Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

Filming a Tribute Testimonial

Last week I spent two days filming 13 people giving testimonials for 13 other people for an event in early December. This event is an annual social event that honors local Houstonians for their charitable and philanthropic commitments.I am not going to name names but the people I interviewed were right up there; personalities you see on television or read about in the local and sometimes international columns.

A tribute is an act or statement that is intended to show gratitude, respect or admiration. Our context was to give each person talking on behalf of the honoree, a finished 90 seconds to say something nice and memorable that would introduce their friend or associate (the honoree) to the other guests. The questions provided were:

How long have you known him/her?
Under what circumstances did you meet?
Describe him/her.
What projects have you worked on together?
What is something about him/her we don’t know?
Why do you think he/she is so devoted to community service?
What would you like to say to him/her?

We had hair and makeup there, great lighting in a phenomenal suite in one of the city’s best hotels. Everyone was very relaxed and we all had a lot of fun. But… I found it interesting what was said.

Most of the people speaking were experienced speakers and some had such experience that they were able to accomplish creating a warm and emotive testimonial that really spoke for their honoree with one take. This was magic and always has me surprised and impressed. There were a few that while they had great public speaking experience, they were not comfortable in front of the camera. Those you have to play with a bit. Figure out what they enjoy while putting their makeup put on, find a common denominator, and then run with that. One woman, when she found out that my cameraman was a golf fanatic, was so excited. She got so animated talking about golf that I thought we were never going to break them up for the rest of the shoot. We ended up shooting her a second time because she clearly relaxed a lot more after making this connection.

Another had to be coached throughout the time, with the cameras starting and stopping while she pulled her notes out and refreshed her memory about what she was going to say. One woman had me hold up some large notes she’d brought so she was sure to mention everything she’d written down.

I have to say, that I am not a big fan of tele-prompters. First, you can see people’s eyes moving as they read what’s on the prompter. That being said, most people tend to read in a flat tone, rather than the natural lulls and trills of someone who is speaking from the heart. That is my goal as an interviewer, to get them talking from the heart. I have many techniques that I try, mostly I try to get comfortable with them and find something we can bond on, that will allow them to relax and have some fun with the interview.

Sometimes in a short interview, that comes across brilliantly, and other times, it’s not quite what you were hoping for. Just like with most things in life, you do the best with what you have. We got some really great footage those days even with everyone’s different style of communicating in front of a camera. That, and some good editing, well orchestrated music and some nice graphic touches will provide enough drama that only the wonderful testimonials and the true nature of the testimonial event will be communicated. I can’t wait to watch the honorees watching themselves being honored!

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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