How to Mix Poetry and Video using Animoto

I suppose that really I’m a frustrated film director but one of the great things about the 21st century’s digital revolution is that anyone can make a video, slap it up there on YouTube or Vimeo and call themselves a director.

Amateur or not, I take my video very seriously and I’m constantly thinking of what I can do with the huge amount of footage that I record. What kind of short video can I make with it? How can I use it? What kind of project can I work on for my next video? I will usually find something to focus on, even if it’s yet another promo video for Floating in Space!

Back in 2016 I seemed to have poems just pouring out of me. I was constantly coming up with something lyrical or what I thought was a great turn of phrase and creating poems. Some of those resultant poems may not have been prize winners or worthy of great poets like Dylan Thomas but they were mostly pretty reasonable and what the heck, I liked them and today with social media we can all bypass the editors of the book publishing world and publish whatever we want via the internet.

Anyway as most of my poems are pretty short I thought it might be a good idea to put a few of them on video and use them to further build up my media profile as a writer as well as giving my YouTube page a little more depth.

First off a few years back I just stepped in front of the camera and read a few poems. Ok, fair enough but a little basic. Here’s the kind of thing I mean, me reading a poem called Some Love.

Not such a bad poem but on a visual level I have to admit it’s a bit on the basic side, just me talking to the camera. What I felt I really needed was perhaps some images that relate to the subject matter and some background music. Also what about the words? I wanted to see the actual text of the poem being shown on screen.

A handy website that has helped me achieve this is Animoto, an on-line editing program that has built in templates that can be used not only for marketing videos but for anything really, but I find it perfect for the video poem.

Animoto isn’t free, but you can trial the site for free and see if it works for you. Anyway, I love Animoto and find it really helpful to make the short videos I use to plug my book (Floating in Space) and this website itself across Instagram, Facebook and anywhere on social media I can find a little spot for myself.

My latest video uses a poem I wrote some years ago called ‘I am That Seed’. It’s pretty short, as is most of my work and to start off I had a troll through the various templates on Animoto and chose one. Click ‘create’ and ‘choose template’ and you will find yourself with a screen something like the one below. The template I have chosen is actually designed to introduce a new family member but we can easily change that.

OK, so now what I’ll do is add my own text -in this case poetry- in each of the boxes after making the first box into a title page, in this case I am That Seed by Steve Higgins. Here’s the finished item below:

You can see that as well as using stock video and photography, I’ve also uploaded some of my own images, in this case a picture of me. I’ve also copied that title box and put the copy at the end of the poem. The whole thing can be tweaked using the buttons on the far left to change text fonts, size and colour as well as the music track.

Animoto have even made their own video showing how to use the templates; have a look below:

Now comes what is a little more difficult, getting the timings right so that the visual text matches up with me reading the poem. This takes a good deal of trial and error so I’ll just read the poem and time each section and then update the time each image stays on the screen. In the case of video, each clip can be trimmed to the appropriate time. After that, click ‘produce’ and Animoto will complete the video and then it can be downloaded.

Editing that sound!

Once you have the video on your PC or laptop then you have to use whatever video editing software you have to record your poem in voice over mode. If I’ve got all the timings correct then that is pretty easy, if not I have to either trim my video on my laptop software or, go back to Animoto, change the timings and then download again! Making a video can be a slow process.

After I’ve recorded the voice over, I usually send it to my sound recording software to cut out my usual mumbles and any background noises and I also sometime add a little bass just to beef up my voice and make it a little sexier!

After that there are two more options. I can send the resulting audio track back to Animoto and complete the video there or just finish the job on my PC by fading the background music down to a quieter level. In fact on the video below, I mixed the narration and the music together and uploaded the complete soundtrack back to Animoto and from there I can export the completed video to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or anywhere I want.

Here’s the final version on YouTube, and don’t forget that if you are doing something similar, make youself a professional YouTube video icon by using canva or another good imaging website.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click here to buy or check out the links at the top of the page for more information.

If Only I’d Gotten in the Taxi!

Taxi

image courtesy wikipedia

Back in the nineties I decided to pack my job in and have a last ditch attempt to break into TV by enrolling on a video production course in Manchester.

It was at a place called the WFA which, if I remember correctly stood for the Workers Film Association. It was a rather left wing place too as you can guess from the name, and certainly it wouldn’t have been a good idea to say you admired Mrs Thatcher!

To get a place on the course I had to give a presentation on a media subject. I chose working class representation in film and television and spoke about the kitchen sink movie dramas of the sixties and seventies, (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving, Alfie, and so on) the TV soaps of the nineties (Coronation Street, Eastenders, and Brookside) and how contemporary British movies were then, and now I suppose, very middle class, (Four Weddings and A Funeral and Notting Hill for example.)

On the very first day we had to introduce ourselves and explain why we were on the course. I gave a quick resume of myself and my career, a re-hash of the above presentation and a quick mention of my film making heroes from Billy Wilder to Oliver Stone. I was somewhat surprised to say the least when the next candidate said he had just bought a video camera and wanted to know how to work it and then someone else said they knew nothing about video but wanted to know more. Well, I wonder what film making subject they chose for their presentation!

Our movie was about taxi drivers and after a brief introduction to the camera we were off into Manchester to start interviewing taxi drivers and filming the comings and goings of cabs in the City Centre. A big issue for Manchester cabbies at the time was that the city council was enforcing a new ruling about cabs being wheelchair accessible which meant either a new cab or a costly conversion. Every taxi driver we spoke to mentioned this and they were clearly upset about it. Another thing they pulled me up on was when I dared to call a private hire vehicle a taxi! Dear me no! Didn’t I know taxis and private hire vehicles were two entirely different things? Apparently not!

Another issue that came up was when we screened our rough cut for the whole media school. One taxi driver mentioned that certain places in the city were dangerous to go to as there was the possibility of passengers making off without paying or even robbing the drivers. The cabbie mentioned Moss Side, close to the city centre. One member of the audience complained that the driver was racist as Moss Side is a predominantly black area. I didn’t think he was racist; he just didn’t want to be robbed or lose a cab fare whether the passenger was black or white. My co-directors wanted to cut the offending moment but really the cabbie was just trying to highlight the risk factor in his job.

At the end of the course I took away my video and started pestering documentary producers for the chance to make a full length broadcast version but I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere until I wrote to channel 4. I went down to see them, they watched the video and the first thing they said to me was ‘Why didn’t you get in the cab with your camera?’

Well, we had asked taxi drivers if we could do that and they did say ok but if a passenger wanted us out then we would have to get out, no matter where we were, so rather than risk being stranded somewhere we didn’t take any rides in the cab. On hearing this the Channel 4 producer looked at me and said ‘If you were a real film maker you’d have got in that taxi!’ After that, despite my protests and assurance that I would get in the taxi when fully commissioned, numerous assistants arose, handed me my video and quite quickly I found myself out on the street!

That was my part of my brief foray into television. I’ll let you know more in another blog, however if you’re interested in seeing my Taxi video; here it is;


If you enjoyed my blog, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or to buy!