Cinematic Metaphor Project Description

This project description is also available as a PDF document.


Create a video essay (see “What’s a video essay?” below) on a topic of strong personal interest told from a strongly subjective perspective and using cinematic metaphors to convey meaning. Your video must be at least two minutes long but no longer than four minutes. Use minimal (cuts-only) editing. The project should demonstrate your ability to move beyond technical aspects of video production and towards more expressive use of the moving image. Your work will be evaluated both in terms of technical craft and effective use of cinematic language. 


  • You should follow the composition and shooting guidelines outlined in the Kalow Visual Storytelling reading and the Zettl “Depth and Volume” and “Motion” readings from Applied Media Aesthetics. 
  • As far as using cinematic metaphors in your work, reflect on the examples we viewed and discussed in class. In addition, it will be easier to complete this assignment if you read through the Nichols “Film as a Language” reading and the “Cinematic Metaphor” handout prior to the completing the planning phase of this project.
  • You are expected to record clean sound on location. If you’re shooting outdoors, use the windjammer with a good microphone, don’t expect too recording good sound with a camera microphone unless you are indoors and very close to your subject. 
  • This is intended to be an open-ended project that encourages experimentation and exploration within the bounds of good production values in terms of sound and visuals. 
  • Start with a theme and take it from there, and feel free to deviate from your original theme. 
  • Allow time to iterate your work, so you should do some initial shooting, reflect on your work, and do some additional shooting before completing your editing. You should do a minimum of two shoots for this project, and three if necessary. Iteration is key for better video work.
  • You are encouraged to send me a rough cut for comment (as a link to a video on our Team Drive) via email before completing the project and I will respond via e-mail (please allow up to 24 hours for a response).

What’s a video essay?

When I use the term “video essay” in this class, I am using the term to designate something more akin to the tradition of “essay films” than a lot of the work on YouTube that is often given the label “video essay.” When I use the term (which is ambiguous to start), I am using it to refer to a form of moving image work that conveys meaning through the use of images, sounds, and words, expressing subjective thought and often in a personal style. In the words of Hans Richter, who coined the term in 1940, an essay film “allows the filmmaker to transgress the rules and parameters of the traditional documentary practice, granting the imagination with all its artistic potentiality free reign.” See Kevin B. Lee, “Video essay: The essay film – some thoughts of discontent,” Sight and Sound, May 22 2017, [www]

Viewing for inspiration

The following serve as objects of study in the use of cinematic metaphors. Consider analyzing two or more of these works as part of your audiovisual research for this assignment. A variety of genres and approaches are are included in this list.

  • Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929), documentary
  • Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943), experimental film
  • Window Water Baby Moving (Stan Brakhage, 1962), experimental film
  • Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, 1989), documentary/personal essay hybrid
  • Me and Rubyfruit (Sadie Benning, 1990), personal essay
  • Ikea – Lamp (Spike Jonze, 2002), commercial
  • Untitled #1 (Masha Godovannaya, 2005), experimental film
  • Volkswagen – Milky Way (Dayton/Faris, 2006), commercial
  • Lolipop (Eva Michon, 2013), short fiction film
  • Watchtower of Turkey (Leonardo Dalessandri, 2014), video essay
  • Volvo – Vintersaga (Gustav Johansson, 2015), commercial
  • The Above (Kirsten Johnson, 2015), journalistic essay

Deliverable and deadline

  • Export a video file from Premiere Pro CC following the export guidelines in the “Project Deliverables Guidelines” handout.
  • Place the exported video file in the deliverables folder designated for this assignment no later than one hour prior to the start of the screening and critique class session for this assignment, otherwise it will be considered late.
  • The video file must meet the layout specifications, video format specifications, and file naming conventions described in the “Project Deliverables Guidelines” handout. 

Grading rubric

This assignment contributes 10 points towards your final grade and the will be evaluated  based on the following criterial and weightings:

  • The video effectively explores a theme or idea, the realization of which is discernible, in other words, the sequence is far more than a random collection of shots, 4 points;
  • A variety of well composed and exposed shots are skillfully edited into a cohesive sequence and each shot demonstrates good technical craft (proper focus, exposure, white balance, smooth camera moves, purposeful zooms, smooth edits, clean sound recording w/out excessive background noise, clean audio edits, etc.), 4 points;
  • The video file adheres to the deliverable specifications and guidelines, 2 points