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Making History: Life's High Points and Low Points
Posted Sep 4, 2007 Print Version     Page 1of 1

As video historians, we are always asking questions about the life and times of our clients. Recently, I did an interview for a client’s grandfather, who was turning 98 years old. I usually ask questions about specific milestones in my subjects’ lives: wedding, birth of a child, retirement, and the like.

For this interview, I threw out a prompt I had never used before—tell me a high point and a low point in your life. This type of question got me thinking about the highs and lows of my own video career.

The lowest point of my career took place at a large wedding in Boston. I had a few minutes to freshen up before the ceremony was scheduled to begin and I left my Sony DSR 300 camera under the wedding canopy in front of 300 guests as I headed to the men’s room.

When I returned, I did not see my camera. The processional music was starting up as I looked to see where someone had “moved” it. I had been hired by one of the better party planners in town and I had to tell her my camera was stolen. One of the groomsmen overheard the conversation and offered to loan me his consumer camera for the ceremony.

As the bride came down the aisle, the consumer camera blinked “low battery” and then shut off. With 300 guests watching the processional, I held the camera to my eye as if I were still videotaping and thought about what my next career choice would be.

With no backup camera on site, I borrowed, from guests, six different Hi8 consumer cameras at different parts of the wedding to try and finish the job.

Yes, I know the cardinal rule of event videography is always bring a backup camera, but I was young and naïve, and at that point I needed an editing system more than a second camera. This was definitely a low point in my career.

As for the high point: After college, I lived out a childhood fantasy and worked as a disc jockey for a high-profile radio station in New England. Once the fantasy gave way to the reality of not making much money, I asked my father for a loan to buy some video equipment to start my new career.

“What’s a videographer?” was his first question when I told him I would videotape weddings and have people tell me about their lives. His second question? “You mean people will pay you money to do that?”

Although I was able to convince my parents that I could make a living producing videos, I don’t think they really understood the concept of such a business until I produced a wedding video for a friend of the family. Knowing my parents would be at the wedding, I offered to produce a Legacy Biography for the bride and groom plus a Wedding at the Wedding (or SDE) to show at the reception.

The night of the wedding I focused my camera on my parents as they watched the video presentation. From a distance, I could see them nod to one another as they saw the magic of my video on the screen.

The audience applauded the video, and as the bride and groom came over to congratulate me on the production, I could see the proud look on my father’s face as the bride thanked me in front of her guests for a job well done. This was definitely a high point in my career.

It’s these kinds of highs and lows—professional and personal—that are the essence of our life stories. That’s why both types of experiences can be so important to capture in a Legacy Biography video.

When interviewing your clients, you will find that most people want to talk about basic milestones of their lives, but not everyone will want to tell you about the lows of their history.

One way to get to this part of the interview is to allow your clients to tell their story and, once they get into their “comfort zone” of talking, ask them about a high point of their lives, such as becoming a parent or grandparent. It is easy to talk about the highs. Then, once they’ve begun speaking openly about their experiences, gently ask them about the low points of their lives. Ease into it by prompting them with something like, “Tell me about the biggest disappointment you have had.”

If the clients trust you and know that you will edit out anything they do not want included in their video, they may open up and tell you some interesting stories that they usually would not talk about.

Not everyone is comfortable sharing their disappointments, but as video historians, it’s our job to try to draw out the entire story—not just the high points. Everyone’s history has its highs and lows, and it’s our responsibility to portray them to the extent our clients desire. By not shying away from these low moments, you will find that your clients may open up and speak from their hearts, and share with you their true histories and the essence of their lives.

You can craft amazing video biographies by having your clients tell future generations what they learned from experiencing both the highs and lows in their lives. Sprinkle some of those touching moments in your final video. The results will amaze you . . . and future generations will thank you for asking the right questions!

Hal Slifer is known to his clients a a Video Historian and has produced thousands of family histories for clients throughout New England for more than 25 years. A 2006 EventDV 25 honoree, in August 2007, he was inducted into the WEVA Hall of Fame.

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