Keating discusses love of light and camera


Photo credit: Andrea Nebhut

Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Patrick Keating is a communications and film studies professor at Trinity University. Along with teaching classes, he frequently publishes video essays covering various topics on film criticism, including classical Hollywood lighting and camera movement. His video essays have previously been published in film journals such as “Movie” and can be viewed on Vimeo.

What makes you so passionate about making video essays?

Patrick Keating: I think that it is a great way to do close analysis of film. One of the things that you want to do in close analysis is watch the film over and over again. So as both a teacher and a maker of video essays, I find that students discover things that they didn’t notice at first glance and that when I’m making videos, I’ll notice things that I didn’t notice at first glance.

Can you say a little bit more about the most recent video essay that you made and what made you interested in that particular subject?

K: Well, I’m a historian of Hollywood lighting, for one thing. My first book was about Hollywood lighting, so it was a return to an old subject for me. I had written a paper for a book, but I came to realize that that book was never going to come out. So I had this article that I didn’t know what to do with, and I thought it would make a good video essay just because its subject matter was very visual.

When you get inspired to make a video essay, do you normally base it off a written paper or something different?

K: It varies. For the first video essays that I made, I was working on a book about camera movement and I thought that each chapter would have a video essay to accompany it. However, because the chapters talk about so many different movies, it would have been too much. So separately, I made a website which has all of the examples in the book, and then the video essay became its own thing. So one category was working on the book and then making a video essay to illustrate the book. The other category is the Dietrich lighting essay — the video was a substitute for this essay that was never going to come out. Then, the third alternative is a standalone piece. At least for now, the other two lighting essays are standalone pieces. Those came about because I had submitted them to a journal called “Movie,” and [they] said it’d be nice to have a trilogy. So then I came up with a third idea to make it into a trilogy.

You’ve done most of your video essays on lighting and camera movement. What makes you interested in these topics?

K: Well, I did that trio on lighting. And then I have three others that are about camera movement. So that’s just my main research agenda; I’m a historian of Hollywood cinematography. Both of my books have been about that, so it’s kind of a natural extension of my regular research track. I am interested in both of these because I think these are aspects of film style that are easy to overlook. Before I got a Ph.D. in film studies, I got an MFA in film production. So I have an interest in how films are made; I think that gives me a kind of unusual ability to focus on some of these fine-grain craft decisions.

How has the Trinity community and your job as a professor affected your process when making the videos?

K: I actually think that the video essay class has been really exciting to teach. Some of the best student work that has been done for me has been done in video essay classes. On both a creative level and on a scholarly level, I think students have produced some really inventive works. I think [the class] has encouraged students to do really close analysis of films.I’ve certainly had students produce video essays that make me say, “Oh, I didn’t notice that before, that’s a really fresh take on that movie.”

What are the steps for you when you’re creating a video?

K: I start by writing the voiceover. As I’m writing the voiceover, I usually have an idea of what the visual hook is going to be. So usually there’s one particular video trick that I’m going to want to explore. In the Dietrich lighting video, it was the idea of using words to mimic the direction of the light. Then I go to the sound booth and I record the voiceover. As I’m putting the voiceover in, I usually also put the music in. I find that the music sets the tone and helps me figure out what I want to do visually. Then I usually have a first draft that I will show to some people and see what they say. After I get the feedback, I usually make some pretty substantial changes. In some cases, all I need to do is do some re-editing. But in most cases, I found I’ve needed to do some re-recording of the voiceover.

How long would you say it takes you to complete this entire process for one video?

K: The Dietrich video is six minutes long and I think it took me about two weeks to make it. But that’s knowing that I had done the research already, so I spent a good month writing the paper that became the basis of the video essay. After I had received the feedback from the journal, it took me another week to do the revisions.

Would you say that the video essay would be your ideal method of expressing your ideas?

K: I think it would be the ideal method of expressing some ideas, but I don’t think it’s the ideal method for expressing all ideas. In a video essay, you can suggest an argument and you can give some of the evidence for the argument. I just don’t think you can give all of the evidence for the argument. I just can’t get the same amount of ideas across in the video essay form with a thousand words. It does depend on the scale of the argument and the subject. I do think it’s very well suited for close analysis and I think it’s well suited for motif analysis. So if there’s a particular technique that recurs either across a film or from film to film, then I think the video essay is really well suited.

Check out Dr. Keating’s video essays here: