Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Cafe Has Moved!

Starting today, August 18, 2011, Family Legacy Video's website has a new look and feel. As part of the redesign, the Family Legacy Video Cafe is now integrated into the site itself. From now on, you'll find the cafe here. I hope you'll continue to visit! By the way the site's homepage is still:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Add "breathing room" to interviews to hold viewer interest.

I'll never forget my high school biology teacher. Mr. Rutledge was terrific in the classroom. He was lively, funny and entertaining - in short, he made learning fun. Then came the the day he gave my class a taste of what many of our future college lectures would be like. Announcing that it was "college lecture day," he sat at his desk, opened a text book, bowed his head and read, in a monotone, for the entire class period. His voice never varied in pace or intonation. It was all I could do to keep from being lulled to sleep. In short, it was one of the longest lectures in my life - an object lesson in how not to teach.

So what does this have to do with video biographies? Well, a common mistake I see made in video biographies, be they professional or amateur, concerns pacing. Many producers never vary the tempo of their programs or give viewers a little bit of time to digest the information they're given. These shows are, in fact, the video equivalent of a monotone. And they send their audiences (at least me) to dreamland.

How can you avoid creating a "monotone" video biography? There are lots of techniques, but in this article I'd like to offer you one particular bit of advice: Let your interview "breathe." Y'see, many video biographers seem to think they need to present interviews exactly as they were recorded, with minimal cutting and shaping. They let the interviews set the pace, or tempo, for the video, instead of shaping the interviews and varying the pacing through editing.

Here's an example. Let's say you've got half a dozen photos of Granma Annie during her childhood years on the family farm. During the interview, however, Annie only mentions the farm briefly. There's not enough time to insert all the photos you have in the few seconds she gives you - so what do you do? Some producers cram in a few photos in the time available, resulting in shots that are on the screen for too short a time, which makes them distracting and also doesn't give the viewers enough time to enjoy them. Not good. The better option is this: After Granma mentions the farm, stop the interview, mix in some music, display the photos (perhaps dissolving between them as they pan left and right or zoom in and out) and then dissolve back to Granma as she continues her answer. This gap, or "breath" gives your viewers the time they need to process the information they've just heard in the interview and enjoy the visuals.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Family Legacy Video® - it's a trademark.

I'm getting to know how the folks at Xerox must have felt when people used their company name to describe any old photocopier. I've recently found several Web sites using the term "Family Legacy Video" to describe their video biography offerings. The truth of the matter is that Family Legacy Video® is a trademark of Family Legacy Video, Inc. - something these other companies now know - and I'm devoted to protecting that trademark. That's because a Family Legacy Video® is a unique brand, standing for professional, highly-crafted video biographies that are unmatched in the industry. And the only place you can get a Family Legacy Video® is through Family Legacy Video, Inc.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

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.

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 $1,000. To be able to devote all of the $20,000 to the video, I would add the $1,000. The client would then pay a total of $21,000. If the client can't go as high as $21,000, I can subtract travel expenses, leaving $19,000 to devote to the actual video production.

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.

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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

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."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Helping a town celebrate its stories - and storytellers

Ajo, Arizona is a small town about a 2 1/2 hour drive west of Tucson. The town is chock-full of stories, thanks to its years as a copper-mining boom town and the mix of cultures (Native Americans, Hispanics and Anglos) who worked the mine. Preserving those stories, as told by the folks who lived them, became a passion for a group of history-minded Ajo residents. In 2008, they formally organized as the Ajo Story Gatherers. Their mission, to videotape interviews with the town elders, and incorporate their remembrances into a video for all to enjoy.

The group faced some initial challenges. One was funding, which was overcome when the Story Gatherers secured a grant from PRO Neighborhoods. A second, and perhaps more daunting challenge, was gaining the skills they needed to create the video. None of the group members had ever embarked on a video project like this before. So group leader Cheryl Langer set out to find someone who could provide the guidance the Story Tellers needed.

After searching the Web, Cheryl found Family Legacy Video's workshop page. A short time later, she placed a call to Steve Pender. Her question: Could Family Legacy Video hold a video biography workshop in Ajo? Steve and workshop partners Dan Crapsi and Ginny Temple were happy to help - and in October 2008 they travelled to Ajo. The Family Legacy Video team shared their expertise during two days of hands-on sessions (see the November 2008 e-Newsletter) and then wished the Story Gatherers good luck.

Then, this January, an invitation to attend the gala premiere of "Ajo Stories" appeared in Family Legacy Video's mailbox. Eager to see what the Story Gatherers accomplished, Steve and his wife Halina decided to attend. On the evening of January 30, they strolled into Ajo's historic Oasis Theatre - and were treated as honored guests. They were seated in the first row, alongside many of the town elders interviewed for the video. During her opening remarks, Cheryl Langer introduced the Penders to the packed house and said that the Story Tellers "couldn't have succeeded without the workshop conducted by Family Legacy Video." Then, the lights dimmed, the projectionist pressed "play," and Ajo's storytellers filled the big screen with their remembrances, some poignant, some hilarious, of Ajo's past.

Afterwards, the excited and appreciative audience mingled over coffee and sweets - with the younger folks plying the elders for even more stories. "It was a great evening," said Steve Pender. "I applaud the Ajo Story Gatherers for preserving the remembrances of their town's elders. This was a huge undertaking for the group, and I'm honored that Family Legacy Video could be a part of their successful effort."

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Of personal history and a special lunar eclipse.

It was about 1 AM in Tucson, Arizona, on the morning of December 21. I unlocked my front door, stepped into the night and looked up towards the heavens. There it was: a rust-colored moon in almost total eclipse, floating in and out of view behind a mottled layer of broken clouds. Even though the sky wasn't as clear as I would have liked, the view was gorgeous, and it was made all the more special by the fact that the next winter solstice eclipse isn't due until 2094 - eighty-four years distant. That's pretty far away in human time, but not as far removed as we in 2010 are from the last folks who got to see such an awesome sight.

It was 372 years ago, 1638, when a lunar eclipse last coincided with a winter solstice. As I sat on my front steps enjoying the spectacle in the night sky above me, feeling the gentle breeze brushing my face and hearing the mournful cries of some nearby coyotes, I couldn't help but feel a sense of connection with my distant ancestors. I don't know who or where they were, but somewhere close to four centuries ago, my forbears gazed into a star-filled expanse to watch the full moon redden and dim. It may sound a bit silly, but I felt connected to them, as if this celestial event was bridging time and linking us together in spirit.

I think part of that connectedness stems from the fact that, like the light reflected by the moon, each of us is a reflection of the generations of our family that preceded us. My DNA, physical characteristics and maybe even personality traits were bequeathed to me by those long-lost relatives; precious gifts of identity for which I give thanks daily. One thing they didn't pass along to their descendants were their personal stories - understandable given that, for them, just surviving was probably the order of the day. But thanks to today's technology, we have opportunities our ancestors in 1638 didn't have. You and I can pass along our life stories, including our reactions to the 2010 lunar eclipse, to coming generations in the form of personal video biographies. If we create these legacy videos now, before it's too late, our descendants won't be left wondering who we were. They'll know, because we'll be there to tell them each time they insert our DVDs and press "play."

And won't that be a wonderful reflection on us.