Tag Archives: video biography

Encore! The #1 Secret to Creating an Engaging Video Life Story.

What makes a video biography memorable?  Is it the person being interviewed? Or is it the inclusion of archival photos and movies? Or could it be the clever use of audio and visual effects? All of these are significant but the most important factor – the #1 secret to a first rate video biography is … Read more.

Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup be sure to take a look at the charming Dear Sophie. It’s a little over a minute long and points to the increasingly creative ways we can tell  our stories.  With the 70th anniversary of the premiere of Citizen Kane you’ll want to read Jane Shafron’s perceptive article, Video Biographers: 5 Quick Tips from Citizen Kane.

  • Top 10 Genealogy Mistakes to Avoid. “If you are new to genealogy research…there are ten key mistakes that you will want to avoid in order to make your search a successful and pleasant experience.”
  • Dear Sophie. “A father uses the web to share memories with his daughter as she grows up in this video depiction.”
  • 100 Digital Storytelling Tools: Part 1. “Here are the first 25 digital storytelling tools that you can use … to tell your digital story. I’m sure you are already familiar with some of them and I hope you can find new tools to use.”
  • Video Biographers:5 Quick Tips from Citizen Kane. “For video biographers, personal documentary makers, and all of us interested in preserving personal and family history, Citizen Kane is still surprisingly rich in lessons and inspiration, and well worth the rental of the video DVD. So, what are some of the lessons from Citizen Kane that we can apply to our work?”
  • Grief Observed: Using Movies to Move through Grief. “Movies and DVD rentals that dramatize others coming to terms with their pain may serve as a valuable tool to help you and your family members move through the grieving process…Movies can be an effective tool in addressing certain grief issues, especially when your selections are made consciously and deliberately.”
  • The Case for Cursive. “The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell. With computer keyboards and smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the gradual death of the fancier ABC’s is revealing some unforeseen challenges.”
  • ‘Secret’ Love Stories Revealed. “Choreography that includes oral components, historical research and overt storytelling is increasingly fashionable in modern dance. Sean Dorsey, the first transgender artist to be named Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” and winner of two Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, is using this approach in an ambitious attempt to express the love stories of transgender and queer people from the 1920s to the present.”

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The #1 Secret to Creating an Engaging Video Life Story.

What makes a video biography memorable?  Is it the person being interviewed? Or is it the inclusion of archival photos and movies? Or could it be the clever use of audio and visual effects? All of these are significant but the most important factor – the #1 secret to a first rate video biography is good story telling.

Basically your video biography needs to have the same narrative structure  that goes into creating a good feature film – pacing, suspense, and character development.  It’s true that your production isn’t for broadcast and will only be seen by your client’s  family and friends. But that’s no excuse to make it boring!

Here are a few ways you can improve your story telling.

Launch your story with A compelling opening.

And I don’t mean flashy effects. That’s window dressing. A good feature film captivates you in the first few minutes of the story. Edit a clip from the main interview that establishes your subject’s character. It might be something that’s funny, heavy with portent, sad, or revealing.  Cut that into your opening. Later decide what visuals (e.g family photos, home movies, etc.) you might want to accompany this opening segment.

Keep the story moving.

It’s not enough to string together the chronology of a life.  You need to use  techniques that will give the narrative energy and create momentum. One  approach is  to shift the emotional tone. For example, after your subject has recounted a sad story fade to black and then come up on an account that’s happy. Or if your subject has been railing at the world, jump to a tender story. Trust me it works.

Another way to keep the story moving is to create a jump in time. This can improve your storytelling immeasurably by eliminating material that’s lackluster. For example, the story of a woman who struggles to get an education during the Depression and eventually goes on to university is riveting. But her university years are less interesting. What’s really intriguing is how she gets her first job after graduating. So find a clip from her interview that can be used to jump directly to her first job. It might be something she says like, “I had great fun at university but it was my first job that really tested me.”

Create suspense.

Suspense is the principal engine that  drives your story. Suspense is created by your audience asking and getting answers to such basic questions as, “What is the subject’s quest?  How does the subject resolve the challenges along the way? Will the subject reach a goal?  What happens when the dream is achieved or not achieved?”

Here’s the bad news. Unless you’ve asked these questions in your interviews you’ll likely have little to help you create suspense.

Keep your editing tight.

As  Sheila Curran Bernard, an an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning writer, said, “In documentary, as in drama, you have to collapse real time into its essence.” Believe me, not everything your subject says is worth including in your video. Eliminate anything that doesn’t  support  your main story. For example, an anecdote about “Aunt Flo” might be interesting but unless it somehow illuminates some facet of your main subject, Aunt Flo should go! To give you some perspective on this, I shoot an average of six to seven hours of interview for a one-hour video biography.

Provide A Good Closing.

Your ending should provide a satisfying resolution to the central journey. It must be short and not introduce any new story lines.  The final scene can be in the form of a simple summary statement from your subject. Or it can be some end cards that bring the story up-to-date. Whatever you choose, don’t make the mistake of creating multiple endings.

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Photo by Steev Hise