Studying Video Essays
I’m a great proponent of the internet as a tool for delivering easy to digest learning materials, and yes, YouTube is awash with exactly the kind of tools I’m talking about.
Movies especially have an abundance of video essayists who talk at length about films and the film industry, taking wildly different approaches to the art form. Nerdwriter is a current favourite, whose short discussions that may dissect a single scene in a film, deeply explore a particular technique, or occasionally delve into a different topic. Lindsay Ellis does extensive studies that delve deep into the industry, historical relevance of certain creative choices, or shed light on some behind the scenes processes you might not have heard about before. The Closer Look, Every Frame a Painting, Lessons from the Screenplay, there are many of incredible students of film out to share their thoughts and insights.
For academia in general, Kurzgesagt, CGP Gray, some of the extra vlogbrothers content like SciShow; for literature Tale Foundry, and to an extent Terrible Writing Advice; for tabletop RP, Monarchs Factory, Matt Colville; these are the talking heads, the voices of people who have learned enough to want to share and impart what wisdom they can. Though most of it is heavily slanted by the perspective of the author/essayist/YouTuber in question, most strive for an objective approach and back their opinions with research or extensive experience.
I have been spending vast portions of every day studying the talking-head genre, because some time before the end of this month I’m hoping to put my own videos out there. Not something you’d think I’d consider too difficult, I’ve written 500-2000 word articles twice a week, almost every week, plus Top 10 entries, and most of those have been released on time (here, the author coughs by way of acknowledgement that this does not include today’s piece). I also like talking, especially to an audience, be it a half dozen gamers sat at a table, or a hundred or so gamers who are fool enough to want to listen to my opinions.
So where’s the hang-up?
First of all, a moment of gaming the algorithms on YouTube, what I need to produce has to last for ten minutes. After some experimentation playing around with an autocue generator, I’m estimating a minimum of 2000 words, and I – unfortunately – have a tendency to write concisely, too concisely. So it has been a lesson in padding and drawing out subjects without making it dull listening. This also presumes a script, which I’ll come to momentarily.
Second… talking to a microphone is a world apart from talking to an audience. I invested in a moderate quality microphone, poor audio quality is a killer for videos like this and frankly my webcam was proving inadequate. But here this thing sits… glaring at me, unresponsive. As someone who – by necessity – feeds off the reactions of the audience to inform the content, a microphone is a maddeningly passive audience.
Do I improvise, or do I script in full? I know there are plenty of talking-heads who do one, the other, or both. In my early attempts I tried to strike a balance, writing my script as if it were a D&D game plan, a few notes on talking points, a rough idea what I want to talk about and when, enough to structure without being restrictive, but I learned afterwards that I have a maddening idiosyncrasy that makes editing that style of essay impossible: when I’m thinking, I draw out syllables so that the space in between is almost non-existent. So effort two reads straight from a script, and, while better, I find I stumble over the words that I have written. I entered into the idea thinking it would be the perfect for someone who enjoys talking as much as I do, and here I find I’m learning to talk all over again.
When I put down my keyboard I’ll be trying again, and again, to get this right, possibly trying a few other approaches. I write purely to vent, this is a topic on which there are a thousand answers, none of which right for everyone, it falls within the category of “practice making perfect” and “finding what is right for you”.
I’ll be back when I have a right answer.