Making History: Giving Back to the Community
Posted Mar 30, 2007

My company has been producing biography and photo montage videos for more than two decades, and the audience of clients that has hired us has generally had a "feel-good" experience. A few years ago we tried the Memorial Video marketplace. We contacted a number of funeral homes in New England to see if we could expand our business. For a while we worked for four different funeral homes. We were offering the funeral homes a product of 100 photographs edited to music and the AV equipment to show the video. The funeral homes would contact us when they had a client who had requested a Memorial Video. We would pick up and drop off the product, all within a one- to three-day turnaround.

It was a disaster! We were not making much money per product, and we would have to stop whatever current project we were working on to produce the memorial—which, was due, many times, the next day. Being a three-person company, we could not keep up with the demand of the funeral memorial videos, and it affected our everyday business. And unless it had become our everyday business, which was not our intention, the problem wouldn't have gone away, no matter how many memorials we did. There are many videographers, such as EventDV Cradle to Grave columnist Alan Naumann, who specialize in that marketplace and are very successful in servicing numerous funeral companies. We were not one of those success stories.

We had not produced a memorial video for a few years until early this year when we got a call from a party planner who thought we would be interested in talking to the father of a college-aged woman who had died. The father explained that his daughter had died four years ago while attending college. He stated that he had been working, over the years, with a large video production company that produced television commercials to produce a very complex documentary about his daughter. This company, and many different editors, treated this man's project as any other production. But they did not spend the time listening to his story.

Dina Canducci, a fabulous video editor and storyteller who has worked with me for four years, sat and listened with me as this man described his journey and how he got to our company. What he wanted to produce was a one-hour documentary about his daughter's life—celebrating that life, rather than focusing on her death or chronicling how it happened, which was hardly a subject for uplifting video. As we talked with this man, he described how his daughter had been murdered at college and was not found for a month until her body was discovered buried in a pit.

The father had been a film student while in college and had a full script and vision of what he wanted to produce. He thought a large production house would be able to help yet they were not equipped to do so. As it turned out, they had all the bells and whistles and the latest video equipment, but what they lacked was the "video therapy" skills to sit and listen and allow this man to grieve for his daughter. He sat in our studio and talked about her for hours. I assured him that this was a project we could produce.

We set up a schedule of four hours every Friday morning to dedicate to his project. I asked him how he felt as he watched images of his daughter edited on the screen, after our first edit session. He closed his eyes, and I could see his whole body for the first time begin to relax as he took a deep breath, and, with tears in his eyes, thanked us for helping to put closure to this tragedy in his life. We have seen this father transformed from an angry, despondent man to a healthier man as each week progressed and he completed more and more of the celebration of his daughter's life via video.

After working with the father of the murdered student and seeing the profound effect our work had on his mental health and outlook on life, I got to thinking about ways that we, as videographers, can help people in the community who have faced or are facing tragedies in their lives. What if we offered our services, free of charge, to produce a memorial video for a soldier who has died in Iraq, or volunteered to produce a biography interview of a terminally ill cancer patient?

Yes, we are all running businesses and cannot afford to give away our work all the time, yet once in a while we can offer our valuable skills to help a family grieve the loss of a loved one. A video history or legacy biography is one that we, as videographers, do so well. What if each of us did a few projects like that each year, for free? This way we are applying our craft and talents to produce a project for the community. This gift of our time becomes very meaningful, especially since we are applying our professional skills to help a family grieve during a time of personal tragedy. We would be helping people and at the same time promoting our video businesses—and improving the public perception of our industry as a whole—by showing the community what we do best.

Hal Slifer is known to his clients as a Video Historian and has produced thousands of family histories for clients throughout New England for more than 25 years.