Learning to Speak Video

Michael Rosenblum
4 min readApr 11, 2024


Image courtesy WikiCommons

Video is a language.

It is a way we communicate ideas with one another.

It is a relatively new language. English is 1,400 years old. Hebrew is 3,000 years old. Video is a little more than 70 years old, yet in that time, it has become the most powerful, and most widely spoken language on the planet.

According to the AC Nielsen Company, the average person spends 8 hours a day watching films, video or TV; 19 minutes reading. Communicating in print, lovely and powerful as it is, is becoming increasingly archaic. That doesn’t mean it is going to die. There are still people who speak Welsh or Gaelic. But as a way of communicating, print and writing are going to become more and more marginalized.

According to the Pew Charitable Trust, 50% of adults and an astonishing 83% of those 16–25 years old get their news and information from social media. And what are the most powerful social media sites? YouTube has 2.70 billion users and YouTube is 100% video. Want to learn how to fix your car or build a house or make an omelette? Go to YouTube and watch a video.

A piece in the Washington Post yesterday pretty much encapsulate the dominant position of YouTube:

“But maybe you don’t know that YouTube is also the most popular way to hear music and one of the country’s largest cable TV providers. YouTube is the healthiest economy on the internet. And it has been rocket fuel for artificial intelligence.”

And right behind YouTube is TikTok with its 1.9 billion users, also 100% video, as is Instagram at 1.21 billion.

Then, there is the poor old New York Times, with 3.8 million (that’s with an m) readers daily. Barely a rounding error for the likes of YouTube or TikTok.

But if video is our new language, which it is, then it also has to have a grammar, which it does. And if you want to be able to communicate in video, then you really have to learn the grammar of this new language. Just hitting record on your phone and shooting yourself yammering away is not really using the medium to its fullest potential. It’s about the equivalent of Gutenberg handing out pencils to German peasants in 1450, after the invention of the printing press and saying, “OK, we have the tech, now go write some novels.”

Cervante’s Don Quixote is generally acknowledged to be the first novel in the West, and that did not appear until 1605, 150 years after Gutenberg. Literacy in a new medium takes time.

When I set out to learn Classical Arabic, many years ago, my professor, on the 2nd or 3rd lesson said, “in the nominative case your use this ending and in the accusative you use this one.” I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Nominative… accusative. I had learned English grammar the way most people learn the rules of English grammar, which is to say, not at all. So to learn Arabic, I had to get a basic English grammar book and learn the rules of grammar. But once I did, I could learn Arabic, and Spanish and French. All languages have rules of grammar, and so does video.

So what are the rules of Video Grammar. First, there are the 5 Basic Shots —

Close up on the hands

Close up on the face

Wide shot

Over the shoulder

Side shot

That’s it. These 5 shots are the building blocks of pretty much every video and every film you have ever seen. Try it at home. Watch a movie on HBO or Netflix and yell out the shots as you see them. 90%-95% of every film are made of these. They are the video equivalent of subject, noun, verb, adverb and adjective. With them, and with them alone, you can construct a coherent visual story every single time.

Second, good video narrative is character based. In video you need a story. A character, an arc of story and a conclusion. Blathering talking heads just don’t work. For more on this, read The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. This was the text book for George Lucas of Star Wars fame and Steven Spielberg, of every other fame. Good enough for them — good enough for you and me.

Finally — the tool. Got an iPhone? It’s all you need. It shoots video, it edits, it adds graphics and music and it shares with the world. What the printing press was to the print revolution in 1450, the iPhone is to the video revolution. It’s your pencil. Pick it up. Start ‘writing’ something compelling.



Michael Rosenblum

Co-Founder TheVJ.com, Father of Videojournalism, trained 40,000+ VJs. Built VJ-driven networks worldwide. Video Revolution. Founder CurrentTV, NYTimes TV. etc..