A Conversation with Lindsay Ellis – Part II

by Kathryn Graham

Lindsay Ellis is an American video essayist and film critic with degrees in film from NYU and USC. She condenses complex critical thinking and academic theory into entertaining and humorous YouTube essays on everything from a Film Studies through the Lens of Transformers to Product Placement and Fair Use.  She is also the host and writer for PBS’s online short series It’s Lit! You can check out all of her content for free on YouTube!

For those who missed it, Part I is HERE

Where do you see the future of what you’re doing going?

L: I don’t know. YouTube is very splintered. In left leaning spaces, you’ll see more and more attention paid to things like quality of the picture and the framing devices. It’s leaning more artistic and expensive looking. It’s leaning towards highly researched videos. The consequences of that is people make fewer and fewer videos.

Meanwhile, YouTube doesn’t favor inconsistent output like that. It likes you to be like: Tuesdays, once a week, exactly 25 – 35 minutes, whatever your schedule is.

That works for the AM Talk Radio side of YouTube which is really consistent and releases a lot more often.

So there’s kind of an imbalance. There’s two cultures. One sub-culture wants to focus on higher quality and better research and use that to gain attention. The other side is just like… Cinema Sins (note from KG: a nit-picky and often inaccurate ‘movie review’ YouTube channel).

I just watched a whole video about Cinema Sins’s sins. Sustaining Stupidity by Bobvids.

L: Yes! I have made so many people watch that video. It’s not just about why Cinema Sins is bad. It’s a good microcosm for what kind of content gets consistent sustained views on YouTube. How it’s cultivated. Why it’s cultivated in bad faith. How this is bad for society at large. It breaks it down bullet point by bullet point.

Do you think a subscription service for what you do might work? Would there be enough demand?

L: I think there would be demand, but part of the deal is you want to reach new people. Ultimately, my goal is to get people to re-evaluate the way they consume media. The way they think critically and how critical thinking even works.

A lot of YouTube is really bad for critical thinking. A lot of it is very emotion driven. “Here’s what I thought about a movie, but I’m going to try to dress it up in objectivist rhetoric that doesn’t apply.” You cannot objectively review a movie.

There’s this kind of obsession with this kind of ‘pwnage’. Like “I need to crush the other side.” A lot of times ‘the other side’ is like Ghostbusters 2016.

Part of the rising tide of that is it needs an alternative. Those alternatives do exist, but they tend to release less frequently, and they tend to get way fewer views than Cinema Sins.

Another trend I’m not liking is, I talked about this in That Time Disney Remade Beauty and the Beast, where we have to over-explain everything. To preempt the objections. It’s like we’re making movies for Cinema Sins now.

A lot of stories, we do not need to know the logic of the universe. There are some universes like Harry Potter that operate on an elaborate internal clockwork. But there are other universes like Beauty and the Beast for example, where it’s a disservice to the story to try to apply strict logic to it.

People get so worked up now… I think of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I just want to stand on a mountain going “It’s just a movie! Why is everything culture war?” Why does everything have to go to 11?

This is another thing I’m not sure I’m ever going to address. You see this phrase ‘objectively bad’. I’ve seen this phrase a lot more, especially in relation to The Last Jedi. That’s just because there’s a certain subset that has co-opted this phrase and is using it to justify their opinions. They have convinced themselves that there’s a quadratic formula for how to figure out if a movie is bad, but that’s not how it works.

I could make a good argument for contrived or poor structure. I have some issues with The Last Jedi. Mostly character arc related, but at the end of the day, there’s no such thing as objectivity. There’s some people out there who like structure-less stories. That doesn’t make them wrong. It just means they don’t like Hollywood movies.

There’s a lack of self-awareness where people can’t connect their intense reaction to some form of internal bias. They’re like “No! It’s objective! It’s bad!” If it was objective, I’d agree with you. If it was objective, everyone would agree with you.

With representation in film, do you see that getting any better or staying about the same or getting worse?

L: I see it getting better, but I think Hollywood is trailing culture. Not the other way around. The reason you see movies like Get Out and Wonder Woman is that people are open to it, and they want to see stuff like that in a way that they didn’t 10 years ago.

I think that the market is there. That’s the only reason it’s getting better on the whole.

Is there any advice you’d give to people who want to be on YouTube or start anything on Youtube?

L: The most important advice is: Do not ape other people’s voices. I think the worst thing people can do is: “I wanna be like this person!” There’s a ton of people that try to be like Red Letter Media. They’ll make the same jokes. They’ll have the same tone.

A lot of people will write me and be like: “How do I make this good?” I’m like: “Practice it. It’s your first one. It’s not going to be good.”

I think people need to learn to be okay with that. It’s a process. It’s like any skill. Most people will have a kernel of an idea of what their voice is going to be. This is a medium. It’s not the same as prose. It’s a process to find it.

A lot of people that I now consider peers had such a learning curve.
You need to figure out what you’re good at and what your voice is.

The best advice I ever saw was someone said: Don’t try to demand the attention of people who you admire. Try to elevate your peers, and rise up with them. Eventually, the people you admire will start to take notice.
That’s definitely been my experience.

Author: Kathryn Graham

Los Angeles-based television writer, TVWriter Contributing Editor, and lover of women. e-mail: kathrynagraham@gmail.com