Drop a pebble in the water…

Drop a pebble in the water; just a splash and it is gone;
But there’s a half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on,
Spreading, spreading, from the center, flowing on out to the sea
And there’s no way of telling where the end is going to be.
– James W. Foley

On October 5, 2006, during the opening session of the annual conference for the Association of Personal Historians, I experienced a keynote address that was the most inspiring I’ve ever heard. The speaker was Bob Welch. He’s a columnist for The Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene, Oregon, and an author. His talk chronicled his experiences researching and writing his book, American Nightingale – The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy.

Frances Slanger was the first American nurse to die after the D-Day landings. She was killed the night after writing a letter to Stars and Stripes, a letter that praised American GIs and, in turn, inspired many of those soldiers to write letters in response. It’s a fascinating, inspiring and heartwarming story. And what I’d like to do is focus on a small part of that story: the poem you see above.

A copy of the poem was found in Slanger’s “chapbook,” a scrapbook-like volume filled with writings and poems she held dear. As Welch pointed out in his address, it’s a poem that speaks volumes to those of us dedicated to preserving personal and family stories and histories.

That’s because we’re the pebbles. When you start out to create a family or personal history, you create an initial splash. And the ripples from that splash, your efforts, can produce unexpected and delightful results.

In my own case, I never would have dreamt back in 1998 that the video biography I produced about my grandmother’s life would impact my family as greatly as it did. The video continues to provide comfort to the children who miss her dearly. At least one grandchild included the video in a history project at his school. And, years later, it helped spawn Family Legacy Video, Inc., helping others preserve their precious histories. So the ripples continue to this day.

And, as the ripples of your efforts continue to spread, you’ll find you inspire others to tell their stories. There’s just no end to this personal history “ripple effect.” It will continue for years, and generations, to come.

So go ahead. Drop a pebble in the water. Do it today.

Get double the coverage on your next family interview.

“Two cameras! Why would I want to shoot an interview using two cameras? I can barely manage one.”

Okay, I hear you. And, for the most part, one camera is all you’re ever going to really need to videotape your family interviews. BUT, if you’re feeling adventurous, there are times when two cameras can really come in handy.

Situation 1: Let’s say you’re doing an interview with a subject who has very few visuals (photos, films, memorabilia, etc.) available to lend visual interest to the finished program. Setting up two cameras (one a wide shot and one a close-up), gives you the option of cutting from one camera to the other during your edit. This lends some visual interest. It also helps when you want to rearrange answers or cut out some material. Let’s say you’re on the close up. You reach a point where you need to cut out some material. Simply end the close-up and pick up the new segment on the wide shot. This’ll help hide the fact that you eliminated some of the interview.

Situation 2: Maybe you’re interviewing two or three relatives at a sitting. What you can do is set up your first camera on a wide shot, so that you always see the entire group. Use your second camera to zoom in on whomever is speaking. You can hide any sloppiness that occurs as you move your close-up camera from subject to subject by covering those moves with your wide shot. And again, always having two different angles can hide cuts you make within the interview.

Of course, there are some challenges that result from using multiple cameras. You’ll have double the amount of tape, for one. Plus, you need to have a plan for recording audio on both cameras. And then you’ll have to line up the footage from both cameras in your editing timeline so that the audio and video from both cameras are in sync.

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.

Capture that performance on video!

It was June 28, a few minutes past 2 PM on a hot Tucson afternoon, when I received a call from a gentleman in Wisconsin. It seems his dad, an avid amateur pianist, was hosting a house concert in Green Valley (south of Tucson) on July 1. The caller had never seen his father present a concert and was anxious to have it preserved on video. “Can you videotape the concert?” he asked.

Long story short, I spent the evening of July 1 documenting a wonderful program of Chopin performed by my client’s father for about a dozen friends. I was not only treated to some uplifting music, but also learned a few things about the history of the piano and the life of Chopin during short talks interspersed between musical selections.

I think it’s terrific that my client cared enough about his dad to preserve a record of his passion for the piano. Not only will the concert video be enjoyed now, but it will also be a valuable keepsake for future generations. And the footage can also become part of a future video biography.

So if you get the opportunity (or can make the opportunity) to capture the special talents of a loved one on video, go for it! You’ll have both a unique recording for your family to enjoy – and valuable footage you can use in a future family legacy video.

Looking to jog some memories? Try a road trip.

Have you ever gone back to visit the home where you grew up? Your first school? Or any other buildings or places that figured prominently in your childhood? I bet your visits prompted a flood of memories. You can harness that power of place to help the subject of your next video biography recall memories and stories from his or her life.

A while ago I took a walk through my old New Jersey neighborhood, still filled with tree-lined streets and small, post World War II bungalows. My childhood home looked completely different, with a second story added and lacking all of the trees that used to shade our corner lot. Even so, just looking at the property brought back memories – of events and feelings. I remembered what it felt like to climb those old trees, clear the yard of leaves each autumn (and jump in the leaf piles, of course) and, for some reason, I vividly remembered what it felt like to run from my backyard onto the narrow stone path leading to our side door, and slam that door shut as I charged into the house. Quite frankly, I was surprised at how spontaneous and keenly felt that simple memory was.

A member of my Rotary club recently told me how he took his dad on a tour of the homes that figured prominently in his life. Video camera in hand, he’d stand his father in front of one of his boyhood homes and record the stories and remembrances the place stimulated.

If you think a road trip may be in order for your next video biography, here are some tips to consider:

Plan ahead. If you’d like to shoot on a property, contact the current property owners, explain what you’d like to do, and get their permission. Remember – no trespassing! At the very least, if you’re not on their property but are including the building in your shot, just knock on the owner’s door and let him/her know what you’re doing. Who knows, maybe you’ll get invited inside.

Locked down or hand held? You may opt to set your camera on a tripod, and videotape with your subject between the camera and the building, the way you always see TV reporters shot when they’re reporting from the White House. Another option is to follow your subject as he/she walks the property and relates their memories. You can do this by taking your tripod with you, setting up a shot to establish an area, and then having your subject walk into the shot and speak. Or, if you’re steady enough, you can ditch the tripod and shoot hand held.

Audio. You’re going to want to mic your subject as closely as possible. This means a lapel (also called a lavaliere) mic. If you’re going to simply have your subject stand and talk, you may be able to get away with an extension cable so you can attach the microphone directly to your camera. However, if you plan on doing any walking and talking, think about renting or purchasing a wireless microphone. A wireless mic has a small transmitter your subject wears on a belt or sticks in a pocket. The audio is sent to a receiver that connects to the audio input of your camera.

Places figure prominently in our lives. And, with a little planning and creativity, you can use them to generate some interesting visuals and some fascinating memories.

Begin your video biography now. Here’s how you start.

The process of creating your family history video begins with a vision. Your vision. Now, don’t be intimidated by the word “vision.” All it means is the way you imagine your video is going to look and sound. The clearer your vision, the easier it will be for you to pull together the resources you’ll need to make your video. For example, your vision may be for a simple, on-camera interview. Or you may want to create something a bit more involved, including stills, family videos and music.

If you’ve been watching TV most of your life, you’ve been exposed to a wide variety of video techniques. You probably just haven’t really paid much attention to them. Watch some of your favorite documentaries in the next few days or weeks and take note of what you see and hear. Is the show comprised of nothing but on-screen interviews? Or are the interviews combined with still photos, film and video clips? How do the shows proceed from one topic or scene to the next? What kinds of transitions are used?

Once you have an idea of how TV programs are structured, take the next step and imagine the video biography you’d like to create. Who is in it? What are they talking about? What kinds of things do you see and hear? Make some notes of your thoughts and ideas. Store your notes in a folder or three ring binder to keep them handy and organized.

Congratulations – you now have a vision for your video. You’re on your way!

How can our video biography workshops benefit you? Let us know!

November’s “Create Your Own Video Biography” workshop was fun and informative for all! And now that the 2006 workshop season is a wrap, we’d like to hear how to make our 2007 workshops even more beneficial for you. Please take a moment to fill out our online workshop survey. It’s an easy way to get your name on our waiting list – AND your answers will help Family Legacy Video design a workshop experience that will help you.

Note: This survey is no longer online.

Capture family memories on video during the holidays

An interview with my mom – it’s been something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. And this year I finally did it. Mom came out from New Jersey to celebrate two November milestone birthdays (I turned 50 and she reached 70) as well as Thanksgiving, which was sandwiched in between. We had a great visit, and on the day after we celebrated her birthday, we sat down for an interview that celebrated her life.

I’m so glad I took advantage of her holiday visit to preserve my mother’s stories on video. And this holiday season I urge you to do the same. A holiday visit can afford you the time you need to interview family members you may not see during the rest of the year. If you have a relative whose memories you’d like to record, give them a call and arrange an interview while he or she is in your neck of the woods.

Here’s another idea: We all have lots of memories centered around the holidays. Think about grabbing short interviews with as many family members as possible – interviews that focus solely on their remembrances of past Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa and/or New Year’s celebrations. Then use these interviews to create a “family holiday memories” DVD that you and your family will treasure.
Whatever holiday you’re celebrating this month, have a wonderful time – and don’t forget to capture some of your family storytellers on video!

Of weddings, keepsakes and video biographies

They’re white satin bags, fringed with lace and dotted with pearl-like beads. They’re bridal bags, designed to hold the cards given to a bride on her wedding day. Even though they’ve been emptied of the cards, cash and checks that once filled them, the bags are still filled with the love of their maker and are cherished by the brides who own them.

My wife and I hopped a flight from Arizona to the New Jersey in April to attend the wedding of my youngest female cousin. The service was beautiful and the reception was a blast. Throughout the day’s celebration, I couldn’t help thinking of my grandmother. Gram died suddenly in 1998. Before her death she was a fixture at every family event and was always the life of every party. It’s a shame she wasn’t around to attend the wedding of her youngest granddaughter. But, when I saw the bride’s aunt holding the satin bag, brimming with cards, I knew that Gram was certainly there in spirit.

You see, Gram made it a point to sew a satin bridal bag for each and every new bride in our family. It didn’t matter whether the young lady was related by blood, or was soon to be related by marriage. Gram didn’t discriminate. Gram also planned ahead. Realizing she might not live long enough to attend the weddings of her two youngest granddaughters, she made their bags far in advance and gave them to her daughter (her granddaughters’ mom) for safe keeping. And now, years after Grams death, each granddaughter in turn has spent her wedding reception with one of her grandmother’s custom made bags dangling from her wrist.

So what’s this got to do with video biographies? Quite simply, your video biography, like one of those satin bags, is sure to become a treasured family keepsake. Think of it as physical expression of your love, filled with your memories, stories and values; a wonderful legacy that will valued for generations.

Join the November Video Bio Workshop

“Create Your Own Video Biography” workshops from Family Legacy Video offer three jam-packed days filled with inspiration, learning and fun – and leave you with the tools you need to preserve your own precious family stories on video. Our next workshop takes place in Tucson, Arizona this November.

The Tucson workshop runs from November 10 to 12 (Friday to Sunday). The venue is the meeting room at the Arizona Small Business Association, in the Crossroads Festival Shopping Center, 4811 East Grant Road (the corner of Grant and Swan), in Tucson.
The early bird deadline for the Tucson workshop: October 3.

“Create Your Own Video Biography” workshops from Family Legacy Video offer three jam-packed days filled with inspiration, learning and fun – and leave you with the tools you need to preserve your own precious family stories on video.

SO if you’re itching to tackle your own do-it-yourself video biography project –

BUT you lack the skills and experience you need to move forward –

THIS IS YOUR CHANCE to learn professional video production tips and techniques.

Complete details (along with testimonials from past workshop participants) are on the workshop page of the Family Legacy Video Web site.

Is stock footage beyond your reach? Maybe not.

Stock historical footage. We’ve all seen it used in the movies and on TV. Thanks to early documentary film makers and newsreel cameramen, long ago events, from the major to the mundane, still live on in grainy, black and white moving images. Most of those clips are owned by stock footage libraries. These companies license the rights to various clips to video and film producers – and the rights can be very expensive. We’re talking hundreds and thousands of dollars for a few seconds to a few minutes of video, way more than most family video biographers can afford. But what if you really want to include some historical clips in your family video, both to bring a particular era to life and to give your video that History Channel look? Do you have any low cost options? Actually, you do.

Some of our taxes do go to support worthy government institutions, and one of them is the Library of Congress. In addition to print materials, the Library of Congress houses some great early film collections in its American Memory Collection. Some of the films are in the public domain, which means you don’t have to pay to use them (however you may be required to credit the Library of Congress on screen). You have the option of downloading clips or of having them copied to tape and shipped to you. If the clips you want are public domain, all you have to pay for is shipping and duplication. I recently purchased a copy of some early Ellis Island footage (stills from the footage are at left and at the top of the newsletter). I was very happy with the service and the quality of the copy. Several video formats are offered, but most home video biographers will need to opt for VHS.

Another option is an online resource called the Internet Archive. The site contains a variety of films and videos available for download. Some of the material is free to use in your video and some of it isn’t. Downloads can take a while and, once you have the clip, you’ll most probably need to convert it to a file your editing software will accept. I used Blaze Media Pro to convert some clips to avi files. The software worked just fine.

So, take heart. With a little online detective work, you may be able to find some free and low cost stock footage to add some pizzazz to your next video biography.