I’m standing on the shoulders of giants with this; I have long admired the films of people such as Barry Godin (who curates the films shown at the Cycle Touring Festival) and, more recently, Ryan Van Duzer (who I interviewed for the most recent episode of The Cycling Europe Podcast) but also the long-format cycling films such as Tom Allen’s Janapar: Love, On a Bike from 2012. There are dozens of other cycling filmmakers doing similar things to an incredibly high standard. And now there’s me… It’s finally here:
If you have access to a decent broadband connection and a 4K smart TV with built-in YouTube, I suggest that you watch the film there as you can do so glorious UHD. You can find the Cycling Europe YouTube channel at the following URL: www.youtube.com/AndrewPSykes.
It’s not the first short film that I have made, far from it! I’ve been piecing together video – shot mainly via an iPhone and occasionally a DSLR – for years and you can see a selection of these films on the new ‘films’ page of CyclingEurope.org. (All of the films can be found on the YouTube channel.) Many of these films have been about cycling, but many others have been about hiking trips around the UK. There’s even one film about a cruise along the River Rhine and Mosel from the summer of 2019.
But what makes this particular film different is not just its length – it comes in at just over 27 minutes – but also that the filmmaking was an integral part of the trip itself. My other videos have been secondary to the cycles (and you could argue that that’s the way it should be!) but this trip to the Yorkshire Dales was specifically planned in order to give me the opportunity of making a ‘proper’ film. Each day I attempted to tell a short story that was different from the previous day as well as the next. That’s an approach I took to writing the books and it seemed to work well. (Top writing / filming tip: avoid telling the same cycling story 50 times!) There was a structure; a beginning, a middle and an end. And I dedicated a considerable amount of time each day to setting up the shots and ensuring that, technically, everything was as good as I could make it. I don’t claim perfection (the raindrops on the camera in Skipton are an example of the films imperfections) but hopefully the result is worth the extra effort. Ultimately you will be the judge of that. I’d love to hear what you think.
I shot around 3 hours of video over the course of the four days so most of that ended up on the (virtual) cutting room floor. It amounted to around 150GB of data. Two cameras were used; my iPhone, of course, which provides fantastic, stabilised wide-angle shots in 4K and a Canon XA-40 4K video camera that I purchased late last year in anticipation of cycling the length of Japan. That clearly didn’t happen. I did take the Canon with me on the ‘Great British Cycle Tour‘ earlier this summer but used it far less frequently that I had hoped. The tripod I was using, despite it being a ‘travel tripod’ was quite unwieldy and not easy to use, let alone store in one of the panniers. And then I got caught up in racing from one destination to the next, especially in the latter stages of that tour. This is a theme that’s picked up upon in the new film as you will find out when you watch. For this Yorkshire Dales trip, I replaced the ‘travel’ tripod with a ‘mini’ tripod (a Manfrotto PIXI EVO 2-Section Mini Tripod to give it its full title) which was not only much cheaper than the Manfrotto ‘travel’ tripod, but also much more user-friendly and easier to store. When not using it as a tripod, the legs fold together to create a first-rate handle. It’s down to this that many of the shots are so incredibly steady. (And the fact that I don’t drink a bottle of whisky every day…)
The film was edited on Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. I purchased this software a couple of years ago and have been gradually building up my skills in using it. If you are familiar with using Apple’s iMovie (that comes bundled with the Mac OS), it works along similar lines but offers far greater capacity to be creative. And has the power to cope with a lengthy 4K film.
This screenshot was taken before things got really tricky and by that I mean when the sound editing kicked in big time. The bands of audio that you can see at the bottom of the screen no longer look so neat and tidy. Travelling on a bicycle, sound is always going to be an issue as the pesky wind often ruins any other sound that is recorded, especially when the iPhone is being used. It’s not practical (or, as far as I’m aware) possible to stick a ‘dead cat’ muffler over the microphone of an iPhone. Using an external microphone might give better results but that would be a bit of a faff to set up every time a pretty view appears on the horizon. The sound recorded via the Canon XA-40 is much better quality. Often, the best option is not to use sound at all and replace it with music. YouTube now makes available a library of (mainly) music that ‘creators’ can use when editing their videos. The music is royalty free and the library sufficiently large to avoid those cheesy bits of music that are provided by Apple iMovie when editing on your phone. The music in the Yorkshire Dales film comes from a group of musicians who go by the name Track Tribe. Some of you will hate the music I’ve used but I think it’s quite funky. Each to their own…
The other sound ‘issue’ is the narration. I’ve long since got over the hurdle of hearing my own voice played back to me (that comes with having made so many podcasts) but providing narration for a film is, I have discovered, a particular skill. My first attempt at making the recordings (using the Zoom H4N Pro recorder I use for the podcasts) had me sounding as though I was narrating a funeral. I asked an actor friend, Jeremy – who gave Maximilian J. St. George a voice in the podcast about the great man earlier this year – for some advice and he came back with the following;
“You have to vary the pitch of your voice and the tempo – but without it sounding ‘sing – songy’, as if you were talking to children. A good tip is to imagine one person and say it to them. Write in some ers and pauses, depending on how conversational you want it to be – Radio 4 or YouTube.”
With this in mind, I recorded the narration again and the result was much improved. Again, I don’t claim perfection – everything I do is in ‘continual Beta’ – but I’m generally happy with how things now sound. Re-recording the narration also gave me the opportunity of modifying the script to make it a little more light-hearted.
All that was left was the exporting of the final video, the checking, the uploading to YouTube and a bit of marketing.
So there you have the story of how this film was made. Next? Who knows? What I do know is that there will certainly be a ‘next’. The whole filmmaking ‘thing’ is thoroughly enjoyable. Yes, you do look a bit of a burke setting up the camera and cycling past before going back to retrieve it (see me in action after the credits of the film doing just that) but it’s good fun and the results in our digital world can be impressive. I hope you enjoy what you see. Thanks for watching!