By Todd M. Sodano
Some of today’s better-equipped college graduates exhibit the triple threat of being able to effectively write, speak, and present visually. If you’re struggling to find an assignment for your students to hone such skills, consider the video essay. If you’re studying film, television, or digital media, consider the video essay. (Here is a popular site that offers sophisticated analyses of films, TV shows, music, etc. – http://blogs.indiewire.com/pressplay/.)
Each semester in my intro to video production course, in which they learn how to tell original stories through shooting, directing, and editing digital video that they produce, my students also critically analyze films. This type of analysis advances the traditional critical essay students have written. After writing a brief essay that answers questions I have posed for them in advance of them viewing the film, students record podcasts in which they orally deliver their analyses.
They don’t stop there. The students then edit their audio to remove vocal fillers (“uhhs” and “umms”) and mistakes as well as to include any music or sound effects. Upon completion of the audio recording, they add video clips from the actual film or television program, which enhance the claims they have made. Students with a fundamental understanding of nonlinear editing (e.g., Final Cut Pro, Avid, Adobe Premiere, iMovie) can easily incorporate elements from the original text to produce their video essay, which enhances the basic, voice-only criticisms that Prof. Sarachan’s students have used.
Because the “amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole” is minimal and the students are not affecting the “potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work,” the Fair Use doctrine would apply to this assignment. Moreover, there would be no need to secure permission for using the original text. The challenge is to make sure the film or TV program is in an “editable” format (e.g., a .MOV file) that allows the student to manipulate it. For instance, since DVDs are encrypted, copy-protected works, consider (if you have a Mac) using such free programs as HandBrake or Mac the Ripper to descramble the work and MPEG Streamclip to export the ripped file to that editable format. According to the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, this also is permissible. See § 201.40 – Exemption to prohibition against circumvention (page 19).
The video essay allow students to grow more versatile with digital media while upholding the traditional principles and techniques of good writing. And, at the very least, it allows us to save on printing costs.