Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ideas for a Family History Project

Just got an email from an LDVB reader who is about to embark on a video interview with her parents for their 60th anniversary. What a great project! What a great way to honor your parents, and preserve their history and wisdoms for your family.

There are a million pretty easy ways to make a family video. For my parents 50th anniversary a few years ago I took on what turned out to be an ambitious project, but one that has always been one of my favorites: to make a big historical video for them. This was not going to be a simple sketch, but rather an aggregation of a many simple sketches. No single one was challenging, but the overall volume was. The final project was about 50 minutes long (which still fit nicely on a DVD or DV cassette). That would be too long if it were not comprised of twelve 2-6-minute sketches, some of which were already shot and edited.

Here are the concept and editing techniques in each sketch:

1. Found a couple short paragraphs in an old book describing the background of my mother’s grandfather. I recorded myself reading these paragraphs, and laid this down as an audio track. It was easy to clip out problems in my presentation, cut out some long pauses which would otherwise make it a little dull, and removed a line that didn’t make sense. It then ran about 1 minute. Then, once the audio track was good, I found as many super old photos as I could and scanned them into the computer, and dropped them in over the audio. This was a good iMovie HD project. (It works well with integrating iPhoto content and sound tracks recorded on the spot.)

2. I scanned in dozens and dozens of family pictures from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and then I found a couple songs that were popular in our household back then, played on car trips, and sung to us as kids. Since there were lots of pictures, I grouped them chronologically through an era, and then put in an audio collage of six song snippets to give the background. So it’s a sort of music video, still images against songs, no narration or ambient sound.

3. I found an old promotional video for a project of mine from 25 years ago. I just cut in the funny part.

I should note that pretty much each segment fades to black at the end, then fades up out of black to begin the next one, with only a second of pause between them. These are good locations for chapter stops if you’re building a sophisticated DVD (which isn’t required, but is nice.)

4. I interviewed my aunt once in her hotel room during a vacation, the camcorder at my side and aimed upward rather inconspicuously, and she pulled photos from an envelope and held them up for the camera and me and told me wonderful stories from each image. One of them was of her and my father as kids. Rather than include the entire interview, I just cut the story she told primarily of this one photo--I began with the long shot of her telling tales and holding up a couple photos, then I edited it slightly to tune it towards this single event, and used insert shots to cut-away from the interview to the photo itself, which I couldn’t borrow or scan, so I just shot the photo very clearly, holding very still, from very close for a number of seconds after we were done chatting. [Sketch E provides a typical example of this interview style]

They key here was that the interview with her was long –maybe 45 minutes -- and may continue to have many interesting uses over the years, but I didn’t edit the entire thing, only the part that I’d use in this anniversary video. That kind of focus kept the project on track and the workload manageable.

5. Some home video my sibling had transferred from old VHS tapes to digital, which I shortened (but didn’t really “edit”) and made into a small segment.

6. The centerpiece was a 20-minute excerpt from a 40-minute interview I had done with my parents a year ago. We sat in a park and the camera sat on the table next to me and framed in a 2-shot, I recorded them answering some questions about their interests today and how they evolved over the years, and what they’d like to see in the future.

Like most these interviews, I had (a) the camera away from my face, down at my side, framed up and left alone. They knew it was there but they quickly ended up talking to my face and not the lens; (b) A line of questioning that wasn’t random, but on topics of interest (“why’d you move to this town? How’d you get into stamp collecting? How’d did you meet?” etc.) They’d answer with stories and interact with each other nicely. (c) I cut the interview tighter by removing chunks of audio and video together, creating jump cuts throughout the interview, and then finding picture-only inserts to drop over the jumps – as many as I could find to make it “illustrated”. I succeeded here by shooting video the next day at home while I was asking for more detail on the stuff they talked about (“show me some of your favorite stamps” or “do you have your wedding dress, can you show it to me?) These video illustrations are important; some cut-aways can be from photos, certainly; but video cuts to video nicely and makes the whole project easier to watch if the inserts are shot well. These inserts facilitate the way the final video moves smoothly from parents talking and interacting, to them narrating a series of images. I cut the entire interview first, years ago. For the anniversary video, I just extracted two or three of the best questions and the answers and used that.

There were various short sketches I’d made over the prior 10 years that were just from my immediate family [For instance, Sketch I]-- I included a couple, but I didn’t want the final project weighted toward our part of the clan, so I tried to balance those with segments focused on my siblings too. I had interviewed some of my nephews and nieces over the years too, at summer gatherings, and I included a few short sketches that included those interviews, cut in the same way as the main one. The technique may be similar, but with different interviews, in different locations, and with different sorts of cut-away shots they all feel unique and fresh (e.g. I interviewed one nephew on a basketball court, talking about his love of the game, and used insert shots of him playing, dribbling and shooting. This was textured because I used a mixture of sound from the interview with him, and the live distinctive sound of him playing ball, although muted a bit for the background. It worked well.

A good anniversary video for your parents needn’t only be video of them – like an interview. Since it’s a gift for them, they often appreciate seeing material of the rest of their progeny and clan, over the years. At least in this 50th anniversary video project, it worked well.

What has worked for you? Please share your success stories here.

1 comment:

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