In most families there is one member who has taken on the role of preserving the family's history. Usually this is a woman of about 45 who has children of her own and also has one or both parents still alive. This person is known as the family historian. She is the one who maintains the family photographs, arranges to have the home movies and videos transferred to DVD, and plans all the family anniversaries, birthday parties, and weddings. This is the person who will be calling you to produce a video of her parents' 50th anniversary, her husband's 60th birthday, and her daughter's wedding. She cares about the legacy of her family, and she'll go to great lengths to capture and preserve it.
The family historian of 2006 is different from her counterpart of 1986. Twenty years ago, this client was happy with a 100-photograph, cuts-only slideshow with the same Barbara Streisand, Kenny Rogers, and Louis Armstrong musical selections accompanying every production. In meeting such modest expectations, you made a quick $300, even though the project kept you quite busy in the editing room trying to figure out what to do with all the edge spaces on vertical pictures rearranged for viewing on 4:3 screens.
Twenty years later, things are much more complicated, largely because today's family historian is a much more media-savvy client. She's well-schooled in the rich and dramatic documentary styles of the Biography Channel, VH1's Behind the Music, and the E! True Hollywood Story. Photographs with music are not going to satisfy this new breed of family historian. She wants just what she saw on TV. She wants a Legacy Biography.
(To see samples of the project and video techniques described in this article, click here.)
The Legacy Biography
The Legacy Biography is a term I use for photo montages I produce that include video interviews of family members. These are relatively easy to produce as they are extensions of the basic photo montage productions that we have all been producing for years. Up-selling your clients from a photo montage to a Legacy Biography can be rewarding to the client and to your bottom line. Recently, a booking that started out as a $300 photo montage to be shown at the rehearsal dinner ended up as an $8,500 Legacy Biography shown at the wedding. Don't you just love it when that happens?
Last spring I met with Joan, a mother of the bride who was very focused on making her daughter's wedding look great to her 300 guests. I explained that her guests would love her party and when they left that night, everyone would comment on how beautiful the room looked, how fabulous the music was, and how scrumptious they found the food. But at the same time, they would leave without really getting to know the bride and groom beyond whatever preceding acquaintance they had. As in many weddings, she would find that the groom's family and friends socialize among themselves, and the bride's would do likewise. Meanwhile, the bride's side never really finds out who the groom is, and the groom's side learns little or nothing about the bride.
I asked Joan to tell me about her daughter, to discuss how she and her husband-to-be had met. I also asked her to tell me about how both wedding families were enjoying getting to know one another. Joan took pleasure in talking about a subject she knew well and agreed with me that her guests at the wedding should know the history behind the marriage of her daughter Julie to her future son-in-law, Michael.
We agreed that during the wedding, we would show a video comprised of photographs, home movies, and video interviews that would show the guests who the bride and groom are. We decided to produce a Legacy Biography.
Step one in designing a Legacy Biography is to have a scripting session with the families to help put their story in different chapters. At this meeting I become a video therapist of sorts as I try to balance family history with family politics, making sure all family members are heard from and all issues are smoothly addressed.
With Julie and Michael, we came up with four chapters for their story. Chapter One, "Growing Up," consisted of parents' recollections of Julie and Michael as kids. Chapter Two, "How We Met," interwove various family perspectives on how Julie and Michael got to know one another. Chapter Three, "The Engagement," revealed how Julie and Mike discovered that they were the ones for each other. Finally, Chapter Four, "The Wedding Day," featured Julie and Michael talking about wedding planning, and their expectations for the wedding itself.
During the scripting session, I asked family members if there were any topics that they did not want mentioned on the video. I explained to them that we would be showing the Legacy Biography at the wedding in front of all their guests, and that we were creating something that could then be shared with future generations. Given that we were creating something that was much more than a "private" document, I advised them that it should contain only selective memories of their history—i.e., only things that they wanted shared.
With the scripting session completed, we set up a time and day to produce the video interviews.
The Video Interviews
The days leading up to the interview session for the family members can be very stressful for the participants. Typically, they are concerned about how they will look, wonder what they will say, and worry that they won't seem genuine in front of the camera.
The first ten minutes of the video interview session are the most important. They set the tone of what will happen over the next few hours. To keep the participants' anxiety level low, I come to the home without any video equipment in hand. I gather all the participants in a room where I answer all their questions and help alleviate their anxieties before ever bringing the camera into play.
After our short informational meeting, I tell the family I will need about 15 minutes to set up my gear and that I will be leaving the house to get my equipment from my van. My leaving the house gives the family members a private moment to digest the situation and prepare themselves to start the interview process.
For interview sessions, I use a Sony DSR 300 camera and Sony URX-81 and URX P1 wireless microphones. I do not bring additional lighting into someone's home, so I seek out a room with excellent lighting. I find that when I bring too much equipment into someone's house, it becomes too obtrusive and robs the interview environment of the comfort that I need. I want the client to feel relaxed, and bringing a video production studio into their house is just not conducive to relaxed and comfortable interviews. I interview everyone individually, in a quiet room, where no one else can hear what is being said. I ask everyone the same questions and try to get a range of contrasting answers.
Each participant being interviewed has written a script in her mind of what she wants to say. I allow each member to talk as long as she wants. This allows me to hear what is important to each participant, and then I can edit the statement to yield the sound bites I am looking for. I explain to each interviewee that everything he or she has said is important, and that the footage that I do not use for the Legacy Video will be edited on a separate video and given to the bride and groom for their own private collection.
Editing the Video
Once the interviews are complete, my senior editor, Dina Canducci, and I group the interviews into the separate chapters in the gallery on the computer. We then ask the family to give us specific photographs to match the chapters.
Dina shoots the photograph on a Beseler S-14 copy stand with a 6-megapixel Canon digital camera. We use a Canon 58 mm close-up lens with an LA-DC 58 Canon Conversion lens adapter. We import the JPEGs into a Canopus editing system using the EDIUS NLE. We then use additional software such as Canopus Imaginate to enhance the photographs.
Once the story unfolds onto video, the families are invited back to view the almost-finished project. In the case of Julie and Michael, the bride and groom and both sets of families loved the Legacy Biography video we produced for their upcoming wedding. And why shouldn't they? It is the story of a very happy time in their lives.
After Julie and Michael and their families fell in love with their Legacy Biography, it was easy to sell them on one more element: the "Wedding at the Wedding." This is the same-day edit footage of their wedding that we incorporate into their Legacy Biography and show the evening of their wedding in front of 300 friends and family.
What started out as a $300 photo montage has now expanded to include scripting sessions, video interviews, the Wedding at the Wedding, and AV support. The final piece of equipment we'll need is a ready supply of handkerchiefs to wipe off all the "thank you" kisses we get after showing the videos.
Besides the rush you feel when you produce and present this great piece of family history, you will get priceless promotion as your name is shown on the screen at the end of the presentation. In most cases, at least three future clients will come up to you to ask if you can create something like that for them.
Can you? With pleasure!
To read EventDV's Studio Time profile of Hal Slifer video, click here.