Life Story Video

Saving lives through video

How Much Should You Pay for a Video Biography?

I am going to let you in on some pricing secrets in relation to video biographies or “family history documentaries”, as they are sometimes known. How much should you expect to pay and what can you hope to get for your hard-earned video biography money?

Video biographies are gaining in prominence as a feature item for an anniversary, reunion or a significant birthday. Often there is no such occasion, just a desire to capture Mom and Dad’s stories, or grandma’s or grandpa’s story, or some family genealogy, before it’s too late. As a recent survey by Allianz Insurance discovered:

“Eighty-six percent of boomers (age 47-66) and 74 percent of elders (age 72+) agree that family stories are the most important aspect of their legacy, ahead of personal possessions (64 percent for boomers, 58 percent for elders) and the expectation of inheritance for financial well-being.”

Video-Biography-CostSo, if you are reading this, you probably need no convincing about the importance of a video biography (or “family documentary video” if you prefer that terminology) and you are starting to get serious. But how much does a video biography cost? No point asking for something you can’t afford, right?

So what is the price of a video biography? The good news is: Pretty much whatever you want. (Wait! Don’t run away. I am going to blow up video biography “omertà” and give you actual market prices, just hang in there). But I do have to say that the price or cost of a video biography will depend on the features you would hope to include. Makes sense, right? But even better than that, it needn’t cost a penny.

The Zero Dollar Video Biography Pricing Option
The most important part of any family history project is to just get started. And you should never let funds stop you from starting – these are projects of passion, not cashion (if you get my drift). And you actually can do quite a good job on your own.

You will need a decent video camera (promise me you won’t use your iphone or your laptop – unless you really, really have no other options); also the owner’s manual; a lavalier mic; and a tripod. Oh, and a bright room with no direct sunlight on your subject. There is ample guidance on the web, just try Binging “DIY family history video” to see some of the tips I have given elsewhere and then try “video biography questions”. You will quickly be on your way!

You may not have a family history documentary with this no-cost option, but you will have saved a life through video.

The Actual Dollar Video Biography Cost Options
OK, I suspect if you are still reading then your have in mind to contact a professional video producer. How much will that set you back?

First, let’s distinguish between an amateur or a friend; a wedding videographer and a family history professional.

Family History Videos By Friends and Family
An amateur or friend almost fits into the “Zero Dollar Video Biography Pricing Option”, but they might charge you three or four hundred dollars for their equipment and their time. Or if not, you should think about paying them anyway. This should be especially so if in addition to interviewing and filming, you are going to ask them to ingest the video, edit it just a bit, and output it somewhere.

Keep in mind that this stuff is fiddly and time consuming and it’s really not fair to ask them to do all that for free. Also, if you decide to rely on their best intentions (and not at least some money) you may find that delivery of the finished product gets a little held up!

Family History Videos By Wedding Videographers
This can be a pretty good option, especially if you are prepared to work closely with the videographer in relation to setups, questions, images and the like. A number of wedding videographers are attracted to family history video work because it allows them to film during their relatively quiet weekdays (weddings are shot, almost always, on weekends).

Most reputable wedding videographers who have been in business for – let’s say 5 years – really know their stuff. They can shoot with multiple cameras, know all about lighting, often have dollies and cranes, a modern editing suite, and are almost always terrific still photographers, and can often do good audio.

Now, you may not need all of their core talents (intimate knowledge of the tried and tested wedding and reception stages, wedding slow-pans, rack focusing from flowers to the bride’s mother etc). And they may not have lit, miked, and shot a video biography interview before. Perhaps check to see if they have much in the way of oral history training and have access to the institutional resources and knowledge base of a group like the Association of Personal Historians. But they are almost certain to be personable (hey, they are still in business in a very tough industry) and will not frighten mom or grandma! And as I said, they really know their equipment and can be highly trained.

My best advice? Try to get the main person who owns the shop to do the work. And keep in mind the features and options I will cover below. Consider too that wedding videographers often have a decent size crew of part-timers for weddings and sometimes use goodly folks like fire fighters for “second or third camera”. No disrespect to firefighters, but for something as important as a video biography you do want the very best they have (which is usually the owner).

For a wedding or a video biography you can expect to pay around $3,000 to $5,000 for a decent wedding videographer filming for the best part of a day and doing some solid editing, image work, and delivery on BluRay, DVD or hard drive (maybe more, or even less, depending on the features you require). And here’s the thing: it will almost certainly look absolutely fabulous (an unhappy bride’s mother is an unhappy client!).

Family History Videos By A Video Biographer
Specialist video biographers are not more or less expensive than a wedding person, we are all professionals after all with cost structures and overhead and the expectation that we get to feed our kids! By and large, for the same work, our charges should be similar.

But where video biographers may part company with wedding videographers is that they are likely to include a little more. Some of these features include:

Time spent in pre-production: The longer the time, the more you will pay. Serious video biographers like to spend 10 hours or much more time in pre-production: meeting the client; meeting the subject; talking to all the kids (to make sure we get the stories they like and remember); doing basic family and ancestry research; unearthing artifacts and sounds; scouting locations and the like.

The number of personal and historical photos to be included and hence the work needed cleaning up and repairing those images. Not all videographers are formally trained in Photoshop and know how to bring out the best in the images to create a true personal documentary (as opposed to simply showcasing a “talking head”).

The number of subjects involved: While there are cost savings in filming two people as part of the same project, there are also additional costs.  Two people, while they may be a couple, are really, um, two people and need to be treated separately as well as together. Two people are really two stories with the added excitement of blending parts of their lives together.

Time spend filming and length of footage shot: The more hours of footage filmed and captured means the more time needed to digitally process the material, review and catalog it, and then make selections and edit them in.

Length of fully edited final product: The longer the finished product, the higher the price. Editing and creating non-interview content (images, B-roll, occupational footage, etc) is time-consuming. Also, video biographers tend to prefer a longer finished product – reasoning that this is important family history!

Other factors will be at play in the cost or price of a video biography: whether graphic animations are used (we tend to go light on these); whether there is any old family movies or audio to include; and how much the thing needs to be reedited (or edited again – most video biographers will include a set number of extra hours to fix errors or make other changes; after that the client must pay an hourly rate ($40 to $150 per hour); whether travel is required etc.

Alright, you are getting the picture. But what you came here for is an actual market sounding to answer the question of how much people across the US are paying – i.e. what’s the cost – yesterday, today and tomorrow for an edited video biography or family history documentary.

The cost of a video biography

You can certainly get a professionally lit, miked and shot – and lightly edited – video biography for $3,000 to $5,000.

For a fully edited video biography from an experienced, video biographer who invests in the project and guarantees satisfaction in the result expect to pay between $7,000 and $15,000 depending on the features mentioned above. And, through client disclosures, I am aware of $30,000 and even $40,000 price points.

Too rich for your blood? My advice – if you are seriously constrained in the cabbage department – either go DIY or get a really nice interview done by experienced people and take delivery of the raw footage and worry about editing the thing into something elaborate and coherent later.

Hope this helps. If you need more help, check out our video biography website and our blogs. Video biography is a passion for me and I can almost always fit a product to a budget.



Filed under: Biographies, DIY Tips & Advice, Personal Documentaries, , , ,

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!” Read the rest of this entry »

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? Read the rest of this entry »


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

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? Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Biographies, 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… Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Biographies, Personal Documentaries, , ,

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

Irish History on Video: Divine Life Stories

Tom Devine lives in New Jersey and has ancestors who fought for Irish independence against the British. One of them was caught and jailed, then fled to America. Tom’s parents followed suit some 30 years later and created a large family, of which Tom is the oldest boy.

Tom’s mother has the story of the family’s Irish patriots, which include Tom’s grandfather (far left).

She heard it directly from him, her father, who has since passed away.

Needing to know more, Tom went back to Ireland in 2009 with both his parents to visit some of the old family haunts.

He took along his video camera and shot scenes of the countryside, gravestones, farmhouses, churches, and his parents reminiscing. Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Biographies, ,

More Life Story Video “Genres”

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. Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Biographies, genres, , ,

Fight Memory Loss With Life Story Video

Frances’ memories of her large Italian-American family, of being raised on a farm growing strawberries, of placing pine needles around the young strawberry plants; her memories of wandering in the nearby forest, of sneaking into the one-room school to “sample” pastries; her memories of Huey Long, of the breakup of her parents’ marriage – were all detailed and fresh as Frances preserved her life story on video.

The room seemed to close in around her as the afternoon played out and Frances came alive remembering the details of her life. She closed her eyes and recounted the night she and her husband were woken up by the call that another Kennedy had been shot – and specialist help was needed immediately.

You might be surprised to read that Francis has advanced stage Alzheimer’s disease. Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Biographies, memory loss, ,

WWII Survivor: Life Story Video Memorial

Volodymyr Szafranowycz survived the worst that the 20th Century could serve up. He is now dead; a troubled death in many ways – but who complains when death comes in their 80s? His family recorded the details of this 20th Century life in a life story video memorial. A video memorial whose value is now assured by the disappearance and eternal inaccessibility of its subject.

video memorial subject image

WWII Survivor Volodymyr Szafranowycz

The 20th Century was one of the ugliest in all of human history. Nations rose and fell, wars and revolutions were fought, and there was starvation and genocide – to say nothing of economic collapse and the threat of nuclear Armageddon. More than a few still alive among us suffered through much of this maelstrom. And some, like Volodymyr Szafranowycz – who survived the Nazis and more – have had video memorials erected to their passing.

Bloodiest Century
Was the 20th Century the bloodiest in all of humanity’s experience? Based on the sheer and absolute volume of death recorded, the answer has to be yes. The numbers are so staggering as to be incomprehensible. But is it really as Stalin once said: “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic”? For those who swam in the violent waters of the 20th Century, who came close to death themselves or who had loved ones die, there is tragedy aplenty in that million. And even more tragedy in the millions more who also perished. Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Biographies, ,

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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March 2018
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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