Friday, December 18, 2009

D.I.Y. Personal Documentary

Since the main purpose of this blog is to explain our video biography service, I will talk a lot about the production process in terms of how it works if you hire us. I understand that a lot of people who stumble across our website ( or this blog want guidance on how to create a family documentary themselves.

As much as I think that hiring professionals will be worth it to you in the long run because the investment you make now will pay you back for decades to come, this is not brain surgery. You're not going to harm anyone if you try to do it yourself.

We will share ideas on this blog that can help you and I will sometimes include information aimed specifically at the do-it-yourself-er. Everyone should make some video record of their parents' lives and stories. Ideally they will hire us. But if they can't, something is better than nothing. And maybe later down the road those home movie interviews can be used as part of a higher quality production.

The first thing you want to do is read the previous post about the pre-production (read: homework) you should do before you do interviews.

Then make sure you have the right equipment.
  1. External microphone
  2. Tripod
  3. Lights

Well, yeah, you'll need a camera, too, but you'll likely be getting by with a home video camera so I won't try to specify what kind.

EXCEPT: It must — must must — have a jack for an external microphone. Viewers can forgive less than perfect video but they will not tolerate not being able to hear. The built-in mic even on the best cameras will not record good enough audio.

Then you want to get a clip-on mic (technical term: lavaliere mic). You'll want an extension cable for it too. The one I got with my first camera years ago cost about $40 (including cable) at Radio Shack. I used that mic for two short documentary projects that screened at a local film society.

An el cheapo tripod (sorry for the jargon) will suffice for interviews with consumer cameras. But you have to have one. You cannot have an interview that looks like it happened during an earthquake.

You need to adequately light your interview subject. The simplest way to get decent lighting is to use indirect light from an open window to face your subject. Avoid bright backgrounds and keep space between the background and the subject.

Here are a couple of links to articles that explain more about framing an interview:

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