Projects That Pay: Memorial Videos: Gone but Not Forgotten

Memories on video can be treasures
for future generations.

Biography and documentary videos have never been more popular than they are now. As viewers, American’s enjoy watching programs that preserve historical events or tell the stories of famous people from history. Entire cable channels are now devoted to documentaries. Their entire purpose is to tell the stories of well known people from history, sports, politics and entertainment. Productions like these allow you, the viewer, to feel connected to people who may have lived decades earlier and to celebrate the lives of individuals who have impacted the world in which we live. Thanks to the camcorder, documentaries like these are no longer made exclusively about the lives of the rich and famous. Now video hobbyists just like you are creating similar videos for anyone who wishes to have a friend or loved one remembered on tape.

Many videographers now offer a service that allows families to preserve the memory of a dearly departed loved one on videotape. Memorial videos can help families through the grieving process and offer a thoughtful way for them to pass family histories down to future generations.

The goal of any memorial video is to remember the one who has passed. Like funerals, memorial videos are not for the dead, but for the living. Providing those left behind with an opportunity to grieve, remember and pay tribute to the one who is gone.

Photos, Slides and Movies on Tape
A memorial video need not be complex to be effective. Even something as simple as setting special photos, slides or clips from old home movies to music can make for a moving tribute. An arrangement of images like these in chronological order tells the story of a life in a touching way that family members will cherish. Even familiar photos will take on new life as a part of this type of montage. Simply request old photos, slides, movies and videos from family members and arrange them to an appropriate song selected by the family. Regularly more and more regularly families are choosing to show videos like this on monitors as part of the funeral program, recapping their loved one’s life by sharing the video with all who attend.

If you have access to a titler, graphics can be a nice compliment to a memorial video. Titles can bridge gaps between photos taken years apart and highlight events in a loved ones life that were not captured on film. Newspaper clippings, diplomas, wedding announcements and other memorabilia also work nicely when added to a photo montage.

Personal Testimonies

Personal interviews of people who were close to the departed add to any memorial video. Consider including a series of on-camera interviews of friends and family members. Those who wish to participate should be interviewed in a quiet, comfortable setting with soft light. Encourage each interviewee to talk about the relationship they had with their departed friend or family member. Often a thought shared in the interview by a close friend, spouse or child will spark a similar memory in another person’s mind.

It helps to prepare, in advance, a list of questions to ask each person that you will be interviewing (for ideas see the sidebar that accompanies this story). Go over these questions with the individuals who will appear in your interview segments before you start shooting. Your goal should be to ask insightful questions that will encourage your subjects to tell a story in their own words. Showing your interviewee the questions in advance not only helps the person being interviewed to organize his or her thoughts, it will also help you organize your video. Particularly if you will be editing the final tape.

Try to keep your interviewees on track. Continually direct their focus back to the person they are remembering. When editing, make an effort to keep these interviews relatively short, but use care to not edit out portions that are important to the story.

Many times, family members who wish to share their thoughts about a departed loved one are hesitant or embarrassed to speak in front of a large group of people. A testimony shared on video allows people to share their memories in a non-threatening environment.

Getting Started
Before you try a project for pay, put one together for a friend or member of your own family. This will allow you to test your skills and abilities before adding a price tag. It will also allow you to judge for yourself whether you enjoy making this type of video.

If your first production turns out good, show the video to some funeral directors in your area. Ask them to consider mentioning your services to people making funeral arrangements. If the funeral director likes your product, consider leaving some sample videos that he can give to people who may be interested in having a memorial video produced.

You may offer potential clients a variety of options, ranging from a basic photo montage to a complete video with family interviews. Make them available at different costs to those families who may be interested. Charge a set fee for any additional copies of the tape that the family would like to purchase.

A Memorable Season

One of my most fulfilling projects was a memorial video which highlighted a 1966 State Champion baseball team and paid tribute to the coach who had recently passed away. Although the team members were now in their late 40s and early 50s, the experience of winning a state-wide championship was still a life-defining event for most of them. Their coach was one of the most influential people in their lives. When completed, the video combined interviews with the former players, videotape of a memorial baseball game where the 1966 team played the current high school team (unfortunately they lost to the young whipper snappers), news clippings and yearbook photos (along with other pertinent memorabilia).

The video opened with a montage of titles superimposed over photos, all of which were set to music. The main portion of the video was divided into three major segments: growing up in a small town, the 1966 championship season and memories of the coach. Each baseball player of the championship team was asked to talk about growing up in a small town and to recall their personal memories about the experience of winning the 1966 baseball season. They were then asked to talk about their relationship with their former coach. The result was a moving video that touched all who were involved.

A Gift for the Future
A memorial video, by definition, preserves the memory of a loved one who has passed away. But the truth is that it does much more. A memorial video allows us to travel back through time in our memories to re-live the past. Your camcorder has the power to encourage people to celebrate life.

[Sidebar 1]

Interview Questions
Plan ahead when conducting an interview. Choose questions in advance that are appropriate for the person you will be interviewing. Most people will feel more comfortable if provided with a list of the questions prior to the interview.

  • What was your relationship to him/her?

  • When and where did you meet? How old were you both?

  • What was your first impression of him/her?

  • How did you become friends?

  • Why were you drawn to him/her as a friend?

  • What did you enjoy doing together?

  • What is your fondest memory of him/her?

  • How would you describe him/her as a person?

  • What one thing will you miss most about him/her?

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