Video Essays

Ah, yes. A subject I’ve been going on about (if you’ve been reading my newsletter). I can’t help it, I suppose- video essays are clearly, I think, the next thing in education. They’re too versatile, too compelling, too multi-modal to be ignored. And, if we’re talking about any modern version of literacy, they’re necessary.

As a result of all this, I’ve been watching a ton of these things. There are lots of them out there, on a wide variety of subject and of a (predictably) wide variety of quality. There doesn’t seem to be any formalized consensus on the form itself (thus far), but there do seem to be a number of “conventions” that have been reached.

  1. Length seems to be in the 5-12 minute range. There have been some longer ones (Everything is a Remix, for example), but those tend to be divided into “chapters.”
  2. Most of the popular videos seem to be about following tropes in culture through multiple media- books, music, film, art, etc…
  3. Voice over is a thing. It’s what provides the bulk of the linking (from example to example), but the best ones let the examples speak, too.
  4. Tight tight tight. Not a wasted second, not an extra anything. Take your time with the examples, fine- but don’t pad it out with anything that’s not tightly related & integrated.
  5. Quality- examples you use have to be high quality- high def video, clear & high res pictures, readable text, clean audio. Your audience will be intolerant of anything else.
  6. Citations. As a favorite teacher of mine once said: Give credit where it is due (thanks, Mrs. Schwartz!). It really is that simple: anything you use that you, yourself, haven’t made? Cite it.
  7. Soundtrack isn’t an afterthought.
  8. Animation breathes life into static material. Paintings, text, and pictures all don’t move on their own, so you need to add that movement. Animated highlighting to text. Ken Burns movements on the images. Animated arrows or circles on static material. Direct your viewers’ attention.

Structurally, these really aren’t that different than a more “traditional” essay- introductions, conclusions, evidence, transitions- all those elements of construction remain conventions here.

I’m working on one of these, myself- it’s a super-duper busy time for me (both at work and at home), and so the progress is… slow. Still: I just shot some footage for a tiny segment yesterday, so I’m not making zero progress. I’d not hold my breath, were I you, however.