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What will your video be about?

Video essays

There are dozens of types and sub-types of videos. The type you are going to make will combine video (and perhaps some still images) from online sources to illustrate a text. The text, what you would call an essay for another class, is the narration for your video. You will be the narrator, making an audio file of your voice and mixing it with background music.

A common term to describe such videos is documentary, which depicts and describes some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a historical record. However, for this course, you have even more latitude than that, so let’s stick with video essay.

The term video essay is also used in graduate school admissions decisions. The applicants record themselves speaking informally about why they think that school would be a good fit for them. However, for this course, I want you to record your voice only for the narration.

Just like an essay, the narrative for your video can tell a story, make an argument, explain a process, compare two or more things, or divide things into groups.

The success of your video will depend on how well you engage your viewer.

Your course grade will depend on how well you manage the process.

Mechanical Icon

Mechanical Icon is an experiment in historical interpretation and dissemination. Its aim is to place iconic photographs in historical context by means of short videos.

Ryan’s Theory YouTube channel

What Makes a Video Essay Great?


What should your video be about? Anything you’re interested in! What are you curious about? What are you passionate about? What makes you angry when other people don’t understand?

If I had this assignment, I would make my video about biking in the Netherlands. People who don’t live there don’t get it. Given that most people don’t even know where the Netherlands is, perhaps I’d be better off making the video about the country and include the biking in that context.

How to survive Dutch cyclists

Conversely, I could make it about the automobile, which is one of the most damaging inventions ever. It has caused more damage to people than probably anything except the gun. The wars to secure cheap access to oil has caused incalculable damage to a dozen countries and that’s not even counting the damage the emissions from tailpipes cause.

What gets you excited like that?

  • veterinary
  • psychology
  • sports
  • criminal justice
  • pop culture
  • politics

write/find/adapt an essay or article

political/social/economic position (argument)

political ad (persuasion)

animal care/training (how-to; process)

how ___ works

product introduction: features and benefits

What about fake news, which isn’t new at all.

idea introduction/overview

movie / TV / song / concert review (comparison)

types of / kinds of (classification)

Videos by Tony Zhou, featured in What Makes a Video Essay Great?

Who Deserves the 2016 Oscar For Best Supporting Actress?

Illustrate a passage from an essay like this:

Untold Damage: America’s Overlooked Gun Violence

This video can be re-mixed, clips added, and a voice-over narration written for it.

Cycling with babies and toddlers in The Netherlands