How to get better at creating Internet content

For the past several years, I have been a fan of the videos produced by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou, a Vancouver couple that are behind the Every Frame a Painting YouTube channel. And today I am very sad, because they announced that their day jobs of film editor and animator have gotten in the way of this passion project, and the video that they posted last year will be their last in the series.

Zhou and Ramos’ videos were very fast-paced and clever examples of how to make better movies, drawn from hundreds of feature films and TV episodes, some famous, some infamous, and some that I have never seen before. The videos were a foundational course in how to think visually and learn how to be better at doing it. “Instead of showing a clip and talking about the plot, we were showing the clip and talking about the clip.” They didn’t talk about story or characters, but how the movies were made the way they were.

For example, one video talks about how filmmakers use Vancouver as a stand-in for other cities, but never recognized. Another talks about chairs and how they are used in movies. And why you can’t remember any musical themes from the Marvel movies, but can certainly hum the Star Wars or Harry Potter themes. And how the Orson Wells F is for Fake movie was a seminal work for the duo. The videos were quirky, fun, and very instructive. Plus, they were very enjoyable, and made me want to watch some of the films that were used in the examples.

Now, I am a fledging Internet movie-maker, as you might know, although a very specialized one: I create a series of screencast videos about enterprise IT products. And even in this very small corner of the video universe, I learned something from the Painting videos.

Some of their videos have clips for more than 50 different films to make their points. For example, here are two clips from the Transformers movie and from West Side Story. See if you can tell what they are trying to say by watching them.

But Zhou and Ramos are still teaching, even in their swansong Medium post that describes why they aren’t going to do any more of their videos for their channel. They make these important points that have a larger context to help improve all of your Internet-created content:

  1. Understand the content creator’s triangle. Faster, cheaper, or better – you can only pick two out of the three (see the diagram here). Don’t try to think you can cover all three bases.
  2. To have a successful YouTube channel (or a blog or anything else online), you need to have a solid style guide. They ran into problems with their style choices down the road, but initially it gained them a solid audience (some of their videos have more than a 1M views).
  3. Let ideas for your posts marinate for a while. Your brain will forget the weak ideas, and you’ll still recall the promising ones.
  4. Do your research offline. Go to the library and read books. Yeah, there is that Google search thing. But if you want to break out of the online regurgitation cycle, and find some original ideas, then go to the library. (The irony of having two visual people tell others to read books wasn’t lost on me.)
  5. Make sure your essays are addressing the right question. Test your ideas constantly, and don’t be afraid to toss them and start again. It is helpful to have a partner that you can use as a sounding board or a foil.
  6. Be organized. The couple used a series of index cards to outline their essays and organize their points. This way, they got to the strongest and most cogent arguments. If index cards seem so last century, find something else that will work. To produce my video screencasts, I have a series of tools that I use in a tight sequence every time.
  7. Maintain a solid boundary between you and your audience. That doesn’t mean you should ignore your audience, au contraire, you should know their hopes and fears and what they are getting out of your work. But don’t let them control what you do.

Goodbye Every Frame videos. I wish the couple well on their next project, and hope you enjoy the video channel as much as I have.

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