Planning and Creating a Video Essay

Once you understand what a video essay can look and sound like, it’s time for you to start planning your own essay and considering exactly how you might structure it.

Perhaps the simplest way of thinking about your video essay is by considering two things: firstly, how a video essay is similar to the written essays you are familiar with writing; and then, how video essays are completely different to their written cousins.

How video essays are the same as written essays

As Greer Fyfe and Miriam Ross point out, some of the key features of a video essay should be the same as your written essays. They provide a few important suggestions for you to consider as you start your planning:

  1. Keep your major argument down to just one main sentence (which you might call a thesis). Write it down and keep referring to it as you put together the script and plan for your essay.
  2. Start small. “Don’t try to create something too complicated. Start with simple ideas and gather limited material at the beginning until you are confident that you can add more. Remember not to go overboard at the beginning as it is easy to download multiple files. Think about what you need to start the project and add more later.”
  3. Find secondary sources from which you can use “quotes, factual statements and citations you might incorporate.”

It can also be useful to plan your structure visually, particularly if you usually do this for your written essays. The partners who put together the famous YouTube channel Every Frame a Painting did this consistently: “Tony and I do something quite old-fashioned. We write all of our points down on flash cards and then put them on a table. Then we rewrite, re-arrange, and try them out in a number of different combinations until we figure out the tightest, strongest through-line for the argument.” (See here for a picture of the cards they used.)

How video essays are different from written essays

The obvious ways that a video essay is different from a written one is that you will need to consider all of the different production elements that you are using in your essay. As Eric Faden says, you will need to consider “image, voice, pacing, text, sound, music, montage, rhythm, etc.” What is important to remember is that your use of all of these techniques should be appropriate for the tone of video essay that you are hoping to create. When you are discussing something serious, for example, your tone and rhythm should reflect this. Whereas, if you are telling a more personal or irreverent story, you can be much more casual in your presentation.

It’s this extra level of creativity that can make video essays much more fun to design and produce, as you can create something that you feel reflects your interests and the style you are most comfortable with.

But perhaps the way that it is most different is that you don’t have to follow as stringent a structure…there is more creativity, because you’re creating a film. That said, there is one major point to consider when putting together your video essay, which is nicely explained here by Every Frame a Painting. It’s the idea of ensuring that you use “therefore and but” rather than “and then”.

Becoming familiar with video essay conventions:

Unsurprisingly, the best way to learn the conventions of video essays is to watch some. To start with, you can check out the list of film-based examples that No Film School have recommended as the best cinema video essays of 2017 and then also their list from 2016. PremiumBeat have also named today’s top video essay creators.