You will find a number of great tips and pieces of advice on this blog for making your own life story video – just browse “Recent Posts” or search the archive using “DIY”. Today we are going to go a little deeper and give you part 1 of a 3 part series on making your own life story video.
In our experience, most things in life boil down to choices. So, we are going to give you some of the more obvious choices in relation to interviews, photo gathering and video transfer and tell you what side of the equation we come down on.
Think of your life story video project in 3 sections
First, a quick bit of industry terminology. Video (and film) production is divided into 3 stages:
1. Pre-Production: planning, writing, resourcing, timing, location selection, research etc
2. Production: lighting, filming, recording sound, etc
3. Post-Production: editing, animations, music, titles, packaging etc
OK, so you are going to make a personal documentary or a family history video for someone you know. Here are some of the basic questions that the newbie may have…
PRE-PRODUCTION PHASE CHOICES
Do I need to A. start with a script or can I B. start with a concept?
B. Most life story documentaries start out as a concept. You never really know what your interview subjects are going to say, so it’s hard – even in pro documentaries – to accurately predict the direction the film will take. One of the most important attitudes to develop as a documentary film maker is to be prepared to be led.
But you will need a plan: who you plan to talk to, what you want to ask them, where you would like to film them, what the over-arching story or concept is, and so on.
A. Scripts are de rigueur in narrative films, not documentaries. Occasionally we will write a kind of “treatment” for the subject – which may include some narrative which helps communicate the angle we plan on taking (and which may come in handy as voice over later on). We may also map out chapters and their likely content, and locations – if we plan to get the camera outside. Sometimes the end product resembles the treatment, and sometimes not so much.
Do I need to A. Meet the interview subjects beforehand or B. Just show up?
B. There are arguments both ways here. In our professional work, we always try to meet the client beforehand – and you will mostly likely know your “client”. We also try to meet the subject too (not always the same person as the client). But overall, we think you can just “show up” – particularly if you have a long list of interview subjects. You do need to work especially hard though to warm the interview subject(s) up for your life story interview – and don’t be in too much of a rush to turn on your lights and camera before you have fully explained what they can expect.
A. Meeting the subject beforehand can be useful for getting the outlines of the story. But oftentimes, the first telling of the story is the best. And your subject may feel (on a second telling) that they are going over old ground – watch out for the “as I told you before…” qualifiers that can creep in.
When getting the stories of older folks, it is more important in our opinion to talk to family members to get from them the stories that they would like told by your subject.
Some other considerations in the pre-production phase
Keep in mind that it is in the pre-production phase of your life story video that you are going to be gathering photos and documents and other “artifacts” of the life – as well as the names of people to interview but other assets that will help you tell the story.
In addition, you will probably want to do some ancestry research to get the genealogy right. You can easily find immigration, census and other records that can be incorporated into the video either as graphics or as props for your interview subject to look at and discuss.
And you may have old home movies – 16mm, 8mm films; or old video cassette formats like video8, Hi8 and Digital8; or you may have already had your old video transferred to VHS, S-VHS or VHS-C and then onto DVD. Old movies are a great add and if you haven’t done so already then you need to consider a video transfer or film conversion – and there are plenty of service providers out there that can help out.
Provide the questions before the interview: A. Yes or B. No.
B. Consistent with the answer above, we generally do not provide the questions up front. We feel you get a better answer when the person has not had a chance to rehearse (some subjects who have had the questions ahead of time keep reaching for their notes so as not to leave out an important fact).
A. There are exceptions: an especially nervous subject or one who simply demands to see the questions! Some of our subjects have failing memories (like we all do) and like to make notes ahead of time. The other exception we make is in relation to our “ethical will” type questions – we think you get better, more considered answers if the subject has had a chance to ponder.
What about photos: should I: A. Borrow and scan them or B. Film them (or photograph them) on the day?
A. In life story videos, photographs are a big part of the story. We think you need to borrow them and scan them and as far as you are able, restore them for later use in editing. Use nice, high scan resolutions.
B. You can film photos on the day – for example by having the subject looking at them and reminiscing – with you and filming them over their shoulder. And you can take digital images, either laid flat or in their frames. But all that should be supplemental. Nothing really beats a high quality scan, with dust removal and blemish correction then in editing nice, gentle Ken Burns type camera movement toward the important part of the image.
Good luck! And if you need any help just click on over to us here at Your Story Here Life Story Video and we’d be glad to lend a hand!
Next time: Part 2: Production Phase for your DIY Life Story Video