I was recently asked to shoot a 50-year class reunion at a local high school. There are 150,000 high school reunions each year, with an annual total attendance of 27 million, or 180 per reunion. That’s a lot of potential business for event videographers.
The reunion started on a Saturday afternoon with a tour of the school. I followed the class around on the tour and captured highlights on video. I started with an establishing shot of the outside of the building, followed by some general shots of lockers, trophies, and so on. As the tour progressed I was careful to not shoot the backs of heads, staying in front to ensure I had faces in most of my shots. The tour only lasted about an hour, and during that time I shot 5–6 minutes of video. I did a lot of in-camera editing to minimize the editing I’d have to do later.
The main focus of the reunion was the dinner and program held that evening at a local hotel. I arrived about an hour before the social hour began and met with the chair of the event so she could record a greeting for the video. I found the right location, mic’d her properly, and coached her on what to say. We nailed her greeting in one take.
Gathering B-roll for the video, I captured arrivals, a 1958 T-Bird convertible, and the ambiance of the event. But as more people arrived, my real work began. The key to a successful reunion video is in the interviews.
To prepare for the interviews, I requested a printout with the names and addresses of each person in attendance. As people arrived, I took them aside to be interviewed, finding that I had to be "gently aggressive" to be successful. I didn’t ask them if they wanted to be interviewed—I just approached them assuming that they would be. For the most part people were very cooperative.
The technique that worked best was to interview 3–5 classmates at a time. Shooting in groups allowed me to be more effective in interviewing as many people as possible. I would have them stand together, interlock their arms, and then go left to right, having them give their name (and maiden name for the women) and a brief update about what their life is like today. This would include their occupation, hobbies, and information about their families. If they indicated that they were retired, then I would ask them what they are retired from.
As soon as everyone made an opening statement, I then went from right to left with a more specific question. I asked questions such as the following:
- After you graduated, what you did want to do? Did you do that or something completely different?
- In 1958 on Saturday night, what would you be doing?
- What school activities were you involved in during high school?
- Is there one teacher that stands out in your mind, maybe a favorite? I would then have them explain why.
During the interview process, I shot with the camera in my right hand and a hand-held mic in my left. That way my voice would be on the video as the interviewer, and also when I put the mic in front of someone he or she knew it was time to speak.
After the interview I went to each person and had her double-check on the address, and I let her know that she would be receiving information about ordering a video. I then checked off the name and went on to the next group. The more people you interview, the more orders you are likely to receive.
There was also a photographer at the event. I introduced myself to him and offered to help in any way I could. Our good rapport allowed us to work as a team. During the time he was to take the class photo, he actually came and got me so I would be prepared. While he shot the photo, I videotaped as well—first showing the whole group, and then shooting close-ups. This whole section took less than a minute on the final video.
When the meal started, since there were still a lot of people that had not been interviewed, I went from table to table and asked if they would be willing to step out for just a couple of minutes so that they could be included in the video. The people at the table who had already been taped became my greatest resource as they put pressure on their classmates to participate. By the time dinner ended, I had taped about 100 interviews.
Once dinner ended, I set up my tripod and prepared to capture highlights of the program. I stood at the front so that as people were acknowledged, I could quickly capture them on tape. By the end of the evening I had shot a total of 2 hours of tape, which was my goal.The reunion was a lot of work compared to many events I have taped, but because of the in-camera editing I did, 90% of my work was done by the end of the evening. I priced the DVD at $30 and got a good response not only from those in attendance, but also from those who were not able to make it.
The one thing I would do in the future is to have someone work with me as my assistant. This would help me keep track of who had been interviewed and also give me a chance to teach that person how to do reunions. Once word gets out of the value of video for reunions, I know our services will be in demand, and it will be good to have videographers prepared to cover the extra work that will come our way. The "State of the Reunion" is good—and it presents a wonderful opportunity for us as videographers.
Alan Naumann (alan at memoryvision.tv) recently published The Complete Course on Funeral Videography, an updated an expanded version of his popular Business Everlasting training DVD. A featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2004–2008 and a 2006 and 2007 EventDV 25 honoree, he is based in Minneapolis.