Summer Web Series Series: Squaresville

(Originally published 23 November. Kind thanks to Catcher in the Reel for permission to repost.)

By Aaron Hunter

This article is part of an ongoing project on the topic of web series that will discuss a few key examples of this burgeoning medium. May include mild spoilers.

The first thing a viewer of the premiere episode of Squaresville (2012-2013) is likely to notice – especially in relation to the examples discussed previously in this series – is that it breaks out of the bedroom: no web cam, no confined space, no breaking the fourth wall. Unlike the many web series that have used the YouTube platform as a formal structuring device, in its first episode Squaresville seems to model itself more on TV and maybe even film. From the opening seconds we get voiceover, a variety of cuts, an extra-diegetic soundtrack, moving cameras, and, perhaps most significantly, an episode that takes place almost entirely out of doors.

Squaresville, E1 “Nerds on the Run”

In this sense, Squaresville is a very different series than those we’ve looked at previously in this spot, and its first season of sixteen episodes does a lot to amplify those differences. By making use of a variety of locations both indoors and out, and by using a broader range of approaches to filming and editing, Squaresville looks a lot more like a traditional TV series than do its web series godmothers. Perhaps this is due in part to the series’ high school themes and milieu: it needs bedrooms, classrooms, and locker rooms to sell its authenticity. Perhaps it’s also down to a more general trend: the web series is growing up. I would argue that the best web series make use of the medium itself and don’t necessarily try to ape TV conventions – web series do not want simply to be the runt siblings of television – and Squaresville does eventually make great use of its web platform (which, more on that shortly). But none of that has to preclude web series growing more adventurous in form and style in part by making use of TV and film conventions, which Squaresville also does, often very well. Continue reading

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Summer Web Series Series: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

(Originally published 2 October 2014. Special thanks to both Catcher in the Reel and Martha Shearer for permission to repost.)

By Martha Shearer

This article is part of an ongoing project on the topic of web series that will discuss a few key examples over the course of the summer. 

For this entry, I am very happy to turn things over to Martha Shearer. Martha first switched me on to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, so I thought, who better to take the reins in discussing the series.

Follow Martha on twitter.


May include mild spoilers.

Over the course of its run from April 2012 to March 2013, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries became one of the most visibly successful web series, going on to win an Emmy last year. It shares with the other web series featured so far in this series the use of direct address and also made extensive use of transmedia storytelling: alongside the primary web series (its protagonist Lizzie’s video diaries) are the characters’ twitters and tumblrs and other characters’ video series and vlogs. But while it shares the faux-vlog style with lonelygirl15 andThe Guild, it differs significantly in its source material: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie Bennet is an impoverished graduate student who starts a vlog about her life at home with her parents and sisters that begins with the arrival in her small town of wealthy medical student Bing Lee and his friend William Darcy. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is interesting as an adaptation both in its form and in the way it shifts the novel’s economic concerns to a contemporary recessionary context. But it’s also interesting as a web series, because by making Elizabeth Bennet a grad student/vlogger, it’s also a web series about digital media. The fake vlog effect isn’t just stylistic, an effort to establish a connection with the audience by mimicking the style of something ‘real’, Lizzie’s vlogging is also part of the narrative itself. We’re continually reminded of who knows about her videos and dramatic moments come when people discover them. But she also aspires to a career in digital media and her videos end up becoming a kind of showcase for her understanding of the medium, while the series itself becomes a showcase for web video as both a form and an industry. So what I’m going to focus on here is how it depicts digital media and how in doing so it updates the novel’s concern with the future security of its heroines. Continue reading

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Summer Web Series Series: The Guild

(Originally published 15 September 2014. Thanks to Catcher in the Reel for permission to repost.)

By Aaron Hunter

This article is part of an ongoing project on the topic of web series that will discuss a few key examples over the course of the summer. May include mild spoilers.

The Guild is a web comedy about six online gamers who slowly become friends “in real life.” It premiered in July of 2007 and ran for six seasons. Created by Felicia Day, The Guild has come to serve as a multi-faceted model for how web series can be produced, promoted, and exhibited. Its low-budget, do-it-yourself spirit and aesthetic, and its depiction of a marginalized community have had an incredible influence on later series ranging from Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blogto The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to My Gimpy Life. In laying the foundation for Geek & Sundry, Day’s YouTube Channel/web production company, it has given rise to several new web series. A fair amount has been written about The Guild– popular journalism has tended to cover the story of the series’ creation and Felicia Day’s rise as an Internet personality or star (here and here, for example); while academia has concentrated on Day’s interaction with her fan base and her use of social media to promote both The Guild and Geek & Sundry (here, subscription required ). For this series, however, as with lonelygirl15, I am a bit more interested in The Guild’s style and narrative, and especially the way it uses its paratextual material to enhance – deepen, even – its narrative. On its surface, The Guild is a series about a gaming community targeted at viewers who game, but its audience appeal ended up becoming much broader.

On its launch in 2007, creator, writer and lead performer Felicia Day was a somewhat successful jobbing actor. Her biggest role had been an eight-episode run on the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In addition to having acted in a few television movies and straight-to-video films and making one-off appearances on various television series, she was also an avid gamer. But she was hardly a star. The Guild’s success (including its support by Microsoft for seasons 2-5) changed that and it can no longer be considered a stretch to describe Day as a star, if not in the global sense, most definitely in the on-line world and in the continually growing sphere of geek culture. Much of this has to do with Day’s formidable abilities to use social media to promote her projects and interact with her fan base. However, much of it also has to do with the way The Guild and its paratexts frame Day and the character she plays as being both of the series and also outside of it. Continue reading

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Summer Web Series Series: Lonelygirl15

(Originally published 24 August 2014. Kind thanks to Catcher in the Reel for permission to repost.)

By Aaron Hunter

This article is part of an ongoing project on the topic of web series that will discuss a few key examples over the course of the summer. May include mild spoilers.

In May 2006, a new YouTube user created the account “lonelygirl15.” While the video sharing site had been set up in February of 2005, it only publically launched in the fall of that year, so when lonelygirl15 set up her account, the web site was still really less than a year old old. While more traditional media outlets slowly copped on to YouTube’s potential for everything from free publicity to a platform for providing extra content, in its earliest days it was mostly dominated by individual users putting up their own, homemade videos. A lot of these were jokey or silly, while some users quickly figured out the platform’s viability for “citizen journalism.” But an early and sustained development was the video blog, or vlog.

The YouTube vlog was the channel’s driving element of social media. A user uploads a funny, or confessional, or musical clip of herself – usually addressing the camera directly from the confines of a bedroom or dorm room. Other users then interact with the vlogger by posting comments or uploading their own response videos, to which the original vlogger would also usually respond. Through these interactions, a community was born, one in which the most frequent vloggers, and those with the most appealing content, became the new web site’s earliest “celebrities”: users like Brookers (Brooke Brodack) and geriatric1927 (Peter Oakley).

Into this atmosphere stepped lonelygirl15. As a way to say hello, her first uploaded videos were not vlogs, but mashups of other Youtubers’ content – shout outs, really – in which, using only text and clips, she let it be known which other vloggers she liked. Lonelygirl15 also spent the next month following and liking the channels and videos of many other Youtube users.

Then, on 16 June she posted her first vlog:

Continue reading

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Summer Web Series Series: Introduction

(Originally published 4 August 2014. Kind thanks to Catcher in the Reel for permission to repost.)


By Aaron Hunter

This article is part of an ongoing project on the topic of web series that will discuss a few key examples over the course of the summer.

On 13 September 2006, The New York Times ran a piece with the headline:The Lonelygirl That Really Wasn’t. Writers Virginia Heffernan and Tom Zeller, Jr., wrote to report on a recent discovery that was rocking the still-nascent YouTube community: Bree Avery, the vlogger who had been posting videos under the handle “lonelygirl15” since earlier that summer, was actually an actress named Jessica Rose, and her vlog – a supposedly authentic series of real-life videos – had all been scripted. This revelation might have passed without a ripple had it simply concerned the little-known ramblings of an obscure teenager. But lonelygirl15 was hugely popular. In the early days of Youtube, when it was still more a social networking site than simply the video depository it would become, her vlog had developed a mass appeal, with response videos regularly posted and huge online communities – both on Youtube and on MySpace – dedicated to discussing the ins and outs of Bree’s life. When it was outed, lonelygirl15 was on the verge of becoming the most highly subscribed channel on Youtube (a claim it would actually stake a few days after the outing and hold onto for seven months).

Within this world, authenticity ruled all else. It did not matter how good your videos were, how crisp the editing or how flashy the effects, as long as whatever you brought to your vlog came from the heart (in fact, it was in part the highly professional nature of Bree’s videos that first clued observant fans into the vlog’s possible fakery). The uncovering of Bree as Jessica was understood by many in the community to be a huge deception of them as viewers (nobody likes to be taken in), but also as a kind of nasty ridiculing of the whole idea of vlogging as a communal experience. Lonelygirl15 had betrayed them.*

But Lonelygirl15 had also done something else, something perhaps much more significant in the long run: it had proven the popular viability of the scripted web series. In fact, it was after the Times article ran that Lonelygirl15 moved to the top of Youtube’s most subscribed list, and it was with the full knowledge of the show’s scripted nature that viewers kept it there for so long. The web series had arrived. Continue reading

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RIP János Tarnoc

(Originally published 17 September 2012. Kind thanks to Pilvax Magazine for permission to repost.)


It is with great sadness that we at Pilvax mourn the passing of our dear friend János Tarnóc. János – known to many as Jon – passed away earlier this year after suffering the complications of a debilitating internal illness. János was a poet in both English and Hungarian, a translator, a lyricist, and great supporter of literature and writers. János had a deep interest in forming connections across cultural and linguistic divides. He will be sorely missed.

Born in 1964, János was of that generation of Hungarians who came of age under the waning days of the communist regime and so had a complicated love of his home country. One result was that he spent a good deal of his adult life traveling and living abroad in such far-flung locales as Canada, Israel, and Greece. His travels not only influenced his writing, but also spurred his drive to forge links between poets of different countries and languages. In fact, we first met at a party in Budapest for Swedish writer and poet Per Svenson. Several years earlier, while living in Tel Aviv, János had come across a review that Per had written of some translations of Norwegian poets into Swedish. Per’s descriptions inspired János who, at the time, was deciding to move back to Budapest for the first time after several years away. János wrote a poem about Per, whom he’d never met. Then, several years later, there we all stood in Per’s living room as János read aloud the poem he’d written so many years earlier. It was a thrilling moment for everybody in the room – not only because of the amazing coincidence it involved, but because in that coincidence, and in that amazing nexus of countries, languages, history, poets that it represented, was the embodiment of a poetry extremely personal and yet oblivious to borders real or imagined. It is precisely this kind of vision that girded so much of János’s work. Continue reading

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Verse Revisited: “Arrival at Santos” by Elizabeth Bishop

(Originally published 13 November 2012. Kind thanks to Pilvax Magazine for permission to repost.)


By Aaron Hunter

One of the things I’m enjoying about this return to reading poetry is the chance to linger. It’s not that I could never take my time with a poet before, but I think some of the urgency of graduate school – that unhealthy need to consume mass quantities of poems at all costs – rubbed off on me in my earlier stabs at non-university based appreciation. Read a poem. Read it again. Read it aloud. If it was really good, read it to somebody else or (later) send it off in an email. Then move on.

So a big reason I took up this project was to get the opportunity to spend a bit of time with each of the poets I (re-)encounter. And it’s been paying off so far because I’m really loving Elizabeth Bishop, and in some unexpected ways. It’s been more than fifteen years since I paid her any serious attention, and back then I was most definitely more impressed with her epiphany poems. Those like “In the Waiting Room”, where she describes some intimate situation in precise detail only to come to a startling or sometimes even profound conclusion by the end. I was drawn to them in part because younger me thought that’s what poetry was supposed to be about (or at least that’s what I remember younger me thinking). Also, I think, I preferred those poems because they tended to be the ones set in the snowy remote northeast – Worcester, Mass, or even further north in Nova Scotia. Continue reading

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Verse Revisited: “In the Waiting Room” by Elizabeth Bishop

(Originally published 5 October 2012. Kind thanks to Pilvax Magazine for permission to repost.)


By Aaron Hunter

I used to be an avid reader of poetry. From about the age of 16 through my early 30s, I regularly acquired, read, read about, and sometimes studied poetry from a variety of styles, schools, and historical periods. Then I stopped. In the early days of Pilvax, I read and edited the poetry selections, but even then my reading of verse not related directly to the magazine was waning. Returning to university to start an intensive post-graduate program five years ago added distractions, and the reasons not to read even a short poem now and then just kept piling up.

So I’ve decided to do something about that. I miss poetry. I miss rhythmic language, I miss the way a particular poet’s cadences and word choice will slip into my consciousness after spending some time with her, I miss the way a trained hand can guide my wandering mind. Having been away for a while, I thought I’d ease my way back in by returning to poets and verse that I enjoyed back in my poetry-reading days . . . before, perhaps, moving on to unfamiliar territory. This occasional column won’t be so much about analysis or close critical reading. More likely, it will be a collection of thoughts and observations, brief and informal, which describes some of my reactions on coming back to poetry. I encourage any readers to add to my thoughts in the comments section. Continue reading

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Some Thoughts on the Passing of Gordon Willis and the Demise of the Auteur

(Originally published 25 May 2014. Kind thanks to Catcher in the Reel for permission to repost.)


By Aaron Hunter

It has been heartening to witness the outpouring of reminiscence and respect that has come in the wake of the recent passing of American cinematographer Gordon Willis (1931–2014). Often times when it comes to the cinema, if the deceased is not a director or an actor, little note is made of their death beyond the circles of industry, academia, and film buffs. But Willis had a hand in the creation of so many iconic images of American cinema, so many indelible moments, that even a snapshot of one of them can recall not only a particular film, but entire memories of times and places long since gone. Of particular importance was his work in the New Hollywood era of the 1970s, when he worked on some of the greatest Hollywood films ever made. If, after this past week’s flood of memorials, you’re still unfamiliar with Willis’s name, have a look at the brief video essay below, put together by filmmaker Nelson Carvajal, and wonder at the amazing number of films you’ve seen that were shot by Gordon Willis:

(In Memory of Gordon Willis (1931-2014), by Nelson Carvajal)

Or, just have a look at these two images:



They adorn postcards, t-shirts, and dormitory walls around the world, and both are the creation of Gordon Willis. Yes, Francis Ford Coppola had a great deal to do with the composition of The Godfather and Woody Allen deserves credit for much of Manhattan. However, in both cases, it is indisputable that without Willis, neither of these images would exist. And while Willis has been justly praised for his uncanny ability to shoot in the dark, and for his exquisite interplay of shadows and light, his stylistic quiver held more than just a few arrows. He was as adept at the tableau shot as he was at the highly choreographed tracking shot. He moved with ease between color and black and white. He was a master of the slow zoom – perhaps most famous is the opening shot of The Godfather, but my favorite is the painstakingly tense, almost imperceptible zoom into a close-up of Robert Redford’s Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men, as a phone call from Minneapolis leads to his knowledge that the Watergate cover-up leads all the way to the Committee to Re-elect the President. Continue reading

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Muscle: Variations on the Cinematic Car Crash

A video essay from May/Sep 2016.

This video is the result of an assignment I was given at a workshop on the video essay at Maynooth University in May 2016. The workshop leaders, Catherine Grant and Liz Green, asked us to think of a recurring cinematic image or trope, which could occur within one film or across a body of films. We were asked to assemble clips of the trope as quickly as we could (using YouTube or other online clips), and to use at least one piece of music or sound over the clips. We could assemble the clips in any fashion we liked, but there should be some through-line, such as an argument or a loose narrative.

As I began looking at clips of classic car chase sequences, it became immediately clear how many visual cues these sequences have in common: spin outs, tunnels, close-ups on the drivers’ faces, etc. So I began by attempting to edit a few famous chase scenes (e.g., “Bullit,” “The French Connection”) as if they were one continuous chase.

However, as I combed the web for clips, one of the things I also noticed was how male-centric the car chase sequence tends to be. So as I began cutting the clips together, I also started integrating images from women-centered chase sequences. This dramatically affected not only the “story” this essay ended up telling, but also led directly to my choice of music. In the end, as loose as they may be, I think the essay includes both a narrative and and an argument.

The entire process – including downloading clips and music and editing – took about 4-5 hours. The quality could probably be improved quite a bit, but I thought I’d leave it as is as an example of how the exercise worked (or didn’t!).

For educational purposes only.

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