Video Memoir Process - An Overview

A well-designed video memoir process helps you create a smooth compilation of stories, video, photographs, and other audio/visual elements. The stories themselves reveal much about the subject's life; however, the look, sound and pace of the movie are additional tools you have in your arsenal to reveal the subject's personality, passions, challenges and life choices.

The video memoir process we use at Extraordinary Lives has more than 75 steps, or mini-processes, from beginning to end, although our clients see just a few steps. If you are embarking on your own video memoir project, what follows is the basic workflow to get you from idea to finished movie.

Video Memoir Process 1-Setting Parameters

  1. Establish your memoir goal; what story is being told and by whom? Is this a full life story of your grandmother, or the 50-year love story of your grandparents? The goal you identify will drive many decisions as you move forward, so make this clear in your mind.
  2. Who is the intended audience? Is the movie a gift to be viewed by family at home or to show at a large celebration? Is it for young grandchildren, adult children, or the local historical society? Clarifying the intended use of the movie will help you with many creative and technical choices you will face.
  3. Whom do you want to tell this story? Is it the subject himself, describing his life, or is it a combination of story-tellers, each with different perspectives?
  4. What does the final product look like? Is it a 15 minute highlight, or a 2-hour documentary? Is it housed on a DVD or website? Do you need VHS copies? Will you be editing in the camera and outputting to a DVD recorder, or importing footage and editing on a computer?

Video Memoir Process 2-Gathering Materials

  1. Create a list of stories or questions you want to cover. Get feedback from others in the family and from the story-tellers themselves.
  2. Get hold of the recording technology you need and test it:
    • Video camera (use digital if possible)
    • Microphone(s), lavalieres if possible, with hook-ups to your camera
    • Lights, if you want a more professional looking result
  3. Buy the consumables you will need:
    • Digital video tapes (60 minute ones)
    • Blank DVDs (check your computer documentation for which format)
    • Blank CDs for backing up your working files (again, check your computer for format)
  4. Set up and test your planned editing method--for in-camera editing, test for:
    • Cutting out footage
    • Re-ordering footage
    • Adding titles
    • Dubbing in music
    • Outputting to a DVD burner
  5. For on-computer editing, check for:
    • Hook-ups from your camera to the computer (typically uses "Fire wire")
    • Hard disk space to hold video (1 hour of mini-DV footage takes 13 Gigs of hard drive space)
    • Movie editing software (iMovie, MovieMaker, Final Cut Express, etc.)
    • DVD creation software, if not included in your movie editing software
    • DVD burner
    • Scanner and software, if you intend to incorporate photographs

Video Memoir Process 3-Gathering Stories

  1. Set-up your recording equipment and record your story-teller in simple conversation, to test your equipment and set them at ease. (Perhaps ask them for full, descriptive detail on that morning's breakfast...). Make sure you are capturing both video and audio, before you begin in earnest.
  2. Check your test video for a pleasing appearance. Does your story-teller look comfortable? Are their strong shadows? Are there distracting items in the frame around your story-teller?
  3. Check your test audio for good quality sound. Are you and the story-teller both loud and clear? Are there other noises in the mix (refrigerators, furnaces, doorbells, phones) that you can eliminate?
  4. When you are satisfied with the look and sound, get comfortable and begin interviewing your storyteller(s), one at a time, using your question list from Process 1. Encourage highly descriptive answers, full of detail. (This is often the most challenging step; you may need to really coach them to give rich detail.) Interrupt as little as possible, and keep superfluous noise to a minimum.
  5. Start with some easy topics, and move toward more challenging or emotional ones over time.
  6. Prompt as needed to get more depth and color from the stories, using "tell me more..." or "how did you...," or "why did..."
  7. If you are including printed photos, scan them while you have access to your story teller. They can help you with identifying people and places, which you may want to caption in your movie.

Video Memoir Process 4-Assembly

  1. Once you've gathered the stories and photos, make a list of those stories on index cards, one story per card. Note on the cards if you have photos and other materials in support of the story. Lay the cards out, in the order of the filming.
  2. Test different orders to the cards, to see if a more compelling story line emerges. Sometimes straight-forward chronology is the best, but more often, some thematic approach is more interesting.
  3. Once you have decided upon a story structure, you can launch your specific editing process.
    • Capture the video to your computer, making clips from each story.
    • Assemble the clips in your chosen order on the editing software timeline.
    • Use software editing tools to fine tune the cuts between clips. Pay particular attention to the flow and pace of the audio file; does your story hang together and move at an appropriate pace? You may need to re-arrange some of the video, to make the audio flow more successfully.
    • Once you have the story line flowing well in the audio, add the photos to the timeline to coincide with their respective stories. You can also use them to cover the inevitable filming blips that occurred.
    • Add whatever titles and captions you need to help the viewer understand the subject, time and place of the events.
    • Add music, if desired, to the beginning, end and/or entire movie. Make sure the music volume doesn't render the story teller difficult to understand.
  4. Once you are satisfied, back up your finished movie to a mini-DV tape, and then use your software to create DVD format files.
  5. Burn your finished movie to a DVD.
  6. Store the DV tape in a safe place; the DVD format may fall from favor, and the mini-DV tape will likely be a better format to migrate to whatever is next in the movie technology field.

video-memoir-process-cdObviously, there are many choices to make at every point in this video memoir process, and your specific filming and editing options depend on your specific technology configuration. Adapt these steps to your set-up, and you'll have a good idea of what is involved in going from idea to life story DVD.

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