THE RISE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO ESSAYISTS: A WRITING SAMPLE
It is a great time to be alive. Thanks to the internet and the boom in information technology niches are going mainstream and projects that would normally never have seen the light of day are now able to get a chance thanks to crowdfunding* and crowdsourcing. The way things are now, the whole internet is in a near constant state of flux with memes coming out of nowhere and fads producing what previously would have been a lifetime worth of content overnight being completely forgotten by the next month or even the next week. There is much more than any individual could possibly take in and so it should not come as a surprise that there is a genre renaissance happening that is low-key enough that you may not have heard about it till now. The one in particular that I’d like to highlight here is the rise of the YouTube video essayist, specifically the slowly growing community surrounding people who discuss the intricacies of film as a medium and what we can learn as both fans and producers of content by deeply analyzing it.
These fine folks differentiate themselves from the more well-known genre of video review and critique mostly in the level of research and discourse that is put into these videos. This is not to say that reviewers do not put a ton of effort into their work but rather that these genres aims are quite distinct. With a reviewer you usually get someone discussing the movie or show as objectively as possible through their own personal lens while discussing their feelings about it using the language of analysis to attempt to both entertain and help the viewer understand if the subject is something they would be interested in viewing. Video essayists come at it from the other end of the spectrum, they use the language of comparative analysis to try and suss out what makes a particular show or movie great or awful, what secret sauce made this movie the 5 star hit that all their reviewer cousins were all atwitter over.
A thumbnail from an episode of Film Theory.
Video essayists are the type of people who help their friends understand the subtle thing that happened near the end of the movie and in so doing help people come to appreciate the stuff they like and understand the stuff they don’t, sometimes changing minds along with perspectives in the process. They are halfway between a (comparatively) short film school course and the making of and commentary tracks that come as extras with the box copy. I realize that such a description may make everyone who isn’t a prospective industry insider or MAJOR film buff run towards the door but just like every other type of edutainment experience these creators can be all over the map style-wise and can appeal to a wide variety of people, so don’t jump ship quite yet. My wife sat with me through two entire half an hour video breakdowns of the Hobbit films and she doesn’t even like those films!
At one end of the genre, you have the more fanciful channels like The Film Theorists who only cover the fan theories and crazy things hidden within the subtext of our favorite films. There are the one hit wonders such as Weight of Cinema, who’s watch numbers have had trouble coming anywhere close to his first video which was a breakdown of the powerful character writing featured in Avatar: The Last Airbender. You also have your mainstays, channels that are right down the middle of the genre line, which upload frequently if not on a schedule and which feature quality content that is both educational and fascinating, stuff that isn’t too academic but is still very informative and fun, the real meat and potato, tentpole type channels such as Just Write, NerdWriter1, and to a lesser extent Storytellers. And then at the complete opposite end of the format, you have the extremely well researched Lindsay Ellis.
A still from one of Linsay Ellis' videos.
She is the YouTuber that convinced my wife to spend almost an hour of her time learning the finer details of the Hobbit films and what made them the way they were and how things could have gone differently. She covered the issues with the scripts, the choice to make the movies three instead of two at the last minute, and all the issues that took place behind the scenes in a series so well researched it could literally be taught as a college course. While this may sound like the dullest fare out of everything I’ve mentioned I know it isn’t just my nerdy writer ass that found this all fascinating because I was nearly forced into writing this little nod to some of my favorite internet film buffs when I saw that nerd news site i09 had written an entire piece about Lindsay’s cheekily numbered third part of two Hobbit videos. Others are taking notice and learning to enjoy high-level critical discussion of movies and television through the easily digestible form of YouTube videos and that is awesome.
Know any video essayists I failed to mention who deserves some recognition? Already experimented with these types of YouTube videos and think they are all trash? Have you somehow never heard of YouTube and after reading this you’ve decided that it’s just not for you? Tell us about it in the comments below!
* I have linked to my second writing sample here, which could just as easily be done on your site if you hire me, adding additional traffic between pages.