Friday, July 29, 2016

Never Too Late To Live Forever

A friend and potential client called me in May. For years she had been saying she wanted to capture her mother's life story before her mother got much older. Her mother repeatedly said she "had nothing important to say". My friend had been pleading with her mother to reconsider, saying her 3 siblings and her viewed the mother's life as one of excitement, turmoil, drama and reconciliation. "You know, Mom, we love you and want to know what happened. How did you and Dad do it with four kids?!?"

With this phone call, I had hoped she was calling to say, "We're ready".

Sadly, she was calling to say Mom had passed away quietly. There had been a flurry of activity to make sure she was comfortable during her last days, and then a week where everyone sat with her and just waited, spoke with her and watched. All the family was there and everyone took turns reminiscing about the good ol' days, the bad ol' days and the odd and unforgettable days that happened in-between. There was much laughter and often sudden sadness when her health took a turn for the worse.

My friend recounted to me a few wonderful tales she had heard about her late father and some of his failed attempts at moving the family out of their old, dilapidated neighborhood. Before they moved to the place where the family lived for the last 30 years, their childhoods were challenging at best. Now, having grown up in a more harmonious environment, they could look back with admiration for his persistence in improving his and his family's lot. I listened patiently when she said she wished she had recorded her Mom's story earlier, or how she wished I could've been there alongside the bed to record it all. It is such a shame to hear this all-too-frequent lament.

I mentioned that while the stories were still fresh and everyone was still around, how about the siblings recording a "DocuMemory"? - a memory biography of sorts. Two days later we were spending a few hours getting all the new info and old clarifications on tape and saved forever. Soon after, we presented the family a living memory movie of the four children's recollections of their beloved mother & father. Accompanied by photos and home movies, this whole-life story motion picture became a custom tribute to a beautiful woman who gave her time, love and determination for her husband and family. Instead of only hearing names and dates and places, the kids created a biography seen from the eyes of the recipients of this this woman's good nature. Each of them mentioned they never consciously felt the emotions that they were feeling now. One quoted Joni Mitchell's "You don't know what you've got til it's gone..." line. They all agreed they felt a unifying sense of closure and completeness, and were flushed with joy instead of mournfulness.

Though never recorded during her lifetime, the family made sure her story would never disappear. Two of the family members who had rarely spoken to each other for decades were now planning trips with their estranged families to "make up for lost years". The joint tribute brought them closer together once more. We have since received a request for 6 more DVDs because their kids want their own copies to remember "Granna".

It's never too late to honor a life lived. There is an old proverb:

"We each die twice. Once when our body dies and once when the last person who remembers us dies". 

Keeping a life story alive by sharing memories touches everyone's life who knew them or will ever be a descendant of them. They, in essence, live forever.

Don't delay. TimesStories. Always moving.

6 Reasons why a Filmed Life Story is superior to Books.

A printed narrative book is often the first thought when considering saving a life story. It's the way biographies have traditionally been presented, and are valuable in their own right (see the next section below). But filmed stories offer several more dimensions than books:

    1 -    Personality - A filmed biography displays mannerisms and vocal inflections. A book is a transcription of a story and is missing the voice of the narrator. Not to mention their laugh, their emphasis or accent, or the breadth of their smile. As everyone who has used email or texts knows, tone does not convey well through the printed word! (LOL)   
    2 -    Emotions - A filmed biography captures the emotions within a persons' story. It almost impossible to tell a life story without conveying emotion. Books miss that crucial tear being shed when sharing a difficult time, or the joyfulness brought on by a fond memory. Videos allow a view into the soul of a person.   
    3 -    Multi-media. Filmed biographies combine interviews with photographs, researched imagery, home movies, period music, sound effects, and custom graphics creating an educational, entertaining and emotional "you are there" aspect unparalleled by books or audio alone. Think Ken Burns. Images, music and narration drive the epic.
    4 -    Immediacy - A filmed biography can be experienced and shared, now, by many in any location. The entire story can be viewed within an hour or so. A book can take several days to digest. DVDs are easily reproduced and transported. Video formats can also be displayed on virtually all devices these days - iPads & smart phones to name just two. Putting the story on the internet allows the stories to be shared worldwide if so desired. And downloading makes for easy distribution.
     5 -   Range of Ages - Filmed biographies are the medium of multiple generations. A video can be shared across any age group. Most children won't take the time to read a lengthy book until they are much older, usually posthumously, and may miss the bounty of information available to them at an early age while their elder is still around. A movie-length video will hold their attention and provide them the benefits of seeing and hearing similarities they may recognize in themselves. It can be shared by the whole family at once, and moments can be discussed and shared with the subject of the biography while they are still in their lives.
    6 -    Efficiency - Filmed biographies make getting to the story quicker and easier. I've had several clients tell me that they wanted to get their life story book made for years, but knew it was a lengthy process. They wanted to get their facts straight and leave out nothing since it was "going to be in print forever". It was a book, after all. As soon as they had a free week or two. When told of the ease of the video process, how it only took a few hours, and that all they had to do was act naturally, they were inclined to actually get started. The pressure to be perfect was replaced with the ease of a conversation. The thoroughness remained. Every client has been more than satisfied. And the family got the story before it was lost.

Does a book have any value over a video? 6 answers...

It’s fair to say that most clients think of a life story in book form rather than video. I have a bias because my background is in documentary film-making. But I’ve also produced several books.
So which is better? Each format has its strengths and weaknesses. You be the judge.
Here are six areas where books hold their own over filmed biographies:

    ▪    Durability - Books will last. Printed on archival paper and properly stored, books will possibly be around longer than any current digital media. The best “guesstimate” for  DVDs is a lifespan that ranges from 15 years to over 100 years depending on the manufacturing process of the DVD and its storage. But the bottom line is that no one knows for certain.
    ▪    Technological Obsolescence - Print books don’t require hardware to read them. Digital hardware and formats continue to change. There’s a thriving business in transferring old media to current formats. Who out there doesn’t have a box of old videotapes waiting to be digitized? But you can still pick up a book printed a century ago and read it.
    ▪    Specificity - Simply turn a page and specific details can be accessed quickly and re-read repeatedly. Like a reference book. It is consumed. Video requires a temporal experience that requires time. It is served. Different delivery of content.
    ▪    Presence - You can hold a book in your hand. It has weight, texture, and odor. It almost demands that you pay attention. A DVD case, no matter how attractive the labeling, feels  insubstantial.
    ▪    Convenience - Books don't need power or batteries, and you don't have to worry about dropping them.  You can pick up a book and in an instant start reading.
    ▪    Accessibility - An attractive Life Story book set out on a coffee table invites friends and family to pick it up. Unlike viewing a video there’s no need to set up equipment. But it's usually a solitary experience.

Don't limit yourself to one format...

Books are great if you, alone, want to delve into someone's story. Videos provide the same narrative intimacy, but can be shared collectively. Books are consumed individually. Films are served and experienced, by one or many. Often, our clients request both a video and a book. The book's narrative is derived from the transcription of the recorded video tapes, so the content is the same. Just the delivery method varies. Nothing is sacrificed with either format, just the way it is processed.

Consider having a video AND a book made, or at least a printed photo album that presents all the images used in the video as a coffee table accompaniment. Then folks can quickly browse the family images before, during and after the video!

Ultimately, the choice of investment is yours. The only cost is not doing it. These are testaments to a life lived, a generations worth of experiences, decisions, resolutions and discoveries that will vanish if not preserved. Heritage is what you inherit. Legacy is what you provide to the next generation.