Tag Archives: Arts

How to Set Up a Video Personal History Business.

video interview

Are you thinking of setting up a video personal history business?  A reader of mine is doing just that and asked for some advice. What I’ve learned over the past 30 years as a documentary filmmaker and personal historian might be of some value. So here goes:


1. Decide how much of the total production and post production you’re going to take on. Are you going to operate the camera and do the interviews? Or will these be separate functions?I do both and it works but it takes confidence in both your camera and interviewing skills.

Who will edit your raw footage? If you’re going to do the editing, it’ll require editing software and sufficient computer power to do the job. If you’ve never edited video before, it’s a very steep learning curve.

2. Talk to other video personal historians who’ve been in the business for a few years. Most personal historians are happy to provide advice to newcomers. And each will have a slightly different perspective. You can find video personal historians by going to the Association of Personal Historians website and clicking on the “Find a Personal Historian” button.

3. Determine the range of products you’re going to offer. A full video life story with photos, music, graphics, and archival footage is expensive. Not everyone will be able to afford  this. What can you offer that’s less expensive? In my case I offer straight unedited interviews. These can be done quickly and because of this are relatively inexpensive.

4. Do have a sample of your work. Clients want to know that you’re capable of excellent work.  Put a sample on your website or have a video clip available for screening when visiting a client.

5. Purchase the minimum amount of equipment necessary. Camera, sound, lighting, and editing equipment is expensive. I’ve shot major television series for the National Film Board of Canada, using only one prosumer camcorder, one light, two lavalier microphones, and a tripod. And I’ve continued using the same modest kit for my personal history business.

The reality is that you don’t know if you’re going to be successful or for that matter even enjoy the work.  By starting small you minimize your financial risk. Down the road, if business is good and you love what you’re doing, you can always upgrade your equipment


1. Don’t buy overly expensive equipment. This advice follows on the last point above. You can get a quite decent professional camcorder for under $3,000. Take a look at the Canon XF100. For a single light you can get something under $600. Check out the Lowel Blender.

Good sound is important so the  exception to my buy  “cheap” rule is don’t skimp on mics. I’ve been very happy with my Tram TR50 mics which are priced at $310 at B&H. If you want to save some bucks on a tripod and lighting stand,  see what you can find on craigslist or Ebay.

2. Don’t forget to account for equipment depreciation. Unfortunately, your camcorder will be outdated the moment you leave the store. Chances are that within three years you’ll be looking at the need to purchase a new model. That’s why you want to build an “equipment rental” fee into your client’s project costs . This can can go toward the replacement of old equipment.

3. Don’t let clients screen their video until the final cut stage. Most clients aren’t familiar with the editing process. If they see a rough cut, they’ll be alarmed and  make  suggestions, some of which will not be useful.

By showing them a fine cut, your clients will have a good sense of the video’s content and flow. And if concerns arise, you’ll still be able to make some editing changes without too much grief.

That’s it. Any further advice from experienced videographers out there?

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Photo Credit: 2create

Monday’s Link Roundup.

Monday's Link Roundup

If you’re a fan of documentary films, you’ll want to check out The Best Documentaries of 2012 in this week’s Monday’s Link Roundup. And with all the severe weather experienced in many regions of  North America, be sure to take a look at Emergency Preparedness, Response & Recovery. You’ll find excellent advice from the Library of Congress on saving precious family collections.

  • Speak, Memory by  Oliver Sacks. [The New York Review of Books] “We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections—but also great flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or indifference to them can be a paradoxical strength: if we could tag the sources of all our knowledge, we would be overwhelmed with often irrelevant information.”
  • The clues to a great story. [TED talk] “Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story,” “WALL-E”) shares what he knows about storytelling — starting at the end and working back to the beginning.”
  • Emergency Preparedness, Response & Recovery. “Mitigating the impact of emergencies and disasters is essential to preserving collections and family heirlooms. Whatever the disaster or emergency may be, water exposure is one of the most common problems and though not necessarily catastrophic, can result in total loss. Sound emergency planning, response, and recovery reduces this risk.”
  • Robert B Silvers. “As the New York Review of Books celebrates its 50th anniversary, its editor for all those years explains why a world without long, serious reviews is ‘unthinkable’.”
  • How To Stay Sane: The Art of Revising Your Inner Storytelling. “How To Stay Sane (public library; UK), [is] part of The School of Life’s wonderful series reclaiming the traditional self-help genre as intelligent, non-self-helpy, yet immensely helpful guides to modern living. At the heart of Perry’s argument — in line with neurologist Oliver Sacks’s recent meditation on memory and how “narrative truth,” rather than “historical truth,” shapes our impression of the world — is the recognition that stories make us human and learning to reframe our interpretations of reality is key to our experience of life.”
  • The Best Documentaries of 2012. [PBS] “From Sundance to the Oscars — and every festival, critics list and industry awards show we can find in between — we’re continually updating our list of lists of the “best” documentaries.”

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The Best of Monday’s Links Roundup.

These are some of my favorite articles  from last year. If you missed them the first time around, now’s your chance to catch up.

  • A Brief History of Film Title Sequence Design in 2 Minutes. “In his graduation project, an absolutely brilliant motion graphics gem, Dutch designer and animator Jurjen Versteeg examines the history of the title sequence through an imagined documentary about the designers who revolutionized this creative medium.”
  • A Crash Course in Marketing With Stories. “If you want your marketing to really sizzle, if you want people to remember it, you need to turn your marketing messages into stories. I’ve broken down the classical elements of story below so you can begin to think like a storyteller, and make your marketing messages stick.”
  • 10 Essential Books on Typography. “Whether you’re a professional designer, recreational type-nerd, or casual lover of the fine letterform, typography is one of design’s most delightful frontiers, an odd medley of timeless traditions and timely evolution in the face of technological progress. Today, we turn to 10 essential books on typography, ranging from the practical to the philosophical to the plain pretty.”
  • When Data Disappears. “…if we’re going to save even a fraction of the trillions of bits of data churned out every year, we can’t think of digital preservation in the same way we do paper preservation. We have to stop thinking about how to save data only after it’s no longer needed, as when an author donates her papers to an archive. Instead, we must look for ways to continuously maintain and improve it. In other words, we must stop preserving digital material and start curating it.”
  • Selling My Mother’s Dresses. “Some of my favorite things — including the sundress I’m wearing today and the Winnie the Pooh car that Jay is pushing our daughter in — are from someone else’s life. I find no joy in shopping at regular stores anymore…I love trying to sniff out a memory from a bud vase or a favorite song from a case of L.P.’s. The stains and broken switches, the bend in the knee of an old pair of jeans. Sometimes I just want to look at how many Mason jars one person can collect and imagine what they might’ve held. It’s comforting to know that someone has breathed and laughed inside a sweater before me. That I am part of a continuum.” [Thanks to Mary M. Harrison of Morning Glory Memoirs for alerting me to this item.]
  • Tracking Personal Histories Across Time. “Sander Koot’s series Back from the Future is a pairing of new portraits of the individual with an older picture of that person from years past.. he only photographs individuals after interviewing them. “In this project, I ask people to find old portraits of themselves, of which they have good memories,” says Koot. “When talking to them about the picture, you see them reliving the happy moment. Only after I know all the details about the past of that picture, (do) we start the shoot.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

For Ken Burns fans,  this Monday’s Link Roundup includes a terrific 5 minute video,  Ken Burns on the Art of Storytelling. In Skepticism About Stories: The “Narrababble” Critique,  you’ll find a challenge to the popular view that people’s lives are a collection of stories.  And find out if you live in one of America’s well- read cities by checking out What Are The Most Well-Read Cities In America?

  • Alzheimer’s Patients Turn To Stories Instead Of Memories.[NPR] “Storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of communication — it’s how we learn about the world. It turns out that for people with dementia, storytelling can be therapeutic. It gives people who don’t communicate well a chance to communicate. And you don’t need any training to run a session.”
  • Life Writing. [pdf] “This special virtual edition of Life Writing presents eight articles that have a clear connection with the themes of the upcoming conference of the International Auto/Biography Association, to be held in Canberra, Australia, in July 2012. The conference is called ‘Framing Lives’, and its title signals an emphasis on the visual aspects of life narrative: ‘graphics and animations, photographs and portraits, installations and performances, avatars and characters that come alive on screens, stages, pages, and canvas, through digital and analogue technologies’ (www.iaba2012.com).”
  • The Colossal Camera that will capture Vanishing Cultures. “One photograph, no retakes, no retouching, just a pure honest photograph and a giant camera that will travel 20,000 miles across the US to photograph American Cultures. Vanishing Cultures is an astounding and completely unique concept…This one of a kind monumental camera will be transported by a huge truck trailer, due to it’s extremely large size. His [Dennis Manarchy] aim is to capture cultures that are rapidly fading from society and to feature their portraits on 2-story sized prints displayed in stadium-sized traveling outdoor exhibitions along with the amazing negatives and the stories behind the people and cultures.”
  • Skepticism About Stories: The “Narrababble” Critique. “…it is a very popular idea in psychology, philosophy and various social sciences that people experience their lives as a story or collection of stories. For example, the philosopher Dan Dennett explains the mind as a master novelist: “We try to make all of our material cohere into a single good story. And that story is our autobiography,” he has written. Moreover, says the philosopher Galen Strawson, there’s a parallel claim in the air that this is A Good Thing: that each person should be able to understand his/her life as a meaningful story, with an arc and a recognizable end. Strawson, though, is having none of it. He thinks these ideas, which he’s called “narrababble,” are a fad.”
  • What Are The Most Well-Read Cities In America? “Amazon has released their second annual list of the most well-read cities in the country, based on their book, magazine and newspaper sales data in both print and digital, since June 1, 2011. The statistics are per capita, and only include towns with more than 100,000 residents.”
  • What’s so special about biography? “It is my contention that biography has a unique way of helping us to understand what we are like as people. There have been true Golden Ages and Reigns of Terror in the fabric of human history; but, by examining the lives of real, flesh-and-blood human beings who inhabited those places and times, we can see the similarities and the constancy of human nature throughout that history. So, how does biography accomplish this in ways that other genres cannot?”
  • Ken Burns on the Art of Storytelling.[Video] “In explaining his own view on filmmaking, Burns rolls out that old quote from Jean Luc-Godard, “Cinema is truth at twenty-four frames a second.” But he has his own response to the famous proclamation: “Maybe. It’s lying twenty-four times a second, too. All the time. All story is manipulation.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup, don’t pass up Affirmation, Etched in Vinyl. It speaks passionately to why personal historians do the work they do. As someone who loves a pen in my hand, I was intrigued by Why creative writing is better with a pen. For a little blast of nostalgia, take a look at What Record Stores Looked Like in the 1960s.

  • How Do You Spell Ms. “Forty years ago, a group of feminists, led by Gloria Steinem, did the unthinkable: They started a magazine for women, published by women—and the first issue sold out in eight days. An oral history of a publication that changed history.”
  • Getting Ready for Next Year–Now. “While the end of the year is likely not in the minds of many, it’s closer than you may think.So before the ball drops and that tax deadline gets even closer, it’s a good time to think about the many things you can do to prepare for the end of the year–and the promising year ahead.”
  • Why creative writing is better with a pen. “In a wonderful article published on the New York Review of Books blog the poet Charles Simic proclaimed “writing with a pen or pencil on a piece of paper is becoming an infrequent activity”. Simic was praising the use of notebooks of course, and, stationery fetishism aside, it got me thinking about authors who write their novels and poems longhand into notebooks rather than directly onto the screen.”
  • Affirmation, Etched in Vinyl. “For years I tried to construct a viable idea of my long-gone father by piecing together scraps of other people’s memories. I was only 6 when he died,…My father’s death stole many things from me, including the sound of his voice. For instance, I have tried to remember his laughter from that final night — its timbre and roll — but my mind is an erased tape. I possess the knowledge of his laughter and of Angie and Johnny’s bubbly white noise but have no memory of the sounds themselves. It’s as if I have garnered these details by reading a biography penned by a stranger.” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this item.]
  • 7 Little Things That Make Life Effortless. “Life can be a huge struggle, most of the time, and for years it was a struggle for me.I’ve gradually been learning what causes that struggle, and what works in making life easier, better, smoother.Life can feel effortless, like you’re gliding along, if you learn to swim smoothly, to glide, to stop fighting the waters of life and start using them to buoy you up.”
  • What Record Stores Looked Like in the 1960s. “Just think: kids being born today will probably never see the inside of a record store. And why would they? Buying music used to involve wandering around a store browsing, picking things up based on cover art, putting them down based on scornful glares from record store employees, and generally being outside your house. Now, buying music usually amounts to nothing more than a click of the mouse from the safety of your couch.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

This Monday’s Link roundup has the perfect solution to kick-start your week – Celebrity Autobigraphy. It’s  drop dead funny and a stark reminder that trivia in the guise of memoir is just bad writing. On a more serious note, I highly recommend the interview with Dudley Clendinen in ..building stories from life and choosing grace in death.”

  • Where Stories Are Remembered. “Mr. Kamara has taught for two decades at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. But as with his forebears, the identity that means the most to him is that of a storyteller. “Not the kind of storyteller you listen to when you’re sitting around a fire, and maybe it’s raining, and you’re scared to go home,” he said. His stories have to do with genealogy, cosmology and similarly great subjects, and are told while others dance and perform music, making them true multimedia performances.” [Thanks to APH member Marcy Davis for alerting me to this item.]
  • Sixth National Women’s Memoir Conference. [April 13-15, 2012 Wyndham Hotel, Austin, Texas] “Stories from the Heart VI will bring women from around the country to celebrate our stories and our lives. Through writing, reading, listening, and sharing, we will discover how personal narrative is a healing art, how we can gather our memories, how we can tell our stories. “
  • Dudley Clendinen on building stories from life and choosing grace in death. “Our latest Editors’ Roundtable examines Dudley Clendinen’s “The Good Short Life,” a career journalist’s startling response to being diagnosed with ALS…Clendinen has written for GQ, the St. Petersburg Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The New York Times, among many other publications. Clendinen was kind enough to take the time – a commodity that has become precious to him – to talk with us about his essay. In these excerpts from our conversation, he addresses using his life as material, coming out on the op-ed page of the New York Times, and the upside of getting “paid to die.”
  • Everybody Has a Story. “The story starts with a dart and a map. Over a shoulder, the dart is thrown, and where it stops no one knows. Once the dart lands on a town, Steve Hartman goes there and calls someone up on the phone and interviews them. Admittedly, it’s a unique way of getting a story, but his “Everybody Has a Story” segments on CBS’s The Early Show are being emulated on local newscasts and in newspapers across the country. Actually, Hartman got the idea for the segment from newspaper reporter David Johnson of Idaho’s Lewiston Morning Tribune.”
  • The Rise of “Awesome”. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was awesome.  If this sounds like an irreverent approach to the famous first lines of the gospel of John, I can assure you it’s not. “The word was God,” according to the original. But repeatedly in the Bible, God is “awesome”… How did this once-awe-inspiring word become a nearly meaningless bit of verbiage referring to anything even mildly good?”
  • Celebrity Autobiography. “How does Vanna flip her panels?  What does Stallone have in his freezer?  Why did Burt and Loni topple from the upper tier of their wedding cake?  What makes the Jonas Brothers get along?  Find all this out and more in the new hit comedy “Celebrity Autobiography” where super star memoirs are acted out live on stage.  Audiences walk away from the show asking, “ Did they actually write that?”  Yes, we couldn’t make this stuff up!”
  • How to Manage the Risks of Having Your Own Business. “Starting a business is risky. Horribly, terrifyingly risky. Nearly all new businesses fail — that’s the official statistic, right? Some say 4 out of 5, some say as many as 95%. Successful entrepreneurs have a different kind of DNA from the rest of us. Ice water runs through their veins. They thrive on risk. The more insane the odds, the better they like it. For those of us who have families, or who just don’t feel like living on ramen for the next four years, we’re probably better off keeping the day job. Do you believe any of those? Because I call B.S. on all of them.”

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