Friday, August 15, 2014

Editing Tips for Amateur Video #135: Interview Your Loved Ones

Prepare to create a Biography or Memorial Video



You and I are the family historians!  We're the ones who often witness birthday parties, picnics, and vacations through a camera's viewfinder.  Our archives consist of priceless memories, and as a result we may be called upon at the last minute to "bring something" to a memorial service, bachelor party, or birthday celebration.   When it happens, the best I can usually do is make a quick slideshow with music and maybe titles.

"If only I had more time, I could have done something nicer!"
What if you had time to plan ahead.   Imagine this:  "Aunt Mary's 80th birthday is coming up next September, do you think you could put together a slideshow or something?"  

My mother was seventy-four when I decided to create her video biography.  I had lots of time to gather old footage, scan photos, and most-importantly conduct interviews!

Watch the video above to gain a glimpse of the interview I did with mom in 2001.  She sat in her favorite chair with good even natural light coming through a window.  (Thank goodness for the overcast weather; I knew nothing about reflectors and fill lighting at the time.)  My miniDV camera was in a static position, set for a medium shot, with a Radio Shack lavaliere microphone hard-wired into its external input.  (Hooray for the microphone!  Turns out that using her narrative as voice-over was critical to the success of the movie.)

We joked and chatted a bit, then I started the camcorder.  I knew enough to ask her leading questions about her life.  For example:  "What's your earliest memory?"; "Tell me about your father."; "What do you remember about World War II?"  Slowly we stepped through the major events in her life.

Next days we visited newspaper archives at the public library, and interviewed some of her life-long friends.  (Those interviews are precious memories for the friends' families too!).


I had hoped to present Mom's biography at a birthday party, but she never got to see its final edit.  Thankfully I was well prepared for the big party we held to celebrate her life.  And everyone took a bit of her home, not just in their hearts but also on a DVD.



Friday, August 8, 2014

Editing Tricks for Amateur Video #134: Prepare NOW to Make a Memorial Video

MEMORIAL VIDEOS:  Take the time today to interview your loved ones!




Thirteen years ago I was inspired to create a video biography of my Mom.  When I suggested the idea, she became excited and looked forward to being interviewed on my next visit.  (She lived on the East Coast, I live a continent away.)

On an overcast morning we turned her favorite easy chair at an angle to the picture window and began talking.  Equipment was minimal and non-threatening, just a MiniDV camcorder, tripod, and lavalier microphone.  I sat next to the camera and asked a lot of leading questions; we were both exhausted after an hour.

During the next two days we took the show on the road.  Mom arranged for us to visit her best old friends.  That was a lot of fun, and I was able to capture recollections of how they met and all the good times they had together.


Later that year, my mother started to lose her ability to remember simple things.  Though she kept her personality and sense of humor, a long, slow, heart-wrenching process had begun.   I began to create her movie many times, but the video always presented me with too much reality, too many emotional memories.

When Mom was admitted to Hospice care in 2010 there was no choice, I began to assemble the edit in Final Cut Pro X.  The movie is possibly the most meaningful work I've ever done.  It was projected onto a screen at her memorial celebration; relatives said "It's as if she was in the room with us!"  The forty-minute video held everyone speechless and spellbound, laughing and crying at the same time.

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Mom's memorial video is intensely personal.  I've selected two short clips to show publicly; they will be the subject of my next two blog posts.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Deep Thoughts About Vacation Video: Photos need people in them!

Add Interest to Your Vacation Snapshots -- Include People!

Here's an observation that I'd like to pass on to you:
Among my fifty or so binders of vacation photos I've rediscovered a treasure:  two albums of original 35mm negatives from 1976-1982, beautifully preserved in vinyl sleeves.  (You may not know that properly preserved negatives can retain all the beauty of the original photo, while prints begin to fade immediately after processing.)

I lack the equipment to scan negatives, so I began searching for an on-line deal.  (Scanning services usually charge about a dollar for two or three scans.  These two thousand photos could cost well over $500 to scan!)  Meanwhile I also began sorting the negatives, culling the uninteresting shots.

My old Minolta SRT-201 was a great tool before it was stolen.  It was also my first serious camera, when I looked through the viewfinder I felt like an artist.  But guess what ... I am not Ansel Adams!  Those rolls of film contained hundreds and hundreds of horribly boring landscapes from vacations -- reminding me of the hundreds of hours of boring vacation videotapes that sit on my shelf!

Ultimately I've thrown away about two-thirds of the negatives.  The ones I kept were pictures of family members, and a small number of vacation photos.  The snapshots I truly value are the ones with friends and family in them!   Treasured memories revolve around people, not the tourist landmarks.

Compare this photo from Venice to the one below.
Even if it's not framed perfectly,
images of friends make this snapshot a "keeper"!



How to scan negatives:
 At the end of June, ScanCafe had a 1/3-off discount deal.  I sent 600 negatives to them, which will be scanned for a total price of about 27 cents per image (includes shipping and tax).  They estimate that the proof scans will be ready at the end of August; They'll send the final images via DVD in September.
This seems to be an excellent price; I'll let you know about quality!
(Note:  I am in no way affiliated with ScanCafe. I am a first-time customer.)



Friday, July 25, 2014

Deep Thoughts About Vacation Video: Organizing Still Photos for Video

That's a Lot of Photos - Here's a way to make sure you can find them!

We all recognize the need to label and organize our videotapes.  But what about other media?  It takes a lot of work to scan our old vacation photos, but we need to be able to find them when we need them!  Use a filing system that works for you, but be consistent.

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Your scanner will assign sequential names (like IMG0001.JPG) to your pictures. I recommend that you change those to meaningful titles for use in searches.  The photo files will also be assigned to the date you scanned them -- adjust these to the approximate time that the photo was originally taken.

This detailed organization is a bit of a chore ... but there are lots of computer software programs that promise to help you.  Here's what I do with iPhoto on my Mac:


(1) All of my new scans are saved in a folder on the hard drive.  I then sort them into subfolders.  For our Africa 2002 trip I used subfolders titled "Zimbabwe", "Botswana", "Cape Town", etc.

(2) I highlight all of the photos in the first subfolder and drag them into iPhoto.  The original scans remain safely in their original folder, but copies are created within a new Event in iPhoto.

(3) Then I repeat, highlighting & dragging the photos from each remaining subfolder.  Now I've created a small group of new events in iPhoto.

(4) I retitle the events so they make sense, like "AFRICA 2002 - Zimbabwe"
Renamed Events in iPhoto.  Clicking a triangle on the left reveals the photos within the event.
(5) The photos are arranged by date within their events.  I use the "Adjust Date and Time" tool to approximate the correct time each photo was taken.  The tool can also adjust a batch of photos.
The date it was taken is more useful than the date it was scanned!
Suggest you check the box to "modify original files.
(6) Once the photos are in proper order I do a batch rename.  Something useful might look like "Zimbabwe-1", " Zimbabwe-2", etc.

(7) Now that I have basic names, I can modify them.  For instance one title might become "Zimbabwe-4 George @ Victoria Falls"
Descriptive names assigned to scanned photos
(8) iPhoto has an additional organizational feature called "Albums".  Photos from any event may be dragged into an album.  I create albums for each of my vacations:
iPhoto's Album Feature

Now if I need to find a particular photo from this trip, I can browse albums or events, plus there's a good likelihood that it will turn up in a search.

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 The above is a description of MY system for organizing photos.  Regardless of YOUR individual strategy, I strongly suggest that you employ some form of organization

(Note that Apple has announced a new program, Photos for OSX, which will replace iPhoto at the end of 2014.  It promises "better" organizational tools, and I look forward to using them!)