Making the YouTube Video

One of my friends asked me about my videos the other day. He wanted to know if they were easy to make and how much I planned them in advance. Anyone who knows me will know that I don’t plan anything in advance but I thought it might be interesting to show readers just how I put together a video.

The Idea/Shooting

I did a video a while ago as part of a beta testing programme I was asked to take part in. The testing was for a new update over on Animoto.com which is an online video editing site. The new addition was the facility to add a voice recording to a video which I had actually advocated quite a few times on their Facebook forum page. The video I decided to make stemmed from a blog post about writing poetry and it was called Idea, Inspiration and Effort. Those three things were what I thought was required to produce a poem and to be fair they could be applied to anything, a poem, an essay, a blog post, a novel or indeed, a video.

Everything of course starts with an idea. What shall I write about or what can I make a video about? For me I tend to shoot all sorts of video and then only later start to think about how I can put it together and use it in a finished product. For the video mentioned above over on Animoto I chose a template from their fairly wide range and then it was just a matter of adding in the stock photos or video and then the graphics. Animoto provides stock photos which I do use regularly but if possible, I always try to use photos I have taken myself. For instance, I needed a sunset shot for this video and I knew that I had a shot of a sunset taken in Greece on the island of Kalymnos so I uploaded that.

Of course, for a video like that, not much actual filming was required but normally, filming is the first step in any video. One way to prepare for a shoot is to make story boards. They are used extensively in the cinema and I’ve seen documentaries showing wonderful story boards from films like Citizen Kane to Aliens. They are simply drawings that look like comic strips showing the visual look of each different scene. Good for films using actors but not much use for documentaries or short films, well at least, not in my opinion. I tend to film first and then plan later how to use my recorded video. Others might think story boards a great help.

Reviewing the footage.

A short video like the one above is pretty easy but for my most recent video, a compilation of GoPro video shot mostly through the windscreen of my motorhome, well that was a little harder. I had a rough idea what I wanted so the next step was just to review all my footage. That involved hours and hours of going through a lot of video, a great deal of which was not very inspiring. Many times, I had left my GoPro running when I should have shut it down. Other times I pressed record at some wonderful area of French countryside, only to find that the resulting video wasn’t so wonderful.

A GoPro Hero similar to mine.

The Rough Cut

After reviewing everything, I dropped all the better shots into my video editor and the result was a video lasting well over an hour. My big mistake on a lot of our French trips is not shooting much additional video.  I may have recorded us arriving at a spectacular lake but then I hadn’t taken the camera and shot around the lake. We’d take a trek around a lovely French village and again I didn’t shoot anything in the village. However, having visited France so many times I went back over all my older video looking for interesting things.

In 2020 we parked by the river Seine one day and I had filmed the ferry going across to the other side and a huge ship chugging serenely past. I had not used that footage in previous videos so I added that into the editor. On a number of occasions, I’ve tried to shoot things that motorhomers have to deal with as routine, things like emptying the toilet and the waste water and topping up the drinking water and so on, so I added a number of clips showing all those processes.

In Rouen a few years ago we were following the directions from the Google lady on Google maps when we found ourselves heading into a tunnel which I realised we weren’t going to fit under. Luckily there was an escape road and we were able to exit but when we passed the area again this year, I recorded us travelling past and so I was able to talk about the experience.

The Final Cut

Less is more has always been my video adage so I trimmed out more and more video until I was left with some short story blocks or chapters: Travelling through the channel tunnel, heading on south through France with a quick look at where we stopped in 2020 by the Seine. Going through Rouen and avoiding the low tunnel. Various camping sites. Maintaining the motorhome and emptying the waste. A final stop and a barbecue and then returning to home via the ferry.

Voice Over

The next step was to put together the narration. Sometimes I write a narration and then tweak the video to fit the text. On this occasion I decided to do something I’d done before which was to jot down a few notes and then just narrate the voice-over as I watched the video. I actually did it quite a few times. The first and second versions had a lot of ums and ahs but by the third time I finally felt I had something reasonable. My voice-over was more confident than the first two tries and by then I pretty much knew what to say without my notes.

Sound Effects

Next I add the sound effects. Now you might think there wouldn’t be much need for sound effects on a video like this, however there were a couple. On a sequence where I showed the outdoor laundrettes which abound outside supermarkets in France, I had combined some still shots with video so I added some washing machine sounds to cover that and on another sequence, I had slowed down a wobbly shot of a microlight flying overhead. The soundtrack was distorted at the slow speed so I added the sound of a light aircraft which was similar to the sound of the microlight.

Microlight

Where do I get the sound effects? Well Liz bought me one of those sound effect CDs a few years ago but sometimes I head for a site called Zapsplat to download some free sounds.

Just to finish I think it’s important to watch the final product from beginning to end and just look for things that could be tidied up. I added a sequence showing an antique telephone during a bit on the voice-over where I talk about telephones. There were still some superfluous scenes shot through the windscreen which were either boring or too long so I trimmed those down.

Titles and Credits

The final thing is to add the titles and credits. Now being an old-fashioned film maker, I’ve always liked good intros on films. These days in the world of YouTube and TikTok, those long title sequences are not recommended. While I’m trying to get my video started with a few titles and introductions, the viewer has already clicked on to another video so these days the advice is to make those titles and credits short and sweet.

What sort of video editor do I use?

Well I actually like the professional version of the Microsoft Windows Video Editor. It’s pretty simple to use and I always make my rough cut with it. If I want to play with the soundtrack I then take the video over to Power Director where you can do some more complex edits.

Uploading to Social Media

Once you have made a video you want people to see it so it’s only natural to upload to the internet. YouTube is the obvious choice. How do you get people to watch it though? Tricky question and to be fair, I don’t really know the answer. I upload my videos and link them to various other sites. I have quite a few pages on this site here at WordPress where I showcase my videos or use them directly within a post. I also link them to Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and other places that I feel are appropriate. For instance there is a Manchester community on Reddit so I’ll link my Manchester themed videos there. I link my poetry videos to either the Reddit poetry community or to my Writeoutloud poetry page. Over on Facebook there is an amateur video page where video producers showcase their work and chat about it.

One of my big mistakes is uploading to YouTube too early. Once I’ve finished a project, I’ll continue to fiddle with it and start to wish I had uploaded version 7 rather than version 1. A good video site though less popular than YouTube is Vimeo and the good thing about their site is that it’s possible to replace your video with an updated version without losing your stats and comments. Such a pity that feature isn’t possible on YouTube.

Just as I finished this post, I clicked on a video that came up in my YouTube feed. It was about Ridley Scott and the making of Alien. Scott did something special with Alien, he took what could have been a mediocre monster movie and made it into something special. He brought some great designers and a strong cast into the project, made his case to the producers for a bigger budget and ended up with an outstanding film. Preparation and design was the key to that film and preparation and design are important even in small projects like yours, mine and a thousand others you will see on Youtube.

What will your next video project be?


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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.

EDIT:

Since writing this post a few years ago Animoto has introduced an updated feature where you can upload an audio voice track or even narrate your video live which makes things a whole lot easier.

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!