Procrastinating? Look to the Visual Narrative

By: Benjamin Schultz

If there’s one thing college students know how to find on the Internet, it’s sequentially-conveyed stories that are just interesting enough to distract them from their coursework and just boring enough that they can leave and come back without missing anything. Here, I’d like to encourage a different approach to the visual narrative for your procrastinating pleasure. The beauty of these selections is that they’re short but bursting with storytelling in such a way that will have you coming back for a repeat viewing weeks later.


Casey Neistat “DO WHAT YOU CAN’T”

To kick off our list, here’s one of Neistat’s enormously entertaining “movies.” For anyone not familiar with Neistat’s work as a YouTuber, he ran a successful daily vlog on his channel from 2015 to 2016. Neistat’s unique style of storytelling makes for humor and fast-paced energy that keeps his viewers’ attention.

I recommend that you check out “DO WHAT YOU CAN’T,” and put it first on the list because it is the ultimate motivational video for content-creators everywhere. Using clips from various successful YouTube filmmakers, Neistat challenges his viewers to break rules and push their limits as artists. “If you do it right you get to quit the day job…make friends from places you’ve never been,” he says. Starting his life as a teen dad and a dishwasher at a New London, Connecticut restaurant, Neistat is an inspiration for anyone looking to get creative in a big way, regardless of medium.


Soma Films “Lost Face”

If we’re going to discuss short films in a literary journal, we should take a look at “Lost Face,” released on Vimeo by Soma Films. Based on a Jack London short story, this film recounts the journey of a quick-witted man who is held captive by Native Americans in the frigid Yukon woods and his struggle for survival. In a stark, beautifully shot video with believable performances and set-pieces, London’s story comes to life in a way that is as gritty and tragic as it is on the page. It leads the viewer to question to what lengths they’d willingly follow the fur thief and if he should have even been in that situation in the first place. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s better than Dances With Wolves at less than a tenth of the runtime. Just a heads up that it’s a bit violent with a MATURE Vimeo tag.


Nick and Nate, “Fired on Mars”

This is a captivating piece for fans of animation and the uninitiated alike. You probably haven’t questioned the validity of animation as an art form, or more importantly, a method of storytelling. But chances are you’ve wondered if this medium is capable of producing thought-provoking narratives. “Fired on Mars” is the first of several on this list that will foster some serious thinking to the point where it might even inspire the stumped writer. Obviously, any self-respecting creator wants to develop a fictional world entirely their own, but work like this doesn’t inspire stealing: it inspires style.

With a hilarious blend of dry humor conveyed through fun animation and mellow narration, we watch as an astronaut (of sorts) has an increasingly bad experience on Mars. From “Ted in the sleep tank” to “Brandon,” various cruel and indifferent characters fill our character’s bleak world. If you haven’t seen the Matt Damon flick “The Martian,” this is a great way to get the same sci-non-fi fix without the wait.


Maceo Frost, “Namibia– Cuba’s Female Boxing Revolution”

There are a lot of amazing documentaries out right now as the making and sharing of video content becomes increasingly mobile and intuitive for the storyteller. While I’d suggest prowling Netflix’s selection of documentaries, if you’re a real fan of productivity, this one clocks in at less time than a round of boxing and will prove to be equally as gripping. The narrative follows a female Cuban boxer named Namibia with cuts almost as fast as her squat-jumps up endless flights of stairs. The catch: her government doesn’t allow women to compete. Maybe they should take a look at this video for a taste of her dedication.


Zumbakamera, “Bendito Machine V – Pull the Trigger”

A stunning animation with a sobering reflection on human activity as it relates to the environment, “Pull the Trigger” eschews dialogue for a narrative that speakers of any language can enjoy. The silhouetted characters appear like shadow puppets on the stage of the world. Animated in Flash and Adobe AfterEffects, this is an example of a visual narrative that builds its own world and then destroys it with an entertaining level of confidence. Some might even notice an amusing reference to another storytelling medium at about 7:00.


Moth, The Last Job on Earth – The Guardian

This animated piece is both visually stunning and evokes futuristic pieces such as “Minority Report” and “Wall-E.” The animated short follows Alice as she heads to work at the last human job on earth – everything else is now automated. With fast-food giants like Wendy’s Hamburgers soon to install automated kiosks that will replace live cashiers, this is a stylish portrayal our potential future existence. The only light, this short does show promise for artists interested in the publishing sphere – the short was produced in collaboration with the Guardian Sustainable Business section.


Meghann Artes, “Speed Dating”

Alright, much as we hate to leave, enough animation for now. “Speed Dating” by Meghann Artes, is a visual narrative that weaves sound with brilliant performances as it follows its protagonist on a night of speed-dating. What’s crazy about this piece is that it was produced with stop-motion featuring human actors as opposed to puppets – a technique known as pixilation. A light-hearted story that features a stream of charming “dates” with a variety of outrageous characters, “Speed Dating” puts a quirky twist on a familiar theme. It’s technically still animation, which may be disconcerting thought as you’re actually watching real people on screen. If you watch nothing else on this list, watch this.

(And if you’re unfamiliar with pixilation and like what you see, a well-known example is the 1952 short film “Neighbors,” by Norman McLaren.)


National Geographic – 109 Year Old Veteran and His Secrets to Life Will Make You Smile – Short Film Showcase

Meditative and inspiring, this short film examines the human spirit in an intimate but pleasing way. Many of us have a neighbor or family member with similar longevity and tenacity to Mr. Overton. What makes this short film so special is the deeply personal advice that Overton shares about contentment and fulfillment in older age. With his frank voiceover and simple shots of his daily life, the narrative is less about the filmmaker than its subject.


Turbin Film – “NORTHBOUND | Skateboarding on Frozen Sand 4K.”

This video is a cool look at skateboarders on a frozen beach. The video sets out to be a fun, straightforward look at an outdoor adventure, but it’s more than that. As you might remember from your high school English class, there’s the theme of “Man vs. Wild.” Watching these tricksters skate off an abandoned rowboat may be fun, but the end of the video is a meditative look at the natural demolition of their organic skate-park. It’s Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” for the Sean White generation – and although the end goal is a quality experience rather than mastery of the wilderness, perhaps those two objectives are becoming synonymous for those who live in developed countries in the 21st century.


REI – “REI Presents: Brothers of Climbing”

Our final entry gives an interesting look at people from urban backgrounds in the climbing community. Not only is it a fresh look at an under-exposed sport, (and one that the author recently gave the old college try), it’s a gripping and upbeat documentary about the Brothers of Climbing and their discovery of their love for the outdoors after growing up in the city. The intimate look at a black man’s experience in a sport he feels isn’t for him, and his journey towards ownership and enjoyment of it despite his sense of alienation, will intrigue viewers of all backgrounds. By the end you’ll wish you were sending a route right beside them.

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