Hi, my name is Tony…
December 3, 2017 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Postmortem: Every Frame a Painting After a year and a half without new content, the film analysis channel, Every Frame a Painting (YouTube, Vimeo) is officially over. Tony Zhou, the narrator and creator of the video essays, along with his now disclosed collaborator, Taylor Ramos, discuss the reasons for shuttering their channel and the process they used to create the essays. (via Medium) Previouslys: 1., 2., 3., 4., 5., 6., 7.
posted by coolxcool=rad (25 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
posted by papafrita at 9:30 AM on December 3

Good for them. I'm always sad when something I love concludes, but every time, I recognize that I'm happier with something ending while it's still good, than to fade away, with no clear delineation of where it got bad.

Hell, even when the delineation is clear, it's a feel-bad to recommend something by saying, "watch Dexter, but only seasons 1-4." Much better to say, "watch Every Frame a Painting, every video is amazing."
posted by explosion at 9:42 AM on December 3 [6 favorites]

I'm very bothered by this "Sorry I forgot to put my collaborator's name on our thing and now no one knows she did it, oops". When you read something that goes "Basically everything we did that made our project a success was my idea which I had to fight for, and yet no one knows I even worked on it", and no part of it is a surprise, you're just nodding your head going "Uh huh, uh huh, this checks out." Can certain parties who shall remain nameless just take their heads out of their asses for one second to think about someone other than themselves and stop acting like fucking trash?
posted by bleep at 9:50 AM on December 3 [4 favorites]

Can certain parties who shall remain nameless just take their heads out of their asses for one second to think about someone other than themselves and stop acting like fucking trash?

Taylor addresses her role in this essay, and doesn't indicate that she thinks Tony Zhou is acting like fucking trash. She even discusses the gendered aspect of recognition.

I love this series, and I think this is a good essay on partners working together.
posted by weed donkey at 10:17 AM on December 3 [9 favorites]

What a shame. I adored this series.
posted by painquale at 10:39 AM on December 3 [1 favorite]

posted by rhizome at 10:49 AM on December 3

the video of jackie chan and filming action scenes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1PCtIaM_GQ) should be required watching for the action directors of most modern films. Really all of their videos are AMAZING. Personal faves:

- fincher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPAloq5MCUA
- edgar wright: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FOzD4Sfgag

and funniest goes to "Vancouver never plays itself": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojm74VGsZBU
posted by alchemist at 10:59 AM on December 3 [2 favorites]

I will really miss this series. I go back and re-watch the Jackie Chan and Edgar Wright episodes a lot.

It's interesting how the restrictions of the medium both helped and hurt them and I agree that there isn't a way to do that last script in their signature style. Just glad they're OK.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:24 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]

Darn between them retiring from this series and Kogonada jumping to feature films, I'm feeling starved for good video-based film theory.
posted by octothorpe at 12:39 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]

I really liked the part about hacking the copyright detection algorithms so Youtube couldn’t flag the film clips they used(!)
posted by LEGO Damashii at 1:56 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]

What a shame. I adored this series.

Me, too, although I didn't know it until now as this is the first time I had seen it.
posted by bz at 2:02 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]

Yes - so interesting about editing to fit the automated restrictions!
You could make a video that meets the criteria for fair use, but YouTube could still take it down because of their internal system (Copyright ID) which analyzes and detects copyrighted material.

So I learned to edit my way around that 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.
So interesting. This is great to read, even though I'm sad there won't be more of the series because they're amazing. Glad to see them foreground the collaboration, which I'd noticed in the credits and often wondered about. And glad to see all the sort of boring parts of the process highlighted - how organized you need to be about logging and tagging clips, how rigorous your process around refining your argument, how many hours and how many drafts you need to go through.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:19 PM on December 3 [7 favorites]

Also, the point about how "pivoting to video" is crazy because it's so much more time-consuming to make good video than good text, and the idea of controlling where your project comes in on the good-fast-cheap triangle.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:21 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]

Darn between them retiring from this series and Kogonada jumping to feature films, I'm feeling starved for good video-based film theory.

I won't say either are as good as EFAP, but there's Kyle Kallgren and Channel Criswell
posted by juv3nal at 2:42 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]

Well, I don’t think anyone is being fucking trash, but I will say this: I watched their videos many times, I followed the channel on multiple platforms, and I contributed to its Patreon, but today was the first time I learned that Every Frame A Painting was a true collaboration.

I guess I remember seeing credits for Ramos, especially in the later videos, but I was under the impression that the other person had a much smaller role than they apparently had. Every Frame A Painting—to me, and I think to most people—was presented as Zhou’s work and Zhou’s voice.

I don’t think this is something we can blame on the audience discounting contributions from a woman. Ramos’ involvement, as described in today’s final script, was not part of the narrative as near as I can tell. For example, the Every Frame page on Patreon is in Zhou’s voice and Ramos is not named. Zhou also did a Reddit AMA about the series where he describes his process without mentioning a collaborator.

This isn’t a callout...I’m just illustrating why it’s reasonable for even regular viewers to be surprised that the videos were a fully collaborative effort. Good for them for retiring the branding if they thought it didn’t accurately reflect the division of their labor; the Filmstruck videos are credited to both of them equally, I notice.

But at the same time the final script feels revisionist, even disingenuous, in being surprised and disappointed that Ramos’ role wasn’t better known. It’s not our fault we didn’t give her the credit she was due when there doesn’t seem to have been a serious attempt until just now to fully credit her.
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:46 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I'm a big fan of the series and I've watched all of the videos at least a few times, and I hadn't realized until reading this essay that it was a two person operation. That was a major failing on their part.

I understand why they're ending the series, but it makes me sad. This kind of work is rare and difficult and I found it remarkably valuable in figuring out why things that I like in certain movies actually work. They did a really good job of that, and I'll miss having this resource.
posted by protocoach at 5:24 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]

Yes, I'll miss these two.
posted by praemunire at 5:30 PM on December 3

For me, I found the most important line to be this one:
(TAYLOR) But 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.


(TONY)... With Patreon donations, Every Frame a Painting was eventually able to break even. But from April 2014 until December 2015, we were making video essays at a loss. We were never in danger of not making the rent, but it got pretty financially stressful on several occasions.
They were working their butts off to barely make rent, so they eventually went back to working for other people. They tried to make EFAP their job, and they hit that awkward place where the project is successful in every metric but financially.

It would have been interesting to hear their thoughts on the EFAP brand. The brand clearly is "Tony Zhou" and not "Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou", and reading their Patreon page they were trying to make this all about Tony (until now). There are lots of potential reasons why... some benign, some cynical, some sexist. Perhaps it's as simple as Taylor just didn't want publicity at the time. Perhaps it was a conscious choice to simplify the story of EFAP and make it more sellable* to their Patreon patrons. I don't know, but I'm fascinated by the "personal branding / narrative of the creator(s)" side of creative partnerships.

Whatever they did, they didn't sell it correctly. Ultimately, their creative endeavor couldn't make enough money to support itself. 5+ million views per video, 1.3 million subscribers, and 4,347 Patreon subscribers. And that still was barely enough pay rent.

This is something I'm seeing right now in the world of content creation. You can have that kind of viewership and acclaim, and still not make enough money to live.
posted by weed donkey at 5:34 PM on December 3 [6 favorites]

I’m also curious about the section of the script concerning their efforts to get around Copyright ID. At first I thought they were talking about monetization, but they make it sound like they had to devise methods just to publish the video at all.

If so, do all the other 9000 film essay channels also have to repeatedly bang their heads against YouTube’s algorithms until their video gets through? I didn’t get the impression YouTube was that granular in their copyright enforcement. I mean, I just watched a 10 minute compilation of Baby Groot scenes...
posted by Ian A.T. at 5:49 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]

The problem financially for EFAP was that (as they discuss thoroughly in the article) they spent months making each video. 1 million youtube subscribers and $7k/video from patreon doesn't translate to a lot of money if you're only making 4-6 videos per year. They could have been 10x more successful if they pumped out a video every month, but they refused to sacrifice the quality of their work. It's commendable and set them apart from virtually every other youtube analysis channel, but it wasn't sustainable. In the "pick 2 - fast, cheap, good" paradigm, "fast" and "good" are often mutually exclusive if you're a two person production.

This isn't isolated to youtube -- for anything on the internet you need to make consistent content over the course of years to make a living (and even then that requires a lot of luck).

I do wish they had shared the work they do outside of EFAP. I am curious to see what film they've edited/worked on themselves.
posted by bittermensch at 5:58 PM on December 3 [2 favorites]

If so, do all the other 9000 film essay channels also have to repeatedly bang their heads against YouTube’s algorithms until their video gets through?

So, ContentID will either do auto-takedown or direct revenues to the copyright claimant. Neither of which works if you want to sell your work.

I mean, I just watched a 10 minute compilation of Baby Groot scenes...

Baby Groot tax!
posted by praemunire at 6:09 PM on December 3

Totally agree, that wasn't possible to make EFAP videos any quicker and maintain the quality.

What surprises me is just how little money they made, though. $17,500 per person per year. That's... nothing. Especially for Vancouver. No wonder they had to hold down 3 jobs.

Maybe they never cared to monetize EFAP, but $7k revenue per video is astoundingly low. It seems like there could have been some paths to monetization, but ones that required losing control. No matter what, it's a sobering statement on content creation.
posted by weed donkey at 6:12 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]

Went down a Youtube rabbit hole, came across this channel which very much scratches a lot of the same itches as Every Frame a Painting.
posted by axiom at 6:34 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]

Whatever they did, they didn't sell it correctly.

I don't think it's very sensible to assert that they must have failed in "selling" this because it wasn't self-sustaining.
posted by kenko at 7:13 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]

Also, there's this moment in the essay:

We didn’t care about cheap or fast, we cared about it being good. If we found a company willing to pay for it to happen fast, we’d work fast (full disclosure: we eventually found two, Criterion and FilmStruck).

It sounds like the viewership and acclaim for EFAP helped them find other freelance work, no?
posted by overglow at 12:42 AM on December 4

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