Choosing Your Video Biography Playback Options

It was the mid 1960s. I was nine years old, and about to dig into a hefty slice of chocolate cake at my cousin’s birthday party.

“Act natural!”

I looked up, and for a split second I saw my uncle balancing a Super 8 movie camera attached to a metal bar bristling with lights. He flipped a switch, and suddenly it seemed as if I was looking directly into the sun. I waved and smiled, hoping against hope that the heat radiating from that nuclear glow wouldn’t melt my scoop of mint-chocolate chip ice cream. After a few seconds, the ordeal ended. As red and purple spots danced in front of my eyes, my uncle moved off to find other victims.

For years, the only way to watch my painful attempt to “act natural” was to set up a movie screen and projector, thread the film over the sprockets, turn off the lights, fire up the projector and roll the film.

That’s all changed now, of course. The miracle that was VHS (and, for a while, Betamax) videotape has given way to a plethora of video formats. Great for the consumer, but an ongoing challenge for those of us who create and distribute video, including video biographies, and who want to meet our clients’ needs for convenient viewing options and secure storage.

Most of the work that goes into creating a legacy video is the work that’s needed to, well, create the video. Once the program is finished, your personal legacy video can be delivered in any number of ways. Here are some of the most popular options currently available:

DVD/Blu-ray Discs

There are some who say DVD and Blu-ray discs will be the next video technology to fade away. While disc-based playback (including audio CDs) competes with many other playback options these days, it’s not about to go extinct anytime soon. Here’s what a representative from a company named Primera (admittedly a business that sells discs and disc duplicators) recently said on the subject: Our main customers are recording studios, video production houses, churches and schools, government and military – all of whom still use lots of discs to distribute and archive content. For example, wedding photos and videos are almost always still put onto discs. Brides don’t seem to trust flash drives or the cloud for such important content! Also, bands still sell discs at gigs. It’s really the only way to sell content on-site. Sure, they’ll RIP the disc to their iPhone when they get home. But at least the band got the sale, which they likely wouldn’t have if they simply said, “download us online when you get home.”

DVDs (for standard video) and Blu-rays (for high-definition video) offer long shelf life (as long as you use high-quality discs and don’t abuse them). Custom navigation (menus that allow you to play the entire video biography or select which chapters you’d like view) is a terrific feature. Plus, the package can feature beautiful artwork. So from the legacy video itself to the final package, clients receive a unique and custom video keepsake.

That being said, you need a standalone player connected to a TV or a computer with DVD and/or Blu-ray capability to play the discs. And, like anything physical, they can be lost or damaged.

Video Files on External Drives

I recently worked with a client who viewed video only on a Mac laptop that didn’t have a disc drive. For this client, the choice was video files on an external drive, in this case a USB flash drive. The storage capacity of flash drives has skyrocketed in recent years, so finding one to fit even a high-definition video biography file is not an issue. Fortunately, there are many high-end custom-printed USB drives and storage boxes available today. While we can’t fit nearly as much printed information on the face of a flash drive as we can on the insert for a DVD case, a personal flash drive can now boast a very elegant appearance.

An upside to a flash drive is the ability to easily copy the files to other computers and drives. A downside is that you can erase a flash drive. So be careful! I recommend making additional copies for safe keeping.

Online Video Services

If the audience for your video is spread over the U.S. or the globe, you might want to consider posting your video biography to an online service like Vimeo. You will be charged annually for hosting. But, you can create a private account that will keep your legacy video away from the prying eyes of the public. You’ll have a link you can share only with those who you want to view the video. This could also be a great option if you want to be sure that younger generations of your family, addicted as they are to their mobile devices, will be able to watch you tell your life stories for years to come.

One caution: Don’t make an online service the only repository for your video biography. No matter how secure they’re advertised to be, servers can crash or get hacked and companies can go out of business. Even if most of the family will be accessing your video biography on the Web, be sure to squirrel away some physical copies (preferably a combination of discs and external drives) in a secure place, just for safety’s sake. And don’t forget to make sure someone continues to pay for the hosting – you don’t want your account – and your legacy video – deleted!

How Much Does A Video Biography Cost?

I am going to let you in on some pricing secrets in relation to video biographies or “family history documentaries”, as they are sometimes known. How much should you expect to pay and what can you hope to get for your hard-earned video biography money?

Video biographies are gaining in prominence as a feature item for an anniversary, reunion or a significant birthday. Often there is no such occasion, just a desire to capture Mom or Dad’s stories, or some family genealogy, before it’s too late. As a recent survey by Allianz Insurance discovered:

“Eighty-six percent of boomers (age 47-66) and 74 percent of elders (age 72+) agree that family stories are the most important aspect of their legacy, ahead of personal possessions (64 percent for boomers, 58 percent for elders) and the expectation of inheritance for financial well-being.”

So, if you are reading this, you probably need no convincing about the importance of a video biography (or “family documentary video” if you prefer that terminology) and you are starting to get serious. But how much does a video biography cost? No point asking for something you can’t afford, right?

The price of a video biography? Pretty much whatever you want. (Wait! Don’t run away. I am going to blow up video biography “omertà” and give you actual market prices, just hang in there). But I do have to say that the price or cost of a video biography will depend on the features you would hope to include. Makes sense, right? But even better than that, it needn’t cost a penny.

The Zero Dollar Video Biography Pricing Option

The most important part of any family history project is to just get started. And you should never let funds stop you from starting – these are projects of passion, not cashion (if you get my drift). And you actually can do quite a good job on your own.

You will need a decent video camera (promise me you won’t use your phone or your laptop – unless you really, really have no other options); also the owner’s manual; a lavalier mic.; and a tripod. Oh, and a bright room with no direct sunlight on your subject. There is ample guidance on the web, just try Binging “DIY family history video” to see some of the tips I have given elsewhere and then try “video biography questions”. Your are on your way!

You may not have a family history documentary with this no-cost option, but you have saved a life through video.

The Actual Dollar Video Biography Cost Options

OK, I suspect if you are still reading then your have in mind to contact a professional video producer. How much will that set you back?

First, let’s distinguish between an amateur or friend; a wedding videographer and a family history professional.

Family History Videos By Friends and Family

An amateur or friend kind of fits into the “Zero Dollar Video Biography Pricing Option”, but they might charge you three or four hundred dollars for their equipment and their time. Or if not, you should think about paying them anyway. This should be especially so if in addition to interviewing and filming, you are going to ask them to ingest the video, edit it just a bit, and output it somewhere.

This stuff is fiddly and time consuming and it’s really not fair to ask them to do all that for free. Also, if you decide to rely on their best intentions you may find that delivery of the finished product gets a little held up!

Family History Videos By Wedding Videographers

This can be a pretty good option, especially if you are prepared to work closely with the videographer in relation to setups, questions, images and the like. A number of wedding videographers are attracted to family history video work because it allows them to film during their relatively quiet weekdays (weddings are shot, almost always, on weekends).

Most reputable wedding videographers who have been in business for – let’s say 5 years – really know their stuff. They can shoot with multiple cameras, know all about lighting, often have dollies and cranes, a modern editing suite, and are almost always terrific still photographers, and usually do great audio.

Now, you may not need all of their core talents (intimate knowledge of the tried and tested wedding and reception stages, wedding slow-pans, rack focusing from flowers to the bride’s mother etc). And they may not have lit, miked, and shot a video biography interview before. Perhaps check to see if they have much in the way of oral history training and have access to the institutional resources and knowledge base of a group like the Association of Personal Historians. But they are almost certain to be personable (hey, they are still in business in a very tough industry) and will not frighten grandma! And as I said, they really know their equipment and can be highly trained.

My best advice? Try to get the main person who owns the shop to do the work. And keep in mind the features and options I will cover below. Keep in mind too that wedding videographers often have a decent size crew of part-timers for weddings and sometimes use goodly folks like fire fighters for “second or third camera”. No disrespect to firefighters, but for something as important as a video biography you want the very best they have (which might actually be the firefighter).

You can expect to pay around $3,000 or $4,000 for a decent wedding videographer filming for the best part of a day and doing some solid editing, image work, and delivery on BluRay, DVD or hard drive (maybe more, or even less, depending on the features you require). And here’s the thing: it will almost certainly look absolutely fabulous (an unhappy bride’s mother is an unhappy client!).

Family History Videos By A Video Biographer

Specialist video biographers are not more or less expensive than a wedding person, we are all professionals after all with cost structures and overhead and the expectation that we get to feed our kids! By and large, for the same work, our charges should be similar.

But where video biographers may part company with wedding videographers is that they are likely to include a little more. Some of these features include:

Length of fully edited final product: The longer the finished product, the higher the price. Editing and creating non-interview content is time-consuming. Also, video biographers tend to prefer a longer finished product – reasoning that this is important family history!

Time spent in pre-production: The longer the time, the more you will pay. Serious video biographers like to spend 10 hours or much more time in pre-production: meeting the client; meeting the subject; talking to all the kids (to make sure we get the stories they like and remember); doing basic family and ancestry research; unearthing artifacts and sounds; scouting locations and the like.

The number of historical photos to be included and work cleaning up and repairing those images. Not all videographers are formally trained in Photoshop and know how to bring out the best in the images to create a true personal documentary (as opposed to simply showcasing a “talking head”).