Cinematic Metaphor


Create a cinematic essay on a topic of personal interest told from a subjective perspective and use 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 toward more expressive use of the moving image. All visual and sound elements used must have been produced specifically for this assignment. No third-party materials may be used in this project. Your work will be evaluated in terms of technical craft and the effective use of cinematic language, especially in the use of discernible cinematic metaphors.


Cinematic Essay

In the context of this assignment, we are using the term “cinematic essay” to denote something more akin to the tradition of “essay films” and differentiate it from a lot of work on YouTube that is often given the label “video essay” in which someone talks over a lot of appropriated footage (which is a genre I appreciate, but it's not what this assignment is about). A cinematic essay (a.k.a. film essay) is a form of moving image work that conveys meaning through images, sounds, and words, expressing subjective thought 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’s essay “Video essay: The essay film – some thoughts of discontent” (Sight and Sound, May 22, 2017) for more details. 

Cinematic Metaphor

To prepare for this assignment, start by reading Cinematic Metaphor and then skim through “Film as a Language,” Chapter 1 from Engaging Cinema: An Introduction to Film Studies by Mike Nichols. Some of this overlaps what you've already read in Making Media. However, it’s a good review to reinforce fundamental terminology and concepts of cinematic language.

Technical Craft

Camera: You should complete this assignment using the Sony a7iii camera that is available in the “Sony Video Kit” you can reserve and check out from the CAMD Media Center. Plan ahead, the CAMD Media Center requires advance reservations. Becoming familiar with the camera's operation is important, so spend some time practicing and reviewing the Camera Workshop slides. You may supplement footage shot with the Sony a7iii with footage shot with your iPhone or another camera.

Sound: You are also expected to record sound using the “Location Audio Kit”, therefore, spend some time practicing with the kit and reviewing the Location Sound Workshop slides. You may supplement sounds recorded with the “Location Audio Kit” with sound recorded using the on-camera and lavalier microphones in the “Sony Video Kit” however, proper microphone placement and overall good quality audio is expected regardless of the gear you use.

Viewing for inspiration

The following serve as objects of study in the use of cinematic metaphors. Consider analyzing two or more of the following works as part of your visual research for this assignment. Some of these were assigned as homework. Various genres and approaches are included in this list, which is ordered chronologically. Do not consider these works as templates; instead, draw inspiration from them and trust your gut and seek to express yourself in your voice.

  • Man with a Movie Camera (dir. Dziga Vertov, 1929), documentary
  • Meshes of the Afternoon (dirs. Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943), an experimental film
  • Window Water Baby Moving (dir. Stan Brakhage, 1962), experimental film
  • Tongues Untied (dir. Marlon Riggs, 1989), documentary/personal essay hybrid
  • Me and Rubyfruit (dir. Sadie Benning, 1990), personal essay
  • Ikea - Lamp (dir. Spike Jonze, 2002, agency: Crispin Porter + Bogusky), commercial, see also Ikea - Lamp / Child's Play (2018)
  • Untitled #1 (dir. Masha Godovannaya, 2005), experimental film
  • Volkswagen - Milky Way (creative directors: Lance Jensen and Alan Pafenbach, agency: Dayton/Faris, music: Nick Drake: Pink Moon, 2006), commercial
  • The Piano (dir. Matty Brown, 2011), experimental/narrative video
  • Lolipop (Eva Michon, 2013), short fiction film
  • Watchtower of Turkey (Leonardo Dalessandri, 2014), film essay
  • Volvo - Vintersaga (dir. Gustav Johansson, 2015), commercial
  • The Above (dir. Kirsten Johnson, 2015), journalistic essay
  • Ikea - Lamp / Child's Play (dir. Mark Zibert, agency: Rethink Canada, 2018), commercial, see also Ikea - Lamp (2002)


  • You are expected to record clean sound on location. If you’re shooting outdoors, use a windjammer on the microphone, don’t expect to record good sound with a camera microphone unless you are indoors and 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 both 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, do an initial shoot, reflect on your work, and then do additional shooting before completing your work. You should do a minimum of two shoots for this project. Iteration is the key to better video work and developing your knowledge and skills.
  • One of the best practices for producing excellent work is sharing your rough cut with people you trust, listening to their feedback, and then iterating the work. If you leave everything to the last minute and expect to pull a rabbit out of a hat a few days before a project is due, you will not have as much fun nor learn as much compared to iterating your work. This and the rest of the videos in this class are designed to be done over a period of weeks, not days, with steady progress and iteration.

Deliverable specifications

  1. The video follows the guidelines and specifications outlined in this document, including aspect ratio and running time.
  2. All video materials are recorded at 24p (HD or 4K) with a 16:9 aspect ratio and the video is edited using a 24p HD timeline in Adobe Premiere Pro.
  3. The exported video meets the layout, export format, aspect ratio, frame rate, codec and file name specifications outlined in the Video Deliverable Specs handout.
  4. This project must be submitted prior to the deadline to receive credit, even if incomplete, since you can request a rework following the procedures outlined in the syllabus.
    • Note: From a pedagogical standpoint, it's better to deliver the video on time, even if it does not meet the criteria for completion, as you'll have plenty of feedback from peers and your instructor to help you complete the project. Remember what Yoda told Luke Skywalker, “There is no try, only do,” so take time to prepare, plan ahead, ask for help if needed, and submit your work on time.

How to submit

Follow these steps to submit your project:

  1. Export your finished video from Adobe Premiere Pro and double-check the work meets the layout, export format, and file name specifications.
  2. Watch the video through to ensure there are no video or audio or other issues that need to be addressed before submitting the project.
  3. Upload your video file to the designated folder in our shared drive.


This project will be assessed on a complete/incomplete basis. The work must meet all of the following criteria to be considered complete:

  1. The video effectively explores a theme or idea and employs discernible cinematic metaphors that are evident in an analysis of the work.
  2. The work conforms to the guidelines and specifications outlined in the Video Deliverable Specs handout.
  3. All visual and sound elements were produced specifically for this assignment. No third-party materials were used in the work.
  4. The work demonstrates good technical craft regarding proper focus, exposure, and white balance. The sequence has no shots with focus, exposure, or serious color balance problems and all shots are free of excessively shaky camerawork.
  5. The work is submitted ahead of the deadline listed in the syllabus.


If the project is assessed as incomplete, you may request a rework following the procedures described in the syllabus. If the rework is submitted before the rework deadline and meets all of the assessment criteria listed above, the assessment will be changed from incomplete to complete.