A Wonderful Testimonial

Just yesterday I received a most wonderful letter from a Family Legacy Video customer. I really want to share it with you, because it shows what Family Legacy Video is all about – and it reinforces the value of preserving your precious family stories on video.

Here’s the text of the letter I received. I’ve removed the client’s last name for privacy reasons:

Dear Steve,

As Tom and I prepare for our second video shoot, I cannot help but reflect on the gift you have given our family. One year ago, my mother passed away. It was a devastating experience. Unknown to me, the funeral home had prepared a short photo montage set to music made up of 40 family pictures taken over the course of my mother’s life. The copy each of us received made all the difference. It helped us begin the process of celebrating her life – even in the midst of loss. I just wished we had captured her story while she was alive. She would have loved to be part of making her family legacy for future generations.

I think you know the next step. That very fall, I heard you speak of your Family Legacy Video program and of workshops you were developing to teach people how to capture their family stories for their children and future generations. Immediately I knew that this was what I had wanted for my family. Your inclusion of real family members telling their own stories combined with still photos (often hidden away in boxes) – and even super 8 motion picture clips – made family stories into a living treasure for everyone concerned. I knew I needed to know how to share this with my family.

Your workshops were wonderful. You not only gave us the hands-on knowledge of how to create a Family Legacy Video, but shared with us your years of experience using film, music, and user-friendly computer programs that make editing possible for even normal people like us. You turned what could have been a daunting technical task into a fun-filled family project. Tom and I now have been collecting archival data and family photos from his family in Boston and mine in Michigan and California. We plan to make two family videos right now, one for each family. I think we might just be ready to give them as gifts for Christmas!

But the real gift has been the focus you have given to both of us. We are so enjoying the experience of planning the videos, gathering the old pictures, talking to people about them, and visiting places we want to include. As I told you, we have even planned a trip to Ireland and France next year to document the places where our families came from. We can’t wait! In the meantime, all of our extended family has gotten involved, sending us photos and sharing memories. It has become a family memory all on its own. And we owe all of these gifts to you. Thank you for helping us make this happen!

With fond memories and gratitude,

Barbara and Tom
Tucson, Arizona

Bring new life to those old family films

At my Rotary meeting the other day, a fellow member turned to me and said, “Steve, I’ve got lots of home movies from the 40s and 50s. What I can do with them?” The answer: Lots!

If all you want to do is free your old 16mm, 8mm and Super 8mm films from the back closet and make it possible for you to view them again (without having to set up a screen and projector), have them transferred to DVD. You probably have a local company that’ll do this for you (check with photo developers or with companies advertising video production services). The great thing about this is you’ll be able to pop a DVD into your player and watch your long-ago relatives once again. The downside is that your movies might be transferred in no particular order. You may find yourself jumping decades forward and backward as the reels change. But if all you want to do is preserve your films, this option may be the one for you.

Another option: Use your films to tell stories. Instead of having your footage transferred directly to DVD, get it put on miniDV or Digital 8. These are formats that you’ll be able to use in conjunction with a computer that has digital video editing software. Once your films are on tape, review them. Think about the events they chronicle, the stories they bring to mind and the people they feature. Then transfer your films-on-video into your computer. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to use your films to tell some stories.

There are a number of techniques you can use. You and/or other family members can narrate the films, describing the events and the people as you see them on screen. You can interview family members on videotape and ask them questions about the events and people in the films. Then you can combine the interviews with the films, and with family photos, to create a family documentary. You can also incorporate titles, sound effects and music. Once you’re done, you can output the finished program to tape or burn your own DVD.

Be as creative as time and your ambition allow. Whatever you do, please realize that there’s no reason to let those old family films continue to collect dust. And if you’re not technically or creatively inclined, remember that Family Legacy Video is here to help.

Family Legacy Video – In The News!

In my post of May 12, 2005, I talked about helping a family uncover long-ago Olympic film footage. Well the story just made the local paper!

Bonnie Henry, a columnist for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, loved the story and wrote about it in her June 22 column, entitled, “Father’s triumphant moment lives on.” If you’d like to read it, you’ll find the article on the “Family Legacy Video in Print” page.

Taping Multiple Interviews

Would you like to feature more than one person in your next video biography? Should you videotape them together or separately? Here’s my advice.

In the two-people-shot-with-one-camera interviews I’ve seen, the subjects always look a bit uncomfortable. First, in order to make the shot as tight as possible, they’re seated very closely together. Then there’s the awkwardness that occurs when one subject is talking and the other subject doesn’t know quite where to look or what to do. From the videographer’s standpoint, you’re forced to keep a two-shot most of the time, which cuts down on visual interest. Then, when you do venture in for a medium close up or close up of the person speaking, quite often the other person chimes in and you either need to pan to try to get him/her on screen or zoom back out to your two-shot.

I think taping each interview separately is a much more elegant solution. It allows you to focus your attention, and the camera, on one person at a time. It also gives you much greater flexibility when editing. You can ask each parent lots of the same questions and then take pieces of their answers and cut back and forth between them. This is especially helpful when you don’t have a lot of visuals. I recommend shooting them at “cross angles.” In other words, if you taped your mom facing screen left, make sure to shoot your dad facing screen right. This lends to the visual interest. Also, make sure to change the setting a bit between interviews. If you want to tape the interviews in the same room, that’s fine – just move the camera after the first interview so that you have a different background for the second interview. Also, change your focal lengths during each interview. I always establish a wide, closer and closest framing with my camera person before an interview begins. Then, while I ask each question, the camera operator makes the shot wider or tighter. This way you have a variety of looks within each interview, which also lends to visual interest. Check out a short clip in the
Family Legacy Video Theatre called “Childhood Memories” to see how two people in one video can work.

1939 World’s Fair Memories

I just spent several hours editing a video sequence in which a client describes her trip to the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. What fun!

She was a recent high school graduate when she and a friend journied from Michigan to the Big Apple for several memorable days in New York City. Fortunately, she created a scrapbook filled with photos and momentos of her World’s Fair experience. Using her interview, lots of photos and music and a few visual effects, I was able to create a fun-filled and compelling sequence that brings her experience to life on screen.

I can’t wait for my client and her family to see it. I’ll be posting the sequence in the Family Legacy Video Theatre in the near future so you can view it as well.

What a week!

Sorry I haven’t written in a few days. It’s been a very busy and exciting week!

I started editing another Family Legacy Video this week. After all the prep work – the interview, collecting and creating visuals and selecting music – it’s time for the “rubber to meet the road.” Editing video is a very intense and enjoyable creative experience for me and it’s pure joy to see my client’s story coming together so well. I just know she and her family will treasure the video. After it’s done I’ll post a clip on the Family Legacy Video Web site: www.familylegacyvideo.com.

Also, I found out that a local columnist is writing a story about the Olympic track footage I obtained for a Family Legacy Video client (see the post from May 12, 2005). The story should be out in about two weeks. I’ll let you know when it happens.

Now, back to video editing!

The Cereus is blooming!

So what’s a cereus? And what does it have to do with video biographies?

Actually, I’m referring to a plant called a “night blooming Cereus.” It’s a droopy, spindly little cactus that exists here in Arizona. What makes it special is that it blooms only once a year, usually sometime between May and July.

It’s actually a pretty neat event. A plant that looks like a dead stick suddenly sprouts stalks topped with golf ball-sized buds that eventually open into beautiful white flowers. They last for just one night and morning, then wither away.

The Cereus is so nondescript that my wife and I didn’t even know we had two of them in our yard – until we saw some during a trip to the Tucson Botanical Gardens and realized, “Hey, so that’s what that strange plant in our yard is!”

Last year was the first time I went on a serious “Cereus watch.” When the buds opened, I was ready with a camera to document the event. Just last night our Cereus bloomed again – and my wife and I spent some time admiring the flowers that grace us with their presence just once a year.

So what’s this cactus got to do with Family Legacy Video and you? The blooming of the Cereus is a special event. If you blink, you can miss it. It’s such a rare event that it inspired me to document it through images I can now share with others. The stories that make up our lives and our family histories are also special and rare and deserve to be preserved on video, both to enjoy now and to pass on to other family members.

And don’t wait too long; in the blink of an eye your storytellers and their precious stories can be gone for good. So I urge you to capture your family storytellers while they’re in “full bloom.” Unlike with the Cereus, you might not get the chance next year.

New to video editing? Here’s how to start.

There’s lots of low-cost video editing software available today. But software is just a tool. And before you start concentrating on which tool to buy, you should learn the process first. Believe it or not, you probably already have software that’ll help you do this for free.

Windows XP computers come equipped with free editing software called Windows Movie Maker (the software is also available for download). The latest Mac machines are loaded with iMovie. Both of these software packages are designed to work with DV video that you feed into your computer through your FireWire or iLink port. (By the way, FireWire and iLink are just marketing names – they refer to the DV connection on your computer.)

These are basic software packages, so you won’t be able to do a whole lot of video and audio layering. But, for free software, each is surprisingly good – certainly good enough to help you learn the basics of video editing.

After you’ve learned the basics, you may find that your free software meets your needs. In this case, you certainly shouldn’t spend money on additional software. If, however, your free software limits you creatively, it’s time to go shopping.

Visiting the Cafe for the first time? Read this.

Welcome! If you’re new to the Cafe and to blogs, here’s some information that’ll help you.

First off, if all you want to do is read the posts, just click on the post titles. You’ll find the most recent posts on the main page. You can search for others in the archives.

You’ll notice that each post starts off with a short introduction. To read the entire post, click on the “Read more!” icon.

Like to leave a comment? It’s simple. You’ll notice a link under each post’s intro that says “comments.” There’ll be a number before “comments” that indicates how many comments have been left about a particular post. To add your comment, just click on this link. It’ll open up a comment window.

This isn’t the only comment link, however. As Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back, “There is another.” After you open a post, you’ll see a “Post A Comment” link below the body of the post. Clicking here opens the comment window as well.

You’ll see three identification options:

1. If you’re already a registered Blogger user, your Blogger ID is displayed. Or, if you want to register with Blogger, you can register at this point.

2. Choose “Other” to leave your name and a link to your Web site along with your post.

3. Choose “Anonymous” to leave a comment without having to leave your name or a link.

Pick one of these options, type your comment, press “Publish Your Comment” and your remarks are added.

Finally, if you’d like to e-mail the post to a friend or family member, click on the envelope icon at the bottom of the post. This will set up an e-mail containing the post. You just enter in the address of the person to whom you want to send the message, along with a short message of your own, and then send.

ONE MORE THING: To visit the Family Legacy Video Web site, just click here, or on the Family Legacy Video link under the “Links” heading on the right side of the home page.

That’s it! I hope these tips help make your stay in the Cafe a pleasant one.

Memorial Day Musings

World War II veterans are dying at an alarming rate. Do you have a vet in your family? Preserve his or her story on video before it’s too late.

I’ve read that we’re losing between 1,000 to 2,000 World War II vets every day. I’m sure Korean War vets aren’t too far behind. I think it’s a tragedy that so many of them pass on without leaving a record of their experiences – in war and in peace, for their family archives.

The sacrifices made by our veterans are tremendous. Their stories need to be preserved so their families can truly understand and appreciate what their relatives did in defense of freedom.

If you have a vet in your family, I urge you to make a Memorial Day resolution: Don’t let another Memorial Day pass without capturing your veteran’s life story on video.