Monthly Archives: January 2009

Warning: Using Copyright Music Without Permission Is Illegal.


Some of you may be unaware that including favorite pieces of music in your travel, birthday, wedding or life story videos is illegal if that music has a copyright. It doesn’t matter if the only people who are going to see your production are family and friends. It doesn’t matter if you’ve bought the CD and are using only a few clips. It doesn’t matter if you’re never likely to get caught. The truth is that using someone’s original work and not paying for it is essentially stealing.

So what’s the solution? You can get permission to use the music from the copyright holder. This is not for the faint hearted. It can be a lengthy and expensive task – hardly something you’d want to do for Uncle Jack’s retirement video.

There are several other possibilities. What I do  is hire a local musician to compose and play original music for my videos. He’s excellent and has been kind enough to give me a great rate. There are all kinds of struggling young musicians out there who would love to compose and play something that would work in your video. Check out your local music school, University fine arts department and the Internet.

Another solution is to use royalty free music available from a number of  web-based companies.  One I discovered and would  certainly recommend is incompetech. It’s owner/composer/musician  Kevin MacLeod offers a wide selection of his own work and makes it available for free or a modest $5 donation. You can’t beat that.

I’ve assembled a partial  list of other royalty free music providers below. Just click on the site for further information. I haven’t used any of these, so I can’t personally vouch for them.

Photo by Olivier

3 Special Ways to Say “I Love You” This Valentine’s Day.


Valentine’s Day is only a few weeks away. This year rather than the usual flowers or chocolates for your sweetie, try some of these unique ways to say, “I love you.”

  • Find a piece of beautiful stationary and handwrite a letter describing all the things that you’re grateful for in your relationship. Be specific. For example, don’t just say, “I’m grateful for your encouragement.” Rather write something like, “When I was unsure about taking that new job, you were there for me. I remember how you talked me through all the reasons I could do it. Thank you for all the ways you give me encouragement.”
  • Gather together a selection of  all of the great photos taken of the two of you over the years and put the best into a photo collage. Have it printed and put into a beautiful frame.
  • Say it with music. If  you want to find out the #1 song playing the day you met or got married, you can go to this great site #1 Song on This Date . There you’ll be able to locate the song and go directly to the iTunes store and download it. Surprise your loved one by playing it on Valentine’s Day.

Photo by Timothy K. Hamilton

The Life Story Quote of The Week


…It’s the struggle were all involved in, trying to find the meaning of our life and trying to express ourselves. Grapple with our destiny.

Kevin Kline, American actor

One way to find the meaning of our life is by writing our life story.  By reflecting on our past and looking at the patterns that emerge we can begin to see more clearly what has motivated us. Until I began to examine my own life, I hadn’t realized that my passion for using film and video to tell stories had started back when I was eight. That’s when I got my first little Kodak Brownie camera.  My father was an amateur photographer with his own darkroom. He showed me how to develop my film and then turn the negatives into black and white photos. It was pure magic! And from that day, while my career would take many twists and turns,  my interest in media never waned.  What’s your destiny?

Photo by Kevin Lau

4 Action Steps to a Good Life Story Interview.


Conducting a good life story interview is a mix of research, talent, training and a little luck.  But you can improve your odds. I’ve been interviewing people for over twenty-five years and I still follow this four point pre-interview plan.

  1. Review your previous interview. Always sit down after an interview and listen to it. Make a list of possible follow-up questions and look at where there’s room for improvement. Maybe you’re using a lot of  “Uh, huhs” or interrupting frequently. Whatever it is, make a note to change your “bad” interview habits.
  2. Prepare your questions. It’s helpful to have a road map of where you want to take the interview. Making up your questions beforehand will give you confidence. You don’t need to slavishly follow your list of questions during the interview but knowing you have them is reassuring.
  3. Check your equipment. You don’t want to arrive for your interview and discover your audio recorder or microphone battery is dead. As a rule, always carry an extra supply of batteries for emergencies. If you’re using a video camera make certain that your camera battery is fully charged and that you have sufficient video tapes. Have  extra lamps for any lights you may use.  Don’t forget to record a test segment on your audio recorder or camcorder to make sure they’re working.
  4. Avoid rushing. It’s useful not to arrive for your interview in a “frazzle”.  Make sure you know the route to your subject’s home and how long it will take you to get there. This is particularly important for your first visit. I find MapQuest great for showing the best way to get from point A to point  B. Leave plenty of time to make your trip. Also, the day of the interview, make sure that you don’t fill up your calendar with multiple appointments or tasks to do before or after the scheduled interview. You don’t want to be exhausted before you arrive. And you don’t want to be looking at your watch during the interview, afraid that you might be late for your next appointment.

Photo by Louis du Mont


How to Listen With Your Third Ear.

third-earOver the years I’ve trained novices in the art of the  interview.  I’ve noticed that inexperienced interviewers are frequently missing what I’d call their Third Ear.  I’m not talking about steroid induced mutant ears. This is about listening at a deeper level than we are usually accustomed. At a basic level we hear the words being spoken to us. With our Third Ear we pick up what isn’t being said. We notice the missing content and we intuitively sense that there is something more going on than appears on the surface. The most effective interviewers are those who’ve mastered the use of their Third Ear.

Let’s look at a sample of fictional interview dialogue to  illustrate my point.  Sample A shows an interviewer without the Third Ear.

Sample A:

Interviewer: When was a time you felt most alive?

Subject:  Times when I was most engaged in the moment.

Interviewer: I see. Tell me more.

Subject: Well, when the world was my oyster.

Interviewer: Right. Your oyster. My next question is about regrets.

Now let’s look at the same interview but with an interviewer using the Third Ear.

Sample B

Interviewer: When was a time you felt most alive?

Subject:  Times when I was most engaged in the moment.

Interviewer: When would have been a time when you felt engaged in the moment?

Subject: Well, when the world was my oyster.

Interviewer: Give me an example of when the world was your oyster.

Subject: Well the time  I received a prominent award for my book. I was the toast of the town. Everyone wanted to interview me. It was great!

Interviewer: That does sound fantastic.  I may be wrong but I sense that it wasn’t all wonderful.

Subject: Yeah, you’re right. It eventually led to some real strains on my marriage.

I hope the distinction between the two samples is clear. In  Sample A, the interviewer doesn’t go for detail and misses out on an important aspect of the story.   On the other hand, in Sample B the interviewer digs deeper for concrete examples and relies on her intuition to uncover a richer story.

Developing your Third Ear takes time and practice. It require that you be fully present and focused on what your interview subject is saying. And it means that you have to cut through vague, general statements and get to specific details. This, combined with trusting your intuition, will begin to pay off in better interviews.

Photo by Vanessa David


The Life Story Quote of The Week

Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli

The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it.

Benjamin Disraeli - (21 December 1804 – 19 April 1881) a British statesman who served twice as Prime Minister

This quote struck home. For my mother’s 90th birthday I interviewed her for thirteen hours over several weeks. I then edited this  into a 117 page hard cover book complete with photographs.  I thought I knew my mom pretty well.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t until I began to talk to her about her life in detail, that I really came to know her.  It deepened my love and affection for her because I saw more clearly the underlying values and passions that had directed her life.

If  you’ve been considering preparing a life story of a loved one, I urge you to make it happen this year. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s An Opportunity to Improve Your Life Story Skills.


UC Davis Arboretum

The University of California Extension Division at Davis is offering an online certificate course in Oral History Methods. You can find out more by clicking here.  This is the 9th year the course has been offered.

The instructor is Kristin Delaplane Conti, a former San Francisco Chronicle columnist. She has produced and published histories and biographies for families, individuals, organizations and museums since 1990. She has also taught workshops at the University of California and other venues.

Here’s what Conti has to say about her course:

Apply this practical guide of oral history methods and techniques to your history projects, whether you want a record for your family, a museum, historical society or business. Learn to document the experiences of someone who has personally experienced or observed a period, event or trend of historical interest. Interviews will emphasize significant participation, changes observed and accounts that highlight the particular era or events, and you’ll learn how to present them in a historical context. Find out how to use recording and transcribing equipment, as well as options on publishing and archiving. Enrollment is limited to 15 students, so early registration is advised.

Registration closes on February 4th, so if your interested go to this link and register now.

Photo by Ivan Kozik

What Does A Hollywood Movie Tell Us About The Power of Life Stories?

notebookLast week I wrote a post about the benefits of life stories and  communicating with Alzheimer’s patients.  Stephen Evans, a colleague of mine in the Association of Personal Historians, reminded me of a movie released in 2004  that deals with the subject of reminiscence and Alzheimer’s. It’s called The Notebook, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks.  You can read Roger Ebert’s review of the film  here.

The movie is a sweet and somewhat idealistic portrayal of dementia. But it does  convey the power of personal stories to make a positive difference in the lives of those suffering from Alzheimer’s. If you haven’t seen The Notebook I would certainly recommend you take a look. Check out the trailer below.

The Life Story Quote of The Week


The longer we listen to one another – with real attention – the more commonality we will find in all our lives. That is, if we are careful to exchange with one another life stories and not simply opinions.

Barbara Deming, (1917 – 1984) American feminist and advocate of nonviolent social change

We live in an age of opinions.  Everyone has an opinion about something. Is it just me, or do you find that annoying? That’s why I like this Barbara Deming quote. One of the rewards of helping  people  record and preserve their life stories is that you appreciate that we’re all interdependent.  We are connected by the great themes that bind us all – birth, love, illness, family, and loss. It’s our stories that count not our opinions.

Photo by ky_olsen

Can Life Stories Benefit Those With Alzheimer’s?

alzheimersSome years ago, when I was a filmmaker, I did a documentary on family caregivers. The show dealt with five caregivers, two of whom were struggling to look after a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. I had a close-up look at the challenges it inflicts on patient and caregiver alike. Since I became a personal historian five years ago, I felt that there was therapeutic value in recording the life stories of those with Alzheimer’s.

Soon after starting my personal history work, I had the opportunity to do a series of video interviews for a charming and accomplished woman who was at an early stage of Alzheimer’s. Both she and her family realized that if I didn’t get the stories recorded they would soon be lost forever. She thoroughly enjoyed my visits and seemed stimulated by the recall of familiar stories from her past. Today that same woman has deteriorated considerably but her family finds some comfort in knowing that her life lives on in these recordings we made.

The other day I read an article in Alzheimer’s: Mementos help preserve memories which seems to bear out my anecdotal observations about the value of life stories and Alzheimer’s. The article notes:

“Caregivers become the memory for their loved one with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Glenn Smith, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. “By gathering memories, you can bring important events and experiences from your loved one’s past into the present. You’re the link to his or her life history….By creating a life story, you affirm for your loved one all the positive things he or she has done in life and can still do. Even after your relative’s memories start to fade, creating a life story shows that you value and respect his or her legacy. It also reminds you who your loved one was before Alzheimer’s disease.”

Tom Kitwood in his groundbreaking 1997 book Dementia Reconsidered believes that a Life History Book for a person with dementia, complete with photographs, should become best practice. He says, “In dementia a sense of identity based on having a life story to tell may eventually fade. When it does biographical knowledge about a person becomes essential if that identity is still to be held in place.”

If you know a family member at an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, you might give serious consideration to recording their life story. If you’re a professional personal historian unsure if you should work with clients who have dementia, give it serious consideration. You could be providing a wonderful gift.

Web related resources:

Alzheimer’s Association (USA)

Alzheimer Society (Canada)

The Fisher Center For Alzheimer’s Research Foundation

Photo by luca:sehnsucht