Video not only captures the facts of the story but the person telling the story as well, enabling us to see and hear a firsthand account, complete with emotions, laughter, expressions, and all those other ingredients that make us unique individuals. Through video, we’re able to transcend time and space and have a direct impact on future generations by sharing our stories, our values, and our life lessons. As Mark Twain said, “There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside the dullest exterior, there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.” It was because of producing a memorial video that I first discovered the importance of video biographies. Several years ago a family came to me with photos of their deceased father and a box filled with audio tapes. They found the tapes in their father’s belongings and, not knowing what was on the tapes, asked me to go through them to see if there was anything worthwhile that could be used in their father’s memorial video. One of the first tapes I chose was made on a reel-to-reel recorder in the 1950s. It started out with someone playing the piano and then a voice saying, “Well kids, I’m not much of a piano player, but you asked me to play some of your favorite songs, so here it goes. I hope you enjoy it.” Their father then played a medley of some of their favorite songs, along with appropriate commentary.
I knew I had something special, but I didn’t realize how special until I saw the reaction of the siblings the first time they saw their father’s memorial video. The impact of hearing his voice and listening to his playing was even more powerful because of the precious photos they had chosen for the video. The combination of photos and audio created a dynamic that really can’t be explained—only experienced. The one thought I had in observing that scene was, “How much more powerful would the video have been if we could have actually seen the father playing the piano and talking to his children?”
I’ve done countless video biography projects, and they all have one thing in common: They increase in value and importance over the years to the people that possess them. When primitive photography first started in the 19th century, I’m sure that those pioneer photographers had no idea how vital their work would be in helping future generations understand that era in history. And with today’s video technology, future generations will be able to study our culture and history in a way impossible before the advent of video. But the generations that will benefit the most are those whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents had enough foresight to put their stories on video so future generations could benefit from their life journey.
Right now the videography field is facing challenges because of a struggling economy. Brides aren’t spending what they once did on video, and corporations are looking for cheaper ways to have their video needs met. I’ve spoken and written many times about why videographers should consider taking up funeral videography as another service they could offer. Many have, and they have found the value, both personally and professionally, of helping people remember loved ones during a time of loss.
I realize that funeral videography isn’t for everyone. But biography video is something that all of us offer to our clients. The very nature of our work is to be storytellers, but we need to adapt our storytelling skills to make video biographies an official part of our business plan. Whether it’s helping an individual or a corporation, there are countless stories to be told, and videos to be made.
Recently, a fellow videographer told me that the reason he started his business more than 20 years ago was because of the joy he had in making a video of his grandfather. His original motivation for getting into video was to produce video biographies. He then confessed that after starting his business, he got caught up in the type of projects so many of us spend our time producing—from weddings to commercials—and his grandfather’s video was the last video biography he ever produced. He wanted to get back to his original vision. After hearing his story, I told him that if he were serious in offering video biographies to his clients, the best thing he could do would be to immediately produce another one. After discussing some possibilities, he realized that his father-in-law would be the perfect subject. He had recently come to a place in his life where he was now ready to share his military experience. I gave my friend some material on how to tell “a soldier’s story” on video, and as he was leaving, I noticed a renewed enthusiasm that I hadn’t seen in him for a long time.
Many of my videographer friends have expressed an interest in becoming video biographers—someday. Today is that day. We’re seeing an increase in the number of people who want to leave their stories to future generations, but instead of relying on others to tell their story, they want to tell their own story. Many are looking for video biographers who will help them make this a reality. If we become those videographers, we’ll discover that our services will be priceless for our clients and profitable for us!
Alan Naumann (alan at memoryvision.tv) is co-author, with Melonie Jeska, of The Complete Guide to Video Biographies, a newly released, comprehensive set of training materials for professional video producers. A featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2004–2009 and a two-time EventDV 25 honoree, he is based in Minneapolis.