Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Making spoken word videos

Over the past few months due to Covid-19 I have been asked for a few spoken word videos. The results can be seen on Hugh Macmillan's Poems from the backroom #plagueopoets, as part of the upcoming Scottish Poetry Library's Vision 2020 project and Stowed Out 2020 [Locked In].

It is a very different thing making a video of yourself, as opposed to being filmed performing live. 

First and foremost for someone who has been living in the Borders (with for a considerable part of that time only access to local opportunities due to caring responsibilities), it is a liberation to do it yourself. Breathtaking. And share it yourself too! And the feel of a lot of doors opening. The viewing of other people's work has been astonishing also at events I never would have been able to get to like the Poetry Wales lockdown edition launch and Nine Arches Press Peter Kahn Little Kings launch: these events allowed me to effectively meet in person writers that I had only read before; private to well not exactly to the public but better as an online reading is intimate and powerful and feels personal.

Technically however my first thoughts on how to do this were quite basic. This was after all not going to be a multishot feature film  but quick and dirty engineering. So sitting in one place to read with a single static shot seemed wisest. I used Microsoft Teams and set up a meeting and recorded myself that way. The result was ok but felt a bit clunky requiring some tweaking in a video editor to remove the meeting name at the beginning. It also felt like I was speaking at a meeting which in my case was ok but might be a downer for some people. Subsequently I have converted to using my phone - still with me sitting at my desk to record so far - and I think I get a better result. Easy to move the phone around to get some simple effects but try them to see what they look like first. But also easy to knock the phone though if you wave your hands around a lot as I do and have it propped up against the laptop screen. You can sneak a cheatsheat on your screen too with nobody the wiser. Quality overall was better in my opinion and easy to stop and start. If you have no access to editing software don't start recording until you are ready (ideally with everything you need close by) and maybe even plan what you are going to say, read and how you will finish - to avoid long pauses. I just write some keywords on a bit of paper if I want to remind myself - the same kind of notes I would make for a live reading in person. One more tip is make sure to video landscape. You can see the dangers of filming portrait in the screenshot showing short films in my channel screengrab below. For those particular videos of water, it wasn't much of an issue but if your film is being spliced in with a lot of others - landscape may be a requirement.

For the Vision 2020 project I was tasked to make a video to accompany my commissioned poem. This one I wanted to be more experimental. I decided almost immediately to absent my person entirely from proceedings which works well with the poem but also usefully opened up a few more possibilities as to how it could be shot. For this project I used a full on video editing piece of software Adobe Premier Pro. It's not cheap so find someone or an organisation, school or college who can let you use their copy or use a free video editing utility and face the fact you may have to show their logo (not the end of the world). I wanted to weave together several short video source films I had made locally to where I lived - this stage of making the films on my phone was step one and involved an image walk around the settings of the poem. My poem has several times in it all in the same place - so I had to use diffferent nearby landscape to recreate the before and after. It ended up getting a bit drizzly once I reached the site itself (where the trees were cut down) but I think that added to the end product atmosphere - in fact I added some scratches and dust to grain the image further using effects. So make the most of unexpected changes in conditions and don't chuck stuff away just because it isn't exactly as you planned. I then made a voice recording - separately using the voice recorder again free on my phone. Once added, the video elements were quick to put together but there was quite a lot of sound tweaking to be done. This was because my source videos had sound which I liked; so it was kept in places and subdued in others. The voice track needed to be enhanced too. I really enjoyed experimenting with the editing software. 

My latest experiment has been with a video export of a Microsoft PowerPoint animation - you can watch it here. So no tool is too simple to integrate into your video.  You'll have this piece of software if you have Microsoft Office and you can export a ppt file as video - simple as that. Students can get Office for free btw!

Work in progress using this technique though: timings are the key issue for experimentation at this point - e.g. the first shot of titles lingers! Next time I will also record a voice track and add it using Premiere Pro again. 

There's plenty to include and explore - video, art, animation, voice, sound poems, editing all of which I pursue in my practice - along with what is effectively publishing to voice mechanism via YouTube. Not least the ability to quickly get poems out (not to mention building a bit of an archive). Experimenting with video certainly fills the performance gap enforced by lockdown and more. Try it! Let me know about your experiments with video in the usual way - happy to review and link to my favourites.


My channel is here: perhaps of most interest to trainspotters and lovers of the very short unitheme film. If you have already checked out my insta @poetandgeek you will know the stuff I like.

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