A while ago I started talking about life story video genres and I mentioned genealogy video and veterans video: Talking about Life Story Genres. And I promised to cover some more varieties of “life story video”.
Family Video Biography
When the project includes more than just the subject themselves, a grandparent couple for example, and when the project reaches back to cover ancestors and the sort of information we are used to seeing in a family tree, then you have what I call a family video biography.
Keep in mind that as important as the stories of the ancestors are (their histories taking us to a whole other country oftentimes) you probably don’t want to just confine yourself to their stories. You will want to connect them to living people (usually the living grandparents) who will help tell their story. And you will want to connect the grandparents to the most recent generation.
In my life story video work, I try to get the video camera outside every chance I get. And when making a family video biography, visiting the first house ever lived in, or the first house ever bought, is a great way to start.
When the subject wants to talk particularly about life lessons, moral choices, decision points, and the keys to living a happy life (at least from their perspective) with a view to leaving a record for the following generations then you are probably in ethical will or spiritual letter territory.
Ethical wills on video are a way for people to convey not just the “what” of the family story but the “why” part (and occasionally, the “why not”). Ethical wills are seen as a means to balance a testimentary will – which leaves money and possessions – with a document or video which seeks to leave wisdom and the fruits of experience.
Every life story video project requires some care and preparation. Ethical wills require a special amount of thought.
Family Legacy Documentary
Stories which focus on just one individual and their personal story – but which are intended to become a family legacy – can have a number of names. Often, I like to call them family legacy documentaries since their very creation is designed to constitute a legacy for the family – much as an ethical will does.
Family legacy documentaries follow most of the usual contours of all life story videos: forbears, childhood and parents, education, career and spouse and children and grandchildren. They usually include a special section where the person reflects back on their life and muses about their happiest times, their saddest times, regrets, greatest achievements, and so on.
Sometimes, if the subject is still working, you can film them going about their duties at work. In my experience, context can be an important prompt for stories and memories, to say nothing about its ability to enrich the look of the documentary.
Does this exhaust the subject? Hardly. I will return to the subject of life story video genres again.