An increasing number of journals and conferences are opening up to non-conventional academic formats, with consideration of creative methods and productions, such as video essays.
For instance, the free open community-led digital archive for media, film and communication research, MediArXiv, has recently added the following statement in their submission guidelines: “Over time, we are committed to accepting scholarly works produced in a variety of non-traditional media formats.” However, there is still scarce guidance on how to produce and evaluate this work. At the time of writing this guide, some journals, such as The Cine-Files, transit or desistfilm, have not included any specific guidelines. This informational void can optimistically be viewed as an advantage, as it locates both creativity and the grassroots at the heart of the legitimisation of video essays for academic purposes. In other words, it has been allowing creative researchers, practitioners, and class members to collaboratively establish the place, role and potential of video essays both for the study and research of film, screen media and the creative industries, more broadly. In fact, their practice and consideration has been shaped by Catherine Grant’s pioneering work, who in 2008 founded the Film Studies for Free blog, an open access web-archive of various screen media resources. Prof Grant - who is also the co-founding editor of [in]Transition - has had a crucial curatorial role in the various journals which have welcomed submissions of video essays for academic dissemination.
Most of the scholarly work on video essays adopts a rather reflexive tone, informed by creative, radical and experimental pedagogic practices (see, for instance, Keathley, 2014). This guide seeks to serve as a space of reflection and shared practices. How should these video essays be structured and produced to meet the publication standards? Are there any standards? How are they curated and evaluated across different academic journals? We have tried to find certain coherence, and put together a series of shared features. We hope these will help class members and researchers produce creative work of publication standards.
In line with the word count limit in different academic work, it is pertinent to think of what the desired length of a video essay should be, taking into account that this is most likely to be viewed digitally, in a small screen. This is why, while there seems to be much more flexibility than in written scholarly text, the length of video essays tends to be around 10 minutes. However, editorials often welcome videos from 5 to 20 minutes long, and sometimes explicitly state that any length is welcome. This is the case, for instance in the pioneer peer-reviewed journal for the publication of video essays, [in]Transition, whose guidelines say: “The work, which can be of any length…”
Journals tend to request a supporting statement where video essay-makers introduce the topic, research aims and video-making process. Reflexivity is highly valued in these pieces. As the guidelines of the Screenworks journal suggests, “the purpose of the statement is not to ‘explain’ the screenwork, but rather to offer a ‘route map’ of the research process, as well as a means to provide evidence for the dissemination and wider impact of the practice.” It can thus be understood as a critical, self-reflexive commentary. The length of this also varies per journal (from 250 words, in Peruvian journal desistfilm to up to 2,000 words in some of the video essays in The Cine-files) but tends to be around 500 words. However, within the same issue of the same journal, submissions differ as well in their word-length, which suggests there is notorious flexibility in this respect. In fact, the reference journal, [in]Transition, offers an umbrella from 300 to 1000 words.
Video essays have been key in decentering the hegemonic position of English in academic publications, hence contributing to the decolonisation of academia. The focus on a wide range of films from across the globe has allowed various languages to be heard, with the integration of English subtitles. Similarly, narrators have also reflected on the work in a variety of languages, including subtitles when these were not in English. This constitutes a great opportunity of engaging with inclusive research, teaching and learning practices.
Video essays are not just innovative in the method. Like any academic contribution, they should contribute to broadening the existing knowledge in a field of study. When there is not a call for submissions for a special issue, there is an expectation that they “should produce new knowledge about its subject, or about film and moving image studies”, as stated in the generic Call for submissions in [in]Transition. This engagement with an existing film and screen media debate and response to an existing research gap constitutes a very important criterion of evaluation.
Video essays should strike a reasonable balance between exhibition of existing screen media and their analysis, also to respect copyright and creative commons licences. Video essay makers should source and use materials in the essay lawfully. More information about copyright law is provided in Section 4 in this Guide.
Video essay makers are often encouraged to contribute to the commitment to make academic research as accessible and inclusive as possible.
Journals often require video essay makers to upload files to streaming platforms. The most popular platform is Vimeo. Password-protected videos are also welcome, but passwords should be included in the submission form.
Journal Editors Speak: Criteria of Evaluation of Video Essays
Prof Christian Keathley, Professor of Film and Media Culture at Middlebury College and founding co-editor of [in]Transition.
Dr Charlotte Crofts, Associate Professor Filmmaking at UWE (Bristol) and Editor in Chief of Screenworks.