Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Faces of America

PBS is running a series called "Faces of America," which trace the family histories of Americans from a variety of backgrounds. Below is an excerpt of one featuring Olympic figure skating gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi. These are essentially personal documentaries of public people.

Read more about her and see more clips here. One thing that struck me as I watched was how much learning her family's history meant to her. She got emotional as she heard details of her maternal grandfather's service as a Japanese-American for the U.S. in World War II.

These kinds of video biographies are the same ones we produce. We find the evocative moments of people's life stories. And the effect of watching the story of your parents, grandparents or even your children will be the same that Ms. Yamaguchi had.

Maybe you don't have the star power to bring PBS crews to your house but if you're American, you could be a face of America, too. You don't have to be famous to have an interesting story to share about your life, that of your loved ones or your ancestors. Explore more at our website

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Video Biography News Release

A local publication called the Osprey Observer arrived in my mailbox the other day. Most of its news stories read like news releases submitted by local businesses. So I wrote a news release and submitted it, hoping the editors would find it useful.

If people will spend thousands of dollars on a casket, John McQuiston wondered, would they invest a similar amount in something that will keep a part of them alive?

“A video biography is not something you do for yourself,” McQuiston says. “It’s something you do for your children and grandchildren. When you’re not around to tell your story in person, this will be how you do it.”

That thinking inspired McQuiston to form the Philip Randolph Parker Company. The Riverview-based company produces documentary videos that tell people’s life stories. These stories incorporate interviews, family photographs, home movies and stock footage of historical events and culture as well as professional shooting, scripting, narration and editing to form polished video documentaries like those seen on PBS, A&E and the History Channel.

“This goes far beyond family photographs, journals, diaries and even home movies,” says McQuiston. “This is something people will want to watch time again and will only become a more treasured keepsake as time passes.”

Prices range from below $1,000 for small (5-10 minutes long) projects to more than $7,000 for full-length life story documentaries, which generally run 40-50 minutes long.

Shorter projects can tell the story of a couple’s courtship or a child’s early years, highlight the career achievements of a corporate executive, or show off a high school athlete’s skills to college recruiters.

McQuiston worked as a news, sports and feature reporter for television stations for nearly 20 years and still does freelance work for stations in the Tampa area. His broadcasting experience helps separate the Philip Randolph Parker Company's product from other companies offering personal history, family documentary or video biography services.

“I know how to put people at ease so they forget about the camera and focus on talking to me,” McQuiston says. “People don’t have to deliver monologues. We have a conversation and worry about fashioning it into a story later. It’s really easy for the subjects.”

The company’s website ( features numerous examples of the company’s work, lists prices and includes a link to a company blog McQuiston writes as well as a contact page where you can request any information about the personal documentary process or the company and its services.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cost of Casket vs. That of Life Story Video

I mentioned this in passing in a previous post but it deserves more consideration. As we try to explain the value of preserving your life story (or that of your parents or even your children) in a video biography, some people struggle to see past the immediate cost to the long term return on their investment.

Here's the thing. A funeral casket can cost anywhere from $2,000-10,000 — or more. Even discounter Wal-Mart, which now sells caskets on its web site, has nothing cheaper than $995 and one goes for $3,199!

That's just for the box. Those prices don't include any of the other funeral costs. And people don't blink at paying them. Maybe they figure this is part of how they'll be remembered, part of their legacy.

My challenge is to explain to people who will spend thousands of dollars on a box that their family and friends will see one time before it is buried underground forever that something that those same family and friends can see time and again whenever they want — something that keeps part of them alive — is worth a similar investment.

I am biased, I admit, but I certainly believe it is. When you see your story, or the one you have told about your parents, I am sure you will agree that you could have done nothing better to preserve someone's legacy than having their life story preserved in a personal documentary.

Our website has examples of our work so you can judge for yourself.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Contacting Us

We may be having some trouble with the contact form on our web site. I get an error message when trying to use the form from my phone. I'll try again when I can get to a computer.

Meantime, if you have similar trouble, you can email me directly at john at personal-documentary dot com. (I avoid using regular email syntax hoping to escape notice of spam bots.) You can also call or text me at 813-531-5604.

To keep in touch with us you can follow us on Twitter @LifeStoryTeller. In a pinch you can send us a direct message there or leave a comment here on the blog.

We don't mean for it to be an ordeal to contact us. If you have tried without success to reach us, I apologize.