Article about creating interview videos
You can produce and direct the big show
From an article by Linda Jerkins - For the Journal-Constitution - Saturday, February 7, 2004
Dave Savage – Cell 404 323-8686 Dave@davesavage.com www.davesavage.com
Memory Keepers – Family Story Videographer
Thanks to her nephew and his video camera, Sue Davis has a precious keepsake of her late father: a videotaped interview of him talking about his past.
"It means so much to have it," said Davis of Dunwoody. "We can hear his voice and see his facial expressions when he talks about growing up [he was the oldest of 10 children], his love for my mother and his career as a doctor."
Davis' nephew, John Gray of Los Angeles, took care of all the details: coming up with a list of questions, plus interviewing and recording his grandfather in a quiet room as the family gathered for Christmas in New Orleans in 1998.
Gray came up with the idea for the video soon after learning that his grandfather had cancer. But the idea didn't come from out of the blue.
"Genealogy was something my grandfather and I had shared an interest in for a couple of years," said Gray. "When I called him to discuss the idea," Gray added, "he was OK with it. As a doctor, I think he appreciated the scientific aspect of it."
"If you are considering it, don't put it off," said Davis, whose father died nine months after the recording. "You may not have another opportunity."
With today's technology, it's easier for families to create a video biography of a family member. Before you start, consider these lists of tips
Talk to the relative to make sure the person wants to be taped and interviewed.
Set a deadline and have a schedule. Allow two months or more to start and complete the project.
Assemble family photos, family records, postcards, recipes, medals and other keepsakes that can be videotaped. Small mementos add interest to the tape and to your family history.
Videotape the inside of a person's wallet, a junk drawer and the refrigerator," "They're often full of stories."
Determine the focus of the video. Do you want to go chronologically through a person's life, focus on a specific event or hit the milestones, such as career, marriage and children? No matter what the focus is, make sure the story has a beginning, middle and end.
Sort photos and other items in logical groupings, such as siblings. Organize and keep in a three-ringed, sleeved notebook. It will be easier to tape the story chronologically if you have all the visual elements assembled and grouped ahead of time.
Make a list of questions and give the subject a chronological list of questions ahead of time to help the person prepare for the interview. This often jogs the subject's memory about events or people the person has forgotten.
KEEP THE STORY MOVING
Identify and discuss with the person what stories are most interesting and worth preserving. "Benchmarks [birth dates, marriage] in people's lives tend to be things most often recorded," said Brown, "but it's often the special moments, not necessarily associated with those benchmark events, that are the stories worth preserving." Those might include how you proposed to your wife or the unforgettable Halloween night with your kids, said Brown.
Plan conversation and recording around the subject's schedule and the time of day that is best for the person.
Pace the recording so that the relative has time to discuss his or her life at all stages.
Let the relative review the recording if desired. As people begin to speak on camera, they become so comfortable they forget that their words are being recorded permanently.
Visit the location before you begin the recording to check the lighting and setting.
Choose a well-lit room and position the person in a comfortable chair.
Keep the background simple (avoid busy wallpaper), but include a few props to make the shot more interesting.
Put the subject at ease (before the recording begins) by reviewing some of the topics you want to cover.
Assemble meaningful objects and photos to help get the conversation going.
Review the footage periodically during the recording. Check lighting, sounds or distracting objects in the camera's view. Don't wait until the end to see that the subject's face was in the shadows or the dog next door was barking incessantly.
Limit the interview session to two hours or less.
Record an introduction. Include the subject's name, relation to you, your name, the date and the location.
Capture a person's hobby or special talent. Film the subject playing the piano, fishing or cooking. Film a few seconds of the person playing, but not the entire song.
Do not interrupt or share stories about yourself during the interview. "An oral history interview is not a conversation," said Sara Ghitis of Oral Histories and Life Stories in Atlanta.
Ask open-ended questions that go beyond facts and yes-or-no answers.
Take notes to keep track of follow-up questions.
Zoom in on old photographs, newspaper clippings, heirlooms and objects that you have collected and organized. If the person talks about her brother, focus on a photograph of that person.
EDITING, COPYING, STORING
Resist the temptation to go overboard with special effects if you're editing the tape on your computer. They often distract from the story.
Make extra copies of the tape as gifts and for yourself, in case the tape is damaged.
Label. Note the subject of tape, date, location and the narrator on the outside of the tape or case.
Update tape, as technology changes, to preserve the interview. Transfer VHS tapes to CD and DVD formats.
Play and rewind tape once a year.
Store on a bookshelf away from heat and sunlight.
Older video cameras work fine, but many experts recommend using a digital video camera (starting at about $400) in case you want to download and edit the footage on your home computer. A tripod, which keeps the camera steady, is a must.
While most camcorders have built-in microphones, experts recommend using an external microphone, which plugs into your camera and sits on a table or clips to the subject's clothing.
Before you begin, be familiar with your equipment and make sure it is working properly. Don't forget to have extra batteries and tapes on hand.
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