Last year we completed an almost 3-hour biography on a 97 year old local woman. It was an incredible project to work on. Not only is she smart and vibrant but she had a lot of energy and we were able to do some remarkable video B-roll. We have shots of her driving her car, talking about her childhood in front of the home she was born in, giving us a tour of the artwork in her church that she and her late husband had commissioned as well as extensive stories and recollections from her 97 years of life. She was a joy to work with and her family was not only supportive but actively involved in the development and production of this project.
One of Betty’s sons hired us to help document his mom’s history. Previously, she had done an enormous amount of genealogical work, creating family history books for each of her three children as well as biographical books on both herself and her late husband using first person reflective. She also had very well organized archives of photographs and other memorabilia, all organized, annotated and preserved in archival albums. It was a delight to work with someone as well organized as this she was. Creating a video was the icing on the cake of an already well-documented family history.
But in addition to the video history this family will now have, her son bought her an experience. Much like a roller coaster ride through one’s life, the process of going through creating a video biography allows the subject to be the star in the front seat on a ride through their own history. It was definitely an experience. From the very beginning, she was very excited and I know it gave her celebrity status in her assisted living home. When we would show up to shoot, other residents would come up to us and ask us how it was going. One of her neighbors stood in the doorway one day while we setup all the cameras, lights and other recording gear and we finally had to ask her to leave so we could close the door to the apartment. Filming in front of the house she was born in gave her the opportunity to meet the current residents who were so generous and fascinated by the project as well. “These people are making a movie about me!” was an often heard exclamation.
I have observed this phenomenon before. I once told a potential customer that the experience was like going to camp. To the children who commission a personal historian to work on developing a family history, they are also buying their parent(s) this experience. I suppose you could send them on a cruise, or have a portrait commissioned. These have predictable outcomes. The process of going through a personal history is unpredictable. The client may think they know all their ‘stories’ but through guided work, other memories and connections appear, making this a completely customized adventure. Clients may, in the process of looking back, transform their view on how they see themselves, their families and their communities.
Of course at some point, the lights and cameras have to be shut down and we go away. But our clients are left with an incredible memory and a film that holds the promise of education and entertainment at any time.
Stefani Twyford is a personal historian 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.
Thank you for this beautifully written piece which eloquently describes both the process and the outcome.