Life Story Video

Saving lives through video

Veterans Stories Recorded on Video

Many of our veterans have now told their stories. And some have even had them recorded for posterity. These three Orange County, California residents decided to record their WWII battle experiences in Your Story Here veterans’ videos. If you have a veteran in the family, don’t wait till it’s too late…

Jim Peirano: Firing back at Pearl Harbor
Jim Peirano fired at Japanese bombers from the deck of his submarine USS Dolphin during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He remembered with horror as the Arizona blew up scattering burning oil over the water – burning hundreds. Jim remembered the looks on the faces of the young Japanese pilots as they swooped in to drop their bombs. “They had the scarves and everything. You could see them real well because they were flying so low. It was just like you see in the movies!”

Veterans Video DVD BoxJim was animated throughout the interview. Happy to have been a witness to so much history and somehow able to contain his sorrow at the terrible loss. Soon after Pearl Harbor, Jim’s submarine left to carry the war to the Japanese:

“We did not know anything about fighting a war,” he said. “We knew how to dive and exercise the submarine. But the rest we had to learn as the war progressed.”

Jim was at the battles of Midway and Tarawa and he saw service in the Solomon Islands where he helped save a group of 29 missionary nuns and children. He was in the middle of the “Battle of Japan” as he termed it, his submarine sinking many enemy ships. He stressed that American forces would drop leaflets on civilian populations before bombing runs, warning them to evacuate – a fact he said is often overlooked.

Jim left the service highly decorated and with the rank of Lieutenant Commander and later revisited Australia, where he introduced the sport of ten pin bowling to that country. As he told these stories on his veteran’s video, Jim’s eyes shone. He was back in the moment.

Jim died in 2009 at his home in Laguna Woods, a WWII hero.

Julian Ertz: His Buddy Begged to be Shot
One-time Footballer Julian Ertz, still alive and now 90 and also Laguna Woods, California resident, was anxious to fight in the war in Europe and trained as a pilot and a navigator. In December 1943, Julian and his crew took the “southern” route to England, via Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Natal Brazil then across the Atlantic to Dakar, Marrakech and finally Great Britain. The plane was stocked with candy for war-deprived British children the crew expected to meet.

Tragedy struck for Julian and his crew when his B-24 J Liberator – named “Bachelors’ Baby” on account of the single status of its crew – crashed on take off in Wales. As he tells in his veteran’s video, the plane was loaded with 50 caliber shells. Julian suffered a broken back, and walks with some difficulty to this day, but still counts himself lucky. He was able to shelter from the exploding bullets behind the plane’s engine, which had become detached. Five of his 10 crew, and a sixth man – an unlucky hitch hiker – were killed. Booster, the mascot dog, was also killed in the crash.

He remembers to this day the cries of Sammy Offutt as he burned alive in the wreckage, begging Julian to end his misery with his pistol. Julian was unable to comply – he did not have the gun to hand. He does not know what he would have done had he had it. Julian returned to the US in a full body cast – later studying law and becoming an attorney.

Sandy Ross: “It wasn’t heroic. It was exciting”
WWII-Veteran-PilotSandy Ross wanted to become a pilot ever since his days as a Lockheed riveter, riding in the cockpits on the assembly line. Before America’s involvement in the war, he begged his father to let him go north to Canada to join up. His father refused. He did not have long to wait. Sandy and his brother joined the Army Air Corps and soon both were piloting P-47 Thunderbolts against German forces in Europe.

Proudly wearing his still-fitting brown bomber jacket and officers cap during his veteran’s video interview, WWII veteran Sandy Ross recalled some of his 51 missions over Europe. Asked about the dogfight that earned him the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross as well as a promotion to Second Lieutenant, he said: “It wasn’t heroic. It was exciting. It was fun.”

Our World War II veterans lived through some of the most dramatic times of the 20th century. It is important that their stories are captured for their families and future generations. Most of our WWII veterans are in their 80’s and 90’s and there is a real urgency to record their stories.

With so much technology now at hand, it has never been easier to record surviving veterans’ stories to video. Happily, even the grandchildren can play their part – by sitting down with their grandfather or grandmother and taping their experiences. For those who need help, there are many video professionals who can lend a hand recording veterans video. Many offer reduced pricing for veterans – not just of WWII but of all conflicts. And if you just need some hints, many will be pleased to give advice – including guidance on questions – for free.

Filed under: Biographies, WWII

Digital Legacies: The Options

John Giacchino had been collecting information about his Italian American family for years. He had family trees, portrait photographs, immigration and census records, WWII registration cards, historical maps of the Philadelphia streets where his grandfather grew up, photographs from a family visit back to the villages, silent film (converted to video) of his Dad in high school and in the army, detailed biographies of most of his ancestors – and he had audio of his grandmother – now deceased – talking about her trip to America as a little girl.

John also had relatives spread across the United States, as well as back in Italy. And he knew it was time to do something with all this stuff for all these people. But what?

The answer was to create a digital legacy – a kind of modern day scrapbook. Not the kind that puts pretty borders around digital photographs – although there is nothing wrong with that. No, he needed a bigger solution. Something versatile enough to contain all his material. For John, he had four main choices: A Digital Briefcase, a website, a Powerpoint presentation, and a legacy video. But first off, he had to make sure his stuff was in the right format.

Legacy_Video_ImageDigital file formats
In all cases, material must be digitized. It must be in a form that a computer can read. That means you may need to scan your photographs (JPEG format should do, scanned at no less than 300ppi) and digitize your documents (I like the PDF format). Audio also needs to be digitized and should be in the uncompressed AIFF format. Video should be converted to “Digital Video” (“.dv”) or Quicktime (“.mov”).

Will these formats last forever? Probably not, but if the future is anything like the present then there will be people and programs around that will enable your descendants to convert these file formats lickity-split.

Digital Legacy Options

In digital legacies, there are four main options: What I call the Digital Briefcase; the Website; a Powerpoint Presentation; and a Legacy Video.

The Digital Briefcase

This is the simplest form of digital legacy. It is a virtual briefcase with virtual pockets. You might have one with all your scrapbook files right now in your computer – although it might not yet be as tidy as it should be. If you don’t, then it is easy to create. All you need to do is create a master file and a number of sub-files. Then just slot all your material in.

Naming is important. John would name the top file “The Giacchino Family” and he would have sub-files covering each of his grandparents’ biographies. Within each of the sub-files, you might create new files according to the material – photographs, video, audio, and so on. It’s a good idea to include a “read me first” document in the top file (maybe in PDF or plain text) setting out what you have done and what you have included.

Once that file hierarchy is established and you have filled the bins, you can copy the master file to a CD or a DVD or an iPod or a flash drive or any other storage device and you can sent it or even email it all around the family and all around the world. Extra large digital files can be sent by vendors like Hightail.

Legacy_Video_ImageThe Website
This is not as crazy – or as hard as it sounds. A web page – along with its sub-pages – is a marvelous container for biographical information and holds and plays video and audio and displays text and photographs with ease. You can easily link to other blogs and websites.

Creating a web-site from scratch is beyond most people. But a blog is easy. Go to Blogger or WordPress (Blogger is a little easier to use) or Tumblr and upload your digitized material there. The great thing is that they’re free, can be accessed anytime anywhere in the world, and can be updated by you or anyone with your log-in details. (You can even make it like a progressive banquet around the family, each branch of the family adding pages relating to them.)

You can look at a whole bunch family digital scrapbook style websites by browsing

There are also some vendors who will host biographical material for a fee. But with what a blog can deliver, for free, I don’t see the need myself.

The Digital Presentation
Most folks in business are very familiar with Microsoft PowerPoint. You can use it to compose personal or family biography page slides with pictures and text and you can embed video and audio and even hyperlinks. The program is kind of expensive – but what a lot of people don’t know is that you don’t need the program to view a PowerPoint presentation. Just burn a CD using the “package for CD” button and any computer will play it.

If PowerPoint is out of your league, why not try the new open source equivalent – Open Office? It has much of the functionality (including the ability to embed images, audio and video) and can be downloaded for free from

John Giacchino didn’t go with the Website option or the Digital Presentation. Both can be run from a computer but not the TV. John wanted a DVD he could send around to the relatives.

The Legacy 
The legacy video is a bit like scrapbooking gone wild. You can combine all your media – images, documents, text, music, video and audio into one continuous legacy video presentation that will play on TV via DVD as well as all of the new digital devices like iPods and iPads (and other cell phones) as well as the web.

You do need video editing software to make a legacy video digital scrapbook. Apple offers iMovie and PC offers MovieMaker that are both more than equal to the task. And there is nothing quite like watching all your hard work coming alive in a multimedia extravaganza delivered in wide screen on a TV near you!

Creating a video digital scrapbook is especially suited for video memoirs, life story documentary, tribute video and personal history videos. The adventurous can do it all themselves; if you are unsure you can talk to us here at Your Story Here Legacy Videos.

Which is best? 
The great news is that for the ardent family historian or family memory scrapbooker there are 4 great options to go digital and to elevate your creativity to new levels. As well as containing all your material, the other great benefit of each of these options is that they can be reproduced in endless numbers and shared all around the family!

Ultimately, the right choice will depend on your needs. John Giacchino wanted something that his folks could play using existing TV and DVD technology so he went for the legacy video. If your audience is more computer-literate, then the Website or Powerpoint Presentation may suit best. And if you just want to share the information without too many bells and whistles, think about the Digital Briefcase. And have fun!

Filed under: Biographies, DIY Tips & Advice, legacy video

Creative Considerations For Your Tribute Video Production

There are only a few great ways to honor a life, celebrate a career, or just say “thank you”. And one of the best is to create a tribute video.

Tribute videos are really just another kind of life story video, but are made with an audience in mind wider than just the subject and their family. Often (but not always) the tribute video will be screened at an event coinciding with an anniversary or a birthday or a retirement. So it will be important to tell the story of your subject’s life. But you will need to do it in a way that is informative as well as entertaining and – if you are up for it – humorous.

In this article we are going to give you some ideas about the kind of material you should think about including in your tribute. And we are going to give you some suggestions for themes that will make the video more interesting, and possibly even funny. And we will talk briefly about pacing…

Elements and Assets

In the tribute video production business we sometimes think of projects in terms of their “elements” – that is, the pictorial, textual, graphical, audio and/or video elements that are going to be included. Each of these elements – once they have been created – will be imported into the project’s video editor as “assets”.

Many of the tribute video elements are obvious: titles, personal photographs, stock images maybe (to illustrate a career step fr’instance), music, and picture captions.

Some elements are less obvious, but more fun: video stories and testimonials from friends and family (easy to gather these days from the far flung when everyone has a smart phone that is video and audio enabled); voice over or narration telling the story of your subject (also easy to create with an Android or iPhone); or text screens with favorite sayings, inspirational quotes, life steps or other narrative points.

Another aspect of your tribute video are the titles and graphics

Other aspects of your tribute video are titles and graphics

What else? Well, you can think about shooting interview footage of the subject themselves either in a static interview setup or as they go about some task or pastime; hunting out archive footage illustrating a time or a place relevant to the subject; finding archive or stock images that might be brought in to illustrate a point (e.g. the home town, a favorite book or film, a vacation spot etc) or used for comic effect. Also, sound effects can add depth and texture to an image – or signal a laugh point.

As part of your planning process, think about what there is out there and what can be created that could be used to create this killer tribute. Think also about whether you want a theme, or a running gag.

Who to Include

A career tribute should certainly include business associates – not just people of the same rank but those who may have reported to the subject, and those who might have supervised them (even the boss usually has a board of directors…). For business people, also consider customers and suppliers.

If the subject has a family, by all means include video of the kids and grandkids. (Nothing a grandparent likes more than seeing the little ones being all cute on the big screen.) But watch the weighting of the family material – while the subject may not have any limits when it comes to the kids (!) don’t bore the rest of your audience.

Themes and Gags

One of the strands running through the tribute is going to be the stages of the subject’s life: Where they were born, their education, their spouse and children (if any), their career, their challenges and set backs. But the best tribute videos are layered: they have more than one thing going on.

You should think about other themes to work into the main narrative, and those themes might be capable of revealing things about the subject – but more obliquely. If, for example, you are planning to involve friends and family then think about something that each person can say about the subject, some question that they can all answer (with different results):

If [Karen] were to write a book about her life, what do you think it would it be called?

If [George] was an animal, what animal would he be and why?

If [Lesley] had not chosen the career they did, what other career do you think they would have excelled at?

Who in history do you think they would most like to meet, and why?


Don’t forget your invitation advertising the tribute!

Another approach is to title the project, say, “Six Things Your Did Not Know About [Jim]” then challenge  friends and family to reveal things they know about the subject that might surprise, delight, or possibly even shock, the audience. You might discover a weakness for ice cream, a long lost sibling, or a lifelong crush on some film star. Properly set up in the final tribute video, these minor peccadilloes can actually turn out to be pretty funny.

Anyway, you get the idea. In our experience, people on camera quickly get the drift and you will definitely get a good sprinkling of amusing answers. Make sure, though, that you give people license to extemporize – we are always surprised by how creative folks can be with the smallest encouragement.

And have confidence in your audience: you do need to give the joke a chance to land, but audiences for video tributes are waiting for a reason to laugh and are generally not at all tough to win over.

A Word About Pacing

Life story videos can unfold like the documentary that they are; but tribute videos need to be more fast-paced. Images, which in a video biography might stay on the screen for 10 or more seconds, need to come and go in 3 or 4 seconds. And while you might get away with just two or three elements in a video memoir, in a tribute video it helps to have 6 or 7 different elements and two or three story strands.

Text will need to be bold, and possibly animated; transitions will need to be sharper and the whole project should not be longer than 20 minutes. Actually, something between 10 and 15 minutes will be about the right length. Remember, you want to leave your audience wanting more – not less.

A truly great project will need some planning, and some patience. The use of smart phones can certainly take some cost out of the project, but also consider using a dedicated video camera with external microphones for best production values. Done properly, few gifts are as well appreciated and as widely enjoyed both now and forever as a tribute video.

Filed under: DIY Tips & Advice, tribute videos, Videos and films,

Life Story Lessons From Bilbo Baggins

The rise to prominence of one Bilbo Baggins has thrust genealogy and the recording of life stories into the limelight. First, it was Lord of the Rings – now on video – and then came (and continues to come) The Hobbit (itself now out on video). Because Bilbo is, right down to the soles of his hairy, oversized feet, a family man and a personal historian.

True, Bilbo has no wife or children of his own (that history records) but Bilbo adopts a son (Frodo) and is as devoted to his kith and kin as ever a person was. No one knows their lineage better, or throws better parties for the relatives, or struggles to get right the dictates of etiquette, or gives better presents to nieces and nephews than Mr. Bilbo Baggins.

Speaking to his assembled cousins on one famous occasion (his Eleventy First birthday in point of fact) he says, “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

Which, if you can tease it out, is a statement of regret that Bilbo doesn’t know his relatives as well as he should—and has judged them a little too harshly in the past. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?


And while Bilbo has a busy life surviving trolls, finding a magic ring, outwitting a dragon, going where no hobbit has gone before, he takes the time to write all about it. He decides to set down the lessons his life’s events hold for the benefit of those who will come later (like us). (Doing so in a book that has since become a “life story video” you might say!) Thus we have our first lesson in family history from Bilbo:

Hobbit Lesson 1: Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart. Teach them to your children and to their children.

This is, of course, the “really big idea” of personal history: Experience life, and pass on your wisdom.  Actually, this lesson, drawn from The Hobbit, is pretty close to a lesson contained in that other good book—you know, the Good Book (Deuteronomy 4:9 to be specific.)

Now, safely home and sitting by the fire on autumn evenings, with the sound of the kettle hanging over the hearth as his music, Bilbo begins to write his life story. And the memoir that Bilbo pens “in his thin, wandering hand” about his tussles with Smaug and his falling out with the dwarfs is to be titled: “There and Back Again, a Hobbit’s Holiday”. Which name proves that hobbits were as fond of alliteration as (the much taller) men and women of today. And this gives us our second lesson in presenting family history:

Hobbit Lesson 2: Choose an interesting and engaging title for your life story.

Bilbo knew well his hobbit forebears and many of their stories.  In his “life story” he tells us all about his mother, the famous Belladonna Took, one of three remarkable daughters of the Old Took. And of his father’s side, the Bagginses, he tells us that they were actually more respectable but less rich.

And we have, thanks to Bilbo, a remarkably detailed family tree going back several generations with those who attended his famous party helpfully underlined (Appendix C – Lord of the Rings book).  Few appreciate that Mr Baggins was a proto-genealogist! So:

Hobbit Lesson 3: Tell the story about your own life but do not ignore progenitors.

Now, some sixty years of peace and prosperity pass and still Bilbo has not finished his life story memoir! Dear oh dear. Hobbits are a bit like that. But then things get really complicated (the rise of Sauron, the Black Riders and such, depicted so vividly in the video). Bilbo will never finish his memoir now. What is to be done?

GandalfWell, on the advice of his life story writing coach (you would know him as Gandalf the Wizard), Bilbo decides to leave the compromised safety of his hobbit hole (with the round door) and travel to a quieter, more restful place. He goes to the house of Elrond, the elf. Here he finds the quiet to put the finishing touches to the work and supplies our next rule:

Hobbit Lesson 4: Never give up. Endure setbacks and periods of languor but finish the work at all costs! Find a different place to write if necessary.

Middle Earth will experience all kinds of torments, shared in and fought by Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo, that Bilbo will play no part in (see Rings, Lord of the). Civilization teeters on the brink of total destruction but is saved just in time. Bilbo spends the rest of his days living in the house of Elrond with the elves (snoozing and smoking pipe-fulls of tobacco). And there, in Rivendell, Bilbo’s life story memoir — a book that we have come to know as The Hobbit — might have stayed and eventually become lost never to have re-emerged in its glorious life story video format!

But the singular memoir was not lost. Bilbo entrusts his precious life story There and Back Again to his nephew Frodo. He, in turn, entrusts it to his doughty lifelong companion Sam Gamgee. Which gives us our final lesson:

Hobbit Lesson 5: Ensure your life story is placed in a safe set of hands.  If doubtful of that, make lots of copies.

Do see Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on video. Once the impact of the film’s many whizz-bang effects has faded, you will be left with the story of one small, modest hobbit. A story that you would never have known had he not taken the time to create a life story memoir. And do think about your own family history and whether it might not be time to create a genealogy video with your own life’s events.

Filed under: Biographies, Videos and films,

Leave Something of Value: Life Stories

We spend a lot of time worrying about money, don’t we? First, do we have enough for ourselves? Should we work more or work longer; are we saving enough; can we afford that trip; and how much should we spend on ourselves and on gifts?

Later, the questions change. We start to reflect on our mortality and our legacy and we think about preplanning for the inevitable. Have we made our funeral or memorial arrangements; do we have our wills and estate plans in place? And how much will we be leaving to the children and grandchildren? Very often these are dollar and cents questions.

But is money our greatest and most important legacy?

According to a major study by the Allianz Life Insurance Company, money is not our greatest legacy. And its not just Allianz who is telling us this, it’s us! During the course of last year, Allianz commissioned the 2012 “American Legacies Pulse Study” – an update of their groundbreaking 2005 study. The results may surprise you – they certainly surprised me.

It turns out that money is not our greatest legacy – it is our life stories:

Eighty-six percent of “baby boomers” (age 47-66) and 74 percent of “elders” (age 72 and older) said that family stories are the most important aspect of their legacy. Family stories! Money and the passing of personal possessions is still important, but less so: 64 percent of baby boomers and 58 percent of elders checked that box.

This echos the findings in 2005, with 77 percent of both boomers and elders citing the importance of family values and life lessons as the most important part of their legacy.

life story video image

Jane from Your Story Here helps Alyce tell her story.

Hmm. Life Stories. They don’t cost much. But do the kids really agree? Don’t the children have an expectation of being taken care of – at least a little bit? Not according to the Allianz study.

Of more than a thousand people surveyed, only 4% of the (adult) children said they felt they were owed an inheritance. (Actually, its their parents who put the pressure on themselves here: 14% of the parents said they felt the owed their children an inheritance.)

Family stories help the children and grandchildren get to know us just a bit when we were young – getting things right and (even better) getting things wrong; family stories that are funny or serious; family stories which contain lessons or wisdom or history. Family stories humanize us and the kids – especially when they have grown up themselves – value them more and more.

Let’s all try a bit harder to preserve our life stories.

Kids, take the time to question and listen – don’t just arrive in time for the turkey then settle in front of the flat screen for the big game. Come early and help with the preparation and learn the traditions. Parents, make time and create opportunities to reflect and pass on some of your history – and try not to lecture or judge (hard I know – for me anyway!).

It turns out our greatest legacy is not our money, it is ourselves – passed on to our children and our grandchildren through our time and our stories. Take the time to preserve your life stories to video. It is your greatest gift.

Filed under: family history video

Lincoln, Death, and the Family History Enterprise

You would be excused for thinking that Abraham Lincoln – whose life has lately been the subject of a critically successful and popular motion picture from Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis – had no interest in family history and genealogy:

“I don’t know who my grandfather was”, Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”

Being as how us folks at Your Story Here LLC create family history videos, this comes as a disappointment. But is it true?

Not knowing your family history is not the same as not being interested. And there were more than one or two impediments to knowledge about Lincoln’s family forbears – including the death of his mother when he was only nine. Hard work with an ax followed in the back woods of Indiana and the general outlines of a difficult, pioneering upbringing with little education, dislike for his father, much sickness (including the insanity of a childhood friend) – and even more death – are well enough known.
Family-History-Video-ImageThe Spielberg film (not yet out on video) does not spend much time on Lincoln’s early years. But the truth is that Lincoln was interested in family history and penned a very affecting poem of his own boyhood called “My Childhood Home I See Again”:

My childhood’s home I see again / And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain / There’s pleasure in it too.

The past for Abraham Lincoln was so littered with death that thoughts of olden times could not help but “sadden”. That grandfather that he says he did not know was in fact killed by Indians in 1786. His mother died – most likely of brucellosis. But he had a brother, right? Sure: Tommy, he died when Lincoln was three. His sister? She helped raise him. But she died too – in her twenties giving birth. In short order, he lost his mother and both siblings. During his own lifetime, “family” and “history” became virtually synonymous.

O Memory! thou midway world / ‘Twixt earth and paradise,
Where things decayed and loved ones lost / In dreamy shadows rise.

“Loved ones lost” – it was a bitter reality for Abraham Lincoln and little wonder that he felt the greater need to look forward down the road, hoping for better times, rather than linger too long in the past.

Lincoln invited none of his own family to his wedding in 1842. Was that because of any disinterest in family or more because most of his immediate family was dead? Sure, his father was alive but Abe did have “issues” with him – refusing even to visit him on his deathbed.

We see this occasionally in our work providing family history video services – conflict between successful men and strong fathers that persists right until the end. Too much should not be inferred from that circumstance to Lincoln’s attitude towards family history generally. And political expediency would also have played a part. If Lincoln was rough-hewn and barely fit for polite company, his father was likely to have been even more so.
Family-History-Video-Image-OlderLooking backwards then, Lincoln had a family tree marked most by branches lopped off in their infancy and limbs that shriveled in their incipience. He had higher hopes for himself and knew that his work would ensure history’s remembrance. He also hoped that through his own children the family tree would grow large and prosper; if there was little enough family history in his past there would be plenty in his future surely. No, Lincoln’s family’s future would prove equally stunted and bleak.

Before his own death in 1865, Abraham Lincoln was forced to endure the death of his son Willie just after his twelfth birthday in 1862. Presiding over the Civil War charnel house, death came to the White House and took the most innocent of victims. (Willie’s older brother and Lincoln’s second oldest son Eddie had already died of TB in 1850 just before his fourth birthday.)

Writing about the lingering insanity of his childhood friend, Lincoln was doubtless thinking about his own lost ones:

O death! Thou awe-inspiring prince / That keepst the world in fear;
Why dost thos tear more blest ones hence / And leave him ling’ring here?

Two sons and no daughters survived Abraham Lincoln. One remaining son – Tad – died at the age of 18, six years after his own death. The last son Robert survived into adulthood and had children but the Lincoln family line died out after Lincoln’s great grandson died without issue.

So it’s likely that Abraham Lincoln was not uninterested in family history. It is more a case that family history was not interested in him. Even more: Fate and events conspired to ensure that the lights of past and future generations of the Lincoln family were extinguished well before their time.

Lincoln himself created enough history for any family but Death ensured that he received very little assistance from either progenitors or heirs.

The Spielberg film has yet to be released on video but videos on Lincoln are legion – many with a very decent treatment of his family history. Some of the videos you may be able to access can be found at the Illinois Humanities Council.

Filed under: death, family history video, Videos and films,

Life Stories on Video from the Inland Empire

The recent special exhibition entitled “When I’m Sixty Four” at the Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art at Chaffey College in San Bernardino County, California gave a chance for local seniors to recount some of their life stories on video. And how astonishing those stories turned out to be!

Originally conceived as an oral history project involving Storycorps, life story video specialists Your Story Here LLC stepped in to video record twelve remarkable stories from locals 64 years and older.

The result is a treasure trove of personal and cultural history, and a 20 minute documentary produced and edited – pro bono – by Your Story Here entitled “Here I Am – Extraordinary Lives in the Inland Empire” which will shortly be playing at the exhibition.

Each participant brought a unique blend of history, circumstance and perspective. And prompted by a slate of questions put together specially for the project by Your Story Here and Professor Catherine Bacus from Chaffey College’s Gerontology program, the stories just came tumbling out:

Blind in one eye from a childhood accident, Gordon A. never expected overseas duty – avenging Pearl Harbor. So he decided to get married. Eleven days later, and for the next 25 months, he was on board ship fighting island to island all the way to Okinawa. He laughs now at the improbability of it all.

Your Story Here LLC was a patron of the recent “When I’m Sixty Four” exhibition at Chaffey College.

Meanwhile, Aiko U. – born in Arlington, California and a loyal American high school junior – was being rounded up by the FBI, along with her family, to be interned in the Arizona hinterlands for the duration of WWII. Asked if she was made about what had been done to her and her family she said, “What could we do? It was the government”.

Not all the “When I’m Sixty-Four” life stories recorded to video are dark. Mary Martha B. remembers learning to drive when she was just nine years old – and getting her license shortly after. “I was tall as a child,” she shrugs.

Pat Y. grew up poor in Pittsburgh. “It was like Cinderella Man”, she says. “You know, we were so cold we had to use our coats as blankets” Her ticket out was dance. And when Pat was just seventeen she won a place with the famous Ice Capades and went on tour all across North America.

These stories are exactly what life story video is all about. They reveal fascinating aspects of our seniors that most of our younger folks simply have no idea about. They come from “ordinary” folks who went through extraordinary circumstances and achieved extraordinary feats. And they shed a fresh and startlingly personal light on that most dramatic of centuries – the Twentieth.

As that warm Fall Saturday at Chaffey College wore on, the stories kept coming: Arpad S. from Ontario defected from Soviet controlled Hungary by stealing a MIG17 and flying it to Belgium! The plane is now at the Smithsonian. Sadly, Arpad’s friend was shot down flying his own stolen plane in another direction. Once in the US, Arpad built a successful career as a software engineer.

As a boy in his native Italy, Alta Loma resident Fred R. dodged Allied bombs, only to be saved by the enemy – a German tank commander. Tall, proud, and still obviously very strong, he tears up now to remember that fateful day. “And I don’t even remember his name”.

And Donna A. from Claremont tells how she capped a life time of service by helping to usher in democracy in South Africa. The trip, where she got to meet Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, was just another instance of Donna and her husband’s tireless community service initiatives.

Each of the participants will be presented with a DVD of their entire interview from Your Story Here Life Story Video as well as a copy of the short documentary: “Here I Am – Extraordinary Lives in the Inland Empire”.

If you have a story worth preserving, why not give Your Story Here a call?

Filed under: Biographies, Personal Documentaries, , ,

Tribute Videos: Audio Tips

Huh? Audio for video tributes? I thought you were the video guys!? Well, yes, but there is an audio track (or three or four) in all our life story video projects and there are audio issues in every project. So, for those of you thinking about your own foray into video biography and related genres, I thought I would offer these audio tips.

For a lot of people getting started in the area we specialize in – tribute videos and family history video – the video part goes fine. But they rely on the video camera’s inbuilt microphone and the sound is definitely not fine. Why? Because the pickup pattern for an inbuilt mic is very wide – and that fact, combined with the camera’s auto gain function (low noises are automatically boosted in volume), means that all kinds of extraneous noises get added. The result can sound like the interview took place just outside the monkey cage of the Bronx Zoo.

But we can fix it, right? We just take the audio into a program like Apple’s Soundtrack Pro, or Adobe’s Soundbooth, isolate the background noise and, well, reduce it! Not really. While you can make bad audio a little less bad, you cannot make bad audio good.

So your best approach is to invest in a decent Lavalier mic and a reputable shotgun mic. If money is no object, then grab a couple of wireless mics while you are at it. Always use headphones when recording and, if you know what you are doing, turn off the auto settings and set your audio manually – cutting out problems that the camera’s auto gain can cause.

tribute video image

Some advance planning for your tribute video audio can mean the difference between cacophony & sweet harmony.

On Location
Ok, you decide you are going to include some recreational, vocational or occupational footage in your tribute video. That means you are going to be out on location somewhere. In nature. With planes, trains and automobiles. And their noise.

There are a few things you can do to reduce extraneous noises on location. Use a wind baffle or windscreen on your mics for one. Filming early in the morning is another – it is usually better light, there is less wind, and if you are early enough there will be less human-generated noise. Also, if you are recording interviews outside later in the day – and you get a burst of traffic noise – you may simply have to ask the question again. And again, if necessary.

They say that as an audience we are more tolerant of bad video than bad audio…

While you are out and about, it is always a good idea to record some general background noise (“nat sound”) while you are there. You may want to add some to your interview footage later (assuming you have been successful in screening out background noise in the first place).

Natural sound can also be useful if you are planning to incorporate images or other graphics with your location-shot footage while editing your tribute video. How? Well, in editing, you may want to transition from the location shots to your images. A sensible approach is to place some of the background noise under the images (plus some music, probably) so you don’t get a dramatic change in the sound tone and so that you maintain aural continuity. Also, background noise from location can serve as a “patch” if you need to cover some unexpected and unwelcome sound like an overhead aircraft.

Some Editing Suite Fixes
Once you are ready to edit your tribute video you are likely to run into other audio issues, many of which can be easily solved in editing. Sound too low on a clip? Export the audio to Soundtrack Pro or Soundbooth and simply normalize it.

Maybe you have a number of audio tracks stacked up – and the overall sound is too high. Mark the audio peaks and, using your audio meters and working with the individual tracks, bring down the combined level to around -6dB. Another issue: Interviews made with different cameras or different mics will probably have different sound levels – a quick fix is to select all the audio tracks and apply a normalization gain.

Fixing Worst Case Audio (Call the Foley Artist)
We recently had the privilege of shooting a tribute video for a couple for whom the garden was an enormous interest. The challenge was that the front part of the garden, which had a number of topiary animals, was situated on somewhat busy road – with the more than occasional car roaring past.

The footage we recorded of the subject clipping these crazy animals looked excellent. But at certain key moments a car would rush past and the audio became unusable. Simply placing natural sound under the footage (and muting the original audio) did not solve the problem, because we needed the subject’s footfalls as well as the sound of the secateurs as she clipped the topiary animals.

The best answer was to strip all the audio and replace it with natural sound and sound effects (footfalls and scissors in this case – kindly provided by Footage Firm). The result was perfect.

Other Tribute Video Audio Issues
These days, editing suites seem to be able to take almost any media format and it’s all grist for the mill. But with audio from disparate sources in disparate formats, we often find we get better results if we convert to 48.0 KHz, uncompressed audio (“aiff”) before bringing it into the edit. To be honest, we are not sure if the improvement is real or imagined, but given the importance of audio to any video tribute project it’s worth the extra step (you also avoid the need to render out the audio).

Another audio issue for tribute videos arises when it comes time to output your magnum opus for the web. You will be given a number of audio options, some of which are designed to save you on file size. Audio, though, is such a small constituent of file size but such an important factor in overall perception of quality there is really no choice. Always use “best” settings and the highest bit rate you can find (320 kbps in our case).

Audio can be the red-headed step child of video tributes. Yet sharp, clean audio is arguably more important to the overall quality of your life story video than good video. So, take the time to take the care and put audio at the top of your list in every tribute video.

Filed under: DIY Tips & Advice, tribute videos,

Life Story Video: 2012 Best College Commencement Addresses

So much of our work here at Your Story Here Life Story Video – making biography videos for clients across the country – focuses on lives nearing their conclusion. But today I want to put the spotlight on the moment at which many lives finally start to get serious – the college graduation.

College graduation ceremonies are usually held in Spring and right now – May 2012 – we are slap bang in the middle of the Commencement Season. And this year being a Presidential election year, the two candidates have both already had a turn at the podium – Mitt Romney doing the honors at Liberty University and Barack Obama at Barnard College.

But it is the funny star of Glee – Jane Lynch – who really dominates the 2012 season with her address to Smith College’s graduating class, proving that in a commencement address humor will carry all before it. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Biographies

DIY Family History Video Pt 3: Post Production Choices

OK, this is the third part of our series on DIY life story, tribute video and family history video. Today, we are going to tell you how to handle some of the bigger questions that will arise in the post-production phase of your family history video project.

Part 1 of this series covered a slew of choices that you will face in the pre-production phase of your personal documentary. And Part 2 of this blog series took you, dear reader, through key choices that are likely to present themselves in the production phase of a tribute video. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: DIY Tips & Advice, family history video, ,

Welcome to the Life Story Video Blog!
This blog features stories about ordinary people and their experiences with life story videos.
Us? We are professional family historians creating custom-made, life story video documentaries!
Take a poke around and if you need help with your life story video just click the picture!

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May 2015
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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Arthur C. Clarke

Memory is the mother of all wisdom.

If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.
Carl Jung

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.
Albert Einstein

In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.
Alfred Hitchcock

The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
William Blake

Success is like death. The more successful you become, the higher the houses in the hills get and the higher the fences get.
Kevin Spacey


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