Choosing your video biography playback options.

It was the mid-1960s. I was nine years old, and about to dig into a hefty slice of chocolate cake at my cousin’s birthday party.

“Act natural!”

I looked up, and for a split second I saw my uncle balancing a Super 8 movie camera attached to a metal bar bristling with lights. He flipped a switch, and suddenly it seemed as if I was looking directly into the sun. I waved and smiled, hoping against hope that the heat radiating from that nuclear glow wouldn’t melt my scoop of mint-chocolate chip ice cream. After a few seconds, the ordeal ended. As red and purple spots danced in front of my eyes, my uncle moved off to find other victims.

For years, the only way to watch my painful attempt to “act natural” was to set up a movie screen and projector, thread the film over the sprockets, turn off the lights, fire up the projector and roll the film.

That’s all changed now, of course. The miracle that was VHS (and, for a while, Betamax) videotape has given way to a plethora of video formats. Great for the consumer, but an ongoing challenge for those of us who create and distribute video, including video biographies, and who want to meet our clients’ needs for convenient viewing options and secure storage.

Most of the work that goes into creating a legacy video is the work that’s needed to, well, create the video. Once the program is finished, Family Legacy Video® can deliver it in any number of ways. Here are some of the most popular options currently available:

DVD/Blu-ray Discs
There are some who say DVD and Blu-ray discs will be the next video technology to fade away. While disc-based playback (including audio CDs) competes with many other playback options these days, it’s not about to go extinct anytime soon. Here’s what a representative from a company named Primera (admittedly a business that sells discs and disc duplicators) recently said on the subject: Our main customers are recording studios, video production houses, churches and schools, government and military – all of whom still use lots of discs to distribute and archive content. For example, wedding photos and videos are almost always still put onto discs. Brides don’t seem to trust flash drives or the cloud for such important content! Also, bands still sell Family Legacy Videos come on discs and flash drivesdiscs at gigs. It’s really the only way to sell content on-site. Sure, they’ll RIP the disc to their iPhone when they get home. But at least the band got the sale, which they likely wouldn’t have if they simply said, “download us online when you get home.”

DVDs (for standard video) and Blu-rays (for high definition video) offer long shelf life (as long as you use high-quality discs and don’t abuse them). Custom navigation (menus that allow you to play the entire video biography or select which chapters you’d like view) is a terrific feature. Plus, Family Legacy Video® creates beautiful DVD/Blu-ray artwork. So from the legacy video itself to the final package, clients receive a unique and custom video keepsake.

That being said, you need a standalone player connected to a TV or a computer with DVD and/or Blu-ray capability to play the discs. And, like anything physical, they can be lost or damaged.

Video Files on External Drives
I recently worked with a client who viewed video only on a Mac laptop that didn’t have a disc drive. For this client, the choice was video files on an external drive, in this case a USB flash drive. The storage capacity of flash drives has skyrocketed in recent years, so finding one to fit even a high-definition video biography file is not an issue. What has been a concern for me is the packaging available for flash drives. While the quality of the video is paramount, I still want to present the video in a well-designed physical wrapper. Fortunately, I have found a provider of high-end custom-printed USB drives and boxes. While we can’t fit nearly as much printed information on the face of a flash drive as we can on the insert for a DVD case, a personal flash drive can now boast a very elegant appearance.

An upside to a flash drive is the ability to easily copy the files to other computers and drives. A downside is that you can erase a flash drive. So be careful! I recommend making additional copies for safe keeping.

Online Video Services
If the audience for your video is spread over the U.S. or the globe, you might want to consider posting your video biography to a service like Vimeo. You will be charged annually for hosting. But, you can create a private account that will keep your legacy video away from the prying eyes of the public. You’ll have a link you can share only with those who you want to view the video. This could also be a great option if you want to be sure that younger generations of your family, addicted as they are to their mobile devices, will be able to watch you tell your life stories for years to come. Family Legacy Video® can certainly help you set up a private Vimeo account and upload your legacy video.

One caution: Don’t make an online service the only repository for your video biography. No matter how secure they’re advertised to be, servers can crash or get hacked and companies can go out of business. Even if most of the family will be accessing your video biography on the web, be sure to squirrel away some physical copies (preferably a combination of discs and external drives) in a secure place, just for safety’s sake. And don’t forget to make sure someone continues to pay for the hosting – you don’t want your account – and your legacy video – deleted!

The bottom line: You have lots of options for viewing and storing your legacy video these days. Family Legacy Video® will be happy to deliver those that work best for you.

Confessions of a Video Biographer Chapter 4: Romancing the Curve

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?

Confessions of a Video Biographer Chapter 3: Closing the Circle

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?

Confessions of a Video Biographer Chapter 2: The Journey Begins

Some people believe you only truly die after you’re no longer remembered. If that’s true, I can truly say my grandmother will live on for generations, thanks to her video biography.

Gram died in 1998. And now, seventeen years later, family members still tell me how much they appreciate the video. I’ve heard reports of the younger grandkids incorporating clips from her video biography into history projects for school. One of my aunt’s once told me, “Whenever I miss my mother, I just play the video and she’s alive again.” That same aunt has since screened Gram’s legacy video for members of her senior citizen’s center, hoping to inspire other elders to record their stories. So, if anything, Gram’s audience has grown.

But back in 1998, and for many years afterward, I was left wondering if there was a way I might be able to offer a personal history service to folks who didn’t have the video savvy I did – and make a profit doing so. Technology and economics weren’t exactly smiling on me at that point. Non-linear editing (NLE), which today is available to just about anyone with a computer, was still in its infancy then. Not being an early adopter, I didn’t feel comfortable investing in the computer gear and software necessary to get me started editing in the comfort of my own office, especially since the stuff I bought could easily become obsolete in the blink of an eye. And the million-dollar tape-to-tape corporate and commercial facilities in which I worked were out; I certainly couldn’t build anything comparable and with hourly rates for video editing in the hundreds of dollars, my postproduction costs would have been monumental.

So I left the idea simmering on my mental back-burner and went on with my life.

Then, in 2000, my wife, Halina, and I decided to “get outta Dodge,” Dodge for us in this case being Clifton, New Jersey. Our main reason for moving was to insert as many miles as possible between us and the typically frigid, snowy and icy New Jersey winters we’d grown to loathe. Not to mention wanting to find a house and property taxes we could afford. We’d taken a liking to Tucson, Arizona, over several vacations, and decided to stake our claim there. We bought a house in August, then came back to the Garden State, hawked as many of our possessions as we could during a couple of yard sales, packed a yellow Penske moving truck with what we had left, waved farewell to our families, and followed our compass west.

It wasn’t too long before I joined the Catalina Rotary Club and Hal and I started sinking roots in our new community. But Tucson proved a tough place for a freelance corporate video producer/scriptwriter/editor like myself to make a living, mainly due to the lack of corporations and corporate headquarters.

Then came September 11, 2001.

In light of that horrific attack, I thought about all the lives, and life stories, lost forever. Was the time right, I wondered, to reinvent myself as a video biographer? To follow my true passion?

As fate would have it, my involvement with a group of budding entrepreneurs would help me to answer that question. More on that in my next post.

Oh, and by the way: What’s your story?

Confessions of a Video Biographer – Chapter 1: The Awakening

I have a major jones for family stories. There, I’ve said it for the world to see. And you know what? I’m glad.

Looking back, I remember being drawn to personal history at an early age. My dad’s side of the family was pretty humongous, and throughout the years we’d attend picnics or holiday get-togethers at the homes of various aunts and uncles. I loved the food, and hanging out with my cousins. But my favorite time was always after we’d polished off the baked ziti and inhaled the pies, cakes and fruit salad. That was the time when the adults would settle down with brimming cups of coffee and reminisce about their lives and times and those of family members separated from us by mileage or the grim reaper.

The easy banter, the laughter, the rise and ebb of volume and energy as many voices gave way to one and then joined in again to relate other stories triggered by something just said; listening to my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles during these late afternoon and early evening gab fests was just so – comforting. And there was also something about the relish with which my elders told their stories that made hearing their tales just plain fun. Yeah, I was hooked on family stories as a young ‘un.

Flashing forward, my undergraduate communications degree, plus a recommendation from a former college buddy, landed me a job in a New York City public relations firm specializing in the budding realm of video. I spent the next eight years and change learning to tell clients’ stories on video, first as a production assistant on shoots, and then as a video editor, writer, and producer/director. And when I got tired of sitting for hours on end in my company’s dark and cool edit suite, I launched a freelance career. I still spent lots of hours in editing suites, but at least there was variety, I got paid more, and I did get out into the sun more often.

But even though I enjoyed what I was doing, I felt, in my heart, that there should be something more that I could be doing with my skills. I even asked a psychic once if I would ever discover a higher purpose to which I could apply my video abilities. She said I would – although she wouldn’t or couldn’t tell me what form that higher purpose would take.

Enter my paternal grandmother, Alice Rita Morrissey Pender. Actually, Gram was part of my story all along. But in 1995 she would play a central role in helping me chart a new course for my life and career.

Gram was born on Staten Island, New York in 1911. She was blessed with a great memory and a gift for gab, and as I was growing up she shared oodles of stories about her life and our family. I learned how her grandparents emigrated from Ireland but didn’t meet until they were both living in New York City; about how her dad earned a ton of money in the storage battery business, only to lose it during the Great Depression and how he still managed to keep a roof over the family’s heads; there were stories about her grandfather, a police lieutenant stationed at New York City Hall, taking her into the city to witness ticker tape parades; the stories went on and on. And in addition to my enjoyment at hearing her tell them, I realize now that those life stories also grounded me. They gave me an insight into my family’s character (and characters), showed me where my family came from, where they fit into the world and how I fit into my family. Knowing those stories has given me an invaluable sense of identity that’s stayed with me throughout my life. Oh, by the way, I was her first grandchild, so I think we had a special bond because of that.

In 1995, I realized that Gram wouldn’t be around forever. I decided to try and capture her, and some of her stories, on video. Now, these were still the tape-to-tape days, when video editing was done in very expensive editing bays, so there was no way I could shoot and edit the project without a little help. Luckily, one of my corporate clients lent me the use of their video gear and editing suite and one of my colleagues kindly ran camera for me. And so it was that in 1995, I sat down with Gram in my Clifton, NJ, apartment and captured her on-camera, telling me those same wonderful stories I’d heard from her over the years.

Long story short: Due to procrastination and work demands, I didn’t tackle the editing until 1998. But that summer, I made a concerted push and finished what will always be one of my proudest achievements: a documentary featuring my grandmother telling the story of her life. Unfortunately, she died without seeing the video. I will always regret not hustling over to her the moment I wrapped work on her video to “premiere” it for her. But I also know that I’d never have been able to forgive myself if I hadn’t captured her, and her stories, for posterity.

So the first time the majority of my family saw Gram’s video biography was at the repast following her funeral. As you can imagine, my emotions took a roller coaster ride that day. But the video truly transformed a day of mourning into a celebration of life. After seeing the impact Gram’s legacy video had on my family that day and during the days that followed, the higher purpose I spoke of earlier began to reveal itself. More on that in another post. Thanks for reading.

Oh, and by the way: What’s your story?

Family Legacy Video generates media & earns awards.

Over the years, Family Legacy Video, Inc. has captured the attention of the print, TV and radio media. We’ve also garnered our share of awards! You can read about Family Legacy Video on the “Family Legacy Video in Print” page; listen to company president Steve Pender on the “Family Legacy Video on the Radio” page; and watch Steve’s recent TV appearances on the “Family Legacy Video on TV” page.

You can view the list of Family Legacy Video’s video biography honors on the “Family Legacy Video Awards” page.

Flying into family history.

The era of coast-to-coast passenger air service in the U.S. dawned on October 25, 1930, when the pilot of a Transcontinental & Western Air Ford Tri-Motor throttled up the plane’s three engines and lifted off from the runway in Newark, New Jersey. During the 36-hour trip, the plane stopped at Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri. After overnighting in Kansas City, the plane continued on to Wichita, Kansas; Amarillo, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Winslow, Arizona and then to its final destination, Los Angeles, California. Talk about layovers!

On the Columbus to Indianapolis leg of that inaugural journey, the passenger list included a forty-three-year-old salesman for the Holcombe & Hoke Manufacturing Company named William Morrissey.

Family Legacy Video provides custom personal video biography and legacy video production services.Exactly forty-five years later, on October 25, 1975, TWA (the successor to Transcontinental & Western Air) marked the anniversary of that flight with a celebration at Newark International Airport. On hand for the party were TWA officials, a vintage Ford Tri-Motor, former flight attendants sporting vintage uniforms, and my great-grandfather, William Morrissey, who was then living in Colonia, New Jersey.

My great-grandfather spoke about his experiences flying in the “Tin Goose” to the assembled media, which included the local New York television stations and a reporter from the Star-Ledger newspaper.

I knew about my great-grandfather’s travels during the early days of commercial air flight and always wondered what that experience had been like. So, when I opened my local Tucson paper one morning to see an ad for flights in a restored Ford Tri-Motor, I knew my wife and I would be taking part.

I purchased tickets, and on Valentine’s Day of this year, Halina and I headed for the airport. The flights were conducted as a part of the “Fly the Ford” tour, sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Against a backdrop of modern passenger jets, we climbed aboard the triple-engine, corrugated metal bird, and buckled ourselves in. One by one, the engines roared to life, sending their noise and vibrations through the cabin. With a practiced hand, the pilot guided the ten-passenger plane to the runway and then into the air for a fifteen-minute cruise over Tucson. It was an absolute thrill, and a chance to connect, in a small way, with what my great-grandfather experienced so many years ago.

If you’d like to see a short video documenting our flight, you’ll find it in the March 2015 e-Newsletter.