Personal History Recordings
We encourage everyone to record family histories and/or oral histories of individuals that bring a personal perspective to organizations. Viewpoints and connections from a personal point of view brings history alive. Individuals and organizations can videotape their own family members or organization members at almost zero costs. Or we offer a do-it-yourself kit you can rent. And we also offer our complete professional services.
Personally, I waited too long long to start my own personal history interviews. I recorded my dad just days before he died. He talked about growing up alone and putting himself through high school while renting an apartment from an aunt. He told about sweeping out a barbershop and delivering newpapers to pay for his rent and his food. He ate stale bread from a glass with milk and sugar for breakfast. He mentioned a wild story of being kidnapped as a child and of watching two torpedoes churning the water as they missed his tanker in the South Pacific during World War II. I would have giving almost anything to ask him more questions. I missed my mom's interview completely, but I am traveling to Alaska this summer to videotape her younger brother, the last of the siblings. I am really looking forward to the opportunity of recording his stories about his life, my grandparents, my mom, and my dad.
In addition to the joy interviews can bring to their families while everyone is full of life, interviews like these can be used as a core for Celebration of Life/Reflections to be played at funerals, reunions, and other celebrations.
I remember receiving a call many years ago concerning the very first Celebration of Life video that I produced. The widow had called the funeral home to find out who the producer of the video was. I answered the phone and she told me that she had been feeling really depressed the weekend after the funeral of her husband, but had then taken our video and watched it in her bedroom. She said she laughed and cried and felt so much better after viewing the video. Her thanks brought a tear to my eye.
The first personal history interview I produced was of Helen Mader, founder of Christmas House of Tacoma/Pierce County. She talked about her childhood growing up on a ranch near Stockton, California, her life married to a missionary in China, meeting Madame Chiang Kai Chek and dining with her and the Generalissimo of the national government of the Republic of China (ROC). Afterwards she laughed and said, "I've told you stories I've never even told my children." They were wonderful.
Please, don't miss interviewing the people you care about. The stories are rewarding. Please, take a look at the articles listed above and see what other people have done about personal histories.
Comments on Personal Interviews
Advantages of Personal History Interviews:
Human, first hand, immediate, anecdotal
Uncovers feelings and interpretations, not just facts
In telling stories the names of people, and places crop up and lead to new directions
Fills in gaps where other documentation is lacking
Can provide perspectives from the grass roots
Hints/suggestions for Personal History Interviews:
Avoid yes/no questions
Have your interviewee make it specific
Get them to tell their story, not say what you want them to say
Avoid biased questions
Be ready to ask questions based on what you learn - follow up
Be ready for the unexpected
Know when and whether to interrupt
Build trust in interview; save harder questions for later
Towards end of the interview, ask opposing viewpoints
Things to consider about interviewing:
Your involvement in interview is to steer, prompt, encourage, stay out, monitor tape
Clarify points necessary to anyone listening
Use silence. Don't be afraid of it. You don't need to jump in with the next question.
Take notes (spelling, unclear points, points to come back to)
Suggestions for Interviewing On Your Own
Here is what is needed:
A camcorder recording at the highest resolution.
If possible use a lapel mic (you can purchase at Radio Shack for around $30.00). Generally, only the more expensive "professional" camcorders have an input for an external mic, however.
If you cannot use an external mic, then position your camcorder five feet or closer to the person you are interviewing.
Do not record the subject with their back to a window or a busy background.
A well-lit setting is good, but try not to rely on flourescent lights, which can give you a greenish tint.
If your camcorder has a "white balance" switch press it and the camcorder should self-adjust to the lighting situation.
Always use a tripod.
Frame the subject as close as possible, but leave some room for head and body movement. If the person makes a lot of hand gestures, then make widen the view on the camcorder monitor to see the gestures.
If you are competent with the use of camcorder and tripod, you might zoom in and out for a different look between shots. Don't ever attempt zooming during comments unless you are skilled. Most times it's best just to set your camcorder and tripod, make a few adjustments and then leave them alone.
If you are asking the questions then you should sit beside the camcorder so the subject looks at you. They do not need to look at the camera, but if you are close to the camcorder it will look like they are addressing the camera, which is perfect.
If you have other people around asking questions, make sure they are also close to the mic on the camcorder or the lapel mic, so they can be heard.
Before you begin taping, you should have your tapes and cases labled. Tapes all look the same and people become easily confused trying to figure out which tape is which.
Personal histories are never exact. When people are telling their stories, they may get some facts wrong. Live with it. If you know that something was not correct, you may use that information as part of the next question. Interrupting people as they are trying to remember as they tell a story can destroy the moment. Go with the flow.
Never stop recording until you are sure the subject has stopped remembering and speaking. I like to let the camcorder run on for a couple of minutes after the last question has been asked. Sometimes this allows you to capture a treasured memory, that otherwise you might have lost.
At the end of the interview take the disk out of the camcorder and put it into it's case. If you are familiar with scan disks, you might slide the little tiny lever closed on the disk itself, which will protect the disk from being recorded over.
Once you have the video recorded you should put it away in a safe place. You can also have copies made of the tape on DVD. YOu can also have the tapes transcribed. You can also edit in your computer if you have any type of editing software. Before doing anything else I would recommend saving the contents of the disk on a hard drive, so in case something happens to the disk, you always have a copy.
Professional Personal History Video Interviews - $895.00
I have conducted hundreds and hundreds of interviews on video. Putting people as ease is part of what I do. Getting people to talk is always the goal. Working with family members we will put together a comprehensive list of questions to start off with and then follow the threads of conversation and ideas.
Here's what you get for the professional service:
Use of a professional video camcorder with experienced operator/interviewer
Up to a two hour recording session on Scan Disk
Editing of video down to approximately 20 minutes
3 DVD copies of the entire interview
3 DVD copies of the edited version
Additional DVD copies can be purchased for only $5.00
We can also have the interview transcribed for you and sharing
Although based in Tacoma, Washington we have videotaped in Seattle, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Oregon, Texas, across Washgington, and Micronesia. Our productions have been broadcast internationally. We have produced television shows for both broadcast and cable-TV. Need assistance in creating a great website with video? Check out Public Doman for website development and marketing.
For more information call 2537596639