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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Blogs, Video and a Social Media Marketing Mix

The lockdown of last year didn’t really affect me that much. It was a bit of a pain not being able to go out and I did miss the pub quiz night as well as my visits to my favourite restaurants. Essentially though, I’m not an outdoor kind of guy. I like my TV and my laptop and I’m pretty happy sitting outside in the summer reading a good book. This last week I’ve been experiencing a more personal kind of lockdown. Liz has just had a hip replacement and I’ve been off work tending to her every need.

Even people who are close can have their differences. Liz likes to be challenged by word games and I like my challenge in the form of a good documentary film.

‘Not another quiz show’ I usually say when she has got the TV remote.

‘Not another Kennedy documentary’ she tends to say when the remote is over on my side. Oh well, recuperation is important and if she can put up with the occasional JFK documentary I can deal with another Countdown, I suppose.

When I’ve had a brief moment to myself, I’ve been looking at my book, Floating in Space, and wondering what more I could do to promote it. This entire blog is about promoting Floating in Space, at least that was the idea when I started. Every blog post, whether it’s about books, films, my life or any other random subject that comes to mind always ends with a little plug for Floating, right down at the end of the post. It usually comes in the form of a short video with the prime intention of making the viewer wonder if their life is worth living if they haven’t got a copy of my book. Most people and I’m talking a good 90% plus of people who decide to watch decide that life is worth living without a copy of Floating in Space and decline to buy. Pity, especially as I went to a lot of trouble making those videos.

A lot of people ask me about the title, Floating in Space. Why is it called that? Is it a sci-fi book? No, it isn’t which makes me wonder whether changing the title would be a good thing. The title comes about because of the way the main character, Stuart Hill, looks at his life. Sometimes it’s a good thing to look at your life not in little segments but as a whole. How could you possibly do that? Well Stuart does it like this.

Updated version of Floating In Space available now from Amazon!

This technique, for want of a better word, is best employed in the summer. Find yourself a quiet outdoor place. Lie down on the grass facing towards the sky. A clear blue sky isn’t much good for this. What you need is a blue sky and a good selection of white fluffy clouds. Now relax. A good way to do that is start at the top of your head and relax your scalp, then go down to your eyebrows and relax them. Then your eyes, nose and so on, all the way down to your toes.

Now, I don’t know if you can remember those visual teasers you used to see in comics years ago. For instance a line drawing of a cube which by an effort of will you could make into a solid box or, again using only your mind, see the box as an open box and look inside. That’s the thing to do now looking up at the sky. See the curve of the sky bending down towards the horizon at the extreme end of your peripheral vision? Well turn that around so instead of looking up at the sky you are looking down. Imagine you are floating in space, seeing the blue, not of the sky, but of the planet Earth and down below is you and your life, going about it’s everyday cycle of work, sleep and relaxation. Down there on the Earth are moments of enjoyment, moments of happiness, moments of sadness and sadly, moments of horror.

Most of my promotions for Floating tend to focus not on the process I’ve described above but on the city of Manchester where the book is set. I’ve only visited my home city once since the pandemic and it’s looking good. New towering skyscrapers seem to be going up with every month that passes by, at least according to the small group of Manchester photographers that I follow on Instagram. Manchester’s nickname is the Rainy City because of course it rains a lot and one of my favourite photographers makes a habit of photographing the puddles of the city, either with the city’s new buildings reflected in the water or low angle pictures with a rainy puddle in the foreground and some Mancunian architectural delight in the background.

When I visited Manchester a few months ago I took my camera along and made a bit of a walkabout video. I had my selfie stick and walked around chatting to the camera. I looked at some of the new hi rise towers and then walked round to the old end of town and took a stroll down the Rochdale canal which was completed in 1804. Instead of writing a narration I just stayed with the video of me chatting to the camera and added a few voice over comments and snippets of info. That video is currently one of my most watched videos so if I had any sense I’d probably make more of the same but it so happens I’m just not that comfortable walking around chatting to my camera. I much prefer my usual videos, many of which have voice-over narrations which originate in many cases from my blog posts. Like a lot of my blogs and videos, I can’t leave them alone, I’m always tinkering with them and here’s a case below, another edit of my favourite Manchester video.

I am of course an old school video producer. I like videos that open up gradually and have titles and an introduction. That technique, I am reliably informed, is very old hat indeed. In the 21st century social media world, videos need to be straight to the point. Quick introductions, a quick statement of your credentials, perhaps a brief exhortation for the viewer to subscribe to my channel and then wham, straight into the subject. That is internet video in a nutshell because there are thousands of other videos out there that are just a click away and can instantly nab your viewer if you fail to grab and keep their attention.

Getting back to blogging, I have probably written more words, in my blogs and tweets and other social media posts promoting my book, than are actually in the book itself. Oh well, that is one of the facts of the self-publishing world: Writing a book is one thing but marketing is an entirely different ball game altogether and of course the competition is fierce with more than 5000 new books released on Kindle every day! Is it worth it you might ask? Why do I do it? Well, quite simply I do it because I like doing it and when the enjoyment has gone, I’ll start thinking about doing something else with my spare time.

Nothing improves and hones your writing skills more than the writing process itself and as a blogger with a deadline of 10am on a Saturday morning I have even started to feel like something of a professional writer. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to log into WordPress and find that someone has liked one of my posts, or better still has left a comment. I’ve always thought that an intrinsic element of the human condition is finding that out that there are others in the world who think the same way as you do and like the things that you like.

I do tinker quite a lot with Floating in Space and some time ago I added a version which hopefully corrected the book’s various grammatical mistakes and I also added a small index to help explain 1977 to my younger readers. So, what else should I do to market my work? Another Tweet? Another Facebook post? Another YouTube video? Perhaps I should go further afield in the social media world and do more on Instagram or sign up for Tik Tok?

Actually I think I might just give marketing a rest for a while. Liz is still in bed so I think I might just relax for a while with Oliver Stone’s new Kennedy documentary.


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A Kind of Moany Whingey Sort of Blog Post

As this is my 484th blog post I hope I can be forgiven for tending to repeat myself now and again. I’ve probably said this before but what the heck, I’ll take a risk and say it again; I really don’t like this time of the year. I don’t care for Bonfire Night or Hallowe’en and on top of that I’ve experienced some unmitigated disasters this week involving video cameras and my mobile phone. Anyway, what shall I moan about first? Let’s get Hallowe’en out of the way!

What is Hallowe’en all about and how did it creep over the Atlantic from the USA to the UK? TV is probably the culprit but basically Hallowe’en is an excuse for kids to dress up and knock on other people’s doors and ask for sweets. Go away! This is a Hallowe’en free zone! I keep meaning to put that up on a sign outside the front door but of course I never do, although either way, the neighbours have probably got the message because these days they just don’t bother knocking, so if there are any sweets around I’ll just scoff them myself.

On October the 31st the new series of Doctor Who began on the BBC. The 13th Doctor is of course played by Jodie Whittaker and for some reason the last time the Doctor regenerated into a new body, he or she found himself/herself this time in a female one. In some ways I kind of like Jodie as Doctor Who. She’s kept all the Doctor’s quirky elements and odd humour but instead of being a man, she’s a woman. Personally, all respect to Jodie, I’m hoping that the new Doctor – this is Jodie’s last series in the role – will once again be a man. I mean basically, that’s what the Doctor has always been, male. Of course, in the media there are calls for another woman to play the role and even for the new James Bond to be a woman or even a black man. The thing is if we are going to swap genders and ethnicity randomly why not remake Sex and the City with men instead of women? Why not have a white man playing Shaft?

Here’s an idea. Why not leave things as they are and perhaps make new productions for new female time travellers and new female black, Asian or even oriental secret agents?

Anyway, getting back to Dr Who, this new episode was actually pretty good although there were so many plot elements, I just wondered how they were all going to fit together. The Doctor’s new companion was played by Liverpool comedian John Bishop and he was actually pretty good. In one sequence he opened the door to some kids on Hallowe’en and gave them some sweets but gave short shrift to someone else who was knocking on the door just hoping for a freebie and who had not even dressed up. ‘On your way’ said John to that guy which just about sums up my feelings about Hallowe’en.

The other nightmare that occurs at this time of year is bonfire night. A long time ago a fellow by the name of Robert Catesby decided he wasn’t very happy with the government so he decided to blow the lot of them up. Funnily enough I’m pretty sure that is something the people of 2021 would like to do to the current government. Anyway, I’m not sure what Catesby was planning to do next, take over or start a revolution or what but he and his fellow conspirators, the most famous of which was Guy Fawkes, were apprehended before they could light the blue touch paper on the gunpowder plot and were quickly dealt with.

These days a fellow like Guy Fawkes would be suing the government and claiming legal aid and all sorts of stuff. Back then we didn’t mess about, we just chopped off the guy’s head. Case closed. Actually, not quite case closed because every year on November the 5th, we light bonfires and let off fireworks to remember him. Perhaps this is a subtle message to the government, a reminder that the people can only take so much or perhaps it’s just an excuse to let off bangers and rockets at all times of the day and night for weeks on end either side of the 5th and annoy the hell out of everyone.

I arrived home on bonfire night and believe me, it felt a little like I had been transported to a war zone with great explosions going off around me and sudden unexpected rockets taking off from every corner. I’m glad that’s over anyway, well just as soon as everyone has finished off their firework supply.

At Liz’s house she still has an old fashioned coal fire and I have to admit that it’s nice sitting by the fire with a bottle of wine just on the hearth gradually coming up to serving temperature. The big pain is having to go out in the cold and rain to fill up the coal scuttle and to light everything on a cold morning instead of just clicking on the central heating button.

The other night having made a superb fire I realised I hadn’t filled up the coal scuttle so I had to go out in the rain and cold and fill it up. It was a little dark out there so I took my phone and lit up the torch so I could see where I was shovelling the coal. What a great idea to take my phone out. Wrong because like the twit that I am, I left it there in the rain and it got totally drenched.

When I remembered it and retrieved it, the phone was soaked through. At first it seemed in pretty good shape but then it kept switching itself off and on. Liz had heard it was a good idea to put the phone in a bag of rice which was apparently sure to soak up the moisture. So while that was drying out I thought I’d put the sim card in my old phone. It used to have a serious battery problem which is why I bought my latest phone. Anyway, after charging it up I thought I’d just slip my sim card in. Wrong. My old phone takes a mini sim and my new one takes a nano sim and I couldn’t find the adapter to fit my nano sim into the mini sim slot! Technology! If they are not changing from VHS video tapes to DVDs they are changing sim cards to infinitely smaller ones.

What made the situation worse was that I was expecting a telephone consultation with my physio so I really needed that phone. Of course, I could have called them up and explained the situation but the phone number was on my phone, you know the one in the bag of rice that wasn’t working. I was also expecting a couple of other calls too but once again the only contact details were, well not accessible. Amazing isn’t it just how much we rely on our mobile phones.

Here’s another disaster that happened this week. Disaster is probably too strong a word but it’s something else that goes with this week’s general theme. My latest video Return to Manchester over on YouTube was a walk around Manchester taking in some new hi rise buildings that are changing the shape of my home city and a quick look at the old Manchester, namely the canal that runs through the centre and dates back to the industrial revolution of the past. I made it pretty quickly and instead of writing and narrating a voice over I did it off the cuff, just working from some notes. For some reason it seems to have done pretty well as far as viewers are concerned and as usual, I can never understand why. Why does a blog or video that I have worked hard at do not so well, and something else that was a rush job seem to be popular? I get lots of feedback from both YouTube and WordPress in terms of statistics and analysis but I never really know what to do with it or learn any lessons from it.

Last week I thought I’d make a follow up video with a tram ride up to Manchester Airport and do some similar stuff, a walk round and chat to the camera. I also thought that I could combine some elements from a video I made in 1986 at the airport and compare how things have changed. Return to Manchester Airport sounded like a good title too.

Things didn’t start well when my GoPro camera wouldn’t charge up. I had my trusty Canon GX7 with me but I had wanted the GoPro to take some additional stuff. Luckily in my bag I had my cheapo action camera with me. It’s a cheap GoPro copy that takes reasonable video. Anyway, the tram arrived which I filmed on my Canon. I nipped aboard and went to a seat at the front where I clipped my handy suction mount to the window and pressed record. Well, I thought I had pressed record but in fact I’d pressed the wrong button and nothing happened, not that I realised it at the time. I left that to its own devices and shot some hand held stuff with my Canon. At the airport I had a wander around and filmed some chatty stuff to the camera then went down the walkway towards terminal 2 which incidentally, in a few short days I’ll be flying from!

Later, on the way back to the bus station my trusty Canon declined to record any more. The memory card was full but did I have my spare memory card? That would be a no. That was when I realised that when I was on the tram I’d been pressing the wrong button to start recording on my action cam so I hadn’t shot anything of the trip up towards the airport except for stuff I’d shot with the Canon. OK, keep calm, press the right button now!

Back home I found I had only a short burst of video on the tram and had nothing at all of the bus and tram station. However, I did have some in car video I had filmed during the summer of part of the route. It was actually a part that had changed substantially because of the new tram route and I also had some video from 1986 showing how things were many years ago. Yes, in a burst of creative editing kudos I was able to cut all that together and actually put a video of sorts together.

The good news is that I was using the wrong charger on my GoPro camera. I found the correct one and now it’s fully charged up. A bit late in the day for the airport video but ready for action on my next production. The really good news was that a few days later my phone, fully dried out was back in action again. Note to self: make sure you keep that coal scuttle filled up Steve!


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From Blog Post to Video

I’ve had my YouTube channel for quite a while now but unlike this, my WordPress blogging page, I’ve always found it rather hard to create regular video output. Don’t get me wrong, I like making videos, I really do although the best part of making a video, at least for me, is the editing. With virtually every one of my videos there are multiple versions to be found in the video folder on my laptop. Yes, videos are just something I cannot leave alone. Every time I rewatch one I start to think didn’t I have a better clip for that scene? Why have I put that scene before this one? Wouldn’t it work better if I swapped them round? Why did I say that in the narration? I should have said this! And so that’s when I start tinkering and re-editing.

A few years ago I thought about making my whole blog into a YouTube Vlog. Of course, that would involve shooting and editing and then adding in the music and perhaps sound effects. For someone like me who has taken laziness to new heights, I’m not sure that would be possible, at least not for a weekly Vlog.

When I’m stuck for video content I usually find myself looking back at my older blog posts and wondering what would work as a video. One regular blog I’ve managed to convert to video are my Book Bag blogs. It’s pretty easy to make them into a video. I sit myself in front of the camera, glance through my notes and then wax lyrical for the camera about the various books I’ve been reading.

The first Book Bag Vlog was difficult though. I made it on holiday in Lanzarote. I hadn’t brought my tripod along but I picked up an adjustable clamp in the market place, actually a gadget for taking selfies that worked pretty well once I had got things lined up. Back then I was using a small Panasonic video camera which looked a little bit like a mobile phone. Today I have a Canon GX7 with a viewing screen that can be flipped over so if I’m shooting myself I can easily frame the shot. With the Panasonic, it wasn’t so easy. The filming for that first Book Bag Vlog went something like this:

Take 1. OK, went pretty well, I blathered on a bit and forgot the author of one book so time for take 2.

Take 2. OK but I’m holding the books slightly out of camera shot.

Take 3. I lift the books higher but gradually as the take goes on the books are getting lower and dropping out of shot. Cut, I shout, getting my director’s hat on.

Take 4. I’ve reframed and lowered the camera a little. I’ve actually cropped off the top of my head but the books are centre stage. I fluffed one of my lines calling Noel Coward an historical figure instead of a theatrical one but recovered that one OK with a little laugh at myself. I also say the Germans were ‘disappointed’ with Hitler at the end of World War Two when discussing a book about Albert Speer, one of Hitler’s ministers. Bit of a understatement there, I meant to say shocked or devastated, anyway, time for take 5.

Take 5. Start to stumble a little here, perhaps I need cue cards. Dorothy Parker wrote what for New York Magazines? Check the blurb on the back of her book again and time for take 6.

Take 6. Looked pretty good. Wait a minute, did I really say ‘my holiday blook blag‘? Time for take 7.

Take 7. Radical re think needed here I think so I’ve smartened myself up a little, put on my favourite holiday shirt and re positioned the camera and my clamp gadget. Wish I’d brought my tripod along! Anyway here we go. Action: ‘Hi I’m Steve Higgins and I’m here in . . er . . ‘ CUT! It’s Lanzarote!

Take 8. Slight camera adjustment as take 7 wasn’t particularly well framed. Forgot to mention who Albert Speer actually was. Will people know who he was? Well, if they are interested in history and World War Two yes, otherwise no . .

Take 9. ‘Bleak House by David Copperfield’? What is this guy talking about? Cut!

Take 10. Not too bad, faltered a few times over some words, mumbled a little perhaps but generally not bad. Sure I can do better though; still a little slow. Needs more pace.

Take 11: Whoa, slow down boy! I said pace not rabbit on and on without taking a breath!

Take 12: Not happening! Time for a swim!

The book bag posts are pretty easy to make, it’s just me in front of a camera chatting away. As long as I manage to chat without mumbling, getting words wrong, forgetting the name of the book author and so on, I usually end up with a reasonable result. I somehow don’t think I have a career as a TV presenter coming anytime soon. Here’s a video I made with a whole lot of out takes, How not to Not to Make a Promo Video.

As I said earlier, I’ve always found it hard to leave a video alone. After all, no work of art is ever finished, only abandoned, as someone once said. A few years ago I made a video about the Graves and Cemeteries of Two World Wars.  It was shot in Northern France and for the narration I used in part, the text from one of my blogs. I talked about time and how time seems to have slowed at those sacred places where once so many people fought and died and how it must have seemed, in the past, in the heat of the battle, that time flowed so quickly.

The big problem with that video, and I only seemed to realise it much later, when the video had accrued a sizeable number of viewings was that the opening sequence was not really in keeping with the tone of the film as a whole. I had started out with an idea that came to me while shooting at a French municipal aire, a quiet motorhome stopping place. I’d started off a sequence with a really impressive motorhome and then panned over to our, much smaller vehicle implying initially, that the first vehicle was ours, before showing the smaller one. It might probably have worked for a general motorhoming video but the humour was out of place for something about the sad subject of war.

For the re-edit, I removed that sequence, tidied up various fades and added some stock photos from the war years. To promote it I added it to various video festivals and at one, the Think Shorts festival, they decided to publish my video on their platform. I even got a special badge which I proudly added to the video icon.

I think I mentioned a few weeks ago about the challenges of making an audio recording into a video, which I did for a radio interview in which I had to participate by phone because of Covid 19. I started by thinking, foolishly, that I could mime to the audio recordings to create a fully lip synced video. That didn’t work out at all so I made a video with still photos and screen grabs with a few shots of me talking into a phone although making sure my mouth wasn’t visible when I spoke. I think I got away with it.

I did make a video called A Letter to my Younger Self, the text of which came straight from a similarly titled blog post. The blog post was pretty good, at least I thought so. The video lacked something in the voiceover department as my monologue seemed a little less than dynamic. Another post derived straight from a blog post was 4 Simple Secrets of Self-Publishing which is not a bad little film which reminds the self published author that if anything needs doing in regards to his or her book; promotion, press releases, advertising and so on, the author is on his or her own. Being a self published author is a one person operation.

Over at the busy end of my YouTube page there is a video called Trucking: 1980’s Style. It was shot on my old VHS compact camera and I followed my old friend Brian for a weekend in the late 80’s delivering goods in his wagon. It was a tough old job, lugging great trolleys and boxes of Sharwood’s curry sauces about the country. Stopping in Truckstops, sleeping in the cab and finding his way about with the help of his CB radio. It is currently my most watched video with over 140,000 views at the time of writing. Lots of trucking enthusiasts follow me on YouTube expecting more of the same and what they think when they find a new poetry video in their notifications, I don’t know. I did think of making a follow up video with Brian, something on the lines of Trucking; 40 Years Later. Brian was still a truck driver until a few months ago but unfortunately for me and the YouTube world, he has just retired.

Last year Liz and I drove our motorhome up to Scotland for a few days visiting the Isle of Skye and various other places. I should perhaps have asked proofreader Liz to check the resulting video film because right at the end I announced that the music in the film was called Soul Grove instead of Soul Groove. I rectified that and some other blemishes which I won’t go into in a re-edit which I uploaded to Vimeo. Vimeo has some great little advantages over YouTube, the main one for me is that if you choose to edit a video you can just replace the new version with your old one, without losing any of your viewer count. One disadvantage though is with a free Vimeo account, there are restrictions on how much content you can upload per week, which is why I had to make the resulting video into two separate parts.

Here are two final videos, both inspired by blog posts. The first is yet another re-edit. Manchester 1977-2017 is a visit to my home town of Manchester where I look at the city as it was then in 2017 and how it was in 1977, the year in which Floating in Space, my self published book is set. A lot of the narration is taken from a blog post about the city, Manchester 41 Years On. I talk about the pubs I used to visit, the square where I used to eat my sandwiches on sunny weekday lunchtimes and how the city centre has changed.

I have quite a few poetry videos both on YouTube and Vimeo. Most of the ones on Vimeo are re-edits where I’ve tried to improve on the original, either with the visual content or my usual weak point, my narration. In one blog post The Secret of Writing Poetry, I tried to impart my ideas on writing to the reader showcasing a few example poems on the way. That in turn inspired the video version which is pretty much the same, me talking to camera and delving into the background of three particular poems. I did it all one one or two takes and perhaps I might have been better going for take three but at least I think I have managed to get my general idea over.

Which of your blog posts would you make into a video?


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The Ramblings of a Locked Down Blogger

I thought for a minute of changing the title of my whole website to that which you can see above: The Ramblings of a Locked Down Blogger. Maybe even the crazy ramblings! Still, in a few weeks or perhaps months, the lockdown and Coronavirus will just be a bad memory. In fact, my first post lockdown restaurant visit has already been booked and my table and meal are actually only a matter of hours away.

It will be nice to socialise again and also to dress up. I’ve spent the last two months wearing the same small selection of jeans, shorts, tee shirts and sweaters. Will I still be able to fit into my smart shirts and trousers I wonder? Well, I’ll soon find out.

I have been watching a quite inordinate amount of TV during the lockdown. That has not been any hardship on my part, in fact it could be argued that watching TV is my default position. I do love TV but not any TV; I am quite choosy in what I watch. I love films and only a small fraction of the films I love have I seen at the cinema. The other 99% I have seen on my television set with constant supplies of either tea or red wine near at hand.

At my mother’s house where I come to tidy up and keep the garden in order, I have just recently been trying to sort through my vast supplies of VHS video tapes. Any VHS films I have can be just junked as they will be either shown again on TV or are available on DVD.

Documentaries are a different matter. Films are shown time and time again but great documentaries are seldom shown again. It’s the same with made for TV films. A great film I have on VHS is Across the Lake, a made for TV film starring Anthony Hopkins as record breaker Donald Campbell. I have not watched it for ages but it’s a great film, well written and with an excellent performance by Anthony Hopkins documenting Campbell’s last and fatal attempt at the world water speed record. Why the BBC don’t think of showing these outstanding made for TV films again I really don’t know.

You can see the entire film on YouTube but here’s a short clip:

One thing I love in films is originality. There are a thousand films with car chases and shoot outs and murders but it’s great to see something new. One DVD I watched recently is The King of Comedy. Even though it’s directed by Martin Scorcese it’s not a gangster film, it’s something very different. Robert de Niro stars as a wannabe stand up comedian who wants to get on a show hosted by Jerry Lewis. Jerry plays a TV comedian who is pretty much Jerry Lewis himself. He turns in this outstanding performance as a TV host who is kidnapped by De Niro and held hostage in return for De Niro getting a stand up spot on Lewis’ show. De Niro is helped by a Jerry Lewis obsessed fan played by Sandra Bernhard turning in another great performance. This is a film that is funny, dramatic and completely original. Keep a look out for it on your favourite TV film channel.

Another original film I saw lately was Big Eyes. It’s based on a true story of an artist, Margaret Keane, who turns out some popular and charming pictures, all of people with big eyes. Margaret is a woman who can paint but is not so good at selling and marketing her work. She meets future husband Walter who seems to be a bit of a whiz at the promotion lark. He decides to rent space on a local nightclub wall to get attention for both Margaret’s and his paintings. Surprise, surprise, it is Margaret’s paintings of the doe eyed girls that get all the attention but Walter decides to play the part of the artist as some people have mistakenly thought that anyway. Margaret plays along but gradually becomes very unhappy having to constantly deny her own work.

Big Eyes is, incredibly, a true story. Margaret eventually leaves Walter and has to sue to be finally acknowledged for her own talent. Margaret’s paintings are captivating although art critics are divided on her true worth as an artist. It’s worth noting though that Andy Warhol said this about her work: ‘It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.’

I’ve also been editing my own films during the lockdown. My friend Steve and I made a video about Manchester Airport in 1986 and it’s my second most watched film on YouTube with 16,000 viewings. In 2018 I realised that if I took out all the pop music used on the soundtrack the video would be eligible for monetising, that’s YouTube’s word for getting royalties from your video. I added some copyright free music, tidied a few bad cuts in the video and reposted it to YouTube. Rather annoyingly, YouTube decided just then that video producers have to have a minimum of 1000 followers to get royalties and as I only have about 220 that’s another income stream that has been denied to me.

When trolling through my VHS tapes I found another version of that same video. Yes, even 30 years ago I was still tinkering with my videos and re-editing them. Anyway, I took this one and re-made it again adding some sound effects and new music. Could YouTube stand a third version of the same video? I’m not sure but then again, some mainstream directors like to tinker with their own work when the time comes for the DVD version. I’ve got quite a few ‘directors cut’ DVDs in my collection like Aliens and Apocalypse Now to name but two.

During lockdown I’ve also been listening to my favourite podcasts. The BBC Radio 5 Live F1 podcast is a constant disappointment. When F1 races are on, the 5 Live people assume that listeners know what happened in the race. That’s not the case, I usually listen when I’ve missed the Channel Four broadcast on TV so I listen in for a race report not a load of F1 chit chat. When there are no races, like during the lockdown, I actually do want to hear some F1 chit chat, some gossipy stuff about which driver’s contract is about to expire, which designer is moving teams, will Vettel retire or go to the new Aston Martin F1 team? Stuff like that. No, they don’t even bother to do a podcast when there is no racing.

Instead I’ve been listening to my new favourite podcast, The Slowdown, a poetry podcast that usually lasts about 5 minutes, not too long, not too short. The presenter, US poet Tracy K Smith has such a wonderful voice she seems to make any poem sound good. Wonder if I could get her to read one of mine?


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A Slice of my Life Part 4

Just now we are approaching my favourite time of the year. The days are getting longer, spring is nearly here and the days are beginning to get warmer. Understood by our ancestors to be a potent portal of power, the Spring Equinox which happened yesterday, has long been celebrated as an awakening time of growing energy and budding new life. Its earlier roots begin in many of the most ancient myths and tales about the Goddess regaining her power and fertility after the long months of winter. Just now though, all I can think about is what a pain in the neck the coronavirus is turning out to be. It’s pretty easy when you are watching the TV news, to sort of dismiss things that don’t seem to affect us but when you find that you actually are affected then it’s a whole different story.

Recently Liz and I were looking at our next trip in our motorhome. We thought about taking the ferry to Spain and spending a leisurely few weeks meandering north back through France and finally back up to the UK. Now we’re starting to realise it might not be worth booking that trip at all in case the ferries are cancelled. I noticed on the news that Jet2.com with whom we have flown to Lanzarote many times have cancelled their flights to Spain and the Canary Islands so we were lucky to have had our holiday in Lanzarote earlier this year. Certain countries like Spain, Italy and France are on a virtual lockdown situation. Things are looking very grim indeed, in fact it’s almost like being in the middle of a crazy science fiction film, something like Twelve Monkeys or The Andromeda Strain where a virus devastates a US town leaving only two survivors, a baby and an old man, and scientists race to find the connection and hopefully the antidote.

Recently, in the Washington Examiner, believe it or not, I read an article about an American writer who lived in Blackheath in London in the 1980’s. He pointed out that Blackheath was so named because of the 60,000 Londoners who perished as a result of the Black Death in the 14th century, many of whom are buried in Blackheath. The Black Death changed everything; it pushed up the value of labour and created a wage economy. No doubt today’s pandemic will bring about change too but as somebody once said, there is nothing new under the sun.

Mum

My mum who for a long time has become very unsteady on her feet finally entered a care home some weeks ago.  My brother and I have done our absolute best to look after her over the past two years and more but we had done as much as we could. Her mobility had dropped dramatically and her dementia has increased, with her grasp on reality gradually slipping away. At her new care home the staff specialise in dementia patients but this week when I went to visit they told me that no unnecessary visitors were being let in. In a way that means a little break for me. My mother sometimes seems reasonably lucid and at other times not so. Recently she told me she missed her mother and father and I had to tell her they died many years ago. She was very upset but I’ve always tried to be straight with her and not tell her lies. Another time she asked me why my dad had not visited her and fighting back some tears I gently told her he was working. He died twenty years ago.

Dementia has made a liar of me.

Australian Grand Prix.

One big upset relating to the virus has to be, for me at any rate, the cancelation of the Australian Grand Prix. For the past few weeks I have been checking my email updates from various Formula One blogs and web sites. I’ve read about the testing sessions in Barcelona and about the controversy over the Ferrari engine from last year. Apparently, the governing body, the FIA investigated claims that Ferrari’s engine was illegal. They dismissed the claims but declined to comment further. The other teams have protested, claiming that the FIA has tried to hush the incident up. Anyway, that incident has been forgotten now the future of this year’s racing is in doubt. F1 may not begin in earnest until May, if it begins at all.

Pity, because this could be the year that Lewis Hamilton equals Michael Schumacher’s record of 7 world championships but if there are no races, or not enough races will a championship even be awarded?

Woody Allen

The other week I was a little poorly myself. Not the corona virus but some bug that caused me to spend a lot of time being sick. I spent a lot of that time at my mother’s house just generally feeling sorry for myself and drinking hot water and lemon and watching a lot of DVDs. Looking back, those few days have got me ready for the current climate of self-isolation. Anyway, the handy thing with a DVD is that every time I had the urge to run to the toilet I could pause the film, do what I had to do and then return to my couch. Yes, I know that we can even pause live TV these days but Mum’s TV doesn’t support stuff like that.

Anyway, to entertain myself I cranked up some Woody Allen stuff on the DVD player. Midnight in Paris is one of his later films starring Owen Wilson. I’m not sure I have even liked Owen Wilson in the past but watching this film, he plays the perfect role that Woody himself might have played in his younger days.

I followed that with Radio Days, Woody’s homage to the days when radio was universally popular and kids in the pre TV age were as obsessed with radio as I was with TV in the 1960’s. Woody doesn’t appear in the film but narrates it and it tells various radio themed stories. One big point he makes is that radio listeners tend to imagine the broadcaster or actor looking as good as whatever part they are playing, so of course the hero of young Woody’s favourite show, the Masked Avenger, turns out to look nothing like we might imagine.

Third in my trilogy of Woody Allen films was Manhattan which I’ve always thought was much better than Annie Hall, Woody’s Oscar winning 1977 film which won awards in 4 categories; best film, best script, best director and best actress for Diane Keaton. Manhattan is famous for its black and white photography and it’s Gershwin music score and is just generally a lovely film, not outstandingly funny or hilarious but gently humorous.

For real laugh out loud humour, you have to go back to Woody’s earlier films like Take the Money and Run and Bananas. My favourite moment from these earlier films is in Bananas. At the end of the film Woody marries his love interest played by Louise Lasser who was once upon a time his real-life love interest. The two go to bed to consummate the marriage but the ‘bout’ is shown on TV with two actual US TV commentators Howard Cosell, and Don Dunphy. Allen and Lasser get under the sheets and afterwards the two discuss the action with the interviewer as if they have just competed in a prizefight.

Despite his wonderful films, Woody Allen is a controversial character these days. His latest film lies unreleased, despite a deal with Amazon, and a similar fate has fallen to his memoirs. I recently read an interesting article about Woody and Woody’s memoirs, which were apparently dropped by publisher Hacher after a staff walk out. Journalist Hadley Freeman said ‘What a strange, through-the-looking-glass world we live in, when people who consider themselves to be liberals celebrate suppressing others’ words.’

Woody has been investigated for abusing his step daughter Dylan Farrow twice and declared innocent, although his now adult step daughter still claims Woody was an abuser. The abuse apparently relates to only one occasion and no other person has come forward to complain of abuse at Woody’s hands, unlike people like producer Harvey Weinstein, Michael Jackson or Jimmy Saville to name but three.

Freeman goes on to point out ‘It would have been one thing if Hachette had never agreed to publish Allen’s memoir in the first place. Fair enough; that’s a publisher’s prerogative. But for it to sign him, edit him and then fearfully drop him because some people object is a terrible precedent for a publisher to set.’

Click here to read the complete article in the Guardian.

YouTube

Despite being an avid video maker, I haven’t produced any great video works lately apart from the usual trailers that I use to plug my book, Floating in Space. As I’ve had a distinct lack of ideas, I’ve tended to continue making short video versions of my poems which keeps me busy and not only that, as a frustrated film director, there is nothing I like more than messing about with video, cutting and splicing and mastering sound effects.

Every so often I try to update the introductory video on my YouTube page. It’s nothing outstanding but I do like to try and make it reasonably exciting, so as to lure followers -and potential readers- into my clutches. Just recently I made a new version over on Animoto.com which is an online editing studio which comes with various templates themed for various types of project. My new video was pretty similar to the last one but I’d added a new block template which inserted a series of pictures fairly quickly. Perhaps that was the reason why, when it was uploaded to YouTube, they quickly deleted it as apparently it had infringed YouTube community guidelines involving spam, misleading metadata and scams!

Now the video in question may not have been Oscar material but it certainly wasn’t a scam or spam for that matter. You can’t see it on YouTube but here it is on Animoto.

YouTube were pretty quick to delete the video and send me an e-mail about it. They said I could appeal so I did so straight away, after all it’s a pretty innocuous video, it’s not offensive and it’s hardly spam. They sent me back another e-mail saying my appeal has been approved but the video is still not visible on my channel. Not only that, I couldn’t write back to YouTube to complain because their email would not accept replies. YouTube is like a big monolithic entity and they are actually pretty difficult to contact. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and hope that some person, some real person rather than a computer program, will look at my video and say ‘that looks OK, let’s reinstate it!’

I live in hope.


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Khrushchev, Gorbachev and the Power of Pizza

Khrushchev was the first Soviet leader who tried to humanise the Soviet Union. This huge monolithic state that represented tyranny and state control had been created by Stalin and though Stalin himself brought Khrushchev into his inner circle, it was Khrushchev who later rejected the brutality of the Soviet State.

Khrushchev openly criticised the Stalin era and began a new, more open era of government. Alarm bells had begun to ring in the Kremlin though and by 1964 Khrushchev’s colleagues were not so happy with what he was doing. Brezhnev organised the removal of Khrushchev and soon had taken the top spot for himself.

Brezhnev remained in power till his old age and when he died in 1982 a group of old men successively took over, Andropov 1982-84, then Chernenko 1984-85 and then in 1985 came a younger man, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev felt reforms were necessary and began two initiatives, Perestroika (restructuring) and Glasnost (Openness). He dealt with the issues of war in Afghanistan and the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl. His determination to bring in elected bodies such as the Congress of People’s Deputies and further democratisation of the Soviet Union seemed only to undermine his position. He once dismissed Boris Yeltsin from the Communist party but was forced to deal with him again when he was elected President of Russia.

In 1991 an attempted coup by Communist hard liners failed but this seemed to give the political impetus to Yeltsin. Yetsin banned the Communist party that had once rejected him and soon the Soviet Union collapsed underneath Gorbachev.  He gave a television address to announce that the Soviet Union would formally end at midnight on 31st December, 1991.

Image courtesy Wikipedia creative commons.

In retirement Gorbachev created the Gorbachev Foundation with the aims of publishing material on the history of Perestroika and of presenting his ideas and philosophy to the world. Ironically, although Gorbachev was revered outside of the Soviet Union, within the country his fellow citizens accused him of destroying the economy as well as the communist party.

No longer President, Gorbachev needed money to maintain his foundation and his family and so he undertook to begin lecture tours, charging large amounts of money.  He began to suffer the same fate as many of his fellow former soviet citizens, his pension, 4000 roubles per month, given him by the Russian Federation, was not index linked to inflation and by 1994 his pension cheque was worth very little.

The Foundation began to struggle and even the lecture fees were not enough to pay bills and staff wages. In order to stay in Russia Gorbachev needed money, much more money.

McDonald’s opened in Moscow in 1990 and in that same year Pizza Hut opened its Moscow doors. By 1997, Pizza Hut’s international arm was looking for new ways of reaching out to the public. It wanted a global campaign that would play in any country in the world.

What about a TV ad using Mikhail Gorbachev?

Pizza Hut’s advertising people approached Gorbachev but the negotiations took months. Partly, this represented a negotiating tactic: The longer the negotiations drew out, the higher Gorbachev’s talent fee would be. But it also represented real hesitation on Gorbachev’s part.

However it happened, the core idea of the ad remained stable throughout the long process of negotiating and filming it. It would not focus on Gorbachev but on an ordinary Russian family eating at Pizza Hut. It would be shot on location, featuring as many visual references to Russia as possible.

Gorbachev finally assented but with conditions. First, he would have final approval over the script. That was acceptable. Second, he would not eat pizza on film. That disappointed Pizza Hut.

Gorbachev held firm.

A compromise was suggested: A family member would appear in the spot instead. Gorbachev’s granddaughter Anastasia Virganskaya ended up eating the slice. Pizza Hut accepted.

The advertising concept exploited the shock value of having a former world leader appear. But the ad also played on the fact that Gorbachev was far more popular outside Russia than inside it.

Either way, the former leader of the Soviet Union would be advertising pizza. Gorbachev had lost his presidency and in a sense his country, after all the Soviet Union was gone, replaced by the Russian Federation. I wonder if Gorbachev ever thought for a moment about Nicholas II, another man forced to resign his country’s leadership. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Khrushchev ended his days living in a small dacha in Moscow constantly spied on by the KGB. He wrote his memoirs and they were smuggled out to the west although Khrushchev was forced to deny sending them to a western publisher. He died in 1971.

Gorbachev reportedly received a million dollars for the promotion. The badly needed funds enabled him to pay his staff and continue working for reform in Russia.


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

YouTube and The Final Cut

Ok, settle down, put your feet up. It’s time to reveal a great new slice of visual entertainment that has finally been released. Yes we know, I can hear you say, the new Bond film!  Bond film? No no, no. Forget about the Bond film, I’m talking about some serious movie making, my latest YouTube video!

Way back in the spring and again in the summer Liz and I motored off to France in our Ford Transit based motorhome. As usual I had my GoPro camera affixed to my driver’s window and along with my trusty Canon GX7 I built up a fair few reels of video footage.

I kept looking through it with a view to making it into some kind of video project but various things seemed to hold me back.

Firstly on our first trip to France we travelled through the French Jura and got caught in some spectacular and unseasonal snowstorms. I thought I had shot some spectacular footage only to find that the video files from that day would not play when downloaded to my laptop. I wasn’t happy.

My GoPro camera doesn’t seem to like to play ball when it has been left alone for a while and I’ve found just charging it up isn’t enough, It needs to be attached to my pc and and updated with the correct date and time and made a fuss of before it will function properly.

I slapped in a new memory card and the camera seemed in better shape for the rest of our travels but losing that video from the snowstorm still really winds me up. At one point it felt as though we were in a whiteout, the snow was falling so thickly it was like being inside a ping pong ball. Happily the snow cleared and an impressive army of snow ploughs and gritters cleared the area and we were soon back on route. No video footage though to liven up my videos.

Over the summer I started to put together a video but although I had a lot of film, not much of it was particularly inspiring and the loss of that snowstorm video really put a dampener on my enthusiasm.

Another thing that made the production difficult was that I like to use the old Windows Moviemaker which is why I’ve hung on to my old laptop. It’s easy to use and gives you a lot of control over your clips both visually and in terms of the sound track. The original soundtrack from the video can be edited as well as an additional music channel and a voice over channel. I tend to mix and match these channels so I can add a narration and music as well as adding sound effects all of which enhance the finished product.

Editing that sound!

Windows 10 comes with a new and completely different HD Movie Maker which I have never really got to grips with but I thought it was high time I did so I started the project off using the new software.

I have got the advanced rather than the free version and initially I found it pretty easy to use. Adding clips is pretty easy and they can be trimmed or split into two or more sections just like on the old program. There are various fades that can be used and just like the old version there is a music channel as well as a narration channel.

In the summer we visited the Retro Grand Prix in the village of Le Puy Notre Dame in France and I filmed a lot of stuff with my Canon GX7. The Canon is a really versatile camera both for still photography and video. In fact on the Internet it is noted for being the best vlogging camera around which is really why I bought it. Instead of bashing away at my laptop knocking out a new post every week I thought hey, I can just film a vlog instead. Well, I’ve since found it’s not so easy creating a vlog. To start with I’m not so good just talking off the cuff, I need to plan what I’m going to say which entails bashing away at my laptop once again. Vanity also comes into play as my youthful good looks are just not what they once were. Anyway, even though vlogging is not for me the GX7 is a great camera and I took some pretty good shots at the Retro Grand Prix with it so I decided that for my video project I would just concentrate on our trip there.

It’s vital to review your raw video footage first when creating a video project so what I tend to do is this; I’ll troll through everything I have shot and anything that I either like or think will add to the narrative I will add to the project. I tidy things up a little, eliminate the bad shots and then start to think about what I am going to say in the narration. What I usually do to start things off in that area is review the blogs I have written on the subject and start to see if they will fit the video. Then I will add to them and rewrite and finally a clearer picture of the project will begin to appear.

Next I usually record my narration direct to the video then export that as a sound file to my sound mixer where I cut out all my mumbles and ers and ahs, beef up the bass and the volume and then add it back to the project.

A big problem that appeared here was that when recording the narration on my new HP laptop on HD Movie Maker, my voice came out all tinny and clipped so it was back to my old laptop with the old Movie Maker and I recorded the narration again. Maybe the microphone is better on that older laptop. Next I produce the audio file in little sections, little clips, so I can move the narration about to fit the video. On the old Movie Maker this is easy as you can move the clips about with your mouse so they can be placed exactly where you want. On the new HD Movie Maker this is not possible although you have a delay button so you can move an audio file forward for however many seconds or milliseconds you want. Anyway after some time moving between laptops and editing programs I felt I was finally getting somewhere. Even so, a good few months had passed by at this point but I sometimes think it’s good to let a little time go by and so the project will coalesce in my mind resulting in what I like to think of as an organic result.

George Stevens was a Hollywood director who always edited his projects in a similar way. He directed among many other films Shane, the classic western with Alan Ladd and Giant the Rock Hudson/ Elizabeth Taylor film famous for being James Dean’s last film.

Stevens apparently received many threats on his life if he dared to cut any of Dean’s final scenes. He took his time and his films were always a masterclass in the art of editing.

Anyway, back to my little video. I finally reviewed the final cut and noticed that my narration, now slightly shortened after the excision of various mumblings now seemed to expose a typical piece of cheeky banter between myself and Liz. A little fun, but not something for the general public. Now on the old version of Movie Maker I could have faded out the video sound at that point but on the new version that wasn’t an option. I could either silence the whole clip but not fade it out. The solution was this: Silence the whole clip and add a sound clip, that of our motorhome exiting the car park of the french supermarket Intermarche, no doubt after purchasing a good few boxes of French wine ready to export back to Lancashire. A quick addition of some copyright free music from YouTube and there you have it, a new video for my YouTube channel.

Such a pity that Microsoft have seen fit to mess with Movie Maker. No doubt just when I manage to master the new HD Movie Maker they will replace it with something new.

It’s called progress . . .


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

My life on YouTube

I am pretty active on social media, all mostly focussed on the thankless task of flogging my book, Floating in Space, to the unsuspecting book reading public. Here on WordPress my output is mostly short essays about my life, the books I read and the classic films I watch on TV. Over on YouTube my output is slightly different, mostly short videos that extol the virtue of my equally short novel but I do get pretty creative in the video element too.

My hobby as a video producer began in 1986 when I was given a VHS compact video camera for my birthday. It was pretty much the same camera that Marty McFly used in back to the future, shooting video onto small VHS tapes that you play on a standard VHS player by inserting the small tapes into a VHS converter which was just the size of a standard VHS tape. When I got the camcorder, as soon as I had exhausted the usual stuff, filming weddings and christenings and so on, I starting trying to make something more professional and the first time I felt like I had succeeded was when my friend Steve and I made a film about Manchester Airport.

We had both spent lots of time at the airport as schoolkids and we both had ideas about what we wanted to show on the video, particularly the back lanes of the airport and the old war-time pill-box we used to visit on our bikes. Almost as soon as we began to shoot Steve just switched on his life time love of aircraft and started talking, which apart from some brief discussions earlier, was basically unscripted. When I consider now how hard it is to speak on camera, even when I have a script, I take my hat off to Steve.

Not so long ago I took the airport video and added some copyright free music, tidied up some bad cuts and added it back to YouTube. I did think of deleting the original but when I looked at all the views it has had (8.3K views at the time of writing) and all the comments, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Another re-edit was a video about a rail trip from Manchester to Porthmadoc in Wales made on a weekend trip Steve and I made in 1986. The original used a lot of contemporary music and was not very visible on the Internet, in fact a little caption used to come up saying ‘blocked in Europe due to copyright infringement!’ So again with this other re-edit I added copyright free music and tidied the film up a little. I re-voiced part of the narration which was a mistake because my voice is so much more confident these days than it used to be and the old and the new narration don’t really go together. Perhaps I just need to go the whole hog and re-voice the entire narration!

Back in the 1980’s I was a great motorsport fan and spent every other weekend down at Oulton Park, the Cheshire racing circuit. Here’s a video that was a compilation of some of my best video at the track complete with titles made on my Sinclair Spectrum!

Getting to some of my more recent videos, here’s me reciting some of my poetry, in fact this poem, The Long and Dusty Road of Life, is one of my favourites.

One of my usual themes in this blog is second-hand books and I’ve done quite a few posts on the theme of my Holiday Book Bag. Every time so far I’ve managed to convert the post into a video version. Here’s the first from 2016 with me dressed as Bruce Willis in Die Hard fashion.

I’ve used the online editing website Animoto for a while now and here’s one of my favourite short promo videos for Floating in Space. One of the great things about Animoto is that you don’t necessarily need video, you can create a video slide show using still images or combine video and still photography.

Here’s another one but instead of just pictures and music I’ve tried to do something slightly different. Floating is set in 1977 so I’ve tried to bring up some interesting things from that year as well as some interesting personalities to make the watcher start to think about the late seventies and perhaps how interesting a book set in that time period might be .

Here’s something different again. It’s actually still a plug for Floating but also a spoof on the opening of the Woody Allen film Manhattan, only instead of talking about New York like Woody, I wax lyrical about Manchester. Once the watcher has been lulled into a false sense of security, then comes the link to Floating!

Having got the hang of this narration business I decided to step back and add a narration to a video that just had captions when I first put it together. Even though at first glance the video seems to be about cycling, it’s actually about video editing. Click here to see the original.

One of my favourite videos is this one. The narration has been put together from my blogs and text from Floating with some new additional thoughts on Manchester. I revisit the sites of some of the locations used in the novel and talk about how things have changed, take a ride on the town’s new tram system and generally wax lyrical about Manchester.

Talking to camera and trying to make your book sound interesting isn’t as easy as it seems. In this video I’ve tried to show how difficult it is and produced what is generally called a bloopers reel. It’s nothing brilliant, just a bit of fun.

When I travelled to France in 2018, I clipped my action cam to the window and filmed pretty much everywhere I went. On several occasions, especially when travelling long distances, the cameras ground to a halt when their battery charge ran out. Anyway, this short video takes in the village of Parçay les Pins where we stayed, my favourite town of Saumur, brocantes and barbecuing.

Here’s one last video. Earier this year, 2019, I was invited to the radio station Salford City Radio 94.4 FM to talk about books, writing and blogging. I was hoping to improve my media profile and pick up a few more followers and perhaps even flog a few more books. Naturally, I took along my video camera and here is the result.


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

Some Hints and Tips from my Adventures on YouTube

I was checking my YouTube page the other day and noticed that I have eighty four videos there. That figure was quite a surprise to me. Eighty four videos? I have to admit, some of those are in my private file and are for production use only. (That makes me sound like a real film producer – production use only!) By that I mean some were uploaded so I could use the soundtrack on another video, some were uploaded without a soundtrack so I could add YouTube music later and some were promotional videos that use the old Floating in Space cover and were made before I introduced the newer version and rather than delete them I have just taken them offline.

By far my most popular video is this one, Trucking: The life of an HGV driver, 1980’s Style! I’d like to be able to tell you what a cracking video it is and that it is well worth watching although, in fact, it isn’t. It’s one of my first videos made before I even went on a media course at the Manchester WFA. I spent a few days with my friend Brian who was an HGV delivery driver and I made a short film about him at work.

I think people watch the film because of the nostalgia factor. I can see perhaps former HGV drivers watching it because that’s how things used to be, no sat navs or other gadgets, just get your map out and get trucking. They are certainly the ones who leave comments. Apart from that it has no particular merit. Pity I didn’t remove the title sequence, done on my old Sinclair Spectrum with music from Elton John, because if I had, the 35,917 views I’ve had at the time of writing could be making me a few quid in royalties. Instead the video is subject to a copyright claim by the owners of Elton’s music.

That’s probably the best lesson I’ve learnt from my time on YouTube; if you made a video years ago and used your favourite tracks from your record collection, replace them with royalty free music which you can download free from YouTube.

One of my favourite videos is another I made in the 1980’s, A Welsh Journey, Manchester to Porthmadoc. It’s a short documentary made about a rail trip which was inspired at the time by a documentary film presented by Michael Palin called Confessions of a Train Spotter. It was part of a Great Railway Journeys series and unlike some of the travel films made later by the former Monty Python performer, it was a great little film full of enthusiasm for the subject.

My old friend Steve and I wanted to recreate Palin’s journey but instead decided to do something cheaper and easier, a rail trip from Manchester Victoria to Porthmadoc. I did a great edit with a documentary style voice over and some top notch sound, music and effects mixing, courtesy of the new sound mixer I had just picked up. The big problem with that video, as regards YouTube, was that I used music from a great album by the Crusaders called Images. Now, that was fine in 1986 when the video was viewed just by me and my friends. Fast forward however to the 21st century digital age, upload it to YouTube and suddenly you have a whole lot of  musical rights owners who are not happy that their music is playing on my video. Result: YouTube have muted the entire soundtrack. You can still watch it but you cannot hear it.

The only thing to do was to take my original VHS video, slip the digitised version into my Windows Movie Maker and then re-edit and add some royalty free music provided by YouTube, in this case a little track by a guy called Kevin MacLeod called Local Forecast. I re-did some of the commentary, faded in Local Forecast in place of the Crusaders and even tidied up the video as a whole.

Some time ago videos could be edited on YouTube using their on-line video editor, hence the reason for uploading videos for ‘production use only’ as I mentioned earlier. You could trim videos, use the soundtrack from a different video and so on. Alas, the YouTube editor is no more, so it’s important to have your video all ready for viewing before you upload it.

One handy little thing on YouTube are YouTube cards. They are just that; a little card that appears in the top right hand corner in which you can add a link to other videos or even to your website.

Just going back to my Trucking video, two other reasons why that video does so well might be as follows.

a) The title is very SEO compatible. It’s straight to the point and tells you all you want to know and it also has a pretty good thumbnail or icon. That’s the image when you see when you first find a video on YouTube. If you look at the railway video above, you can see the icon has all the basics, a simple but relevant picture, the title, and a little explanation that it’s the updated version, not the one with the sound muted!

b) Thumbnails are important as a  good one can pull the viewer into watching your video.

A lot of my more recent videos were made on the Animoto web site. Animoto is a video editing website that comes with templates so you can easily upload your photos and video clips and the template will do the rest. You can even create a whole slide show video with just a collection of still images. Here’s one of my favourites, even though it’s just a little advert for my book:

Here’s another one, this time a collection of photographs of Lytham St Annes :

Right, so so far we’ve got documentaries from the 1980’s, promo videos, and slide shows. Not only that but I also have my book reviews on YouTube. Yes, I’ve always added a video version of my Book Bag series. Here’s the last one, filmed in sunny France in 2017:

Just as I’ve finished this post and pretty much finished re-editing my Airport 1986 video by adding royalty free music, I’ve had an email from YouTube advising me that because I have under a 1000 subscribers I can no longer ‘monetise’ my videos! Oh well, the Internet is a fast moving and ever changing place. Perhaps I should look at shifting my videos over to rival video channel Vimeo.com! Anyway, here’s my updated airport video, split into two parts for ease of uploading.

So, just to finish, here are three points that are key to developing your YouTube channel:

1. Use royalty free music!

2. Think carefully about your video title.

3. Add a simple but effective icon for your video; that and your video title can be the key to bringing in your viewers and subscribers!

4. People have very short attention spans these days. If they are not interested in your video in the first few seconds, they will navigate away from your video to something else so make those first few seconds count.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or watch the short promo below.