RIP 'Every Frame a Painting': Farewell Advice from Video Essayists Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos
Today, we say goodbye to one of the greats.
If you're familiar with this site, then chances are you're also familiar with the video essay channel Every Frame a Painting. Why? Because they're brilliant and we've basically featured every single one of their projects.
Created by editor Tony Zhou and animator Taylor Ramos back in 2014, the channel quickly gained a reputation as the most legit/comprehensive series based on film education on YouTube. Zhou once said that their goal for the channel upon its launch was to discuss "visual ideas with non-visual people." No one has done it better.
You may have also noticed the pair of editors hasn't released a video since The Marvel Symphonic Universe back in September 2016. Which we, of course, covered. Well, as of Saturday morning, Zhou and Ramos took to Medium to announce, "Every Frame a Painting is officially dead. Nothing sinister; we just decided to end it, rather than keep on making stuff."
They go on to explain their decision, remarking, "In the past year, we’ve both started new jobs and taken on other freelance work. Things started piling up and it took all our energy to get through the work we’d agreed to do. When we started this YouTube project, we gave ourselves one simple rule: if we ever stopped enjoying the videos, we’d also stop making them. And one day, we woke up and felt it was time." Of course, all their previous work will remain on the channel, they are just hanging up the towel on creating any more.
The final Every Frame a Painting video was intended to be a glimpse into its creators' artistic process, but they were unable to finish it. Instead, they have released the script to the essay in which they offer up some advice to anyone looking to learn about film. So, in the spirit of sharing their work to the very last, here are a few highlights.
Keep a notebook
A large portion of their farewell letter includes a rundown of the good habits they've picked up while producing the series. Their first tip? Keep a notebook. "Whenever you have an idea, jot it down (along with the date), then forget about it," Ramos insists.
"The most important part of the process is to forget," she continues. "Every idea seems amazing at the moment of inception, but once you sleep on it and check the notebook weeks later, you’ll find that your brain has already forgotten the weak ideas, but still thinks about the promising ones."
Test your ideas out on people you trust
"We like to turn each essay’s premise into a very simple statement or question," Zhou explains. "Then we take that simple question and we test it out on real people."
Now, filmmakers can take this idea and apply it to their own projects. Give your friends a pitch about your newest project. For Zhou, "The goal is to see if people react to an idea without us trying to sell it. Because if the basic idea is already interesting to people, it’ll only get better once we sharpen and hone it into a proper argument. But if nobody bites at the early stage, that usually means the idea needs more time to develop, or maybe we’re asking the wrong question."
Or, as Zhou's would put it, "keep your shit organized." Of course, this is essential advice for editors, but for Every Frame a Painting in particular, Zhou would have an incredible amount of footage to draw from. In fact, that boiled down to about 8 hours of editing for every 1 minute of video essay. For their essay “Vancouver Never Plays Itself”, they may have only ended up using footage from 85 different films, but Zhou reveals that there were actually over 200 films in the project file.
Zhou also revealed that every essay from the series was edited on Final Cut X, due to one standout feature: keywords. "Keywords group everything in a really simple, visual way," he explains. "This is how I figured out to cut from West Side Story to Transformers. From Godzilla to I, Robot. From Jackie Chan to Marvel films. On my screen, all of these clips are side-by-side because they share the same keyword."
In summation, "Organization is not just some anal-retentive habit," Zhou concludes. "It is literally the best way to make connections that would not happen otherwise."
Work with a partner
The next section of the letter is titled "Unacknowledged Truths" and delves into some standards that may seem counterintuitive to some artists trying to break out onto the screen. One such truth that they stressed is the myth that an artist has to work solo to put out inspired art. "Look up most cases of a lone genius, and you’ll find a footnote about some unacknowledged helper," Ramos insists.
She then goes on to describe their collaborative process, "Here’s how we work: Tony usually researches, writes and edits alone. But I do everything else: I edit every draft, watch every version, watch all the clips, do the flash cards, and build the thesis. I am the first and last audience that sees everything before it goes out. And the closest description we’ve ever come up with is that he is the editor, and I am the editor’s editor."
Ramos also identifies the simple benefit of having a sounding board. "Tony and I often build a thesis by arguing the points with each other," she explains. "Except for a handful of videos, that has basically been our process for three years. We’re not saying that this system will work for everyone, but having two sets of eyes has worked really well for us."
The whole letter deserves to be read at least once, so make sure you head here to check it out. Farewell, Every Frame a Painting, you shall be missed.