Two more veterans’ stories preserved.

I recently interviewed two Korean-era vets for my Rotary club’s veterans project. This’ll make 9 interviews so far, with the first 7 being WWII vets. Hope to have these latest two up on the web and off to the Library of Congress by the end of the summer. If you’d like, check out what my club is doing for our vets at the Catalina Rotary Veterans Project site.

Another award-winning video biography!

I’m excited to be able to add another trophy to Family Legacy Video’s trophy case! It’s an Award of Distinction from the 2013 Communicator Awards. The honor came in the History/Biography category for the video biography entitled Isabelle Smith Lamb: Getting Down to Business. This four-part legacy video series featured the life story of Isabelle Lamb of Hoquiam, Washington and Tucson. You can view a clip from Isabelle’s custom video biography here.

The Communicator Awards is the leading international awards program honoring creative excellence for communications professionals. The international video competition attracted over 6,000 entries this year. The Communicator Awards are judged and overseen by the International Academy of the Visual Arts (IAVA), a 600+ member organization of leading professionals from various disciplines of the visual arts dedicated to embracing progress and the evolving nature of traditional and interactive media.

Video biography brings comfort after the loss of a loved one.

It happens every time I give a presentation about video biographies and Family Legacy Video: folks come up to me afterwards to say what a great service I perform and how they wish they’d created legacy videos for their parents or grandparents before it was too late. My heart always goes out to them, because I know how I would have felt if I hadn’t preserved my grandmother’s stories on video. Now that Gram is gone, I don’t think I could forgive myself if I’d let the opportunity pass. I recently received an e-mail from a Family Legacy Video client describing how thankful she was for a video biography she hired Family Legacy Video to create four years ago. I think her note provides an object lesson on the value of legacy videos:

Dear Steve, I hope you are doing well. I wanted to write to thank you and tell you how grateful I am we did a legacy video of my mom and her sister four years ago. Recently, I gave birth to our second daughter, Phoebe. A week later, my mom died unexpectedly in her sleep. Fortunately she was with us that week and spent some time holding Phoebe, but obviously Phoebe will never get to know her. A few days after it happened I remembered we had made the video and I felt a sense of relief. At least, I realized, she will have the chance to get to know her grandmother and hear her stories when we watch her video. I haven’t been able to look at it yet since she died because it’s still just too raw, but I hope to soon. I look forward to remembering her full of life and joy, as she was when she was alive. Thank you so much for the service you offer and for encouraging me to do this. I am so so grateful.

I urge you to take a cue from the letter above. Preserve your storyteller’s remembrances while there’s still time. And remember, Family Legacy Video is here to help.

A heartwarming testimonial.

If you watch too much Home & Garden Television (HGTV) like I do, you’re well familiar with the “reveal.” This is where the designer ushers his/her clients (usually the clients have their eyes closed) into their newly redesigned/rebuilt room or space, asks them to open their eyes, and then enjoys their reactions. As a video biographer and personal historian with clients spread throughout the U.S., I’m not often able to be present when a completed legacy video is “revealed” for the first time. But I do enjoy the feedback from my clients and storytellers and find it quite fulfilling.

I recently delivered a Family Legacy Video Q&A™ that a client hired me to produce for her dad. My client’s response made my day. I thought I’d share it with you:

My Family Legacy Video® is perhaps the most valuable possession I will ever own. It is an irreplaceable treasure for my children, my children’s children. In his video, my father speaks with candor and clarity for two hours about his life, telling stories I’ve never heard before and will treasure forever. I am touched beyond explanation for the gift Steve Pender has given us. My dad is the most beautiful man, and this heartfelt interview, woven exquisitely, makes my heart sing with joy and gratitude for our Family Legacy Video® of the man who will always be my Daddy.

Wow – it sure doesn’t get any better than that.

The preinterview – a key step in preparing for a video biography interview.

One of the keys to a successful video biography interview lies in preparation – doing your homework, if you will. And one of the best ways to ready yourself, and your storyteller, for that all-important on-camera interview is to start your prep work with a preinterview. What’s a preinterview? As the name implies, it’s the interview before the interview. In other words, an interview you conduct with your storyteller before the actual shoot-day.

A preinterview takes the form of a casual conversation between you and the storyteller. It’s a opportunity for the two of you to meet and to build a rapport that will help your storyteller feel comfortable on camera. Very importantly, the preinterview gives you the chance to hear your storyteller’s life stories and to use the information you learn to construct questions that will elicit those stories on camera.

A preinterview is also a great time to explore – if an interesting memory surfaces during your conversation, feel free to ask about it and see where it takes your storyteller. You could dig up some very interesting remembrances that will surprise and delight your storytellers and their families.

In addition to helping you prepare questions, you’ll walk into the videotaping session knowing your storyteller’s background. If the storyteller gives you an incomplete answer while the camera is rolling, you’ll know it – and you’ll be able to ask a follow-up question to help fill in the rest of the picture.

The process is simple. Just schedule a time that’s convenient for your and your storyteller (you may or may not need multiple sessions). Come prepared with a pen and lots of paper for note-taking. If you don’t want to rely entirely on written notes, a small audio recorder is a great backup that will help you review the session at a later date. Then, start asking questions – and don’t forget to take notes!

In addition to helping you collect the background information you need to conduct a successful interview, a preinterview often helps “jump start” a storyteller’s thought processes. He or she will often remember additional stories in the time between the preinterview and the taping.

So do your homework and conduct a preinterview as you prepare for your next video biography interview. You’ll be glad you did.

Creative editing gives new life to old VHS interviews of 1930s race car owners & drivers.

They were loud, fast and dangerous. They were the sprint and midget cars of the 1930s and a recent Family Legacy Video project brought the memories of those seat-of-your-pants racing days to life.

It all started when a client sent me a VHS recording (probably a copy of a copy of a copy) from the mid 1980s. The recording featured a casual, living room interview conducted by a racing photographer/racing historian named Bruce Craig. On the tape, Bruce speaks with some of the early owners and drivers of the 1930s East Coast circuit: Sam Alperti, Bill Scarince, Bill Morrissey and Myke Collins. My client wanted to share this interview with other racing history aficionados and hoped I could take his old, grainy VHS tape and create a show with a professional look.

Happy to take on the challenge, I asked my client about visuals he could provide. Through his connections, we turned up vintage photos of all the interview subjects from their racing days, including shots of one horrific accident that one of the racers was lucky to have survived.

The photos were a great start, but I wanted more. I managed to track down a video that featured archival film of 1930s racing action, shot at the very tracks where our racers competed. Things were definitely looking up. But – I needed sound. The racing film was silent – I wanted to hear the roar of the engines!

An Internet search led me to a racing museum in the Midwest and a referral to a site featuring just the sound effects I was looking for. Then it was time to pick some upbeat, 1930s-style tracks from my music library and start editing.

The old VHS interview footage was far from pristine, but I was able to improve the image using color correction. The host employed a handheld microphone which he sometimes forgot to aim at his subjects, so I had lots of audio adjusting to do. The opening, featuring vintage racing shots, great music, screaming engines and animated text really evoked the early racing days and set up the interviews beautifully. Skillfully using the photos, I was able to illustrate the racers’ stories and also cut out some unneeded dead air. Delivered on a custom-printed DVD in a DVD case with a custom-printed insert, the final product exceeded my client’s hopes.

The moral of the story is this: You may be presented with an occasional lemon (like old VHS footage). But if you apply some initiative and creativity, you can produce some very tasty video biography “lemonade.”

Get your holiday gift certificate today!

Now that the holiday season is here, there’s not enough time to start and finish a video biography project in time Christmas or Hanukkah. But don’t despair! If you’d like to give a legacy video as a gift this year, you can do so with a Family Legacy Video gift certificate. If you book a project before the holidays, we’ll create a certificate announcing your gift and containing a personal message from you. We can either print the certificate and snail mail it to you or e-mail you a high resolution PDF that you can print. So don’t wait – contact Family Legacy Video and arrange for your gift certificate now!

The pros & cons of two different interview techniques.

If you’ve watched your fair share of documentaries, you’ve seen interview subjects presented in a variety of ways. Sometimes the storytellers speak directly to the camera. Other times they look left or right towards an unseen interviewer. Is one technique better than the other? And how do you choose?

The answer to the first question is “no.” Each technique is valid. Your decision on how to have your storyteller relate (or not relate) to the camera will be based on both stylistic and practical considerations.

The “facing the off-camera” interviewer look is a classic. It puts the viewer in the role of a third-party observer, kind of like watching someone through the one-way mirrors used in focus groups and police interrogation rooms. It’s comfortable – the storyteller is responding and relating to an unseen interviewer and you get to enjoy the conversation as well. By contrast, the “direct address” technique, where the storyteller faces the camera, breaks that one-way mirror. This style gives the impression that the storyteller is speaking directly to you, the viewer. This is a more forceful, “baring of the soul” style of interview.

Aside from these differences in style, there are some practical points to consider. The “off-camera” technique is generally easier to stage and shoot (more on that later). It’s also a technique that allows you as the interviewer to directly relate to, and engage, your storyteller. This one-to-one rapport is a vital component of a successful interview. By contrast, if you choose the “direct address” technique, your storyteller will need to speak to the camera. This is something that many folks, probably most of the people you’ll interview for video biographies, are not comfortable doing. It can also be confusing for the storytellers – where do they focus their attention? They’ll need to listen to you as you ask the question, and then remember to deliver their answer to the cold, glass eye of the camera.

There are devices designed to make this form of “direct address” interview easier on the storyteller. One takes the form of a modified teleprompter. A monitor mounted in front of the camera lens shows an image of the interviewer, but doesn’t block the image of the storyteller from being recorded. Google “interrotron” for information on one such device. As mentioned earlier, however, this adds a level of complexity (and expense) to your shoot that makes it a little more difficult than the “off-camera” technique – because you’ll need to buy or rent and set up extra gear.

Which style should you adopt? For most of your video biographies, the “off-camera” technique will probably work best. If you’re creating an ethical will, where the client wants to deliver personal messages “one-on-one” to relatives and friends, and is comfortable speaking to the camera, the “direct address” technique may be the ticket.

Use childhood memories to paint a picture of times gone by.

Horse-drawn wagons clip-clopping down city streets, frosty deliveries from the ice man, candy store bins filled with penny candy, the challenges of cooking on a coal-fired kitchen stove, getting from place to place by trolley – these sights, sounds and activities, once so common to daily life, have long faded away. But they live on in the memories of many of the storytellers recording legacy videos today – and you can use these memories, enhanced with archival photos and films, sound effects and music, to paint a vivid picture of life in days past.

Case in point: I recently finished the video biography of a wonderful lady who was born in Queens, New York, in 1916. Knowing that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren would love to learn what her world was like when she was a youngster, I made sure to ask her lots of questions about her neighborhood and her way of life in the early 1900s. She recalled a time when three sticks of gum cost a penny, sanitation men called ash-haulers came to take away the ash generated by coal and wood-fired stoves and hand-cranking was the only way to start the few automobiles around. Some research turned up archival photos to help illustrate her descriptions. Combined with period music, these elements combined to create a vivid picture of the world that existed during her childhood.

As the opening chapter of her legacy video, the segment provides her family with a very fun and fascinating glimpse into the past. But it also helps put the storyteller’s life in context. None of us live on a blank canvas. We are all products of certain when’s and where’s that influence and inform our lives. Painting in those “background elements” helps flesh out a life story, giving viewers greater insight into the storyteller’s motivations and life choices.

So don’t forget to pay attention to context. It’ll help you craft a much more complete picture of that important storyteller in your family.

Summer memories: The ice cream man.

While doing research for a video biography I unearthed a couple of photos of Good Humor trucks from years past. They really brought back happy memories for me. So with summer here I thought I’d share some of my sweet remembrances.

Pavlov could’ve been an ice cream man. That’s because the stimulus response he pioneered with bells and dogs worked its magic years later on me and the other kids in my neighborhood. Only we weren’t salivating over savory canine treats, but frosty ones in cones and cups and on sticks.

I remember a number of mobile vendors servicing my New Jersey neighborhood during the 1960s. We had a fix-it guy who’d drive around with a workshop on wheels. He’d repair household tools and sharpen knives – or anything with a blade. There was also a farmer who sold fresh produce out of his truck. It was a real roving farmer’s market; I can remember him stopping right by our corner so my mom could buy some corn-on-the-cob.

Of course, the real stars on wheels as far as the neighborhood kids were concerned were the ice cream and Italian ice guys and gals who materialized every summer. Good Humor, Mr. Softee, Carvel, Little Jimmy Italian Ices and Mama Rosa’s Italian Ices all competed for our nickels, dimes and quarters. You could hear them coming from blocks away, their approach announced by either ringing bells or canned music. In my mind I can still hear the rhythmic tinkling of the Good Humor bells and the tinkly, music box-like tune Mr. Softee played. The trucks were all different, too. You had the white Good Humor truck with the open cab and the freezer on the back. Mr. Softee offered soft ice cream in cones made on the spot and sold out of white vans. Carvel trucks were big and silvery, almost like an entire ice cream store on wheels. You could get a variety of soft ice cream, in addition to ice cream cakes, from them.

I was also a big Italian ice fan. I loved all the flavors, from basic lemon to bubble gum. One of my greatest treats, when I had a quarter to spend, was a freshly-scooped rainbow ice from Little Jimmy, featuring not one, not two, but three flavors of my choice. Truly icy heaven in a cup. Wow, I’m salivating just writing this.

Summer just wouldn’t have been the same without the sights, sounds and tastes offered up by the ice cream and Italian ice guys. I’ll never forget them. How about you?