YouTube offers millions of different kinds of videos appropriate for anyone who wants to know how to perform a certain task, watch news bloopers or see a particular clip of their favorite movie. Given YouTube’s vast selection, it’s no small wonder that the video-sharing website also has video essays loaded with not only analyses of films and books but also writing tips for English or film students.
Students of the arts can look no further than these four YouTube channels offering the best video-essays ripe for the note-taking.
Going beyond just film, YouTube channel Nerdwriter1 analyzes a wide range of the arts, including paintings, poems, songs, political figures and celebrities. If a video is about a movie, Nerdwriter1 dives deep into other aspects of a film that viewers might not have even thought to analyze. In one video, the channel examines a perhaps overlooked component of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy: how Ian McKellen acts with his eyes.
Nerdwriter1 begins his analysis by defining what acting is, saying, “Acting is more than just putting yourself in the character’s shoes.” When considering acting as a craft, he describes it as “understanding and gaining control of involuntary human actions when they communicate, such as inflection of the voice, gestures of the body and facial expressions.”
Because Ian McKellen is playing such an important role as Gandalf, the YouTuber explains how his duty is to convey a large amount of story information to the audience, who naturally gravitate to his face when he is on screen; Nerdwriter1 points out that eyes are an efficient way of conveying a story to the audience, noting that there are two levels of exposition: the information and the character’s reaction to the information.
English and film students can apply the lesson easily: show, don’t tell, and even the smallest detail can communicate the gravity of a situation or story’s theme.
Lessons from the Screenplay (LFTS) is a YouTube channel dealing exclusively with the analysis of films and TV shows, giving lessons predominantly aimed at screenwriters. However, writers of all types or genres can gain beneficial storytelling advice, even if they have no intention of writing a screenplay.
Like the other YouTube channels on the list, LFTS uses books about writing and other subjects as resources which aid in his analysis and supplements his writing advice. The best video demonstrating the use of outside information is titled, “Inglourious Basterds – The Elements of Suspense.”
In the video, LFST analyzes the film’s opening scene; as a resource, he draws from a paper titled “Toward a General Psychological Model of Tension and Suspense” by Moritz Lehne and Stefan Koelsch to explain how Tarantino builds tension and suspense in the scene.
From the scholarly paper, LFTS differentiates between tension and suspense, with tension being a “diffuse, general state of anticipation” and suspense being “specific anticipation between clearly exposed outcomes.”
With the terms defined, LFTS incorporates interview clips of Tarantino and Alfred Hitchcock discussing how they evoke tension in their films, with Tarantino describing it like stretching a rubber band, while Hitchcock compares it to a ticking time-bomb.
Based on the interviews, LFTS concludes with a lesson in writing tension when he says, “There must always be a payoff or a release from the tension in order to reacquaint the audience with another tense moment.” Writers can use the first 20 minutes of “Inglourious Basterds” as a guide to help build tension and suspense in their own writing, regardless of whether they’re writing a screenplay or a novel.
Justwrite is another YouTube channel which, unlike Nerdwriter1 and LFTS, deals less with analysis and more with teaching about specific writing techniques. The best video Justwrite has created is titled “Writing Characters Without Character Arcs,” where he explains how films can work even if the protagonist doesn’t undergo any significant personal development.
He notes how the film “Paddington 2” received critical acclaim despite Paddington not having a character arc, demonstrating that some films are better because their characters remain consistent. Other kinds of characters, particularly politically-minded or rebellious characters — think Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” or Maximus in “Gladiator” — are not subject to the trope of the typical character arc either.
This video, like many others on the channel, teaches a valuable lesson to writers of all genres and mediums about how to effectively craft a character and their journey in light of the world around them.
Unlike Justwrite, The Take focuses on film analysis rather than giving explicit writing tips. Still, students can extract enough information from the channel’s use of specific movie moments to help in their writing endeavors.
According to the creators themselves, their former title, Screenprism, “captured the idea of how something we watched can support so many interpretations and meanings.” Their rebranding of the channel into The Take reflects a desire to expand their horizons, offering up their opinions on other mediums outside the screen with games, music and books.
A video showing the extent of the creator’s analysis of films is “Bird Box & A Quiet Place: The Horrors of Modern Parenting,” wherein the creators highlight key dialogue or imagery that symbolizes the trials of parenthood as clips from the films play.
The Take uses interview clips of John Krasinski (director of “A Quiet Place”) and Sandra Bullock (the protagonist of “Bird Box”) explaining how their films are all allegories of the danger of parenting in a hostile world. Through Bullock’s and Emily Blunt’s (“A Quiet Place’) portrayal of mothers, the channel argues the role of a mother brings out strengths they didn’t know they had and, in the process, creates two different types of mother figures.
One type is the “tiger mom,” reflected in Bullock’s character, who is strict and hard on their children so they can survive an even crueler world. The other, Blunt, is a loving, caring mother who attends to their children’s development and ability to not only survive, but thrive, in a harsh world.
This channel exposes certain themes or elements that others might not notice at first glance, giving writers a better understanding of the importance of subtlety when crafting their work.