If you’re a movie fan on the internet, there’s a good chance that you’ve come across a video series called Every Frame a Painting. Created by Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos, it’s a series of video essays, narrated by Zhou, that explore everything from Marvel’s film scores, framing in the movie Drive, David Fincher’s use of CGI, and the spectacle of Michael Bay’s films. The duo’s last video dropped over a year ago, and in a post on Medium, they announced that the series has come to an end.
The reasons are pretty mundane: the pair have both begun new jobs and decided that it’s time to move onto something else. The post is scripted like one of their episodes, explaining the backstory of the series, how they developed their style, and what they learned from it. Like their video essays, it makes for interesting and informative reading, it’s worth reading even if you’re not planning on making video essays of your own.
Zhou explains that in 2013 he and Ramos were grappling with a problem: how to explain visual ideas with non-visual people at work, and the idea for a video series that demonstrates the concepts that they were trying to explain was born out of that. Ramos says that where most videos explained characters and stories, they wanted to focus on the films themselves. She suggested that he make a channel out of it, with a unified style and approach. “This meant we could get away with talking about less-known subjects,” she says, “and plenty of people would still watch because the format was the same.”
Once they started putting the videos together, Zhou said that they had to work around one big restriction: YouTube and its Content ID system:
Nearly every stylistic decision you see about the channel — the length of the clips, the number of examples, which studios’ films we chose, the way narration and clip audio weave together, the reordering and flipping of shots, the remixing of 5.1 audio, the rhythm and pacing of the overall video — all of that was reverse-engineered from YouTube’s Copyright ID.
The pair go on to talk about some of the things that they learned, which highlight what made the channel stand out. They kept journals of notes, went to the library rather than Google for research, tested their ideas and focused extensively on the arguments that they made in each video.
This post is more than just a farewell to their followers as they move on to other things: it’s a frank self-examination that explores the incredible amount of work that goes into making each essay great. I’m bummed that the series isn’t continuing: each and every episode is a smart, enlightening look on how creators use film as a storytelling medium. After watching the series, it’s made me examine how I consume films, television, and even novels — and it’s made me a better filmgoer and reader. But I can understand why they’re quitting while they’re ahead — it’s better to go out while you’re on top, rather than skimping on quality. Fortunately, the 28 videos that they’ve already produced will remain online.
Whether you’re making a video essay, designing a gadget, or writing a book, this essay lays out some useful advice for creators of all stripes. Like their videos, it’s something to return to over and over again.