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Film story – adding music and images to words

A few months ago I saw, on Claire Armitstead‘s recommendation, Kate Pullinger’s’s ‘Flight Paths.  I loved their artistry and their apparent simplicity, and the idea of them stayed with me.  So, when I was invited by my publisher to present a ‘drop-in’ event in the Culture Cymru tent at the Guardian Hay Festival, Kate Pullinger’s  ‘networked novel’ again came to mind.

I thought of the installations in art exhibitions I’d seen: films on a continuous roll, that visitors could drift in and see – either staying to watch the whole sequence or leaving after just a few minutes to go and see something else.  I’d also just heard a poem by John Metcalfe, one of the talented writers in our local writing group.  He’d read out what he’d described as a circular poem, and it had impressed me a lot.  He demonstrated how it could be started anywhere – and I thought that if I could do such a thing with my films that would be just the sort of thing that would work.

Movie 1

Initially, I constructed this on Powerpoint and then converted to a movie.  However, since I could not save music alongside my images, I started again on iMovie and found this much more versatile and includes things such as ‘the Ken Burns effect’ editing function (which gave a little movement to the pictures), various ways of adding text, and music.  Windows Live Movie Maker is, I am told (by Jim Murdoch), a similar program and can be downloaded.

I started with my novel – finding passages that worked well aloud.   With these passages in mind I then selected images from the collection of pictures I had assembled during my research and imported them into a folder using iPhoto. I then constructed a series of short sentences – one to go with each image – which would lead to one of the chosen passages from the book.  I then started compiling the pictures in sequence on iMovie from the iPhoto file with words below each picture.

Adding music was difficult.  It has to be copyright-free, and a good site for this is This is usefully sorted according to mood, but it is difficult to find music that is the right length and also ‘fits’ the movie in other ways too.  I selected a tune called Pathfinder, but it didn’t quite fit the pictures.

However, after a little practice on iMovie I found I could fade the music in and out – joining up tracks almost seamlessly – and I could ‘shift’ the music along so that a drum-roll, for instance, corresponded with a revelation in the text.

I found it useful to present my movies on my blog for comment as I went along.  Thanks to comments there, including those from Debra Hamel, I increased the time of each shot (after stumbling on how to do this on iMovie), and used different subtitles with a dark background which people found easier to see.  I also eliminated full-stops to give an impression that something else was coming up.

Eventually I found I had a self-contained film that summarised the plot to some extent and went well with some music that I had selected.  However it was only just over 3 minutes long, so I  went on to make movie 2. View Movie 1 here in standard and HD.

Movie 2

For this movie, about my research in Patagonia, I started with words (rather than images).

With the whole selection of my Patagonia photos in front of me I wrote 45 sentences (about the same number as the first movie).  Most of these had a photo to go with them, but I had to scan in a few more too. I then imported them into a new folder in iPhoto, from where I could then put in iMovie, and then labelled the pictures. I ran this through then rewrote the sentences so there was more of a narrative.

I then tried to find some music from Freeplay, but the only suitable music I could find (Blue Ridge Mountain Mist) didn’t go with the timbre of my words so I rewrote again. I then added the music to the movie but wasn’t satisfied with how it ended and rewrote yet again.

This movie was entirely different in character from the first with a rollicking feel, inspired mostly by the music and, after my rewriting, by the references to a journey. View in standard or HD.


Movie 3

My third film, on my British research, I wanted to have a more wistful air, and since I had learnt that music has such a powerful effect I decided to start with this. I chose something reflective and slow, because I wanted the film, in part, to be about memory.

The length of the piece having been established by the music, I then devised the words and then looked around for images. I found the facility to change the effect on the picture useful – using features such as ‘vignette’ to depict things such as dreams. I also made the pace slower to go with the music – view in standard or HD.

The films were shown at the Culture Cymru tent at the Guardian Hay Festival 2010 and are set to tour Wales at events hosted by Waterstone’s.  Uploading them to YouTube has meant that my films are accessible worldwide and several people have commented that it really makes them want to buy the book.

I didn’t set out to make a promotional tool, but having made the film I think that it could be a very powerful one.  The on-line generation is used to receiving information in short intense packages including images and music as well as words.  They need to be hooked with everything they are used to receiving at their keyboard, and I think a three minute film is ideal for this.  I have been able to attach the YouTube link to my signature in emails, pointed it out to organisers of events and intend to use it in my talks to festivals and as part of my launch.  I found the challenge of converting my work an enjoyable and creative one, and I’ve found viewing the results satisfying.   It has made me realise that as an author my words don’t need to stay locked within a book, but with a little effort can be broadcast to people who wouldn’t otherwise have come across them.

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