Cradle to Grave: Opportunities of Funeral Videography
Posted Jan 30, 2007

Personal event video is all about capturing moments in time. In this column we will explore opportunities for videographers to capture all these important moments in life for their clients—from the cradle to the grave. Weddings are only one of the many life events that demand our services.
      In his book Future Shock, written in 1970, futurist Alvin Toffler predicted what life would be like over the subsequent 20 years. In 576 pages, he refers to video only two times in short statements that treat it much like an afterthought. Little did he realize how video would impact all areas of our lives in the 21st century.

Perhaps the one area that has surprised us most is funeral videography. Somehow, this seems like an area that should not be tampered with out of respect for the deceased. Yet, it is because of respect for the deceased and concern for the living that video is becoming an increasingly important part of the grieving process. Since about 2000 we have entered what I call "The Age of the Funeral Video." There are two reasons for this.

First of all, there has been radical change taking place in the whole funeral industry. Primarily because of the rise of the Baby Boomer generation, the current emphasis is to personalize the funeral or memorial service. No longer is the traditional funeral service the norm. In fact, in many places it has become the exception. Along with the emphasis on personalization has come the rise in cremation, which allows for great freedom on the part of those planning services. No longer are you limited to a funeral home or a house of worship. Once cremation has taken place, the cremated remains (also referred to as cremains) can be released to the family, and they can do whatever they want without the involvement of a funeral director.

The second catalyst is technical advances in the video industry. With the marriage of video and the computer, it has become possible to offer high-quality video in a relatively short time and at a reasonable cost. It wasn't long before families, looking for ways to personalize services, and funeral directors, looking for ways to revitalize the service they offer, discovered video.

The primary way video is being used with funeral or memorial services is the memorial tribute video. This is a video that is usually made up of about 30 photos—and occasionally video clips—and lasts around five minutes. The three ingredients necessary for an effective memorial tribute video are time, quality, and movement. Fast turnaround times are crucial; most of the videos I do have to be completed within 24 hours. To control my schedule, I like to pick up the photos at the funeral home shortly after the family brings them in. If the funeral home is too far away, I have the funeral director scan the photos and upload them to my website. Once I have the photos I restore them using Digital Ice in my scanner and Photoshop in my computer. After I begin editing, I use the "Ken Burns" effect to put movement in the photos. This will set it apart from a PowerPoint-type slide show.

The second way video is being used is in the videotaping of the service itself. With the personalization of services and the stories that are often told about the deceased, it becomes a wonderful way to capture memories of an individual that will be treasured by those left behind. What's more, with families being scattered, it is often hard to get everyone together for a service. A funeral or memorial service captured on video can easily be shared with loved ones anywhere in the world. Offering streaming video of the service will be a tremendous help in this area, but it's an option we're only just beginning to explore.

We need to become aware of the growing popularity of funeral videography and decide how we want to participate. Some will choose not to get involved. But that doesn't mean you won't be contacted by funeral homes and families to see if you are available, so I would encourage you to at least know who is offering their services so you can pass on their name. If you decide to do even occasional funeral work, you need to educate yourself about the uniqueness of funeral videography and establish systems that let you complete high-quality work quickly. If you choose to make funeral videography a primary emphasis, be ready for a lot of work. As the demand for funeral videography grows, so will the demand for your time and expertise.

You will find funeral videography rewarding not only financially but personally as well. We recently received a wonderful Christmas card from a longtime client and friend that reminisced about the first project we did for her family—videotaping her husband Russ sharing his experience at Pearl Harbor with his grandchildren on the 50th anniversary of the attack. She reminded us of all the other special occasions—weddings, anniversaries, etc.—that we've captured for her since that first session in 1991.

She concluded by saying that the memorial tribute video we produced for her late husband was in many ways the most meaningful of all the projects we had done. She thanked us for honoring his life is such a special way. Video is truly a powerful tool for impacting lives from the cradle to the grave.

Alan Naumann, a 2006 EventDV 25 honoree and featured presenter at WEVA Expo 2004-6, runs MV Productions in Minneapolis and is the author of the internationally successful Funeral Videos: Business Everlasting, now available in a multi-part "Complete Package" edition.