Have you ever gone back to visit the home where you grew up? Your first school? Or any other buildings or places that figured prominently in your childhood? I bet your visits prompted a flood of memories. You can harness that power of place to help the subject of your next video biography recall memories and stories from his or her life.
A while ago I took a walk through my old New Jersey neighborhood, still filled with tree-lined streets and small, post World War II bungalows. My childhood home looked completely different, with a second story added and lacking all of the trees that used to shade our corner lot. Even so, just looking at the property brought back memories - of events and feelings. I remembered what it felt like to climb those old trees, clear the yard of leaves each autumn (and jump in the leaf piles, of course) and, for some reason, I vividly remembered what it felt like to run from my backyard onto the narrow stone path leading to our side door, and slam that door shut as I charged into the house. Quite frankly, I was surprised at how spontaneous and keenly felt that simple memory was.
A member of my Rotary club recently told me how he took his dad on a tour of the homes that figured prominently in his life. Video camera in hand, he'd stand his father in front of one of his boyhood homes and record the stories and remembrances the place stimulated.
If you think a road trip may be in order for your next video biography, here are some tips to consider:
Plan ahead. If you'd like to shoot on a property, contact the current property owners, explain what you'd like to do, and get their permission. Remember - no trespassing! At the very least, if you're not on their property but are including the building in your shot, just knock on the owner's door and let him/her know what you're doing. Who knows, maybe you'll get invited inside.
Locked down or hand held? You may opt to set your camera on a tripod, and videotape with your subject between the camera and the building, the way you always see TV reporters shot when they're reporting from the White House. Another option is to follow your subject as he/she walks the property and relates their memories. You can do this by taking your tripod with you, setting up a shot to establish an area, and then having your subject walk into the shot and speak. Or, if you're steady enough, you can ditch the tripod and shoot hand held.
Audio. You're going to want to mic your subject as closely as possible. This means a lapel (also called a lavaliere) mic. If you're going to simply have your subject stand and talk, you may be able to get away with an extension cable so you can attach the microphone directly to your camera. However, if you plan on doing any walking and talking, think about renting or purchasing a wireless microphone. A wireless mic has a small transmitter your subject wears on a belt or sticks in a pocket. The audio is sent to a receiver that connects to the audio input of your camera.
Places figure prominently in our lives. And, with a little planning and creativity, you can use them to generate some interesting visuals and some fascinating memories.