Creative Spotlight: Emily Lau on creating book and film reviews for YouTube

‘It’s a matter of streamlining your creative priorities, what you think is most worth your mental and creative effort and your time’

Emily Lau, a PhD student from the United States studying Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at Jesus, started making YouTube videos as a way to update her friends on her life after moving away to a new state for her job. 

After five years of making lots of different kinds of videos, Emily now loves making video essays and film critiques on her channel, which is named Emiloid, with one video on her dislike of the recent Little Women film adaptation accruing over 40,000 views. 

 We spoke to Emily about the process of creating her videos, how her channel has evolved over time, and what creativity means to her.

‘This is what I should have been doing the whole time!’

Emily started her channel as a way to update her friends, who she’d just moved away from – she made “freeform” update videos without “much of a focus”, inspired by Hank and John Green’s YouTube channel, vlogbrothers.  

Then, after “dabbl[ing]” in lifestyle content, Emily began watching and attending events by BookTubers, a group of creators who focus on discussing their favourite reads and book-related topics of the moment. She absolutely loved it: “This is what I should have been doing the whole time!”

Since then, Emily has mostly been making BookTube content, with a recent foray into video essays and film critique.

‘You’re so brimming with thoughts that sometimes you just have to externalise it somehow’

Emily tends to make videos about things she’s “passionate about” at a given point in time. This was how her recent Little Women film critique video came about – she “had a lot of thoughts” about the adaptation: “Sometimes it’s just that you’re so brimming with thoughts that sometimes you just have to externalise it somehow.” 

However, she’s also often inspired by other creators, and it was a video made by a channel called Acolytes of Horror about the recent film Midsommar that prompted Emily to make her own video about the film: “It made me want to explore […] how paganism is portrayed in Midsommar, and also put that in context of how paganism overall in horror is portrayed.” 

Emily really enjoys how making these YouTube videos forces her to “articulate” and “develop” her opinions on these topics in a detailed, in-depth way, in contrast to the brief “200-character bursts” of a platform like Twitter. She also enjoys how much YouTube has allowed her to connect with others – she speaks fondly of another creator from Finland, who she collaborated with recently to create a follow-up series to her Little Women critique video. 

Emily’s Little Women video essay, one of the most popular videos on her channel (Photo credits: Emily Lau via YouTube)

‘It’s a matter of streamlining your creative priorities, what you think is most worth your mental and creative effort and your time’

However, Emily says making these videos “takes a lot of time.” As an example, her research-intensive video essays, like her videos about Midsommar and Little Women, take about 4-5 days to script, and 2-3 days to edit, with additional time needed for research and filming.

Therefore, since starting her PhD in January 2021, Emily’s had to be “much more concerned about time management” and “more discriminating with what sort of content I want to focus on.” 

For instance, she began to move away from “routine” BookTube videos, such as wrap-ups of everything she’d read that month, as “pretty much every other BookTuber is doing” that type of content too, concluding that a person coming to her channel “doesn’t need more content like that.”

Emily therefore decided to “invest this energy” she had into “the more interesting and intense content”, because that was really what she wanted to be making anyway. She realised that trying to “churn” “routine content” out of herself would, alongside her “very intense degree”, “cause burnout”, and “might result in overall mediocre content”, which she wanted to avoid. 

Although she acknowledges that she hasn’t “really figured out” time management entirely yet, describing her schedule as a “rough” division between her degree during the week, and YouTubing at the weekend, she’s found that considering her time management thoughtfully has been really helpful: “It’s a matter of streamlining your creative priorities, what you think is most worth your mental and creative effort and your time.” 

‘I’ve always felt so empty in my life when I’m not making something’

Emily has found her creativity to have a real positive impact on her, even helping her to manage her thyroid issues: “My therapist said to me last year, ‘Emily, when you’re in your degree, and you’re not taking care of your creativity, I feel like a big reason behind your thyroid issues is that you’re suppressing your voice, because you’re investing so much in your academics, and you’re not caring about your own voice, and what you personally have to say.” 

That helped Emily really realise how important creativity is to her: “I’ve always felt so empty in my life when I’m not making something or working on something or externalising a lot of my thoughts and creative voice, so that’s definitely a balance that I’m trying to strike, because I know that I have to stay creative, even when I’m busy.” 

Emily giving some of her recommendations for light reads to bring you some joy during the strangeness of the pandemic (Photo credits: Emily Lau via YouTube)

 ‘I’m not going to make good content if numbers are the only things I care about’

After watching a video by another YouTuber she follows called Daniel Greene, Emily realised how “addictive” it can be to “chase views” and constantly be thinking about how to grow your subscribership: “I’ve found it with myself at times that I’m obsessively checking the stats on a video, especially one that I’ve invested a lot of effort in.”

Therefore, “trying to control my expectations of myself and my channel growth” is very important to Emily: “I really shouldn’t be chasing the views and the subscribers because my subscriber base is there, they’re going to watch my content. If it speaks to people, it does, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. 

“I’m not going to make good content if numbers are the only things I care about, and of course, it’s really bad for your mental health as well if you base all the worth of your channel on how many views you’re getting, so that’s definitely a big part of self-care when it comes to a hobby like this.” 

‘When I try and just do my own thing […] that’s what seems to bring people to the channel’

Although she loves the BookTube community, and still plans to create content that fits within it, she’s sometimes found it a little “clique-ish”, with groups of creators all “commenting on each other and watching each other”, which she’s found a little “hard to break into.” 

Therefore, she can definitely see herself moving towards doing more video essays, as the number of views she gets on those videos “speak for themselves” – people are “clearly gravitating towards that type of content.” 

She also believes people are enjoying that type of content because she’s “clearly more passionate” about it, which is her main reason for prioritising it creatively. She explains this further: “My theory is that that resonates with people, people can really tell that is more meaningful to me.” 

Emily has found that when she just does her “own thing”, showing her “own individual voice” and not trying to “emulate” those other creators’ content, it “seems to bring people to the channel.”

Emily’s highly popular video essay about the film Midsommar (Photo credits: Emily Lau via YouTube)

‘Be the channel that you want to watch’

Although there’s already so many videos on YouTube that “you’re just never short of inspiration”, Emily really believes that if there’s content you want to watch that no one has made yet, you have the “freedom” to make it yourself with “a bit of ingenuity.” She explains some of the positives of doing this: “You might reach some new people, and they can benefit from your perspective.” 

For anyone looking to start making their own videos, Emily suggests going into it with “healthy social media habits”, but also being “ready to constantly improve on yourself” and your content. 

Ultimately, she thinks the best advice is to “be the channel that you want to watch.” She says: “I do encourage people to try YouTubing, if that’s something that speaks to them, and if they want a creative outlet that allows them to connect with people, air their opinions, and experiment a lot with their creativity.” 

You can watch more of Emily’s videos on her YouTube channel, Emiloid

If you’re a creative from the University of Cambridge and you would like to be featured in the Creative Spotlight column, please email The Tab Cambridge at [email protected]

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