Tag Archives: video

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

Are Your Clients Getting Too Little?

too little

Recently I was reading an article by marketing provocateur Seth Godin. In his usual challenging manner he hit the nail on the head.

” The hard part isn’t charging a lot. The hard part is delivering more (in the eye of the recipient) than he paid for…Too often, in the race to charge less, we deliver too little. And in the race to charge more, we forget what it is that people want. They want more. And better.”

This got me thinking.  A personal history book or video is a big ticket item for most clients. So what can we do to demonstrate that our clients will get get more than they expected?

Here are some ideas that come to mind:

Emphasize the lasting value of A life story.

When you have an initial conversation with a potential client, use  words such as investment rather than cost, legacy rather than personal history, gift instead of book or video.

I sometimes use a new car analogy. I point out that as soon as you drive a car off the lot, it begins to depreciate. On the other hand, a Life Story appreciates over time. You can’t say that about many things.

Use your professional qualifications.

It’s true that “Cousin George” can probably do the book for half the price. But does he have the experience and professional background to do a first-class job?

When people hire me, they know that not only are they getting an experienced professional personal historian but also a former award-winning documentary filmmaker. My work will be better than “Cousin George’s”.  At least I hope so. ;-)

Look for ways you can make your qualifications stand out.

Give your client more than just a book.

There are a number of ways to add  extras.

  • Include a set of audio CDs of your interviews.
  • Provide a poster size duplication of the book cover.
  • Give a subscription to a a family history magazine.
  • Reproduce a treasured archival photo from the book and have it framed.
  • Organize a launch party for friends and family after the book’s publication.

Find those little extras that add more value to your work.

Emphasize the superior quality of your books.

Have one of your beautiful personal history books to showcase your work. The quality will speak for itself. Point out the exceptional archival paper stock and inks that are used.  Acquaint clients with the  outstanding design elements.

You want to convey the message that these are “Legacy” books that will last for generations.

stress the  good feelings that come with a personal history book or video.

What clients may not appreciate are the positive feelings that arise with personal histories. It’s not just a book or video.

Parents and children talk about feeling closer to each other after engaging in a life story. Parents are touched by the thoughtfulness of their children undertaking such an endeavor. Still other recipients of a personal history find a new appreciation for their life accomplishments.

A personal history is  a connection to the soul.

What are some of the ways that you exceed your client’s expectations?

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Image by iStockphoto

Monday’s Link Roundup.

Monday's Link Roundup

In today’s Monday’s Link Roundup, if you look at nothing else, I highly recommend Noah St. John’s ‘The Last Mile’ [Video]. It’s tour-de-force storytelling by a 15-year-old boy. And for some excellent scanning advice from the Library of Congress make sure to read Scanning: DIY or Outsource.

  • Protecting Your Digital Assets in the Afterlife. “Many consumers have gone down the virtual path, accumulating online store credits and using PayPal to buy goods and services. But digital assets, which include anything from social networking profiles to email accounts to websites, can have value far beyond money. So the question remains: What happens when you pass away?”
  • Rare color photos of World War I. “Photographer Anton Orlov recently discovered over 600 color images from World War I on “Magic Lantern” slides in a house in Northern California. The images depict snow-covered villages, train tracks, bullet-riddled buildings, and soldiers in trenches, by houses and on trains. The slides were hand-colored and are still in good condition.”
  • Scanning: DIY or Outsource. “At our personal digital archiving events, we get various questions about scanning family photos, slides, negatives and film. Questions like:  What type of scanner should I use? What resolution should I use? How can I scan negatives? While we’ve focused on developing tips and resources for saving personal digital materials created with software and hardware, we recognize that individuals have the both analog and digital materials and are looking for guidance on how to deal with both.”
  • Virginia Woolf on the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Diary. “A fairly late journaling bloomer, she began writing in 1915, at the age of 33, and continued until her last entry in 1941, four days before her death, leaving behind 26 volumes written in her own hand. More than a mere tool of self-exploration, however, Woolf approached the diary as a kind of R&D lab for her craft.”
  • My sons and I were linked in by Lincoln. “I was disappointed not long ago when my 21-year-old son, John, turned down my invitation to see the movie Lincoln. “I am not into politics, Dad,” he said over the phone. “Forget politics – think history,” I responded.”
  • Noah St. John’s ‘The Last Mile’ [Video] “This is the first of series of stories from a new partnership between The Huffington Post and NPR’s new hit storytelling program, “Snap Judgment,” hosted by Glynn Washington. And it’s a good one.” [Thanks to Sally Goldin of  Tell Me A Story for alerting me to this item.]

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Your Favorite Posts of 2012.

check mark

Here are the most popular posts of the past year. If you missed some of these, now’s your chance to find out what attracted others to these articles.

Do you have a favorite article that isn’t on the list? Share it with us here.

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

Monday's Link Roundup

If you’re a second-hand bookstore fan, you’ll enjoy reading Why second-hand bookshops are just my type in this week’s Monday’s Link Roundup.  And for an  evocative and highly original look at a slice of World War II history, be sure to view Ghosts of History: Dutch Artist Eerily Superimposes Modern Street Scenes on World War II Photos.

  • Interactive Art Installation Encourages Writing In Library Books. “At Dixie College‘s new library in St. George, Utah, German multimedia artist Christian Moeller has revived the interactive nature of physical books in an increasingly digital age. Through his latest installation dubbed Clouds, Moeller has created a living work of art that aims to continue changing and growing by leveraging the ideas contributed by library-goers.”
  • The Making of Motherwell. [Video] “If you love beautiful books, check out this marvelous video from the Dedalus Foundation, in which we see the production of Robert Motherwell Painting and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1941–1991.”
  • The Best Illustrated Children’s Books and Picturebooks of 2012.”On the heels of this year’s best science books, art books, design books, and philosophy and psychology books, the 2012 best-of reading lists continue with the annual roundup of the year’s ten-or-so most delightful children’s and picturebooks.”

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The Best of Monday’s Link Roundup Videos.

Here are some favorite videos drawn from my weekly Monday’s Link Roundup over the past year.  If you didn’t watch them the first time, now’s your chance to see what you missed. Enjoy!

  • Life in 4,748 Self-Portraits.[Video] “It started simply enough in 1999. Jeff Harris, a photographer based in Toronto, took his first self-portrait, something he has since repeated every day. His visual diary now amounts to 4,748 photos and they tell a very personal story.”
  • The Secret Bookstore. [Video] “Watch this beautiful video about Brazenhead Books, a secret bookstore that’s been tucked away in Michael Seidenberg’s apartment on the Upper East Side ever since the rent for his original retail space in Brooklyn was quadrupled.”
  • How Film Was Made: A Kodak Nostalgia Moment. [Video] “Before pixels there were silver halide crystals, and before memory cards, film. Little yellow boxes cluttered the lives of photographers everywhere, and the Eastman Kodak Company was virtually synonymous with photography…To indulge this nostalgia–and perhaps learn something new about an old technology–we offer a fascinating 1958 documentary from Kodak entitled How Film is Made.”
  • In ‘Pilgrimage,’ Leibovitz Explores Portraits Without People. [PBS video]“Known for portraits of celebrities and musicians, Annie Leibovitz has given herself a new assignment: capture striking landscapes and visit the homes of iconic figures to document significant items from their past. Jeffrey Brown and Leibovitz discuss her “Pilgrimage” book and exhibition at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum.”
  • This Is My Home: Inside Anthony’s Parlor of Curiosities. [Video]“…a friend and I were strolling down a street in the East Village when we stumbled upon a whimsical place — a kind of curiosities parlor that stretched, narrow and full of unusual objects and private memories, from the street site of the building to the backyard. Inside it was Anthony Pisano … We, it turns out, we not the only ones mesmerized by Anthony’s curiosities and unusual lens on the world. This Is My Home by filmmakers Kelsey Holtaway and Mark Cersosimo is a beautiful short film, in the vein of This Must Be The Place, that captures Anthony’s singular character through the contents of his home and his heart.”
  • Print in Motion Winner: Medusa in Fragments. [Video]“With so much stunning work being produced in the world of motion graphics these days, we wanted to invite the field’s artists to show off a bit. And so Print in Motion was born. We approached the competition with no real parameters other than to feature the most interesting and innovative work we could find, and to build a forum for designers eager to see—and be inspired by—what their peers are doing.We received many worthy entries, but eventually we whittled them down to 10 standouts, starting with this great piece titled Medusa in Fragments.”
  • The Birth and Decline of a Book: Two Videos for Bibliophiles. [Video] “Why Do Old Books Smell? Produced by Abe’s Books, and drawing on research from chemists at University College, London, this video looks at the science behind the aroma of used books…When you’re done watching the video, you might want to spend time with a second clip that deals with another part of the lifecycle of the book — the birth of a book. Shot by Glen Milner at Smith-Settle Printers in Leeds, England, this short film lets you watch firsthand a book — Suzanne St Albans’ Mango and Mimosa – being made with old school printing methods. Enjoy.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup there are so many wonderful articles to dip in to. I highly recommend ‘Born This Way’. It’s an important sharing of life stories from the childhood memories of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. And for those who still treasure getting or sending a handwritten letter, be sure to read Why handwriting matters.

  • Storied: Capture and Share Family Stories. “The goal of Storied is to make the process of capturing and sharing meaningful family stories easy and accessible for people of all ages. With the app installed on your iPad*, you can easily scan in printed photos directly from the iPad, or import them from popular networks like Facebook, and then record interviews with yourself or your family about the events in the photo.”
  • Long Live Paper. “As both a teacher who uses paper textbooks and a student of urban history, I can’t help but wonder what parallels exist between my own field and this sudden, wholesale abandonment of the technology of paper.”
  • Why handwriting matters. “Does handwriting have a value that email and texting can’t replace? In this extract from his new book, The Missing Ink, Philip Hensher laments the slow death of the written word, and explains how putting pen to paper can still occupy a special place in our lives.”
  • ‘Born This Way’: The Radical Possibilities in Sharing Our Stories and Photos of When We First Knew We Were Queer.”This summer was the first time I’d publicly written about my childhood and how difficult it was to grow up gay in a small, industrial city in southern Wisconsin. I didn’t really think too much about it. I was, after reading some particularly vicious comments about queer people, simply sharing what I’d been through in hopes of feeling less hopeless and helpless…Tomorrow an amazing new book will reach stores and add over 100 voices to this conversation. Born This Way (Quirk Books) was edited by DJ Paul V. and inspired by his website of the same name, a photo/essay project for gay adults of all genders to submit their childhood pictures and stories and share their memories of growing up LGBTQ.”
  • Skype for Interviews. “From The Conversations Network, Doug Kaye and Paul Figgiani explain the tips and techniques for recording high-quality interviews using Skype.”
  • Eleanor Roosevelt’s Controversial Love Letters to Lorena Hickok. “In the summer of 1928, Roosevelt met journalist Lorena Hickok, whom she’d come to refer to as Hick. The thirty-year relationship that ensued has remained the subject of much speculation, from the evening of FDR’s inauguration, when the First Lady was seen wearing a sapphire ring Hickok had given her, to the opening up of her private correspondence archives in 1998. Though many of the most explicit letters had been burned, the 300 published in Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters Of Eleanor Roosevelt And Lorena Hickok (public library).”
  • How to Use Twitter to Grow Your Business. “Can Twitter actually help my business or is it a complete waste of my valuable time? This was the very question I asked myself only a few months back. Perhaps you’ve pondered the same?…This article reveals how bestselling authors and business professionals use Twitter to grow their businesses and reveals ideas you can employ to achieve Twitter success.”

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Encore! How to Avoid Landmines When Producing Video Ethical Wills.

A reader recently asked, “Two people have consented to [an ethical will] but I think video taping them would be more personal for the receiving family. Can you see some possible landmines?” This was my reply….Read more.

Monday’s Link Roundup.

Happy Labor Day! I hope you’re resting from your labors today. If you’re looking for an enjoyable diversion, why not check out my Monday’s Link Roundup?  Every week I bring you an eclectic  mix of articles that I find fascinating and that relate in some way to life stories, memories, and self-employment.

  • In Andalusia, on the Trail of Inherited Memories. “There are scientific studies exploring whether the history of our ancestors is somehow a part of us, inherited in unexpected ways through a vast chemical network in our cells that controls genes, switching them on and off. At the heart of the field, known as epigenetics, is the notion that genes have memory and that the lives of our grandparents — what they breathed, saw and ate — can directly affect us decades later.”
  • The Next Big Idea From Twitter’s Founders? “Evan Williams and Biz Stone think their new site, Medium, could mark an “evolutionary step” in web publishing…their new venture, a platform for collecting and displaying stories, images, musings and more, isn’t just noteworthy for its web-visionary pedigree …In a sense, Medium’s intended to be a Pinterest for our own lives, an elegant repository for photos, projects, and stories we’ve actually lived, as opposed to a re-blogged clearing house for pictures of wedding dresses and eggs baked into avocados found elsewhere around the web.”
  • Apps for Journaling, Keeping track of your memories…“How do I keep my professional life separate from my personal life without driving myself crazy. I want to list a few apps that are possible solutions to this… I also want to list some differences between all of these that I have found.”
  • All About Me: How Memoirs Became the Literature of Choice. “Memoirs are the great equalizer of writing. In a genre utterly non-denominational, there is room for any story in any pattern of prose. The Christian Science Monitor reports that memoirs have seen sales increase from $170 million to $270 million since 1999. Most nonfiction MFA writing programs are geared substantially towards the genre; Hunter College even requires prospective students to submit a memoir proposal as part of their application. Many bookstores can count their autobiography sections among the most frequented and their popularity thrives.”
  • Anaïs Nin on Self-Publishing. “Besides artist and author, Nin was also a publishing entrepreneur. In January 1942, she sets up her own small press in a loft on Macdougal Street, and soon set out to print and self-publish a new edition of her third book, Winter of Artifice, teaching herself typesetting and doing most of the manual work herself.From The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944 (public library) comes this beautiful passage on the joy of handcraft, written in January of 1942 — a particularly timely meditation in the age of today’s thriving letterpress generation and the Maker Movement.”
  • Peter Sellers: His Life in Home Movies. [Video]“Peter Sellers was a compulsive home movie maker…In 1995, fifteen years after Sellers’s death, producers from BBC Arena sorted through his extensive archive and assembled some of the best footage for a film called The Peter Sellers Story. In 2002 they shortened it into The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It (above), which tells the story of the comedian’s life almost exclusively with footage from his own camera.”
  • Attracting High-End Clients. ” Everyone wants to attract more clients. But I think it’s even more important to set your sights on attracting more High-End clients.”

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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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