I’ve never really felt qualified to answer this question, having zero training as a ‘critic.’ Though I have a journalism degree, it’s in video production not writing or analysis. My Youtube channel is a house built on someone else’s work (thank you Mark.) But the question keeps coming up and I figured I’d take the time to write out something substantial, if only to give myself a handy-dandy shortlink for all the future times this question gets asked. In other words, everything I’m about to say has no foundation in truth other than my own limited experience on Youtube. I still think my first attempt to dodge this question will be of much more value to you. But, here we go.
When I got started the first thing I did was scour Youtube for anyone who might already be doing what I was wanting to do. Try and find video reviews and analyses that you really love. If you find them, what do they do right? What do you think you can improve on? Don’t just enjoy those things, figure out WHY you enjoy those things. WHY is it good? Think about thinking. Notice what they do technically well. If they shoot live, how do they light their shots? How is the audio? Are they mic’d? In video, good sound is ALWAYS priority #1. Good sound will compensate for SO much about your production but spoil so much of it if it sucks. Learn to have an eye for not only what the people you watch are saying but HOW they’re saying it, and then how they assemble their product.
When you begin to make content, bring that critical eye to your own work. Put yourself on a deadline so you don’t pixel push and then never finish. Obsess, but do it on a timetable and then learn to let go. Acknowledge what you could have done better and then apply that to the next piece of content. And as I said in the vlog, give yourself permission to make things that might not be up to your own standards of taste, ESPECIALLY starting out. Focus on the body of work rather than each individual step. If something you made is really bugging you, learn to let go by focusing on how much better you’ll now be able to make the next video.
I would avoid reading too many reviews or analyses of the topic YOU want to talk about (so if I were planning on covering American Horror Story, reading a bunch of AHS reviews.) That’s a huge pitfall I ran into early on. Once you’ve read one person’s interpretation of something that resonates, it will rapidly become THE TRUTH of the material for you rather than an original idea that someone else came up with. For that reason I consume a LOT of analysis and criticism (I’m partial to Red Letter Media, Zero Punctuation, Nerd Writer, Every Frame a Painting) but I actively AVOID reviews of Buffy.
I mention this of course since I read Mark Field’s book a few times before I even started which is why he’ll always be credited in every video. Mark’s analysis resonated and has just become ‘the truth’ of the episodes to me. I can’t separate the two. And the problem I ran into early on is: What do I have to say of VALUE that hasn’t already been said by Mark? Because in this kind of material or even in vanilla opinion-based reviews, your opinion of something is the LEAST interesting part of the conversation. No one cares if I think Once More With Feeling is a good episode. People want to see the episode through the prism of someone else’s perspective. It’s why people bothered to read Roger Ebert instead of just going to metacritic. I read Ebert’s reviews every weekend growing up and I was always struck by how I got something of VALUE out of them even if I was never planning on seeing the movie he reviewed.
I still DO a lot of research. My process now is to watch an episode, write down as many notes and thoughts as I can and then to research THOSE ideas. The rabbit hole might go like this: In the opening of Band Candy, Giles is defining something. What is he defining? Oh…he’s defining entropy. What is entropy? All things tend towards chaos. OH…Ethan is in this episode and Ethan was praying to the God of Chaos in Halloween. How does that apply? How does that fit in?
Mostly though, it’s just important to keep in mind that this kind of work is immediate and a journey. I obsessed about every second of every video, but what has mattered most as of today is just grinding things out and continuing to make content, facing derailment after derailment after derailment. I stumble, fall, and don’t make anything for a month. Then get back up and start writing the next video. Just keep working. I’m two years into this. I can’t wait to be five or even ten years on and see the kind of things I’ll be able to make with THAT much work under my belt. That is exciting to me.
Last, don’t be afraid to say things that might be wrong because if you cave to that fear, you run the risk of not saying anything. My first pass at the Spike/Angel soul-discrepancy problem in Innocence was WAY off. And I said as much when I offered a refined idea in the Amends video. I try to own those mistakes in the guide, but never become afraid to make them. As Ken Robinson said in his Ted Talk, “I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
Now, let’s go to work.