On the podcast, I often ask guests to share their “origin story.” As a prelude to Monday’s episode, which will feature my former teachers and mentors Jason Mittell and Christian Keathley, here’s (partially) mine:
In the summer of 2017, I was working as a reporting intern at The Addison County Independent, the local newspaper based in the town of Middlebury. I had just finished my sophomore year and declared a major in Film & Media Culture. Why? Because it seemed to be the closest thing Middlebury had to a journalism program. I had no real interest in the discipline on a scholarly level. I asked Jason to be my advisor because I planned to write a senior thesis about conservative television (Fox News, William F. Buckley Jr., etc.). During a meeting with Jason, I told him I would be working for the paper and to send me any tips of cool stuff happening in town. Fast forward to June, and Jason emailed me about something called the Scholarship in Sound & Image Workshop, and said if I needed a story that I could come up to the college and interview the participants. I jumped at the chance for three reasons: 1) it seemed cool, 2) I could get to know my new department, and 3) the Axinn building (where the workshop is held) has really good air conditioning and it is hot, hot, hot in Vermont in the summer. Here’s the article, which, believe it or not, was front page news in a small town like Middlebury. It’s not every day a group of international scholars are flown in on the National Endowment for the Humanities’s dime!
Long story short, that day changed things for me. I eagerly enrolled in Jason’s Videographic Film Studies course that fall (which is modeled after the workshop aka “video camp”) and fell in love with video essays. One of the assignments was to create a video essay responding to a video already online. That same semester, I also discovered Alfred Hitchcock’s films for the first time, and in particular Rebecca. I also watched Citizen Kane for the first time that semester (my cinephilia is new as hell!!) and wanted to work with both films. I found Rob Stone’s video, “No Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu,” in which he juxtaposes the beginnings and endings of the films:
I then wondered what would happen if we moved beyond the gates of de Winter’s Manderley and Kane’s Xanadu and “trespassed.” Here’s my video essay, “Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu,” which was finalized last summer:
Our final project for Jason’s course was a more original video essay. My video centered on four films that take place mostly in a single room: Rope, Dial ‘M’ for Murder, Wait Until Dark, and The Hateful Eight. The final essay is called “How to Shoot a Film in One Room,” and there’s a lot of thing I’d change, including the title. There’s no voice over in the piece, and it’s not overly explanatory, though the piece is structured as a lesson.
Before Jason even had a chance to grade the piece, Jacob Oller wrote a short article about it for Film School Rejects (aka One Perfect Shot). Shortly thereafter, I applied for an internship there, cited the essay in my application, and have been an intern and now contributor since January 2018. Video essays have been good to me!
In the fall of my senior year, I began my ongoing project, Seeing Truffaut’s Hitchcock, as an independent study with Chris. The Scalar book is my attempt at an audiovisual adaptation of the Hitchcock-Truffaut interview.
The summer after I graduated from Middlebury in 2019, Jason and Chris asked me to work as the teaching assistant for the fourth iteration of video camp. As many past video campers will tell you, video camp is an incredibly fun, transformative, and generative experience, thanks in no small part to the teaching of Jason, Chris, Katie, and Middlebury’s own Ethan Murphy. In the last few months, listeners of the podcast have gotten a behind-the-scenes look at what happens during the first week of video camp by making videographic exercises. The exercises and more information about video camp is found in Jason, Chris, and Katie’s open access Scalar book, The Videographic Essay: Practice & Pedagogy.
Now that we are nearing the end of the homework exercises, and video camp 2020 was, unfortunately, canceled due to COVID-19 (it would have been held during the last two weeks of June), we figured it was time that Jason and Chris finally appeared on the show! They have also been two of our most requested guests. I’ve prefaced the show with this long back story to not only demonstrate that without Jason and Chris you wouldn’t be reading this newsletter or listening (and hopefully enjoying) the podcast, but also because my first introduction to video essays came as a journalist and interviewer. That first video camp experience has always stuck with me, and its why I’ve always considered myself, as Catherine Grant once called me, the video essay’s “roving correspondent.” Of course, I love making video essays, and have many not-yet-completed/started projects on the horizon, but I also love talking with people about video essays and understanding and documenting the history of the form and what it can be.
So, that’s my story! I hope you enjoy next week’s episode (tentatively scheduled to be released on Monday). It is epic in every sense of the word! Find your homework here.