By Ben Feuer. Photo by Kevin Dooley.

ZeeMee has big dreams. They go like this.

What if your personal statement wasn't in writing, but was, in fact, a video, complete with well-thought out picture and sound, brilliantly clever and funny editing, and a great, sophisticated voice-over narration?

That's the promise of the ZeeMee platform (as well as its cousins/competitors, such as the infamous Coalition app) -- using video to supplement (replace?) written essays and save admissions officers time and sweat. Great, we're onboard. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. So you're clearly offering at least 1000 percent better information in a ZeeMee video, right?

Not so fast. As everyone who's ever read a book and then gone to watch the movie of the book knows, written English contains a lot more nuance and sophistication than its spoken counterpart. That said, video can certainly drive home points clearly and strongly, and it has its place in the admissions process.

So that's what a ZeeMee IS and why you might want one. Now, how do you make a good one?

Tough question. Fortunately, we've taken the time to watch hundreds of ZeeMee videos with a careful and critical eye. We're not going to single out the fails ( ... you know who you are ...) but we are going to call special attention to a few that have some really good things going for them. We have also put together a basic list of do's and don'ts so you can avoid the most common pitfalls.

We're linking to YouTube because it seems that about half the time, ZeeMee links don't play on their own website.  :(  And we want to make sure you guys get the benefit of all of our fabulous free advice.  

And please remember before reading further -- we are NOT in any way criticizing the people who have made these videos. This is a tough thing to do well, and all these people deserve (and have probably since gotten) rewarded for their efforts.  Give them all a big hand!  Yay!

OK, enough being nice. Let's get picky.

EXAMPLES

This is a good video. It almost gets away with being 4 minutes long. The repetition of "every day" creates a rhythm, as does the varied pace of the footage. The order of ideas is surprising (computer science!) and even though the images are sometimes goofy (which is fine, but not very informative), the narration keeps it grounded. The voice-over is paced well, so it's easy to understand.

Production values are quite sophisticated here, which does help, but the real strength of this video is the way the voice-over and images complement one another to tell a complete (if not terribly original) story.

This one is too short, and technical production's not good (could have used subtitles), but listen to how detailed the voice-over writing is. It's very specific and you really get a vivid picture of how her mind works.

We don't hear enough of the candidate's voice in this one, but when we do, there are some great facts that really illustrate the points she's making about herself. The clips show off her quirky and original perspective on the world.

This video tries to cover too much ground, and the jokes don't always land, but the pacing is great, there are some great visual choices that really highlight what the narration is saying, and the mood is upbeat and fun.

OK, this video has serious problems. Music's too loud, it's way too long, lacks visual variety, and the opening is too negative. HOWEVER. Check in around 2:00 and you'll see some really great, detailed storytelling. The candidate goes into real detail about the joys and struggles of her life, and it's moving and compelling in a way most introduction videos just aren't.

***

Now that you're getting a feel for these ZeeMees, you might be thinking you're ready to start making one. OK, gung-ho, just read our list of do's and don'ts first and save yourself a lot of time and trouble.

Important -- ZeeMee profiles have LOTS of different kinds of videos on them. These notes do not apply with equal force to all the other types of video. This article is just about intro videos. k? k.

DO

Come up with an original spin for your video.  Copycats never stand out from the pack. Don't just make another 'day in the life' video, or another 'my most memorable moment' video, or another music montage. Figure out what YOUR personal version of that is. What are you doing that's going to fit particularly well with your story, your background? What are you burning to say?

Create a thoughtful, informative poster frame.
You won't always have control over how your video is watched or in what context, but a poster frame can speak very strongly about what kind of video you're making and what the viewer should expect. Use simple text and graphics, they help. Here's a perfect example.



Use a voice-over narration script. One of the great things about movies is the way that picture and sound can combine to tell a story. You don't need to rely on just words (talking to a camera), or just pictures (without any words).  And reading from a VO script (unlike reading from a prompter in front of the camera) feels natural and easy for most people. Even if you have an accent, it's still a good idea to do this, you just might want to speak more slowly so people can understand you better.

Subtitle your video and make it sound-off-friendly. If you're like most of us, you're watching online videos on mute, paying half attention, or in a noisy environment. Shakespeare it ain't. So make sure your video can still tell a story with the sound OFF. Do the visuals send their own strong message?  Are there helpful subtitles and intertitles to guide the viewer's attention?

Here's a great example -- you can watch it with the sound off and still get the message. In fact, you SHOULD watch it with the sound off, the sound is really bad. 

DON'T

Use famous copyrighted music.
unless you're a founding member of Weezer, don't put their music under your videos. You risk a takedown notice, wasting all your hard work, and you distract from the main point -- your voice, personality and style. Famous music (especially with lyrics) calls up strong associations for people and puts your own work out of context.That said, it's OK to use commercial music -- just not a song everyone has heard on the radio 1000 times.

Hide in your own video.  This one is HUGE, and it absolutely KILLS a video stone dead. You cannot, cannot, cannot refuse to be the star of your own admissions video. I know, you don't think you're doing it. But you are. Here are a few ways students LOVE to shy away from making the video about them actually ... about ... them.

Are you ... barely seen in your own video (all shots of other people/places, or framed so we can't tell which one is you?)

Are you ... inaudible when you speak (because of that awesome Weezer song blaring over you, or not subtitling where necessary?  Remember, subtitling is a thing now)

Are you ... obviously reading from a script?  (Yeah, we can tell. And no, you are not a professional politician, you can't read off a prompter and act at the same time. Memorize, Mary Sue -- or get a couple of extra acting lessons! This goes DOUBLE for people who are trying to show off how many languages they speak. Does obviously reading them really count?)

Are you ... obviously uncomfortable talking about yourself?  (Hesitation, awkwardness, nervousness, looking around like you're waiting for someone to please please please rescue you and say you don't have to make this stupid profile video anymore ... :)  It's OK to have some wonky takes, but then it's your job to film a couple more, until you get more comfortable with what you're saying and doing on camera.

Are you ... drawing your video so that we never see anything but your hands?  Ha, thought you were gonna get away with that one, didn't you?  Nope.  Faces required.

Are you ... forcing your friends, neighbors and relatives to come up with a word-salad association about you and then making a video of THEM?  Yeah, you thought that one was gonna sneak by too. NOPE. #admissionscliche

*Overload people with information.  Let's be honest with ourselves for a hot minute. Number one -- yes, we do look fat in that dress/suit, don't be gender normative, yo. Number two -- how much do you think admissions officers REALLY want to know about you?  Ten things?  Think lower.  Four things?  Maybe if your officer is brand new and all idealistic and stuff. 

Adcoms want the highlight reel. They want the one or two most important, distinctive things, and they want those things to be MeMoRaBle.  You're trying to give someone something to write home about -- literally. So talking about how hard-working or curious or nice or whatever buzzword 101 you think colleges are looking for is NOT going to cut it.

It's about depth, people. Go DEEP into a couple of points about your personality or history, just like you would in an essay. Don't skim the surface and help them 'get to know all about you', by which I mean, make yourself into another clone. That's what your actual application is for.

Obsess over your travel, mountain climbing, winning races, captaining teams, or other college admissions cliches.  This is an old canard from essays that is now migrating to videos -- the 'if it was special to me, it's automatically special to you' problem. I know, it felt special to YOU -- but we just watched fifty videos in a row with basically the same clip. We aren't telling you not to vlog about these things, but you need to put a SPIN on them, bring some of your PERSPECTIVE into the mix. Otherwise, we might as well be reading a bullet point list.

Include more than one bathing suit clip. C'mon, guys, you're sending these videos to admissions officers, not frat brothers.

Go over 2.5 mins.  Because no one wants to watch all that. This is the internet, fool!  You're competing with kitten videos. KITTEN -- VIDEOS.

Of course, there are a million other little things that make a video feel just right -- not leaving 10-15 seconds of black before or after the video, not messing up cuts so there are tiny little jumps or repeats in the picture, varying style, speed and cadence of the narration -- but as long as you take care of the big things, the little things take care of themselves (or better still, someone takes care of them for you).
PLEASE REMEMBER -- all of this is SAID WITH LOVE. We know it's not easy to make a smokin' cool video about yourself, which you write, edit, and star in. It took Lena Dunham freaking forever. She was like 24 by the time she was finished!  Talk about a slacker.  But, and here's the amazing news ... you can do this. You just need to be honest with yourself, seek smart feedback where appropriate, and put in the work to get your video to the next level.

Always remember, in the admissions game -- if a tree falls in the forest but makes a bad ZeeMee video about it, it might as well not have happened. That's the way that old proverb goes, right? And if you need help, we're just a phone call away.