In Episode 5 of The Legacy Video Lounge, host Steve Pender, of Family Legacy Video, Inc., continues his chat with Kristin Delaplane, a personal historian who specializes in print memoirs. Kristin is the author of Storytelling: How to Write an Inspiring Memoir, Oral History, or Family Genealogy. During her conversation with Steve, Kristin describes the book’s contents and passes along some tips to budding memoir authors. She also reads an excerpt from another of her books, First to Die: The Tragic Loss of the SS Vestris.
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In Episode 4 of The Legacy Video Lounge, host Steve Pender, personal historian, video biographer, Family Legacy Video president, welcomes his first guest to the lounge: Kristin Delaplane, author of Storytelling: How to Write an Inspiring Memoir, Oral History, or Family Genealogy, and First to Die: The Tragic Loss of the SS Vestris. While The Legacy Video Lounge is dedicated primarily to video biography, Kristin is a personal historian who works mostly on the print side of personal history. Ms. Delaplane comes from a writing family; her dad, Stanton Delaplane, was a Pulitzer Prize recipient and a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Kristin wrote for the Chronical as well for many years, and now she helps people capture their family or company stories through oral history interviews and historical and genealogy research, with the end result often being a carefully crafted narrative for a custom-bound book. Her clients have included notable American families and celebrities, including Best Actor Oscar winners and a Kennedy Center Honoree. Kristin’s business is Our American Stories LLC.
In Part 1 of a two-part interview, Kristin talks about her career, what drew her to personal history, the process she follows when creating a print memoir, the benefits of creating a memoir, as well as her new book.
In Episode 3 of The Legacy Video Lounge, video biographer and Family Legacy Video president Steve Pender answers the question: What’s a video biography – otherwise known as a legacy video?
According to Steve, a video biography or legacy video is a personal documentary, which can feature a variety of production styles, ranging from simple “talking head” presentations to full-blown documentaries featuring interviews and as many visuals and audio elements (like music and sound effects) as budgets allow.
What kinds of visuals can be used? Anything that can be shot on video or scanned and that helps to illustrate the subjects storytellers will talk about during their interviews – including still photos, newspaper/magazine clippings, diplomas, wedding announcements, plaques, trophies, medals, paintings, drawings, letters, keepsakes, souvenirs, childhood toys, and family videos (or films converted to video files).
Video biographies can include all the elements of the storyteller’s art – images, spoken word, music, sound, text on screen, graphics, like maps, etc.
It’s not enough to just capture stories, we want our families to want to come back and watch again and again. So we need a little entertainment value – which is fine as long as everything that’s included is in service of the story.
Steve has been creating videos that tell stories – first for corporate clients and now for individuals and families for over 38 years. So he knows how to apply the creativity and techniques that big budget productions use. There are certainly advantages to working with a professional video biographer, because there’s a good deal involved in properly planning and producing a legacy video.
But if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, especially if you’re just getting started: Tune in to the History Channel, or get your hands on some of Ken Burns documentaries. Watch them critically. See how interviews are staged, how music and sound effects are used, how photos and other visual materials are incorporated. Then, experiment with these techniques on your own. With some time and practice, you can use these same techniques to give your home-made video biographies a bigger budget look and feel. Contrast and compare a basic “talking head” treatment with a documentary-style video biography here.
If you have any questions or comments, please email them to Steve Pender at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember: Everyone has a story. Isn’t it time you told yours?
Professional personal historian and video biographer Steve Pender talks about the rising level of public awareness of the importance of preserving, celebrating, and sharing life stories. Steve describes personal experiences with people who have witnessed his presentations and touches on the TV shows “Who do you think you are?” “Finding Your Roots,” and “Our American Family.” Steve also talks about StoryCorps and Ancestry.com. He also shares the results of the American Legacy Survey, sponsored by the Allianz Life Insurance Company.
Welcome to the Legacy Video Lounge Podcast! In this first episode, you’ll meet host Steve Pender. Steve is a professional personal historian, video biographer, and president of Family Legacy Video, Inc. (https://www.familylegacyvideo.com) in Tucson, Arizona. The Legacy Video Lounge Podcast is dedicated to the proposition that everyone, and that means YOU, has a life story worth preserving, celebrating, and sharing – and that video is a great way to leave a living legacy of life stories.
During the course of the podcast series, Steve will cover these and other topics:
The rising awareness of the importance of preserving personal history and life stories.
What is a video biography or legacy video?
The benefits of video biographies?
Tips for hiring and working with legacy video professionals.
Hints for video biography do-it-yourselfers.
In this episode, Steve tells how he discovered his passion for personal history on video and became a professional video biographer. He also shares a clip from his very first legacy video.
It never ceases to amaze me; every year, no matter how Halina and I arrange the ornaments on our Christmas tree, the results are always beautiful!
Our collection of ornaments (like most, I suspect) is pretty eclectic. They range from childhood craft projects, like a faded glass ball featuring my name in glue and sparkles, to handmade and store-bought decorations acquired throughout our lives. Halina and I add one new ornament each year, usually one we find on vacation, like the wooden carving we bought years ago in a temple in Japan.
As we decorate our tree each year, I feel like I’m visiting with old friends. Each bauble rekindles memories – of times, places, people, events, sights, sensations, and feelings. More than just mere decorations bathed in the glow from the Christmas tree lights, they’re touchstones illuminating life stories from the past.
Wouldn’t this be a great subject for a legacy video? If your tree is still standing, you can set up a video camera and record yourself, or other family members, describing the stories attached to your ornaments. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you remember! If the tree is down and the trimmings are already packed away, plan on recording remembrances next year. When you eventually hand down some of your ornaments to your children and grandchildren, I’ll bet they’ll appreciate understanding the history behind your Christmas decorations – and appreciate them all the more for knowing.
It seems like the learning curve never ends – it just changes shape. When I’m tackling something new and the curve is at its steepest, I feel like I’m trying to ski up a hill. After getting a little experience under my belt, the curve flattens and requires a little less effort on my part, kind of like skiing cross-country. Then, when I’ve really mastered something, I’m on the downhill slope, zipping along and enjoying the ride, keeping watch for the occasional mogul. Having booked my first commissioned video biography, I found myself staring up at an uphill slope, getting ready to climb once again.
To be sure, the curve wasn’t as steep as it could have been. In 2003 I already had 24 years of experience as a writer, producer/director, and video editor. But could the skills I’d honed working on a wide variety of corporate, business, and not-for-profit video projects be brought successfully and profitably to bear on a personal history project? What would work and what wouldn’t? What price could I set that wouldn’t scare away Dick and Mary-Lou, my prospective clients, but that would be realistic, allowing me to produce a legacy video of value to my client while fairly compensating me for my time and expenses?
It looked like I was going to find out.
I opened up my production spreadsheet and spent some time estimating hours and expenses. I came up with what I thought was a fair budget. It was, perhaps, a little on the low side, but I was looking at this as a learning experience, as well an opportunity to create a template for future video biographies and to start building a portfolio. I figured I could adjust future budget estimates based on the experience I gleaned from this project. Luckily, Dick and Mary-Lou agreed to my price, and we were off and running.
As far as process was concerned, I decided not to try and reinvent the wheel, but to follow the steps that served me well when I created videos for corporate clients. First order of business (after signing a contract, of course): the preinterview. I sat down with Mary-Lou and Dick at their home for a couple of conversations, during which I learned the stories they wanted to tell. I used my notes from these sessions to draft the questions I’d ask on-camera, and to give my new clients some guidance about the kinds of photos and other visuals they could provide that would help enhance their recollections. We then scheduled their video shoot and I booked my crew.
Bright and early on a sunny September morning, I excitedly rang the bell at Dick and Mary-Lou’s ranch-style home in the Winterhaven section of Tucson. The door opened, and Dick ushered me and my cameraman inside. My first professional video biography interviews were about to begin. How did things go? I’ll tell you in another post.
Oh, and by the way: What’s your story?
They endured back-breaking physical labor. They toiled in wind, rain and snow. They were paid less than their white counterparts. 1,200 of them died on the job. And, to top it off, they weren’t even invited to celebrate the completion of their work.
Most Americans are probably unaware of the role the Chinese played in connecting the west coast of the United States with the east. But, on the evening of October 22, at the 20th anniversary conference of the Association of Personal Historians in Sacramento, California, the experiences of these unsung laborers was brought vividly to life by Charlie Chin.
Mr. Chin, a renowned historian, master storyteller, and accomplished musician, took to the stage in the persona of Chin Lin Sou, a highly intelligent and resourceful Chinese immigrant who learned English and eventually became the foreman and contractor of Chinese railroad workers. In fact, Chin Lin Sou recruited many of his countrymen and helped arrange their passage to the U.S. After the “golden spike” was driven home at Promontory Point, Utah Territory (an event to which the Chinese workers were not invited), Chin Lin Sou settled in Denver, Colorado, where he became a highly respected businessman.
Mr. Chin’s performance, divided into three parts, was entertaining, educational, and electrifying. In part one, as Chin Lin Sou, he recounted the trials and tribulations of the Chinese railway workers as they worked furiously laying heavy rails, while at the same time battling the elements, dangerous working conditions, disease, and, of course, prejudice. In the second act of his performance, Mr. Chin, still in the guise of Chin Lin Sou, answered questions from the audience. Mr. Chin then stepped out of character to address subjects about which Chin Lin Sou would have had no knowledge.
Delivered to an audience composed of personal historians and members of the Sacramento community, the event also served to promote the efforts of the Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial Project, a group dedicated to building a proper monument, which seeks, as the project’s website describes, “…to recognize the important historic contribution and pay a solemn tribute to the Chinese immigrants who lost their lives laboring on the Transcontinental Railroad, which shaped the physical and social landscape of the American West.”
The event was sponsored by longtime APH member Lynne Choy Uyeda, and her company, Linking Lives & Legacies.
To hear a brief excerpt from Mr. Chin’s performance, click on the audio button below.
“You might want to visit the Nichelini Family Winery in St. Helena,” the lady in the Napa Valley Welcome Center told us. “It’s a really neat, family-owned operation that’s been around since 1890. In fact, it’s the oldest family-owned winery in the valley.”
My wife, Halina, and I had been tooling around Napa Valley, California for a week in September, celebrating our 25th anniversary. We’d started in Calistoga, a cute little town in the northern part of the grapevine-laden valley, and had just pulled into the larger city of Napa, in the south. Instead of just cruising the main drag, dropping in on wine-tasting room after wine-tasting room like hummingbirds moving from one flower to another, we wanted to take an unhurried drive, enjoy the scenery, and drop in on perhaps one or two wineries.
Being a personal historian who helps multi-generational businesses preserve and celebrate their histories on video, I thought a visit to such a long-established family operation would be fun. I was especially intrigued by the family’s motto: Generation to Generation. The fact that Nichelini was up in the hills, away from the beaten path, was even better.
So the next day, a Tuesday, we packed a picnic lunch and headed north on the Silverado Trail and then CA-128. Halina and I knew we were taking a chance; the winery was only open for tastings on weekends, and we weren’t sure anyone would be around or that we’d be able to get onto the grounds. But in the spirit of adventure we decided to try our luck.
After a leisurely drive that took us past a lake, vineyards and thick stands of trees, we squeezed our car into a space on the side of the two-lane road, across from a two-story wood-frame home flanked by a barn-like building featuring a beautifully carved sign announcing “Nichelini Family Winery.”
We strolled across the road and onto a path between the two buildings. The land dropped away pretty quickly, with stone steps leading to a shady grove packed with weathered wooden picnic tables (a perfect place for lunch!) as well as a bocce court. Just then, I heard what sounded like something metallic being moved in the barn-like building. Wanting to ask permission to enjoy lunch in the picnic grounds, I poked my head through the open doorway and yelled a hello.
A very friendly gentleman sporting short-cropped white hair and beard appeared from the other side of the building, which was filled with shining, stainless-steel fermentation vats and other wine-making equipment. Introducing himself as Uncle Lou, he not only invited us to enjoy lunch on the property, but promptly took us on an impromptu tour of the winery. He showed us all the equipment and explained the roles each played in transforming grapes into wine. Standing outside, and in stark contrast to the modern gear we’d just seen, was the winery’s original Roman wine press. This vintage wooden device has been in the family’s hands for over 120 years and was in active use until the 1950s. Uncle Lou then opened the door to the stone storage area under the family house, where rows of oak barrels holding the results of previous harvests rested in the cool darkness. And he pointed out the original Nichelini family homestead, a small shack near the bottom of hill, in case we wanted to take a peak at it later. He also suggested we knock on the door to the house. He wasn’t sure there’d be wine to taste, but at least we could have a look around.
A young fellow named Eddie answered our knock. Our luck held, as he did have a bottle of white wine, a 2014 Old Vine Muscadelle, open. So we got our taste, plus a Nichelini corkscrew as an anniversary gift. We also purchased a bottle of their 2012 Roman Press Red to try later.
I think Anton and Caterina Nichelini would be proud to know that, over 120 years later, the winery they began is still family-run, and led by their great-great-granddaughter, Aimée Sunseri. Firmly rooted in the past but with its eyes laser-focused on the future, the family business has thrived by passing along its traditions, expertise and pride to each succeeding generation. The winery and grounds are infused with vitality and spirit, which, I’m sure, will serve them well for generations to come.
I can only imagine what great stories family members could tell – and what a wonderful video biography these stories would make!
By the way, the wine was delicious. We’ll be ordering more.
Networking. It’s one of those things you need to do in order to promote your business. Especially if, like me, you’re a new kid in town. And so, thirty-second elevator speech memorized and pockets bulging with business cards, I made the rounds of practically every business networking group in the “Old Pueblo” (what the locals call Tucson), again, and again, and again. Now, a lot of other small business folks were doing the same thing. So it wasn’t long before I started seeing a goodly number of familiar faces at one mixer or another, and then developing, if not friendships, at least “acquaintanceships” with the people behind those faces.
As luck would have it, in 2003 one of those business networking acquaintances invited me to a gathering at her home where she outlined an idea to form a group modeled around the concepts in a booked called, “The One Minute Millionaire: The Enlightened Way to Wealth” by Mark Victor Hansen and Robert G. Allen. In essence, the idea was for a small group of entrepreneurs to get together, form a company or companies, and then cooperate in doing whatever it took to make the businesses a success. I wasn’t exactly being deluged with work at the time, so I decided to hitch myself to this shiny new wagon.
At our first official meeting, my five new partners and I decided to pursue two ideas. Idea one: A company producing reusable fabric gift bags. Idea two: A company offering a family history video-related product or service. I was the one who brought that idea to the table, of course. But seeing as I still wasn’t sure I’d be able to find clients willing to pay for “soup to nuts” video biography production, I hoped the group could help me brainstorm some other ideas. In the end, we thought it best to go the “do-it-yourself” route and produce a guide for customers who wanted to produce a family history video about their families, but didn’t have the video experience to do so. The idea was to create a guide on a CD-ROM, designed to play through a web browser. I wrote all the content, and another member of our group created the graphics and navigation. After seemingly endless hours of writing and programming and revising of the same, the “Family Legacy Video® Producer’s Guide” was almost ready for market.
But before we could print and sell copies, we had to make sure the guide would work as advertised, and that its content was worthwhile. That meant finding some people outside of our small circle to test the CD. Luckily, I was able to recruit some volunteers from my Rotary club. One of those volunteers was a retired engineer in his early eighties. AFter spending some time reviewing the guide, he handed it back to me and offered a couple of helpful suggestions for changes. Then, he said, “My wife and would love to do a project like this. But there’s no way we can do it ourselves. Could we hire you to do it for us?”
Needless to say, my answer was, “Yes!”
So I’d come full circle, from wondering if folks would actually hire me to produce a legacy video for them, to instead creating a DIY product that became directly responsible for me being hired for my first job a professional video biographer. And so, while also launching an effort to sell the DIY guide, I started preproduction on my first commissioned video biography. More on that to come.
Oh, and by the way: What’s your story?