Family or company history videos may be a lucrative, untapped market in your area.

This month we are giving an idea away, as the marketers say, absolutely free and at no obligation. This free idea is one for a product that you, as a video professional, should be able to use immediately with tools you already have. All you have to do is read on and the idea will come to you, like the proverbial light bulb clicking on above your head.


One of the aspects of the video business that can be tough to define is the product itself. What are we selling? Can you answer that question in one sentence? I can’t.


But I’ll try: I sell the service of video, from start to finish. If my client has a need for a communications tool in the video medium, I can research the particular subject, put it into a script form, hire a crew, direct the shoot, make the edit decisions and get the copies made of the final product. That’s the answer in two sentences, and one is a long one.


Although most video projects have most of the common attributes described above, this is where the similarities often end. A video created to sell a set of socket wrenches has a totally different feel and purpose than a music video for a rock band. (But the purpose is similar, both videos are selling something.)


Selling the service of creating videos means that each client has to learn what you do and also learn to trust that you really can do it. This can also be tricky if the client is looking for a type of video that you haven’t actually produced before…


“As you can see from my demo tape, we have a wide range of experience.”


“Yes,” the client says, “very impressive. But I’m looking for a producer who can create a video about artificial insemination in iguanas. Have you done that before?”


“Well, actually–no.”


“I feared as much.”

Get Productive

One way to avoid this embarrassing situation is to sell a product rather than a service. This product can be a side item that you push when the service side of your business is slow, or the product can be your primary source of income.


What’s the difference between a product and a service? McDonald’s sells burgers–that’s a product. You can buy a burger under the Golden Arches in your home town or in Des Moines and you know what you’re going to get. You’ve been pre-sold, probably by earlier visits to similar restaurants and also by advertising. You don’t question the purchase (unless you have recently become a vegetarian) because it’s a no-brainer.


When you hire someone to clean your office, you are buying a service. The cleaning company may have a good reputation and they may have done a good job for you before, but does that automatically mean they will do so again? The people doing the actual work may quit and their replacements might not do as good a job, or they might not know how you prefer to have your trash can liners tied up in a bow.


If you create a product and market it effectively, your potential customers will know in advance what they are buying and will have made the buying decision before they contact you. A sweet deal, but first you need a product.

What’s the Big Idea?

And now, as promised, Videomaker Magazine is going to make you a present of an idea for a product. How can we afford to do this? Because an idea is simply a first step, the hard work is making it profitable.

Here’s the idea: Video Histories. You’re welcome. What? You want more than that to go on? Well, all right.


We will break the product into two categories (you may think of others if you like): Family Histories and Company Histories. The first category is, naturally, for everybody and their dog and the second is aimed at the professional world.


In the simplest form a family history can be created in this way. You go to the house of the subject (we’ll call them Mom and Dad). You set up your camera and put microphone(s) where both your questions and Mom and Dad’s answers will be captured on the tape. You set up a pleasing two-shot of Mom and Dad and roll tape. You ask questions and as Mom answers, you zoom in on Mom. When Dad answers, you pan to him. If they talk to each other, you pull out to a two-shot. This is an oversimplification, but the point is clear–making video histories won’t really tax your equipment or talent. For many videomakers, that’s good news.

Any Questions?

The most work that you have before the shoot is the preparation of the list of questions. If you don’t have any training in this area you might want to hire a writer (a reporter for your local newspaper would be a good candidate) to help you. If you do want to do it yourself, you will need to think like a journalist.


For each period of Mom and Dad’s life, you will need to answer the classic questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Where were you born? What were your parent’s names? When was this? Where did you grow up? How did you live? What did your father and mother do for a living? And on and on.


To be an effective interviewer, you also need to listen and be ready to abandon your prepared questions at any moment. Did Dad just say that his father was a pirate in the South China Seas? Find out more about that subject and encourage Dad to tell you any stories that his father told him about these adventures. When this vein of gold has played itself out, you can return to your prepared list.


Before the interview session, you should have a family member who isn’t going to be interviewed take a look at your questions. This person will probably steer you away from any questions that might be painful or embarrassing (this isn’t news, after all, but entertainment). This person will also be able to point out any important subjects that you have overlooked.

Visible Means of Support

If Mom and Dad (or the folks who are paying for the history) want a more complex product, you will be happy to give it to them. Gather all the visual information that is available–pictures (which you should transfer to videotape at Mom and Dad’s house to avoid the risk of loss or damage), old movies, drawings, paintings and documents (which we will talk about in a minute). If you’re going to transfer silent movies, set up the projector and record the comments of the interview subjects as you capture the film onto videotape-you do the film-to-tape transfer and get valuable voice over at the same time, which means less editing later.


You can use these visuals in editing to support the audio. Dad talks about Granddad’s larceny on the high seas and you edit in a photo of the old salt in his pirate uniform. Mom talks about sis and how she was a huge baby and you show the birth certificate showing the tonnage.


If Mom and Dad are getting on in years, they might need a little help in keeping the facts straight. Have the family historian on hand for factual verification. Also have Mom and Dad gather records, wedding invitations, newspaper clippings, birth certificates, report cards, scrap books and other documents that will jog their memories about the past. If possible, have your subjects put these documents in chronological order. This should keep them on some sort of timeline during the reminiscing process.

The Company You Keep

You can use the same kind of procedures to create video histories for companies. These videos could be used by the company during employee orientation sessions or for presentations in the community.


You probably won’t want to go into an interview session with the CEO of a company without doing some research first. You could go to the local library and search the microfiche for newspaper stories on the company through the years, or you could have someone at the company gather old annual reports, brochures and sales material dating back to the dawn of the business.


The more interviews you can get with people who have been with the company for many years and former presidents and CEOs will help flesh out your presentation.


For visual interest, ask for photos (with explanations of what you are looking at), films, slide shows, newspaper clippings, magazine articles and awards.

Different Levels of Complexity

What price tag should you hang on your product? That will depend on whether the customer chooses the bare bones (question and answers only) version or the bells and whistles version. The latter will have titles supered on the screen, questions edited out and replaced by voice over, answers edited down to only the interesting parts, photos and other visual edited over the audio.


Actually telling you what you should charge for your product is a little like telling you what name you should give one of your children. You are the one who has to live with the decision.


Do some analysis on how long a question and answer session will take. Charge for this time plus a set fee for the service of knowing what questions to ask and for the interviewer’s time. This will be your base price.


Create a price sheet that shows the extra costs for extra work. For 20 photos transferred and edited into the history, add X dollars. For music under selected parts of the video, add X dollars. For transferring Super 8 movies while the folks talk about what they are seeing, add X dollars. As you can see, the total can quickly add up to $XXX, so let your customers know exactly what they are getting for their money.

Have We Got A Deal For You

When are you more likely to buy a present for someone, George Washington’s birthday or Christmas? Anyone? The point being-there are certain times when people are ready to buy. Whether they buy a video history or a commemorative gold watch will depend on how well you sell your product. Here are some special occasions that may help you get your foot in the door.

  • For families set up a group of interviews during a family reunion. A reunion takes a lot of logistic effort on the part of the family coordinator to find a time when everyone can be in one place at one time. What better moment to get each person’s take on the family history? There is also plenty of interesting footage of all the kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and, of course, the dog.

    Special wedding anniversaries (25th, 50th) are a perfect time to do a retrospective of the couple’s life together so far. For this type of history, you could sell the children on the idea and create the show without Mom and Dad’s participation. Interview everyone else about them and put the show together with voice overs and music. Then surprise the happy couple with a video presentation at their anniversary party.

  • For companies A company will often pull out the stops for major anniversaries (100th, 50th). Such milestones show the company to have an impressive track record and also gives management a chance to show what they have in mind for the future. These videos can be sent out as press releases or shown at company functions.

    A retrospective of a company bigwig–such as a president or CEO–is a natural at the retirement of said bigwig. This video history could show how the business has prospered during his or her tenure, and is usually more fun for the crowd to look at than a commemorative plaque.

The Product of Hard Work

So there you have it–a free idea for a product. You’ve probably noticed that it’s not a particularly easy idea. You have to come up with questions and gather information to create the finished product. And like any product or service, you have to locate your target market and let them know your product is available (through advertising, press releases, word of mouth, door to door selling, direct mail, etc.).


That’s business. That’s what being an entrepreneur is all about. To get there, you can spend time or money. You can sell the products yourself (door-to-door) and spend your time, or you can pay for ads, in which case you spend your money.


Will the idea pay for itself? That’s hard to predict. It depends on your local economy, the effectiveness of your marketing tools, the quality of your product and many other variables. So why should you bother?


Because it might work. And if this idea doesn’t work perfectly, then the next one might. Or maybe the one after that will. There is always a risk involved in business and the video business is no exception. So spin the wheel and pick a number. If you keep playing the game, the chances get better every day. Someday you are liable to win big.


And that, of course, is the real idea.

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