A video biography shoot in paradise.

The Family Legacy Video crew just returned from a video biography shoot on Oahu, Hawaii! We spent one day scouting, one day recording an interview with a fascinating storyteller, as well as scanning photos and a final day shooting b-roll and finishing up the photo scans. We added a few days for some R&R, of course. Always a pleasure and an honor to help folks preserve, celebrate and share their life stories. And sometimes we get to go to a really beautiful place to do it!

Acquiring images on the road.

New York City – “The Big Apple” – it’s where I got my start in the video business over thirty-five years ago. A need to shoot two interviews and capture some stills for a current legacy video project brought me back to NYC in late March. And though the outside temperature was bitingly cold, the bagels were hot and the memories were warm.

Before leaving for the east, I had a decision to make: How was I going to acquire the stills? Normally, I prefer to scan images in the office using one of my flatbed scanners. This gives me the greatest control over quality and image size and allows me to name the scanned files as I go, in whatever way helps to best organize them. However, old photos, albums and papers can often be too fragile or unique to ship. In that case, scanning and/or shooting them at the client’s location becomes necessary.DSLR-Scanner-300x227 My two favorite tools for this kind of work are my Canon LIDE 210 scanner and my Canon 60D DSLR.

The LIDE 210 is great for traveling. At 9.9 inches wide, 14.4 inches long and 1.6 inches deep It’s barely wider and longer than a piece of legal paper – and it fits easily into my carry-on luggage. The scanner doesn’t need a power adapter; one USB cable connects the LIDE to my laptop and provides power for the scanner. Compared to my larger office scanners, the LIDE is a little limited when it comes to the range of ppi (pixels per inch) available, but, overall, I find it a great scanner to take on the road.

Of course, when using a flatbed scanner, the material being scanned needs to be, well, flat. And for items that aren’t easily scanned or scannable at all (framed pictures or paintings, for example) my Canon 60D fits the bill. On this trip, I knew I’d be encountering an array of stills in various forms (loose snapshots, photos from books, framed images and old, crumbling scrapbooks). Plus, the time I’d have to sort through the available images, decide what to capture and then do it, would be limited to one afternoon. Given these circumstances, I decided my DSLR would give me both the flexibility I needed and the ability to work quickly. So I brought the 60D with me and left the scanner at home.

In the end, that was the right decision. I captured far more photos using the DSLR in the time I had than I could have with the scanner. Of course, the photos will need a little more Photoshop work than they would if they’d been scanned. And I couldn’t name the files as I went. I just made written notes as I shot, listing the order and subjects of the images. I’ll give them appropriate file names when I Photoshop them.

If you’re in a situation where only a DSLR will do for snagging the images that will grace your client’s video biography, here are some tips:

Keep the camera as parallel to the image as you can. This keeps the image as flat as possible and saves you some Photoshop work later. It also helps keep all of the image in focus. I was able to shoot many images by laying them on a table and shooting down on them, although some needed to be leaned against a vertical surface.

Be careful when using flash. Direct flash can create hot spots or even wash out the image being shot. Rely on ambient light if you can, or soften the flash by bouncing it.

Watch out for reflections. This can be difficult to do when shooting framed photos covered by glass. You can minimize or eliminate reflections by placing the image on a dark cloth, preferably black, and leaning the frame against a vertical surface. The idea is to angle the glass and your camera so that the only reflection the glass picks up is the black cloth.

Check focus. After shooting an image, display it on your camera’s monitor and zoom in to check on the fine details. Today’s small camera monitors can fool you into thinking a shot is sharp when it isn’t.

Take notes. Make a list of the shots you take as you work. You don’t want to be left scratching your head while guessing who is who or what is what after you get back home.

Back up your files. If you have a laptop available, copy the files from your camera’s card to it. For safety’s sake, it never hurts to have your files stored in a couple of places.

Finally, keep your eyes open. You may find something worth shooting at your client’s location that you hadn’t expected. For example, as I was finishing up for the day, I saw three portraits of my client’s children hanging in a hallway. It took me only a couple of minutes to snap those and I know they’ll make a nice addition to the video.

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Another wonderful testimonial.

A recent client, Angela Hallier of Phoenix, Arizona, just sent me a wonderful testimonial. Thanks, Angela!

Here’s what she wrote:

I bought a Family Legacy Video® for my father for Christmas. We did not know what to expect but Steve and his crew were professional from beginning to end. From the preinterview to production, it was seamless and my father felt very comfortable – and he was impressed with the detail and attention given in advance to the areas he would cover in his interview and the actual production of the video. We gathered as a family to watch his video “premiere” – we felt like we were watching a ready-for-TV documentary. The tears and laughter we had as a family watching my father’s video were priceless – not to mention the importance to our family of preserving my father’s memories and stories for generations to come. We cannot thank Steve enough – this was the best investment I have ever made!

Bringing home the Gold!

I just found out that Family Legacy Video, Inc. has received a Gold Award from the 2014 AVA Digital Awards competition! The award came in the Video Tribute category, for a video highlighting the life and career of James D Toole, founder and CEO of Tucson’s Southwest Energy LLC. Mr. Toole was the 2013 Inductee into the American Mining Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Mining Foundation of the Southwest. The video was played at the Hall of Fame banquet in December 2013. If you’d like to view our handiwork, you’ll find the clip here.

The AVA Digital Awards is sponsored and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP). The awards recognize outstanding achievement by creative professionals involved in the concept, direction, design and production of media. There were about 2,100 entries from throughout the United States, Canada and several other countries in the 2014 competition. The international organization consists of several thousand production, marketing, communication, advertising, public relations, and free-lance professionals.

Swept off my feet in Santa Fe.

My wife and I had a remarkable experience during my recent vacation. Our route took us through Santa Fe, New Mexico. Two former video biography clients (a husband and wife – I created legacy videos for his mom and her dad) hosted a dinner for me and my wife at a wonderful restaurant – and invited a couple dozen of their friends (all of them entrepreneurs) to meet us. It was a night of delicious food and wine and sparkling conversation – plus an opportunity to spread the Family Legacy Video brand. I was profoundly moved by this expression of appreciation.

Working with your video biographer: Travel.

In many ways, technology has certainly shrunk our world. All you have to do these days to get in touch with someone on the other side of the globe is dial a phone or log on to the Web; within seconds you can be chatting, either by voice or text. It’s easy as pie. But let’s say, after doing some research, you find that the video biographer you want to hire is located in another part of the country, like Tucson, Arizona? How easy will it be to work with someone who may be hundreds or thousands of miles away?

The short answer is that a long distance relationship with a video biographer can work quite well. In fact, I’ve worked with clients from coast to coast and points in-between. But there are some things to consider when looking for a professional outside your local area.

COST
Might as well deal with this issue first. Not a week goes by that I don’t get a call from a prospective client asking me if I can travel to their location outside Arizona. When I say yes, the next question is usually, “Does travel add to the cost?” Quite honestly, it does. A video biographer living and working in your area doesn’t have to bear the expenses that come with airfare, hotel rooms and rental cars. Your local pro also won’t need to spend an extra day’s worth of time traveling to your location and back home. In all fairness, it’s only right to reimburse the video biographer you hire for travel expenses. Personally, I don’t “mark up” travel – I just pass along the actual costs to the client. I can either add the costs to the agreed-upon budget or subtract them from the budget. Let’s say I have a budget of $20,000 and travel expenses of $2,000. To be able to devote all of the $20,000 to the video, I would add the $2,000. The client would then pay a total of $22,000. If the client can’t go as high as $22,000, I can subtract travel expenses, leaving $18,000 to devote to the actual video production.

COMMUNICATION
Staying in contact during the course of production is crucial. You’re likely to have lots of questions about the process and your video biographer will also need information from you. Some people prefer chatting face-to-face or just feel more secure dealing with someone local. However, a professional video biographer, working long distance, can consult with you and conduct preinterviews over the phone just as effectively as in person. One word of caution: You and your video biographer SHOULD NOT rely entirely upon e-mail. E-mails can sometimes be cryptic and incomplete; they also don’t convey emotion well. When I want to send a reminder or ask for a small bit of information, e-mail is fine. For anything more than that, I prefer to pick up the phone and call.

KEEPSAKES
If you do choose to work long distance, you’ll need to decide how to best get your family photos and other mementos into your video biographer’s hands for scanning and shooting. If you’re comfortable shipping your items make sure you wrap them well and cushion them to guard against damage. Clients have been shipping me photos, singly and in albums, for years. Nothing has ever been lost. The only damage in all these years resulted when a client sent a glass-covered photo that wasn’t properly protected, resulting in some breakage. While shipping long distance has worked fine, I understand that some families may be uncomfortable with the thought of packing up their old photos and trusting them to FedEx. That’s why I always ask my long distance clients if they have any photos or other items that they aren’t comfortable shipping – or that wouldn’t be practical to send to me. Knowing that, I can build in some extra time before or after the interview taping to scan or shoot the keepsakes on location.

Working with your video biographer: Visuals.

The foundation of a successful video biography is a well-researched, conducted and recorded interview. But just as important as what the storyteller says during his or her interview is what viewers see. Many times it’s just fine to have the storyteller on screen. Other times, the interview can be wonderfully enhanced by visuals that illustrate the incidents, people and places being described.

What do I mean by visuals? Photos, certainly. But visuals can also include family movies, newspaper and magazine clippings, yearbooks, wedding invitations, journal entries and memorabilia like medals, awards and trophies, etc. Knowing what kinds of visuals can best enhance a storyteller’s legacy video is one of the strengths a professional video biographer brings to the table.

When I first sign a client, we talk in a general way about the kinds of visuals that may be available within the family. Then, after I learn more about the storyteller during the preinterview process, I’ll send the client a specific “wish list” of all the visuals I think will help contribute to the video. After the on-camera interview, I often follow up with a final list, based on other stories that surfaced during the videotaping. These lists guide my clients during their searches for the perfect images to include in their legacy videos – and will often give them ideas for items they might never have considered. After all, as a professional visual storyteller I’m used to thinking visually – and I use this experience to help direct and inspire my clients as they search through their family archives.

Knowing how to use these visuals effectively is another strength a professional video biographer brings to a legacy video project. But that’s another story. Before you can use those visuals, however, you have to find them. And before you can find them, you have to know what to look for. A professional video biographer is just the one to guide you on “the hunt.”

Ten years and counting!

How time flies! It just occurred to me that Family Legacy Video, Inc. has been in the personal history video business for ten years – having incorporated in August of 2003. I’ve helped many individuals, families and organizations preserve, celebrate and share their stories over that decade – and I look forward to creating many video biographies and legacy videos in the years ahead. Perhaps Family Legacy Video® will create a custom video biography for you!