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.
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?
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.