Introduction to Video Essays

“Like, an essay…but with video?” Is probably what most people would say when asked what a video essay is. In all honesty, I’d have to agree. But that description makes it sound a lot more “boring” than the genre actually is. Before I can even start telling you what makes a video essay so much better than your average essay, I need to explain to you why I decided to choose this fairly new form of genre.

Okay, so basically, I may or may not have fallen into the Hollywood trap that is the “male gaze” and who’s to blame? Well, partially me. And partially my inability to understand fully the implications of my writing and how I was writing it. I’m still not making this very clear, am I?

My freshman year English 125 class was basically Film Analysis 101 (or, alternatively, 20 college students geek out over movies for 4 months). The class was really great, Carol Tell made me a better person, and I decided to wanted to stick with Communications because it let me continue this intense form of analysis without straying too far away from the medium I loved, film.

Our very first essay assignment, after weeks of rigorously tearing apart the 5 paragraph essay, was a visual analysis. And being the art kid that I am, that shit got me going. Especially after I heard it was on a film that my family and I held so dearly: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. To summarize, Rear Window explores the life of a temporarily disabled photographer, who witnesses the murder of one of his neighbors, as he is forced to live his days observing the world through his living room window. Since this movie was made in the 50’s, of course it needs to have a beautiful, blonde bombshell of a female lead. Grace Kelly’s character was the awe and wonderment of our entire class. So, obviously, I chose to analyze Kelly’s first scene in the movie.

she’s beauty, she’s grace, she’s…part of the male gaze!?

Unfortunately, I did exactly what Hitchcock’s creepy ass mind wanted me to do: watch Grace Kelly’s every single move throughout this movie with voyeuristic detail. At the time of writing the essay, I thought I was being clever for saying that the character was more than your average 1950’s female lead. “She’s compelling, she’s not like other female roles of the time,” I thought, applauding Hitchcock for giving her a brain, “Every time she enters a room, she’s telling us that she’s here! Here I am!”  And that’s exactly where I went wrong. Upon reviewing my entire essay, instead of depicting Kelly as the iconic female lead, I painted the picture of the male gaze in all its glory. I talked so heavily about the way she held herself, the way her gaze said something, the way her smile pulled you in. These are qualities unlike any woman in real life would (with the exception of her constantly being watched). I described her as a role, as an object, not as a human. It shocked me during the re-read of this essay. How…the hell did I, a woman, fall into such a shitty trap!? As overdramatic as it sounds, I really do think a video essay will help me recover from my previous oversimplification of these images by implementing a highly neccessary, moving-image function, and  a deeper dive into the misogyny of film. 

Video essays, in ways, are just like essays. They allow you to view a text through an argumentative and/or analytical lens. Much different from a review, video essays often have a thesis based upon the subject. In my case, I’d probably come up with a thesis about the trap of the male gaze, and how it takes a careful eye to be able to notice when it’s in action. Video essays often give you a broader context at first, narrowing down to detailed conversation about the subject matter, and then broadening up again for future exploration. Or, in the case of Lessons from the Screenplay, the analysis begins extremely narrow, ultimately creating large, overarching similarities between two texts. Most of the time, many different ideas begin developing simultaneously throughout the video, and are tied together at the end.

However, all of this information is paired with the use of audio and visual components. Many video essays take visuals from multiple movies, TV shows or other forms of visual media to help aid their argument, even if it’s not totally relevant to the subject matter. The writer often comes to the audience in the form of a talking head, much like that of a news reporter. The writer is interjected between their visual examples, talking over the clips or allowing the audio to play in order to prove points. Most times, they are witty, personal, and don’t take too seriously the implications of their argument (or at least, from what I’ve seen). The popular visual analyst, Lindsay Ellis, is a perfect example of this. In my case, and a lot of others, the sole purpose of a video essay is to explain an observation found in a piece of text and prove this to the audience. So yeah, a way cooler way to present information and you can let the clips speak for themselves. Videos are uploaded a lot of the time to Youtube and Vimeo, where individuals like Ellis have started a cult following of the genre.

a lot of storyboarding starts out real rough…

Often, video essays start with a rough script of the argument and examples. Much like an actual script, the length of this can give the writer a rough outline of how long the video might be. Planning a video essay also means creating storyboards and detailed descriptions of how the video will flow and match up with the written portion of the essay. While at first, rough storyboarding is just a way to get your ideas out there (much like an outline), a concrete storyboard is necessary to move forward with the recording and editing process. Video essays, much like formal essays, rely heavily on structure (here’s a video essay on video essay structure), which is why storyboarding is so essential to the overall functionality of the video.

So, does that clear up why this is probably the perfect way to turn my first, shallow, hardly entertaining analysis of Rear Window into a hopefully engaging, thoughtful trainwreck of a video essay? If anything, I definitely have the personality to pull it off.




By the way, here’s my sources!

The video essay

One thought to “Introduction to Video Essays”

  1. I loved the way you described the process of writing a video essay. As someone who is not particularly familiar with the video essay, it gave me a lot of insight into how you would go about producing this kind of essay. I also really enjoyed how you recognized a “flaw” of your writing and chose to expand on it and make it better in your first experiment. It highlighted the idea of writing as a process and gave clear direction as to where you wanted to go with it.

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