Sophomore Seminars

The Video Essay: Writing with Video about Media and Culture


In this seminar, we will explore what it means to “write with video,” and we will learn to make effective and engaging video essays. Specifically, we will examine strategies for communicating through video, and we will conduct hands-on exercises using digital video editing software to construct arguments, analyses, and interpretations of film, television, video games, online media, art, and culture.

Compared with traditional text-based arguments, the video essay offers a remarkably direct mode of communicating critical and analytical ideas. Video essayists can simply show their viewers what they want them to see. This does not mean, however, that it is any easier than an essay composed with ink and paper. Like the written essay, the new technology introduces its own challenges and choices, including decisions about organization of space and time, audiovisual materials, onscreen text, voiceover commentary, and visual effects.

By taking a hands-on approach, we will develop our skills with editing software such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple’s Final Cut Pro while also cultivating our awareness of the formal and narrative techniques employed in cinema and other moving-image media. Through weekly assignments and group critique sessions, we will learn to express ourselves more effectively and creatively in audiovisual media. As a culmination of our efforts, we will assemble a group exhibition of our best video essays for public display on campus.

No previous experience is required, but a willingness to learn new technologies (in particular, video editing software) is important.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Shane Denson

"I teach film and media studies in the Department of Art and Art History. My research and teaching interests span a variety of media including film, digital media, comics, games, and serialized popular forms. I have written and edited books on digital images, Frankenstein films, and post-cinema. My video-based work has appeared in [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies, in the online forum In Media Res, and in an experimental Raspberry Pi-driven “video book” titled (2016), and has been featured in Sight & Sound’s Best Video Essays. I am interested in working closely with students to help them develop their own approaches to video essays, audiovisual scholarship, and experimental media. To get an idea of the kind of work my students have done in the video essay format, take a look at the exhibit I put together in May 2017 here at Stanford: as well as the Videographic Frankenstein exhibition from 2018: