Winter Poems

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It may not be winter anymore, but after the #BeastFromTheEast arrived last week I had the perfect opportunity to test out a bit of new video kit for my iPhone. So here it is.

Winter Poems is a very short video showing London in wintery conditions, with excerpts taken from a few beautiful, wintery poems. I hope you like it – there’s more about the process and the poetry below the video. Definitely best watched full screen (the full res version is 4k).

Geeky tech specs (skip down for information about the poetry)

  • Shot on iPhone 8+ using a combination of Mavis & Filmic Pro apps
  • 4k resolution at 24 frames per second
  • Anamorphic lens adapter by Moondog Labs
  • All shot handheld using the Beastgrip Pro
  • Edited in Premiere Pro and After Effects
  • Graded using Filmconvert
  • Audio is Winters Touch from Audio Network

Moondog Labs Anamorphic Lens

For the uninitiated, anamorphic video refers to the process of recording the image through a special oval lens that it records a horizontally squished (technical term) image. The picture looks odd at first, but the idea is that you stretch this out either in realtime or when editing, which helps to give footage some of the trademark features of a ‘cinematic look’, such as; oval bokeh, linear lens flare, and a wider aspect ratio. I’m currently writing a post with more detail on anamorphic, so if that interests you, watch this space.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to shoot some anamorphic footage for some time now, and whilst it can be extremely expensive to rent professional lenses I realised that there are pretty decent options for filming on your phone, which is not something I’ve done much of before (as I own pretty decent filming equipment) but now with the latest iPhones shooting 4k at up to 60 frames a second, I thought it was worth a try out.

The option I went for in the end was the Moondog Labs lens adapter. Instead of purchasing a model specifically for my version of phone, I went for the 37mm threaded lens which fits into a separate mount — this means that if I need to film on different phones I can just adjust the mount, rather than needing a different lens for each phone, which could end up pretty expensive!

I bought the Beastgrip Pro mount which has been great as well. It’s really simple to put the phone in place, and it holds the lens, adds a bit of stabilisation (though you can buy an extra grip to improve this somewhat or mount on a tripod which I think will be the plan for the next shoot), and allows you to mount lights / batteries / mics in various places.

I’m still in early days testing it all out but it’s been pretty intuitive and as you can hopefully see it gives pretty decent results!

Software: Mavis vs Filmic Pro

I originally started shooting on iPhone with the app Mavis and whilst I loved the app, I moved over to Filmic Pro shortly afterwards as I realised that, unlike Mavis, they have a ‘log’ and ‘flat’ shooting profile. The user interface on Mavis is much nicer though.

Whilst I need to test this out more, the idea of shooting a log profile is that this will prevent ‘blowing out’ the highlights and ‘crushing’ the blacks in the footage (essentially this means that the bright and dark parts of the images are just flat white or black, which is quite unattractive) and makes grading the shots more practical (plus as a bonus, Filmconvert, the grading plugin I use, has a specific Filmic Pro preset to help grade log footage).

However, I was a bit annoyed to realise I had accidentally un-set the log setting in Filmic Pro for this whole shoot (the user interface not being all that great), and also you can’t shoot in log above 30 frames a second — I found this really disappointing to be honest as the phone is capable of shooting 4k at 60p, and I don’t necessarily want to be jumping between filming profiles if I want to shoot at different frame rates. So the film doesn’t actually show the log profile at all: that’ll have to be in the next one.

Grading in Filmconvert

Another great tool in my workflow is Filmconvert which aims to give digital footage a filmic look, providing a quick, simple grading tool right in Premiere Pro. I’ve used Filmconvert for some time now and I highly recommend it: inexpensive, easy to use, nice results, quick to render. I generally prefer the results compared to Lumetri (the grading tool in Premiere Pro), but I often use a bit of both.

Winter Poetry

To be honest when I shot the video I didn’t have any fixed ideas as to what I would do with the footage. I produced a rough edit and felt it would be enhanced by some words, and so I started to think about what might represent the film itself.

I began by looking at song lyrics around the theme of winter and snow, but everything I could think of was pretty simple and I was imagining something a bit more weighty, so I started to turn to poetry. The first poem I thought might be suitable was Robert Burns’ ‘Winter: a dirge’, although the ‘dirge’ element did put me off a bit. Here it is:

Winter: a dirge

 

The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or, the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw:
While tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.

The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast
The joyless winter-day,
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!

Thou Pow’r Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here, firm, I rest, they must be best,
Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want (O, do Thou grant
This one request of mine!)
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign.

by Robert Burns

In the end, I felt that the dirge was both a bit too long and that the language was a bit confusing. I had a good hard look at websites like Poetry Foundation, and with a bit of help from my mum, I found a few poems that fit the theme. I was trying to decide which one to go for when in the end I felt that although none fitted perfectly, I could take extracts from each to use in my film.

Is this the poetic cardinal sin? I’m not sure! It’s quite possible that many poets would consider this absolute butchery of the art form, in which case I must apologise. Indeed I am aware that poetry often only really makes sense as a whole, so I would suggest that my video is perhaps a taster and I have put the full poems below for anyone who wishes to absorb these. I must be getting old because I’ve never been so aware of the beauty and depth of poems before — similar to my experience reading Thomas Hardy in my 30s, I’ve discovered a new found enjoyment of well-crafted words in poetry as well as in prose.

So here are the three poems I sampled in my Winter Poems film: ‘January‘ by John Updike, ‘Voronezh’ by Anna Akhmatova, and ‘Blizzard’ by William Carlos Williams

January

 

The days are short,
The sun a spark,
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.

 

Fat snowy footsteps
Track the floor.
Milk bottles burst
Outside the door.

 

The river is
A frozen place
Held still beneath
The trees of lace.

 

The sky is low.
The wind is gray.
The radiator
Purrs all day.

by John Updike

Voronezh

 

The city is caught in the grip of ice–

Trees, walls, snow, are as under glass.

Over crystals, I and the patterned sleighs

Go our separate, unsteady ways.

by Anna Akhmatova

Blizzard

 

Snow:

years of anger following

hours that float idly down —

the blizzard

drifts its weight

deeper and deeper for three days

or sixty years, eh? Then

the sun! a clutter of

yellow and blue flakes —

Hairy looking trees stand out

in long alleys

over a wild solitude.

The man turns and there —

his solitary track stretched out

upon the world.

by William Carlos Williams


I hope you enjoyed their poetry as much as I did, and the video too! That’s it for this post, until next time… 🙂

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