I’ve been framed!

Occasionally customers ask me to edit interviews they’ve shot themselves. I’m only too happy to help them turn their raw interviews into more polished videos. Unfortunately, I can’t do much about the picture quality, which usually suffers from insufficient lighting and hollow, low-level sound. Most of the time, there’s also a third problem: shot composition. Now, even if you don’t want to bother with lights and you’re happy with the sound off your camera’s onboard microphone, the one thing you can do to flatter your subject is to properly compose your shot.

Very simply, shot composition is the way you frame a picture. For some reason, many amateur videographers frame their subjects very widely. A wide shot showing the interview subject from head to toe can certainly serve to introduce your subject and his/her location, but it doesn’t bring a quality that’s desirable for a conversation, either in person or on video. That quality is intimacy.

Think about it. During most of your conversations, you’re only a few feet away, at most, from the person to whom you’re speaking. While you’re conversing, you’re looking in each other’s eyes and reading facial expressions. These visual cues, in addition to the content of the conversation, draw you in and help maintain your interest. You should strive to provide viewers of your video interviews with this same “up close and personal” experience.

Here are some tips for composing a more intimate interview:

  • No wide shots, please. The widest you should frame your subject is from the waist up.
  • Change your shots. At the beginning of the interview, pick three focal lengths – medium (from the waist up); medium close up (from the chest up); and close up (from the neck up). Switch between these shots while you ask your questions to give your interview some much needed visual variety.
  • Place your camera lens at your subject’s eye level. Unless you’re going for some kind of special effect, don’t place your camera too high or too low in relation to your subject. Remember, when we’re seated we’re all at about the same eye level. It’s more natural when you frame your shot this way.
  • Don’t try to do it all. If you’re the interviewer, get someone else to run the camera. This way, you can focus on the content of the interview while someone else pays attention to the composition. It’s very tough to do both things at once.

Video biography workshops slated for October

Tucson’s Family Legacy Video, Inc., a pioneer in the personal video biography field, is holding two unique video biography workshops in Tucson in October, 2008.

From October 17 to 19, a three-day workshop entitled “Create Your Own Video Biography” ushers attendees through the process of creating their own family history video projects. Participants will learn how to draft questions, light, shoot and conduct interviews and prepare for editing.

On October 20, Family Legacy Video presents “The Business of Video Biographies.” This one-day workshop is aimed at budding video biographers interested in starting their own businesses. Topics ranging from the kinds (and costs) of video gear required, to marketing and pricing services will be discussed.

Family Legacy Video president Steve Pender hosts the two workshops, which will also feature presentations by the Phoenix production team of Dan Crapsi and Ginny Temple and Tucson-based marketing expert Dan Blumenthal. Pender is an award-winning scriptwriter, video editor, director and producer with over 29 years of experience. He is the author of the Family Legacy Video Producer’s Guide.

Discounted “early bird” workshop registration is being offered until July 28, 2008. The final registration deadline is October 4, 2008. Complete workshop details are available on the workshop page of the Family Legacy Video Web site or by calling 520.743.4090.

Damn the technology – full speed ahead!

I’d like to put my parents’ stories on a DVD, but what happens when DVDs become obsolete? How will future generations of my family play the video?

I hear variations of this question all the time. My short answer is always, “Don’t worry, preserve your family history using the technology available to you now. Don’t let fear of future technologies keep you from capturing your family stories today.”

I say this for a couple of reasons. First, history shows that, as audio and video recording technologies evolve, so do ways of transferring older technologies to the new. Second, “elderly” technologies tend to exist side-by-side with the new kids on the block for years.

My opinions on this subject were recently reinforced in a very delightful way when Arlo Guthrie brought his “Guthrie Family Legacy Tour” to Tucson. He took to the stage with his son, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter to celebrate a musical legacy begun by Arlo’s dad, Woody Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie left behind a huge body of work. But, as Arlo told the audience, one thing his father’s legacy lacked was a concert recording. Nowhere was there an audio record of Woody’s interaction with an audience – or so the family thought, until a gentleman walked into the Guthrie Archives office with an old wire recording of a Woody Guthrie concert performance in New York City, circa the 1940s. Wire recorders predate magnetic audiotape – and yet this vintage performance now exists on a CD which will shortly be released for sale.

After telling this story, Arlo treated the audience to a couple of minutes of his dad’s on-stage banter. The moment was magical. As Woody’s voice filled the theatre, there were, in fact, four generations of this musical family represented on stage. And why was this possible? Because someone, nearly 70 years ago, had the foresight to record Woody’s performance using the technology on hand.

So don’t be inhibited by thoughts of what “might be” when it comes to technology. Preserve your stories on video now. The future will take care of itself.

The Veterans History Project needs you!

“I want to get started in the video biography business, but I need experience. Where do I get it?” It’s a common refrain and one I hear often from Family Legacy Video readers and customers. I usually suggest starting out by practicing on family and friends. But here’s another option, one that will help preserve the stories of U.S. veterans and give you valuable interviewing experience.

It’s the Veterans History Project. Its mission is to locate and interview veterans to record their stories. Whether you plan to create video biographies as a hobby or as a business, one of the most important things you need to do is to learn your craft. And volunteer opportunities like the Veterans History Project are a great way to learn by doing. The Veterans History Project is sponsored by the U.S. Congress and the interviews are housed in the Library of Congress. The main goal of the project is to collect first-hand accounts from U.S. veterans of the following wars: World War I (1914-1920); World War II (1939-1946); Korean War (1950-1955); Vietnam War (1961-1975); Persian Gulf War (1990-1995); and the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts (2001-present).

You’ll find complete information at this Web site: http://www.loc.gov/vets/.

Taking part in the project is a great way to “learn on the job” and add to the historical archives of the United States.

Workshops teach video biography techniques for fun & business

Tucson’s Family Legacy Video, Inc., a pioneer in the personal video biography field, is holding two unique video biography workshops in Tucson in April, 2008.

From April 25 to 27, a three-day workshop entitled “Create Your Own Video Biography” ushers attendees through the process of creating their own family history video projects. Participants will learn how to draft questions, light, shoot and conduct interviews and prepare for editing.

On April 28, Family Legacy Video presents “The Business of Video Biographies.” This one-day workshop is aimed at budding video biographers interested in starting or growing their own businesses. Topics ranging from the kinds (and costs) of video gear required, to marketing and pricing services will be discussed.

Family Legacy Video president Steve Pender hosts the two workshops, which will also feature presentations by the Phoenix production team of Dan Crapsi and Ginny Temple and Tucson-based marketing expert Dan Blumenthal. Pender is an award-winning scriptwriter, video editor, director and producer with over 29 years of experience. He is the author of the Family Legacy Video Producer’s Guide. Pender and Family Legacy Video have been featured in both print and broadcast. Print: The Explorer News, the Arizona Daily Star, EventDV, a leading video industry trade magazine, and Miami Monthly Magazine. Broadcast: “Arizona Spotlight” on KUAZ AM/FM and Fox News in Arizona.

Discounted “early bird” workshop registration is being offered until February 29, 2008. The final registration deadline is April 1, 2008. Complete workshop details are available on the workshop page of the Family Legacy Video Web site, or by calling 520.743.4090.

Use old family music recordings to score your video

Music can lend emotion and a sense of time and place to any video biography. And if any of the subjects of your video biographies are musicians, you may be able to use some of the music of their lives to lend a very personal touch to their video life stories.

Here are two examples:

A Family Legacy Video Workshop veteran recently finished a video biography that featured her father. Her dad had been a mandolin player and had belonged to a mandolin club during his college days. Years later, he was recorded playing and discussing his favorite tunes. This reel-to-reel audio tape was eventually copied to CD. His daughter then incorporated the words and music from this wonderful family keepsake as a featured element in her family history video.

The father of a current video biography client was an amateur musician. He wrote a tune that his daughter, an accomplished pianist, later recorded. The song, and the story behind it, will be included in the daughter’s video biography, preserving it for generations to come.

So while you’re considering what to include in a video biography, don’t overlook the opportunity to use some of those vintage family audio recordings that have been gathering dust for years. You’ll give those audio tapes new life. In turn, they’ll bring an added dimension to your production – and help you “score” with your family.

Family Legacy Video on the radio – listen in!

On December 21, 2007, I took to the radio airwaves to speak about video biographies. The experience was great fun – and I’ve archived the segment on the Family Legacy Video Web site so you can listen in!

I was a guest on “Arizona Spotlight,” a show broadcast every Friday morning and evening on Tucson’s NPR stations KUAZ AM/FM. I actually visited the radio studio on December 5 and spent about a half-hour chatting with the show’s host, Mark McLemore. Mark edited the interview down to a little over 7 minutes in length.

I’ve archived the segment on the Family Legacy Video site. All you have to do to listen is go to the site’s radio page. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Some local press for Family Legacy Video

Shortly after Labor Day, a reporter and photographer from the Explorer, Tucson’s weekly newspaper, visited with we to talk about preserving personal history on video.

The announcement of my workshops at the annual conference of the Association of Personal Historians kindled the interest of reporter Ty Bowers, who explored the subject of video biographies with me for a couple of hours. The article appeared in the September 12 issue of the paper. If you’d like to read the article, you’ll find it on the “Family Legacy Video in Print” page.

Join Steve Pender & other personal historians this November!

If video biography and personal history is your cup of tea, you’ll want to be in Tennessee this November.

Author and award-winning video biographer Steve Pender of Tucson’s Family Legacy Video will present two workshops (Preparing & Conducting a Video Biography Interview & Transcripts With Time Code: The Video Biographer’s Friend) at the Association of Personal Historians (APH) annual conference in Franklin, Tennessee (right next door to Nashville), November 8-12, 2007. More than 300 personal historians – writers, oral historians, and videographers – in the business of “saving lives one story at a time” by creating biographies and memoirs in various formats – will gather from throughout the United States and Canada and as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Europe.

According to Steve, “More and more Americans recognize the value of preserving family and personal stories on video in order to create legacies for future generations.” Family Legacy Video caters to this trend by producing video biographies and by teaching folks how to do it themselves.

While virtually unknown a few short years ago, the idea of “saving lives” through professionally videotaped memoirs has exploded in popularity. Today, professionals in the emerging field have translated their backgrounds in journalism, film, oral history, psychology, storytelling, graphic design, publishing, history and education into the business of documenting the lives of clients as well as the histories of corporations and other organizations.

Thirty distinctive workshops, including Steve’s two sessions, are scheduled for the 2007 APH Conference. Each will focus on the skills, equipment and methods personal historians must hone in order to capture lives and memories effectively for future generations.

Audio tips for two-camera video bio shoots

Let’s say you’ve decided to videotape an interview with two family members. In order to give yourself some options when you edit, you want to shoot them using two cameras. So how do you capture audio? And how do you synch up the tapes from your two cameras during editing?

RECORDING AUDIO

Option 1: You can mount a lapel microphone on each subject, run the mics into a mixer, and feed the outputs of the mixer to the audio inputs of each camera. Of course, in order to do this you need a mixer and someone to mix the audio while you’re recording. This is probably not something that’s going to be possible for most family projects.

Option 2: Most consumer and many prosumer cameras have only one microphone input. When shooting with two cameras, you’ll need to run one microphone to each camera. (Note: Unless you’re using stereo microphones, the camera will place the audio on only one half of your camera’s stereo channel. You’ll need to copy the audio over to the other half of the channel during your edit.)

Option 3: You can buy an audio adaptor that contains two audio inputs. The inputs are of the professional XLR type (three-pin). The output of the adaptor is a mini-plug that plugs into the mic input of your camera. The adaptor will allow you to combine the audio from both mics and send the mixed feed to both left and right channels of your camera OR you can choose to keep each microphone isolated on its own channel. This option requires the purchase of an adaptor and some professional cables, though. If you do go with Option 3, remember that you’re feeding the output of the microphones to just one camera. However, your second camera will still need to record audio (you’ll be using this camera’s audio as a reference only – I’ll get to this in just a moment) so make sure the onboard microphone contained in the camera is working.

No matter how you record the audio, keep in mind that you’re going to need to synch the tapes from the two cameras during your edit. One technique that will help is to record a very recognizable sound on each tape, a sound you can later use to match your tape positions. If you have a clapper, (you know, the small slate with a handle that slaps the top of the slate, used in motion pictures), that’ll be just fine. If you don’t have a clapper, use your (or your subject’s) own two hands. Start both cameras recording, wait a few seconds, and then clap once, as loudly as you can. Do this each time you start recording. You now have audible reference points on each tape.

SYNCHING TAPES

First of all, you’ll need editing software that provides a timeline with a number of video and audio layers. After you digitize your videotapes, you’re ready to begin. The first step is to create a “rough edit” during which you synch up all your tapes. Let’s say your two-shot is on camera 1. Import tape 1 from camera 1 into video/audio track one. Find your first clap (you’ll hear it, of course, but you should also be able to see it clearly on the audio waveform displayed on the audio track) and mark the point with a clip marker. Next, import your close-ups from camera 2. Find the first clap on this tape and then mark it. Finally, line up the two markers.

Now, play the two tapes together on the timeline. If you don’t hear any echo, you’re right on the money. If you do hear an echo, you may need to shift one of the tapes back or forward by a frame or two. Once the tapes are synched, group them together using your editing software. Grouping guards against accidentally shifting the position of one of the tapes and losing audio synch as a result.

Once the tapes are synched, create another timeline, sequence or project. Use your rough edit as a source and cut and paste segments from your rough cut into the new timeline as you create your final program.