes of video essay, with key examples for each.

Supercut . A collection of images or sounds arranged under a category (i.e. Jacob T. Swinney’s wonderful The Dutch Angle ) or used to break down a film to a set of elements (i.e. Zackery Ramos-Taylor’s recent Hearing Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Joel Bocko’s The Colors of Daisies ). The supercut is usually very short and lacks text so as to maximize its impact on a visual level. This brevity of form emphasizes a central concept more than a narrative argument. If a supercut has an argument to make, it is typically in the order in which items are sequenced.

Personal Review . This broad category of video essay hinges on a strongly personalized account of a film. Scout Tafoya’s recurring series The Unloved is a prominent example of this, wherein he makes the claim that each film he focuses on is underappreciated and then asserts their qualities through visual analysis. The best of these, in my opinion, is his video on Michael Mann’s Public Enemies :

Vlog . While similar to the personal review, the vlog differs strongly in mode of presentation. There is a greater focus on direct address of the viewers, and on delivering opinion rather than analysis. They’re often played up for comedic entertainment value and feature a lot of voiceover or footage of the editor themselves. Chez Lindsay’s video on Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera is a sprawling, informative, funny journey through theater and cinema history that in many respects encompasses elements of the video essay but first and foremost is grounded in a personal perspective. Outside of film, the work Jon Bois does at SB Nation in his series Pretty Good would also fall under this category (his latest, on character types in 24 , is very much worth the watch). The popular YouTube series CinemaSins would also fall under this category, which relies moreso on personal nit-picking than film analysis.

Scene Breakdown . A visually-driven close reading of a scene (or many scenes in one film) that leans heavily on explaining film form and technique. Tony Zhou is especially skilled at this, and his scene breakdowns often come nestled in a video about many scenes, like his look at ensemble staging in Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder or the approach to staging a fight scene in his video Jackie Chan—How to Do Action Comedy :

Shot Analysis . A cousin of the supercut and scene breakdown, though more analytical in nature than the former, the shot analysis dissects a shot or a repeated type of shot. Josh Forrest’s engaging video on the insert shot in David Fincher’s Zodiac is not shot analysis in and of itself; it’s more of a supercut. David Chen’s Edgar Wright and the Art of Close-Ups , on the other hand, is definitely a shot analysis, turning its compilation structure into a video essay by virtue of its director’s commentary track (which we might call the DVD-era ancestor of the video essay):

Structural Analysis . To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, these videos look at a film’s story shape, seeking to uncover hidden meaning or a subtextual emphasis by viewing the film as a collection of scenes rather than necessarily a plot or narrative. Kevin B. Lee’s Between the Lines: THE DAY HE ARRIVES is one of the best videos in this field, comparing repeated scenes in Hong Sang-soo’s film to reveal the film’s playful interpretation of time passing. One of my video essays for Fandor last year, Containing the Madness: George A. Romero’s THE CRAZIES , was an attempt to engage with this mode of video essay:

Side-by-side Analysis . Not a supercut, not yet a shot analysis. The side-by-side is a fascinating form of the video essay pushed by essayists like Cristina Álvarez Lopez, Catherine Grant ( All That Pastiche Allows ) and, in recent months, Davide Rapp, which finds meaning through visual comparison of two or more film clips in real-time. In What is Neorealism? , kogonada brilliantly employs the side-by-side comparison to reflect on the ideological and creative differences between Vittorio de Sica and David O. Selznick in the cutting of the same picture.

Side-by-sides with voiceover narration are relatively rare. Álvarez, Grant and Rapp tend to let viewers interpret the footage on their own. Rapp’s series of videos under the Seeing Double and Seeing Triple moniker place sequences from films and their various remakes side-by-side and implicitly address not only specific but generational aesthetic and narrative priorities. A particularly illuminating video in this collection is his look at Michael Haneke’s two versions of Funny Games :

Recut . The line between video essay and video art is blurred when we look at the imaginative re-purposing of texts. Filmscalpel’s 12 Silent Men is a good example of this, which was shared as a video essay despite being very similar in form to Vicki Bennett’s work of video art, 4:33: The Movie . Davide Rapp’s enchanting SECRET GATEWAYS (below), where he maps the space of a house in a Buster Keaton short and then moves his virtual camera between each of these rooms, is a more visually-focused re-purposing. I’d count my video essay, The Secret Video Essays of Jenni Olson , as also being a part of this form. It’s worth noting that an imaginative recut does not need to be visual, it can also be conceptual, as in Jeremy Ratzlaff’s Paul Thomas Anderson: A Chronological Timeline . This recut concept also extends to re-purposed marketing materials or film trailers, as seen in The Maze of Susan Lowell by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin, which suggests an alternate cut of The Big Combo with Susan as the protagonist. The very popular YouTube series Honest Trailers would also fall into the category of the recut, as they mimic and parody film trailer form, though their comedic narration-as-criticism does blur the line even more.

Subject Essay . These videos typically tell a story to explore a filmmaker’s (or actor’s, cinematographer’s, etc.) body of work, an era of filmmaking or a recurring motif in a lot of films, incorporating elements of scene, shot and thematic analysis. For the most part, the better videos in this field seek to educate or inform the viewer about a relatively unknown body of work or period of time. In this vein they teeter on the edge of conventional documentary cinema, like Kevin B. Lee’s Bruce Lee, Before and After the Dragon , and are reminiscent of some of the essay films of Mark Rappaport (whose body of work in and of itself defies easy genre labels). An unconventional example of this, and one of the best video essays of 2015, is Tony Zhou’s Vancouver Never Plays Itself . Another unconventional example, and one which straddles the modes of supercut and shot analysis, is Rishi Kaneria’s brilliant Why Props Matter .

Academic Supplement . When Kevin B. Lee made his refractive video essay What Makes a Video Essay Great? back in 2014, he used an excerpt from Thomas van den Berg’s Reliable Unreliability vs Unreliable Reliability or, Perceptual Subversions of the Continuity Editing System , a chiefly academic piece of video criticism that runs for over half an hour, features lecture-like narration and is grounded in academic and theoretical concepts of cinema. While this video does stand on its own as analysis, when I say supplement I mean that it is supplemental to the academic form. Some of the video works from David Bordwell, which he has termed video lectures, are examples of this form, in spite of what they have in common with shot analysis and filmic survey (in particular, his Constructive Editing in Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket ). Catherine Grant, another academic working in the realm of video essays, has managed to often subvert this expectation that academics making video essays will make supplementary works, turning in some wonderfully imaginative and non-academic videos like her brilliant UN/CONTAINED .

Desktop Video . A recent mode of video arguably born from the metatextual work of Harun Farocki ( Interface in particular), this seeks to present an argument about film within the confines of a computer screen. It’s worth noting that while the visual experience is tethered to a screen, like the recent horror flick Unfriended, it’s often not actually a real-time one-take desktop journey. The defining film in this field (arguably moving beyond the video essay label to become an experimental documentary in its own right) is Kevin B. Lee’s Transformers: The Premake :

As you can see from the various definitions above, the problem with all of these videos standing under the umbrella category of the video essay is that they’re all trying to do different things and aiming for different audiences. Because of this, when any two practitioners talk about what they like in video essays, they may be talking about very different things, not just in terms of content but in what they think the purposes of these videos are. Earlier this month Filmmaker Magazine posted a series of responses to the question What is a Video Essay? and answers ranged from a tool to stimulate better film viewing to a new form of essay filmmaking; and from a means of expressing cinephile obsession to a means of critiquing that same obsession.

On the other hand, what’s certain is that these videos, in their multitude of forms, have become very popular online over the last few years. There are many communities forming in the world of video essays, not just within publishing sites like the one you’re visiting now, but also in the “schools” of approaches taken by like-minded video makers. The mostly straightforward film-analysis approach is a favorite among very popular YouTubers. The academic-minded teaching aide is championed by the online journal [in]Transition. The personal love letter to cinema arises in supercuts and most single-film videos. The miniature essay film floats in and out of categorization, making it one of the most interesting forms of video essay.

Here at Keyframe I’ll be writing about various approaches to the video essay, looking at a wide variety of videos and video essayists and speaking to curators and editors to try to understand just how we got to where we are now. I’ll explore questions such as: why do some supercuts work better than others; when and when not to use voiceover and much more. Join us, won’t you?

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What is a Video Essay? Creators Grapple with a Definition

what is a video essay

by Paula Bernstein in Filmmaking on May 3, 2016

Chantal Akerman , Kevin B. Lee , No Home Movie , Video Essay

Perhaps video essays are like pornography in that, as the saying goes, you know it when you see it. But what distinguishes a video essay from a short film and what are the ground rules for this relatively new form? Finally, how much creative leeway can a video essayist take with a filmmaker’s work without being disrespectful or misrepresentative?

These questions arose last month when we published a  video essay  from Kevin B. Lee, chief video essayist at Fandor, about the spaces in Chantal Akerman’s final documentary,  No Home Movie . Initially, Lee edited the video to music. But after receiving some complaints, including from the distributors of the film, Lee reassessed the music in his video essay and decided to create a new version without the music.

“I watched the essay and I was surprised because there was no commentary on it. It was five minutes of Chantal’s film put in a different order with this very sentimental music laid over it,” said Jonathan Miller , president of Icarus Films,  No Home Movie ‘s U.S. distributor. “I wasn’t sure what made it an essay. It was as if he (Lee) cut Chantal’s footage to make another film entirely.”

Lee understood Miller’s concern and opted to leave  both versions online  in order to show how a piece of music can define the same footage in two separate videos.

As the video essay continues to emerge as an entirely new form of commentary, this particular issue raises questions about authorship and intention. What makes something a video essay and not an entirely new film created from re-editing the same footage? Is it okay to add music to a film without any?

As a relatively new media form, video essays have yet to conform to any structural guidelines, although they’ve been around long enough for define patterns to emerge: the supercut and the fan tribute, for example.

We can all agree that a video essay is a short online video which cuts together footage from one or more films in order to reveal new insights about them. But are there any ground rules? And how much (if at all) should video essayist concern themselves with the original filmmaker’s intent?

Filmmaker Magazine reached out to a select group of video essayists to weigh in on the question. Below is a selection of their responses.

Arielle Bernstein :  I’m primarily an essayist and cultural critic, so I’ve never thought of the video essays I’ve collaborated on as films in their own right. The video essays I’ve worked on are thesis-driven and images are used along with text in order to persuade the viewer to  read and interpret these images in a certain way. For me, a video essay is distinct from a film because the work that is being done is about creating this kind of analytic framework for the viewer and reader to re-interpret or re-imagine original images.

Agnes Varda’s Search for Meaning from Fandor Keyframe on Vimeo .

Kevin B. Lee, Founding editor and chief video essayist for Fandor’s Keyframe :  I don’t think one can so neatly separate “a video essay from a reworked version of a film” – nearly all video essays qualify as reworked versions as a film. I don’t see it as a black and white issue of  “what is or isn’t a video essay,” but more of a spectrum measured by the degree of thought put into the reworking of the film. I see video essays as one strain of the essay film whose defining characteristic is the articulation of thought in audiovisual form. By that logic, the more thinking on a subject that can be discerned in a video, the more it can qualify as a video essay.

However, that thinking isn’t measured simply by how much talking or commentary is put into the video, otherwise we should just stick to writing articles and essays in text form. We also have to take into consideration how much thoughtfulness can be found in the reworking of the material through the use of editing, sound and music. That’s what makes the video essay such an exciting new form, because now we have to combine the criteria by which we measure good critical thinking with good filmmaking as well.

Watch Lee’s video essay on video essays, What Makes a Video Essay Great? below:

What Makes a Video Essay Great? from Fandor Keyframe on Vimeo .

Max Winter, Editor-in-Chief, Press Play:  One of the most interesting things about this particular form is that there aren’t any rules, or rather that there is no firm set of such rules. The video essayists tend to make up the rules as they go along. The one thing that binds all of them of course, is a love of film itself. That holds everything together: anything the essayist might say in a piece has that in its backdrop, that, in the range of experiences available to connoisseurs of culture, the experience they most wish to examine, and probe, and on whose examination they will spend hours and hours of meticulous work, is film. Another rule, possibly contradictory, is that something of the essayist has to come forward in the piece.

The most memorable video essays I’ve seen bring an element to the fore —  symmetry in Wes Anderson , first shots vs. last shots  –that is such an area of obsession for the essayist that the piece itself becomes something they have to express –and that feeling of urgency communicates itself in the drive of the piece. Another ground rule, or perhaps we’re talking about cornerstones of “success,” is that the piece remind you of something crucially true about the filmmaker addressed, that it drop anchor, in a sense–that you watch it, and you think, yes exactly, I’d never quite thought about that, but–how true.

Another “goal” these pieces could be said to have is explosiveness: instant immersion in the work of a filmmaker. This immersion is obviously literally explosive when the subject is someone like Tarantino or Godard, but just as much, in a quieter way, if the piece is about mirrors in Bergman , or the geometrical framing of Ada.

Video essays have, in my experience, what could be called a boiling point. Many of them simmer, and are no less remarkable for simmering, but some of them boil. It’s ultimately about the essayist’s mastery of the material, the degree to which that person absorbs and can re-express the idea he or she has, i.e. framing in Kurosawa, or what watching Breathless might have meant to a young film student, or what it takes to become a “cinephile.”

Boiling is the goal, but I like to think that there’s a little boil in all of them, and that all of these pieces are transformative, in both the legal and the intellectual sense. They make us watch more carefully–and what higher goal of any form of criticism could there be? The knee-jerk response to these pieces is, in the more resistant viewer, “why don’t you make your own film?” That question, unfortunately, is wholly beside the point. Most video essayists could  make their own films, but the simple fact is that they didn’t. And to find out why not, you have to watch their work.

V. Renee, NoFilmSchool :  What defines a video essay and when does it become its own film? I think it’s a little difficult to answer, because the film essay has only just started gaining popularity in the last year or so, so there aren’t really any defined rules or archetypes yet. However, I’ve found that there’s a huge difference between the ones with accompanying narration and/or text and the ones without. The ones with them are exactly what they advertise themselves to be, video essays, while the ones without, I think, are the ones that force us to question the definition of a video essay.

You’ve got, for example, Lewis Bond of Channel Criswell who narrates these insanely in-depth pieces on topics like the cinematic techniques of Miyazaki , and then you’ve got kogonada who does these supercuts sans voiceover or text, like the one on the use of eyes in Hitchcock films .

Both teach us something about the subject of their videos, but while one has an overt lesson with evidence and research and bullet points, the other simply has a series of images and leaves it up to the viewer to take from it what they will.

The question is do we hold these video essays up to the same standards of written academic essays? If we do, then a supercut set to classical music without any narration probably wouldn’t qualify. I mean, imagine turning in the written equivalent of that essay to a professor…you’d flunk. If we don’t, then the video essay could take whichever form it wants to, unless it starts veering away from being a teaching or observational piece, transforming from a critique into a film with its own story…I think that’s when it’s no longer a video essay.

But I don’t think it’s an either/or thing…there are plenty of video essays that celebrate the work of a director by editing together a bunch of their shots set to emotional music. All of a sudden you’re like, “My god! I just love Jeff Cronenweth and his beautiful work.” The video works more as a tribute piece than a video essay or supercut; I think that’s where creative leeway comes in. If you’re truly making a video essay, I’m not sure how much creative leeway you need, to be honest.

It’s an interesting thing to think about, especially because this might be one of the first times where the line between a critique and the piece in which it is critiquing has been blurred.

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Berkeley mfe blog, how to prepare for the video essay.

By The Berkeley MFE Program | Jun 22, 2022 | Applying , STEM , Data Science , MFE , quant finance , graduate studies , video essay

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It is important that we are able to hear and see you. Before you start recording, make sure you are in a quiet space with good lighting. In orde r to minimize distractions, please have a neutral background that isn’t busy with objects or bright colors.

You want to make sure you are in a well lit room. If possible, we recommend recording during the day with natural light. If your space has a window directly behind you, ensure that the shades or curtains are closed.

Check the quality of the device you are recording on. Make sure that your face is fully in frame and visible, and that your audio is clear. You will have an opportunity to do a test before you begin the recording, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity. 

You have two attempts to record your video, so make sure beforehand that you are in an area with stable Internet connection. Since you will record the video essay directly in the application portal. We encourage you to check your internet speed and that your video will upload properly at the end of your recording. You can use an online speed test to check your speed.

We all know that the first impression is usually the most important. The video essay may be the only time the admissions committee will see and hear you, so take the time to ensure you are well dressed and groomed.

The essay question(s) will not be available beforehand. While you will not be able to prepare in advance, we recommend preparing yourself mentally: take deep breaths, go out for a walk, hydrate, etc. Do what you need to get in the right mind set. When you are ready and completed the video and audio check, the question(s) will appear on screen when you hit “Ready.” We have designed the question(s) to be answered it on the spot and you will have a few seconds to read the prompt before the recording begins. 

You only have two minutes to answer the prompt. Make sure to pay attention to the time and start wrapping up before time runs out. Once you completed the recording, take a few minutes to review your response. Utilize the second attempt if needed. If you decide to record your response using the second att empt, we strongly advise that you do not read your answer or look it up on the internet. Use your own words, be yourself and talk to us as if you were sitting across from us during an interview.  This is not a pass or fail exercise. We want to hear from you, your opinion, and what you have to say on this subject.   

We hope these tips will help you feel more confident and ready for the video portion. If you have not already done so, we encourage you review the application tips . If you still have questions or need additional guidance, here are ways to connect or learn more: sign-up for an information session or join the weekly Q&A session via zoom on Tuesdays from 3-4 PM PT/Wednesday from 9-10 AM PT.

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Communications: Video Essay

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What is a video essay?

A video essay is a short video that illustrates a topic, expresses an opinion and develops a thesis statement based on research through editing video, sound and image.

What is a video essay assignment?

(Source: Morrissey, K. (2015, September). Stop Teaching Software, Start Teaching Software Literacy. Flowjournal . https://www.flowjournal.org/2015/09/stop-teaching-software-start-teaching-software-literacy/?print=print )

It is made of three main elements:

  • Image (filmed footage and found footage)
  • Sound (music and audio)
  • Words (spoken and written)

All of them are linked to your own voice and argument. It is a way to write with video.

  • Guidelines for Video Essay Best Practices Official technical guidelines by Prof. Antonio Lopez.

Video essays about video essays

Why Video Essays are just plain AWESOME by This Guy Edits  on YouTube .

Elements of the Essay Film from Kevin B. Lee on Vimeo .

F for Fake (1973) – How to Structure a Video Essay from Tony Zhou on Vimeo .

Sample Video Essays

  • If Educational Videos Were Filmed Like Music Videos by Tom Scott
  • How to Use Color in Film A blog post with multiple video essays about the use of color palettes by multiple great directors.
  • Seed, Image, Ground by Abelardo Gil-Fournier & Jussi Parikka.
  • Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same
  • Top Video Essayists some videos on this page are set to private
  • VideoEssay: A subreddit for analytic videos and supercuts
  • ISIL videos imitate Hollywood and video games to win converts
  • Best Video Essays of 2023
  • Best Video Essays of 2022 by British Film Institute
  • Best Video Essays of 2020 by British Film Institute.
  • Best Video Essays of 2019 by British Film Institute.
  • Best Video Essays of 2018 by British Film Institute.
  • Best Video Essays of 2017 by British Film Institute.
  • Video Essays (Historical) A YouTube playlist of historically important films that helped define the concept of video essays.
  • What Is Neorealism by kogonada.
  • Analyzing Isis' propaganda - Mujatweets by Azza el Masri and Catherine Otayek.
  • Oh dear! by Adam Curtis.
  • Fembot in a Red Dress by Alison De Fren.
  • WHY IS CINEMA: Women Filmmakers? NOT SEXIST, BUT LET'S BE REAL??? by Cameron Carpenter.
  • Women as Reward - Tropes vs Women in Video Games by feministfrequency.
  • Il corpo delle donne (sub eng) by Lorella Zanardo.

Video essays beyond COM

Video essays can be a valuable form of academic production, and they can be brilliant and insightful in many other fields apart from Communications and media studies. Here are some examples that cover all the JCU departments:

  • Lady of Shalott | Art Analysis A look at John William Waterhouse's Pre-Raphaelite painting "The Lady of Shalott".
  • How to ace your MBA video essay The 60-second online video essay is a recent addition to the MBA application process for some business schools.
  • The Last Jedi - Forcing Change An analysis of Finn's and Kylo's narrative arc in Episode VIII of the Star Wars franchise.
  • How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio A simple but not simplistic and easy to follow 30 minute animated video that answers the question.
  • Evolution of the Hero in British Literature This video essay discusses the literary heroes throughout the Anglo-Saxon Period, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance Era in British Literature.
  • Fast Math Tricks - How to multiply 2 digit numbers up to 100 - the fast way! An easy video tutorial unveiling some math tricks.
  • Here's why we need to rethink veganism A brief climate change video essay on the environmental impacts of veganism, and how we can reframe going vegan less as a lifestyle and more as an aspiration.
  • Italy on the edge of crisis: Should Europe be worried? Channel 4 discussing the delicate political juncture in Italy (May 2018).
  • International Relations: An Introduction An overview by the London School of Economics and Social Science.

A video is basically a series of still images- each one is called a frame- that play back at a specific  rate . The frame rate (often abbreviated FPS for "frames per second") differs depending on where you are in the world and what you're shooting on.

If you're shooting a movie on celluloid (actual film that needs to be developed) then you are probably shooting at 24fps.

If you are shooting video in Europe then you are probably shooting at 25fps...

...unless you are shooting sports. Then you're probably shooting at 50fps.

If you're shooting video in the US or Canada then you are probably shooting at 30(29.98)fps...

...unless you're shooting sports. Then you're probably shooting at 60(59.98)fps...

...or unless you're shooting "cinematic video" at a frame rate of 23.976fps.

***The weird numbers for shooting in the US and Canada stem from the fact that while Europe's 50Hz electrical system operates at 50Hz, the 60Hz electrical system of the US actually operates at 59.98 Hz.***

If you're shooting at a higher frame rate (like 120fps or 250fps) it is probably because you want to play it back at one of these frame rates in order to achieve a slow motion effect.

Video sizes are measured in pixels. Resolution   refers to Width x Height. Here are some common resolutions:

  • FullHD (1080p): 1920 x 1080
  • HD (720p): 1280 x 720
  • 4K (2160p): 3840 x 2160
  • 4K Cinema: 4096 x 2160
  • Standard Defintion (NTSC- US/Canada): 720 x 480
  • Standard Definition (PAL- Europe): 720 x 576
  • VGA: 640 x 360

Types of video essays

1. Supercut

A supercut is a compilation of a large number of (short) film clips, focusing on a common characteristic these clips have. That commonality can be anything: a formal or stylistic aspect, a shared theme or subject matter... 

Supercuts are a staple of fandom, but they can also be used as a form of audiovisual critique: to reveal cinematic tropes, to trace thematic or stylistic constants in a filmmaker’s work and so on.

Examples: ROYGBIV: A Pixar Supercut  or Microsoft Sam's  Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same  or Chloé Barreau's  NON UNA DI MENO - l'8 MARZO sta arrivando!

2. Voiceover based

In this form, analysis is done by combining clips and images with a narrator’s voice that guides the process. This could be done for a variety of video essays styles: scene breakdowns, shot analyses, structural analyses, vlogs, etc. What is common is the integral role of the creator’s voice in advancing the argument.

Example: Tony Zhou’s Jackie Chan—How to Do Action Comedy or David Chen’s Edgar Wright and the Art of Close-Ups .

3. Text/Image/Sound-Based

In this form, analysis is done by combining text, images and sounds without a narrator’s voice to guide the process. Again, this could be done for a variety of video essays styles, but relies much more on editing to advance the argument.

Example: Kevin B. Lee’s Elements of the Essay Film or Catherine Grant’s All That Pastiche Allows Redux .

4. Desktop Films

A desktop film uses the screen of a computer or gadget to serve as the camera and canvas for all of the content of an audiovisual narrative. It can include content from videos, apps, and programs that would be viewable on a screen. It is a screen-based experience that uses the desktop as its primary medium.

Example: Katja Jansen’s Desktop Films ; Kevin B. Lee’s Reading // Binging // Benning .

Descriptions adapted from  Filmscalpel

Resources: background and fundamentals

Best Practices

  • Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education Also downloadable as a PDF file
  • Streaming: film criticism you can watch by Guy Lodge
  • What is a Video Essay? Creators Grapple with a Definition Paula Bernstein from Filmmaker journal .
  • The Video Essay As Art: 11 Ways to Make a Video Essay by Norman Bateman.
  • Video essay: The essay film – some thoughts of discontent by Kevin B. Lee.
  • Deep Focus - The Essay Film by British Film Institute and Sight & Sound .

Scholarly Websites about Video Essays

  • The Videographic Essay: Practice and Pedagogy
  • Audiovisualcy Video Essays on Vimeo.
  • [In]Transition Journal of Videographic Films and Moving Image Studies.
  • Introductory guide to video essay From the British Universities and Colleges Film and Video Council.

Resources: software and how-to

  • How-to video essays by Greer Fyfe and Miriam Ross.
  • Media Production Guide by Tisch Library, Tufts University.
  • Video Reactions with OBS (Open Broadcast Software) Part 01 Setting up your scenes
  • Video Reactions with OBS (Open Broadcast Software) Part 02 Recording with OBS


  • Planning and Storyboarding from Royal Roads University Library.
  • Video Essay Script Template


  • Quicktime (cross-platform)
  • Screencast-O-Matic
  • OBS Studio (open source, cross-platform) Open Broadcaster Software
  • Flashback Express (PC only)
  • 5 Free Tools for Creating a Screencast from Mashable.

Downloading and ripping

  • Pasty Software for downloading.
  • Savefrom allows up to 720p downloads of full video, 1080p downloads of video only (no audio). Select “download video in browser” on the site.
  • Y2mate allows up to 1080p video downloads.
  • Jdownloader Software for downloading
  • Handbrake Software for ripping and converting
  • DMA Basics: OBS for Video Essays A tutorial on how to use OBS for Netflix.

Note: Try to to ensure that you download in 720p resolution or higher. Your minimum level of quality should be 480p. If searching on YouTube, you can filter the search results to only show HD or 4K results. Check also the  Find Video   tab of this guide.

Free editing software options

  • DaVinci Resolve (cross-platform) A color grading and non-linear video editing (NLE) application for macOS, Windows, and Linux, incorporating tools from Fairlight (audio production) and Fusion (motion graphics and visual effects that throw shade on After Effects).
  • iMovie (Mac only)
  • Videopad (cross-plaftorm)
  • OpenShot (open source, cross-platform)
  • Shortcut (open source, cross-platform)
  • HitFilm Express (cross-platform)
  • Free Music Archive An interactive library of high-quality, legal audio downloads directed by the radio station WFMU.
  • SoundCloud SoundCloud is one of the world’s largest music and audio platform and you can search for creative commons music.
  • YouTube Audio Library A library of free music and sound effects by YouTube. Each track is accompanied by information on the use.
  • Sound Image Free music (and more) for your Projects by Eric Matyas. Only requires crediting the author for legal use (see "attribution info" page).
  • Audacity A free and open-source digital audio editor and recording application software. Very useful to trim audio, convert a sample rate, apply a little compression, chop & screw, etc.
  • REAPER A digital audio workstation and MIDI sequencer software. Technically a paid-for platform, its free-trial never ends.

Check also the  Find  Audio Resources  tab of this guide.

Creating credits, copyright and fair use

  • Creating credits for video essays From Digital Design Studio at Tisch Library
  • Fair Use Evaluator
  • YouTube Fair Use Channel
  • Society for Cinema and Media Studies Statement on Fair Use
  • Blender A free and open-source 3D computer graphics software toolset used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, motion graphics, interactive 3D applications, virtual reality, and computer games.
  • GIMP A free and open-source raster graphics editor used for image manipulation (retouching) and image editing, free-form drawing, transcoding between different image file formats, and more specialized tasks.
  • Inkscape A free and open-source vector graphics editor used to create vector images, primarily in Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format.
  • Krita A free and open-source raster graphics editor designed primarily for digital painting and 2D animation. Good for sketching and conceptual art.

Stock footage

For stock footage, please check under the  Find video tab of this guide.

  • Final Cut Pro X Tutorial by JCU Digital Media Lab.
  • Final Cut Pro X Tutorial (PDF)
  • Final Cut Pro X Full Tutorial by David A. Cox
  • Audio Recording Tutorial by JCU Digital Media Lab.
  • << Previous: Find Videos
  • Next: Find Images >>
  • Last Updated: Jun 25, 2024 4:35 PM
  • URL: https://johncabot.libguides.com/communications

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Opening Class

Opening Class

What is a Video Essay?

what is a video essay

Perhaps the best definition of a video essay comes from FilmScalpel :

“In general, the video essay can be described as the concise, free-form audiovisual equivalent of the written essay. Concise because most video essays don’t run longer than a handful of minutes. Very long video essays are the exception to the rule that on the internet (the natural habitat of the video essay) shorter is better. Free-form because the format and rhetorical strategies can differ wildly from one video essay to the next.”

Basically, this means that a video essay is an essay that utilises visuals to enhance the point that the essayist is making.

While there are no specific rules that a video essay must follow, as the genre becomes more common and respected online, it appears that there are some conventions that most of the prominent video essayists are following.

As Simon Owens points out, most video essays incorporate the voiceover of the person who has written and created the essay, as they speak over the top of “a series of still images, animations, and video clips.” Most of these essays “involve some sort of cultural criticism, and many of the most popular within the genre focus on film.”

What is most important to remember as a student is that video essays allow you to show the audience things that can’t be shown to them in a traditional essay. Your aim should be to use visuals to enhance the story that you are telling or the argument that are making. Indeed, there might be things that you don’t need to say because you allow the images to say them for you.

Let’s look at some examples:

A video essay can predominantly be a piece-to-camera, supported by examples from other places such as Carla Dauden’s argument that Brazil should not host or attend the 2016 World Cup.

Or a video essay can use an entirely different range of techniques, such as a voiceover, quotes from referenced articles, graphics, and interviews with experts. Vox uses all of these in their essay entitled “This is your brain on terrorism”:

Interestingly, the above two examples also show that there is no restriction on the kind of language you choose to use in a video essay. Carla Dauden speaks in the first person – “No, I’m not going to the World Cup” – while Vox’s video opens with a range of questions in the second person, starting with “What will you do the next time you hear there’s been a major terrorist attack?”

Meanwhile, most video essays that are film criticism or analysis will have brief moments of speaking in the first person, but will for the most part be spoken in the third person:

Once you are confident you understand what a video essay is, you can head to the next page on OpeningClass to start thinking about how you will best plan your video essay .

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Excelsior OWL

an Excelsior University site

Video Essays

A picture of a video essay about dancing in movies. Click the image to view the video essay.

Much like photo essays and traditional essays, video essays tell a story or make a point. The difference is that video essays use video to present the information.

When you make a video essay, you can use video, pictures, text, music, and / or narration to create a video essay that is powerful and effective. If you think about it, many music videos are actually video essays, so chances are, you know a lot more about video essays than you might think. And, because the creation of videos for YouTube has become so popular, many professors are assigning video essays as an alternative to traditional essays. The sample video essay linked at the right will give you a good idea about how videos and essay come together to create an argument in a video essay. Just click on the image to visit the link.

The process for creating a video essay isn’t that different from creating a traditional essay—at least in the beginning. However, you’ll be working with a lot more technology as you put a video essay together. Still, thanks to some excellent video editors, creating a video essay isn’t as difficult as it may seem.

The following steps will help you get going with your project:

  • Develop a topic. Using traditional prewriting, work to narrow your topic into something specific. If you’re telling a story, think about good elements of narrative. If you’re making an argument in your video essay, think about the elements of effective argument. Once you have your topic and angle, you’re ready for the next step.
  • Create an outline and a basic script for your video.
  • Collect your images. You can use still images and / or video you film yourself, but you’ll need to plan for more pictures or footage than you’ll need in order to have plenty of good content to work with.
  • Collect your voice files and / or music. Free Creative Commons music can be found at the  Creative Commons Legal Music For Videos  site.
  • Upload your files into your video editing software and begin the process of creating your video essay. Some operating systems come preloaded with a video editor. For example, Windows 10 comes with Video Editor , and Macs come with iMovie , both of which work well. You can find other free video editing software options on the web.
  • Share your video essay. You can share your video essay with the world on your web page or on YouTube.

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The best video essays of 2023

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Share All sharing options for: The best video essays of 2023

what is a video essay

Looking at the year’s notable video essays, many grapple with issues at the heart of contemporary media itself. There are dissections of video-playing tools, exposés of how corporations restrict access, contrasts between tropes and reality, and thorough investigations of trends in plagiarism and/or fabrication. As the essay landscape refines, it seems to peer inward as much as out.

On the making of this list: I’ve been trying to stay up to date on video essays for a while, and have been contributing to lists and/or voting in polls about the best videos made each year since 2018. Over this time, doing these kinds of roundups has gotten exponentially more difficult. As YouTube has grown to become a mega-business hosting powerful creators (part of the general trend of social media video sites becoming the new primary forum for cultural influence), I’ve seen essayists I once thought of as niche accrue follower counts in the millions. It’s been surreal. For this year’s list, I tried to shake things up by keeping the essayists who have appeared in previous editions to a minimum, along with the usual considerations about incorporating a diversity of creator backgrounds and video style. Once again, the videos are presented simply in order of publishing date.

[Also, I’m going to preface this with a mega mea culpa: It was absolute malpractice of me to not include Platformer Toolkit by Game Maker’s Toolkit in the best video essays of 2022 list . I don’t have a good excuse, either; I just straight up missed the essay at the time it came out, and then overlooked it during my catch-up phase at the end of the year. But an essay about game design that instructs you on its ideas by letting you actively engage with them through interactivity feels like a breakthrough in the form.]

Practices of Viewing by Johannes Binotto

Johannes Binotto is a Swiss researcher and lecturer who has been adding to his “Practices of Viewing” series for several years now, and every installment preceding 2023’s videos, “Ending” and “Description,” is well worth checking out. With each essay, Binotto examines a specific element of the media viewing interface, and how they affect an audience’s engagement with it. Some subjects, like fast-forwarding, pausing, or muting, may seem like obvious touchstones, while others, like sleep, are more out-there approaches to the conversation.

A History of the World According to Getty Images by Richard Misek

This technically debuted last year, making the rounds at film festivals, but it was made available online this past spring, so I’m including it here. A History of the World According to Getty Images is a great example of a work embedding its own ethos into its construction. Misek, another academic, is scrutinizing how for-profit companies (specifically Getty Images) mediate information that’s supposed to be available for all. In practice, a great deal of visual material that’s technically in the public domain can only be accessed in decent quality by paying an archive like Getty. Misek circumvents this by paying the fee to use select footage in this essay and then making this essay itself available for anyone to cite and clip from, putting that footage out into the world for real.

The Faces of Black Conservatism by F.D Signifier

I feel that video essays that consist mainly of the creator talking directly into a camera stretch the definition of the term – to me, the best cinematic and argumentative potential of the form lies in the power of editing. F.D Signifier’s contrast between fictional depictions of Black conservatives and the reality of how they appear across media exemplifies is what sets him apart in this genre: not just the depth of his thought (though it is considerable), but also the playful ways in which he presents the objects of his discussion. The running gag here in which he films himself holding hairstyling tools over the heads of various people on his screen had me laughing harder with each appearance.

Games That Don’t Fake the Space by Jacob Geller/Why We Can’t Stop Mapping Elden Ring by Ren or Raven

I don’t actually think this is the best essay Jacob Geller released this year (that would be either “Games that Aren’t Games” or “How Can We Bear to Throw Anything Away?” ), but it pairs so incredibly well with Renata Price’s essay (an impressive video debut building on her experience as a games critic) that it felt more appropriate to present them as a double feature. Both videos are sharp examinations of the ways that video games conjure physical space. Geller illuminates the shortcuts and tricks games often employ through examples of ones that, as the title suggests, don’t use such devices, while Price analyzes the impulses beneath what one could call the “cartographic instinct” in open-world games.

Why Do Brands Keep Doing These Crazy Influencer Trips?? by Mina Le

It’s been encouraging in recent years to see Le grow more confident in her mixing of media in her videos on fashion and film/television. You might remember the controversy around Shein granting influencers a limited hangout in a clothing factory this past summer. Le contextualizes this story by delving into the wider, supremely odd world of sponsored tours. If you watch this on your phone, the transitions between Le speaking to the camera and the clips of TikToks and other videos and photos flow together in a manner not unlike how one would scroll a social media feed, creating queasy resonance between message and medium.

Feeling Cynical About Barbie by Broey Deschanel / The Plastic Feminism of Barbie by Verilybitchie

I present these two videos not as a contrarian attack on Barbie (a film I enjoyed), but to highlight the important role of considered critical voices that dissent against prevailing opinions. Both Maia Wyman and Verity Ritchie unpack the issues with a heavily corporate product attempting to capitalize on feminist sentiment. Ritchie emphasizes the history of Barbie the brand and how the movie fits into it, while Wyman reads more into the specifics of the film’s plot. Together these videos do a good job of elaborating on legendary critic Amy Taubin’s Barbie reaction : “It’s about a fucking doll !’”

TikTok Gave Me Autism: The Politics of Self Diagnosis by Alexander Avila

There’s a lot of social media discourse over who can and can’t — and should or shouldn’t — claim the label of “autistic.” As someone who’s struggled with both the logistics and appropriateness of sussing out whether I’m on the spectrum, this video hit me hard. There are parts that feel like they veer so far into philosophical query that they threaten to obfuscate rather than elucidate the subject, but the essay as a whole is undeniably compelling. Avila’s own confessed stake in the question of self-diagnosis is itself affecting. This is the most searingly personal video on this list, uniting self-inquiry with rigorous research.

Chaste/Unchaste by Maryam Tafakory

This years shortest entry is a deceptively simple interrogation of the concept of “chastity” as defined by Iranian censorship standards. Takafory is a veteran of the academic essay scene, and I’m delighted by the opportunity to present her work to a wider audience. The video’s text is minimal, and its visuals are simply a montage of clips from Iranian films, but the implicit question of propriety grips the viewer with each cut.

Journey to Epcot Center: A Symphonic History by Defunctland

This is the most boundary-pushing essay on this year’s list. Completely lacking commentary, it instead emphasizes visuals and reenactment in telling the story of how Disney’s Epcot park went from concept to realization over the decades. Kevin Perjurer also provides a detailed set of notes that are meant to be read along with watching the video, further demanding one’s full attention. This is a direct acknowledgement of how we use the internet, the windowed experience of browsing and watching videos. I don’t think everything works; many of the reenactments, while impressively professional, feel somewhat redundant. But I’d prefer a creator take big swings that result in a few flaws rather than play it safe, and I hope both Perjurer and others continue in such an experimental vein.

Plagiarism and You(Tube) by Hbomberguy

Harry Brewis is popular enough that he doesn’t need any boost, but even in the very brief period since this video’s release as of the time of writing, Plagiarism and You(Tube) has made seismic impact on the YouTuber scene . Does it need to be almost four hours long? Maybe not. Yet the sheer volume of evidence it pulls together to support various accusations of plagiarism does seem vital. The main focus of the piece, James Somerton, went into lockdown over the fairly comprehensive evidence presented against him (and has since attempted to apologize ). I’m seeing conversations flourish around the endemic problem of plagiarism on the internet and what is to be done about it, and a surge of creators recognizing and calling out others who have taken their work without credit. There’s a deeper issue at play here, which is that the growth of YouTube entertainment has come with a truly daunting mountain of crap content that nonetheless attracts views (and thus dollars).

On the subject of low quality standards on YouTube, beyond plagiarism, Todd in the Shadows’ recent exhaustive effort to fact-check various false claims Somerton has made in his work is a useful supplement to this video.

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what is a video essay

What is a “video essay”?

Make Better Video

Make Better Video

My favourite type of video to make (and watch) is the video essay. (Above are ~50 of my favourites.) But if you’re wondering what I’m talking about when I say “video essay”, hopefully this article will help:

What is a video essay?

Wikipedia says: “A video essay is a piece of video content that, much like a written essay, advances an argument”. I think that’s a pretty good place to start.

A slightly broader definition might be, “a short factual film often driven by voice-over.” As I explain below, video essays are kind of a mix: the older genres of broadcast news reports and documentary colliding with the culture of YouTube.

“Essay”? Sounds like schoolwork

I agree that the word “essay” probably isn’t ideal because it’s associated with school and fussy stylistic rules about how to write.

However it’s worth knowing the original idea of an “essay” was very different. In Sarah Bakewell’s beautiful biography of Michel de Montaigne , the French writer whose essais popularised this genre of writing, she explains that for Montaigne, the idea of an essay was that it didn’t have any rules. The word meant “trial” or “attempt”.

Montaigne’s writing was a jumbled mix of history, observation and anecdote and felt full of experimentation. He wrote at various lengths, and on a wide range of things (topics included inequality, idleness, sleep, cannibals, and thumbs). Just look at this list of topics from his Wikipedia page:

Aren’t video essays about films?

Yes, “video essays” are often associated with films because that was the first topic this style of video focused on and it’s still really popular. (The BFI has done great lists for 2019 , 2018 and 2017 which I recommend checking out.)

But today people make video essays about all sorts of topics. A good example is someone like YouTuber Evan Puschak, one of first people I noticed using the phrase “video essays”. He often makes video essays (beautifully) about films but has also covered topics like design , music , and Donald Trump .

How are video essays different to explainers?

I love explainers and some of my favourite publishers often describe what they makes as “explainers”. Vox’s tagline for example is, “Explain the news”, and there are a number of popular YouTubers who often use this approach (e.g. CGP Grey’s “ The Difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England Explained ”).

Another advantage of explainers is that the idea of making them is very attractive to journalists and when I’m encouraging news organisations to make original content for online, this is one of the easier genres to sell. I think this is because explainers feel very “public service” and journalists are often clever people who love explaining things to people.

However I feel that for explainers to be successful they have to do a lot more than just explain. After all, if people really need information often they can get it faster by reading text. The best explainer makers are usually adding something else — personality, humour, argument, suspense — to make them appealing. (Certainly that’s true for Vox and CGP Grey.) I like the word “video essay” because it’s a bit vaguer and so keeps the possibilities open a bit.

How are video essays different to documentaries?

To my mind documentaries tend to be about finding compelling stories and characters, and (as someone once said to me) they’re about raising questions rather than giving answers. They document and observe rather than argue. (Though there are wonderful exceptions — Adam Curtis , Orson Welles , and Michael Moore for example.)

I feel like video essays often are trying to give answers — or at least an answer. Along the way they might tell stories, explain things, or report what’s happening but it often adds up to a wider argument.

But I don’t want to prescriptive about this. What I love about the genre is the sense of freedom and variety.

How new is it?

The audience interest in arguments and opinion is longstanding — just look at newspapers. But video doing this does feel quite new.

I think that’s something to do with the traditions of impartiality in broadcasting and the fact that films had to be — until recently — produced by large groups of people and that tended to push the genre away from strong individual voices.

So I see this as a new genre but one based on a longstanding sensibility, and one that borrows from other genres of video including documentaries, explainers, news reports, adverts and the world of educational YouTube.

Is there a particular style?

Video essays come in a huge range of styles. One thing that tends to unite the genre is the use of voice-over, but otherwise they vary a lot in length, visual style and topic.

They seem quite a small niche

Yes it’s true that videos essays are not widely known about in traditional television, where the genres of documentary and news reporting continue to dominate. However the success of YouTubers in this area, as well as projects like The New York Times video strands, Vox , and BBC Ideas indicate that traditional broadcasters are starting to recognise the audience interest in this genre. I believe there’s a huge potential audience interest — we just need to encourage publishers to move on from the traditional genres of television!

Hi, my name is Brendan Miller, thank you for reading. I’m a filmmaker that specialises in explainers, video essays and social video formats. (You can see the kind of thing I do here: brendanmiller.co.uk ) I also lead masterclasses and training sessions on social media video if you’re looking to improve the videos you make for platforms like YouTube or Facebook.

This article first appeared in my email newsletter where I talk about video, creativity and the world of online media. You can sign up here . I’m on Twitter at @brenkjm and Instagram here .

Make Better Video

Written by Make Better Video

My name is Brendan Miller and I’m a filmmaker, teacher and consultant based in London. These are a series of posts about making better video for online.

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10 of the Most Niche YouTube Video Essays You Absolutely Need to Watch

10 of the Most Niche YouTube Video Essays You Absolutely Need to Watch

YouTube’s algorithm is designed to keep your eyeballs glued to video after video (after video, after video...). The dangers of this rabbit hole are well-documented . However, for every ideological radicalization enabled by YouTube, I like to think there’s at least one innocent, newfound pop culture obsession discovered at 3 a.m. via the greatest medium of our time: the Video Essay.

The genre of YouTube video essays is more interesting than it sounds. Sure, any piece of video content that advances a central thesis could be considered a “video essay.” But there are key components of video essays that elevate the genre into so much more than simply a YouTube version of a written article. Over the past few years, the term “YouTube video essay” has grown to evoke connotations of niche fascination and discovery. For creators, the field is highly competitive with strong personalities trying to get eyes on extremely in-depth analysis of a wide range of topics. The “niche” factor is especially important here. Ultimately, the hallmark of a good video essay is its ability to captivate you into watching hours of content about a subject matter you would have never expected to care about in the first place. Scary? Maybe. Fun? Definitely.

Whether you’re skeptical about the power of video essays, or you’re an existing fan looking for your next niche obsession, I’ve rounded up some of my personal favorite YouTube video essays for you to lean in and watch. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, and it largely reflects what the algorithm thinks (knows) I personally want to watch.

Other factors that influenced my selection process: The video essays needed to have a strong, surprising thesis—something other than a creator saying “ this thing good ” or “ this thing bad. ” These videos also stood out to me due to their sheer amount of thorough, hard-hitting evidence, as well as the dedication on the behalf of the YouTubers who chose to share with us hours upon hours of research into these topics.

And yes, I have watched all the hours of content featured here. I’m a professional.

Disney’s FastPass: A Complicated History

Let’s start strong with a documentary so premium, I can’t believe it’s free. Multiple articles and reviews have been dedicated to Defunctland’s video series about, well, waiting in line. I know what you’re thinking—the only thing that sounds more boring than waiting in line is watching a video about waiting in line. But Defunctland’s investigation into the history of Disneyland’s FastPass system has so much more to offer.

Class warfare. Human behavior. The perils of capitalism. One commenter under the video captures it well by writing “oddly informative and vaguely terrifying.” Since its launch in 2017, Kevin Perjurer’s entire Defunctland YouTube channel has become a leading voice in extremely thorough video essays. The FastPass analysis is one of the most rewarding of all of Defunctland’s in-depth amusement park coverage.

I won’t spoil it here, but the best part of the video is hands-down when Perjurer reveals an animated simulation of the theme park experience to test out how various line-reservation systems work. Again, no spoilers, but get ready for a wildly satisfying “gotcha” moment.

Personally, I’ve never had any interest one way or another about Disney-affiliated theme parks. I’ve never been, and I never planned on going. That’s the main reason I’m selling you on this video essay right off the bat. Defunctland is a perfect example of how the genre of video essays has such a high bar for investigative reporting, shocking analysis, and an ability to suck you in to a topic you never thought you’d care about.

Watch time : 1:42:59 (like a proper feature documentary)

THE Vampire Diaries Video

No list of video essays can get very far without including Jenny Nicholson , a true titan of the genre. Or, as one commenter puts it, “The power of Jenny Nicholson: getting me to watch an almost three hour long video about something I don’t care about.” I struggled to pick which of her videos to feature here, but at over seven million views, “THE Vampire Diaries Video” might just be Nicholson’s magnum opus. Once you break out the red string on a cork board, it’s safe to say that you’re in magnum opus territory.

I haven’t ever seen an episode of CW’s The Vampire Diaries , but since this video essay captivated me, I can safely say that I’m an expert on the show. Nicholson’s reputation as a knowledgeable, passionate, funny YouTuber is well-earned. She’s a proper geek, and watching her cultural analyses feel like I’m nerding out with one of my smartest friends. If you really don’t think The Vampire Diaries investigation is for you (and I argue that it’s for everyone), I recommend “ A needlessly thorough roast of Dear Evan Hansen ” instead.

Watch time : 2:33:19

In Search Of A Flat Earth

Did you think you could get through a YouTube video round-up without single mention of Flat Earthers? Wishful thinking.

“In Search of Flat Earth” is a beautiful, thoughtful video essay slash feature-length documentary. Don’t go into this video if you’re looking to bash and ridicule flat earth conspiracy theorists. Instead, Olson’s core argument takes a somewhat sympathetic gaze to the fact that Flat Earthers cannot be “reasoned” out of their beliefs with “science” or “evidence.” Plus, this video has a satisfying second-act plot twist. As Olson points out, “In Search of Flat Earth” could have an alternative clickbait title of “The Twist at 37 Minutes Will Make You Believe We Live In Hell.” Over the years,  Dan Olson of Folding Ideas has helped to popularize the entire video essay genre, and this one just might be his masterpiece.

Watch time : 1:16:16

The Rise and Fall of Teen Dystopias

Sarah Z is your go-to Gen Z cultural critic and explainer. The YouTuber brings her knack for loving-yet-shrewd analysis to dig into fandom culture, the YA book industry, and why the teen dystopia got beaten into the ground.

I’ve found that one of the most reliable video essay formulas is some version of “what went wrong with [incredibly popular cultural moment].” In the case of teen dystopias, it’s a fascinating take on how a generation of teen girls were drawn to bad ass, anti-establishment heroines, only to watch those types of characters get mass produced and diluted into mockery. But maybe I’m biased here; as the exact demographic targeted by the peak of The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent, this cultural debrief speaks to my soul.

Watch time : 1:22:41

A Buffet of Black Food History

Food is an effective way to combine economic, cultural, and social histories–and Black American food history is an especially rich one. Food resonates with people, allowing us to connect with the past in a much more real way than if we were memorizing dates and locations from a textbook. Historian Elexius Jionde of Intelexual Media is a pro at taking what could be a standard history lesson and turning it into an interesting journey full of crazy characters and tidbits.

Most of the comments beneath the video are complaints that the video deserves to be so much longer. It’s jam-packed with surprising facts, fun asides, and, of course, tantalizing descriptions of the food at hand. Jionde even warns you right at the top: “Turn this video off right now if you’re hungry.”

Watch time : 22:39

The reign of the Slim-Thick Influencer

At this point, I’m assuming you know what a BBL is. Even if you aren’t familiar with the term (Brazilian butt lifts, FYI), then you’ve still probably observed the trend. Before big butts, it was thigh gaps. The pendulum swing of trending body types is nothing new. Curves are in, curves are out, thick thighs save lives, “skinny fat” is bad, and now, “slim thick” looms large. How do different body types fall in and out of fashion, and what effect does this have on the people living in those bodies?

Creator Khadija Mbowe identifies and analyzes a lot of the issues with how women’s bodies (especially Black women’s) are commodified, without ever blaming the bodies that are under fire. Mbowe handles the topic with grace and humor, even when discussing how deeply personal it is to them. If you’ve ever found yourself staring at a photo of an Instagram influencer, please do yourself a favor and watch this video essay.

Watch time : 54:18

Flight of the Navigator

Once again: I have been sucked into a video about a film that I have never seen and probably never will. Captain Disillusion, whose real name is Alan Melikdjanian, is another giant of the video essay genre, posting videos to a not-too-shabby audience of 2.29 million subscribers. Most of Captain Dissilision’s videos that I’d seen before this were of the creator debunking viral videos, exposing how certain visual effects were “obviously” faked. In this video, he turns his eye for debunking special effects not to viral videos, but to the 1986 Disney sci-fi adventure Flight of the Navigator.

This behind-the-scenes analysis of the Disney film is incredibly informative, tackling every instance when someone might ask, “ Hey, how did they manage to film that? ” It also touches upon the history of the special effects industry, something that deserves a little extra appreciation as CGI takes over every corner of movie-making.

Watch time : 41:28

The Failure of Victorious

YouTuber Quinton Reviews is dedicated to his craft, and I thank him for it. As you’ve certainly caught on to by now, you truly do not need to know anything about the show Victorious to enjoy an hours-long video essay that digs into it. What makes this video stand out is the sheer amount of content that this YouTuber both consumed and then created for us. Part of the video length—a whopping five hours—is due to the fact that every single episode of the Nickelodeon show is dissected. Another reason for the length is all the care that Quinton Reviews puts into providing context. And the context is what made me stick around: the failures of TV networks, the psychological dangers of working as child stars, and the questionable adult jokes that were broadcast to young audiences…if you’re at all interested in tainting your memory of hit Nickelodeon shows, this video is for you.

Watch time : 5:34:58 ( And that’s just part one. Strap in! )

Why Anime is for Black People

In this video Travis goes through the history of the “hip hop x anime” phenomenon, in which East Asian media permeates Black culture (and vice versa, as he hints at near the end). Although I am (1) not Black and (2) not an avid anime fan, I first clicked on this video because I’m a fan of comedian and writer Yedoye Travis. And yet—big shocker—I was immediately engrossed with the subject matter, despite having no context heading into it. Once you finish watching this video, be sure to check out Megan Thee Stallion’s interview about her connection to anime .

I haven’t run this part by my editor yet, but now would be a prime time to plug Lifehacker Editor-in-Chief Jordan Calhoun’s book, Piccolo Is Black: A Memoir of Race, Religion, and Pop Culture . Just saying.

Watch time : 18:34 (basically nothing in the world of video essays, especially compared to the five hours of Victorious content I binged earlier)

Efficiency in Comedy: The Office vs. Friends

I’m rounding out this list on a note of personal sentimentality. This is one of the first video essays that got me hooked on the format, mostly because I had followed creator Drew Gooden to YouTube after his stardom on Vine (RIP). This video is one of his most popular, combining comedy and math to pit two of the most popular sitcoms of all time in a joke-for-joke battle.

Gooden in particular stands out as someone who excels as both an earnest comic and a thoughtful critic of comedy. I appreciate his perspective as someone who knows what it’s like to work for a laugh and wants to get to the bottom of why something is or isn’t funny. This isn’t even one of Gooden’s best videos (I actually think his take on the parallels between Community and Arrested Development has a much stronger argument), but it’s a great example of the sort of perspective best situated to make video essays in the first place. Because what makes all these video essays so compelling is often the personality behind the argument. These aren’t investigative journalists or professional critics. They’re YouTubers. Really smart YouTubers, but still: These videos are born out of everyday people who simply have something to say.

I believe the modern YouTube video essay is uniquely situated to put cultural critique back into the hands of the average consumer—but only if that consumer is willing to put in the work to become a creator themselves.

Watch time : 17:36

Fascinating video essay on the origins and philosophy of post-punk

It's no accident that the efflorescence of cultural invention in London and New York in the late 1970s and early 80s (in the punk and postpunk scenes) coincided with the availability of squatted and cheap property in those cities. Since then, the decline of social housing, the attacks on squatting, and the delirious rise in property prices have meant that the amount of time and energy available for cultural production has massively diminished Mark Fisher, The Slow Cancellation of the Future

Killing Joke, Fad Gadget, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gang of Four, et al were products of a unique cultural moment that resulted in some of the most inventive music to ever grace popular radio.

The political significance of working-class creativity in popular music was that it gave us vivid glimpses and tastes of this other world, a world that, via these anticipations and rehearsals, at least intersected ith ours, or became ours, intermittently yet insistently… a world in which the old dandy-flaneur ambition for life to become a work of art would be democratised, where the mass-produced and the bespoke would combine in unexpected ways, where no detail was too small to be attended to, and fashion would be as significant as fine art. This was the future that popular modernism prefigured and made available in flashes. Mark Fisher, Going Overground

There were unique conditions in place that allowed post-punk to manifest itself in the late 70s. This video essay on the fortuitous overlap of free education, social democracy and punk rock sensibilities calls the resulting attitude and period "popular modernism", a term coined by the late Mark Fisher.

If reading " Rip it up and start again " or " Post-Punk Then & Now " is too much of a time commitment, this Jonas Čeika essay on the subject is a fascinating summary of the unusual sociopolitical environment that made post punk possible. Just listen to what he's saying and forgive his Twitter handle, please.

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LSD, New Order, and 40 years of "Power, Corruption, and Lies."

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Guest Essay

I Know What America’s Leading C.E.O.s Really Think of Donald Trump

what is a video essay

By Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld

Dr. Sonnenfeld is the president of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute.

Recent headlines suggest that our nation’s business leaders are embracing the presidential candidate Donald Trump. His campaign would have you believe that our nation’s top chief executives are returning to support Mr. Trump for president, touting declarations of support from some prominent financiers like Steve Schwarzman and David Sacks.

That is far from the truth. They didn’t flock to him before , and they certainly aren’t flocking to him now. Mr. Trump continues to suffer from the lowest level of corporate support in the history of the Republican Party.

I know this because I work with roughly 1,000 chief executives a year, running a school for them, which I started 35 years ago, and I speak with business leaders almost every day. Our surveys show that 60 to 70 percent of them are registered Republicans .

The reality is that the top corporate leaders working today, like many Americans, aren’t entirely comfortable with either Mr. Trump or President Biden. But they largely like — or at least can tolerate — one of them. They truly fear the other.

If you want the most telling data point on corporate America’s lack of enthusiasm for Mr. Trump, look where they are investing their money. Not a single Fortune 100 chief executive has donated to the candidate so far this year, which indicates a major break from overwhelming business and executive support for Republican presidential candidates dating back over a century, to the days of Taft and stretching through Coolidge and the Bushes, all of whom had dozens of major company heads donating to their campaigns.

Mr. Trump secured the White House partly by tapping into the anticorporate, populist messaging of Bernie Sanders, who was then a candidate, a move that Mr. Trump discussed with me when I met him in 2015. The strategy might have won voters but did little to enhance Mr. Trump’s image with the business community. And while a number of chief executives tried to work with Mr. Trump as they would with any incumbent president and many celebrated his move to cut the corporate tax rate, wariness persisted.

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