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Mark Angelo Askew is the author of "Fimark's Family Reunion Planner Guide Workbook and Keepsake" and the founder and director of the Family Reunion Planning Group that established November as Annual Family Reunion Planning Month.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Making Your Family History Documentary Movie

Having done my Family History Research I've accumulated quite a bit of data including video, photos, audio interviews, stories about the old days and music reminiscent of each era. And now it's time to bring it all together in presentation format.

Of the many ideas I've used to record family history one of the most enjoyable is family history documenting in photos and video. That said, I will make a documentary movie of my family history.
This lunch break project just keeps getting better.

While at first I considered attempting to pull this off from scratch using only ideas as they came to me, I later decided to take a more professional approach and learn from the masters of cinema. I closely studied a few well prepared family history documentaries presented by, and revisited some very touching interviews found at Using a few well chosen documentaries of study as a visual/audio template I will script write, direct and produce the movie in similar fashion.

The Script

Using my family history blog compilation which now reads like a biographical novel I will start writing a detailed script of narration dialogue starting from the earliest years of my families history and describe the land, work, political mood, daily routine and social events my ancestors enjoyed. I will gradually introduce the next generation from birth to adulthood describing the land,  daily routine, work, political and social events experienced by each generation up to the present.

Side notes and brackets will include the titles of background music that will be played and interview snippets I will insert along the way.

As I write the script I will predetermine directorial scenes as the following example shows:
Opening Scene - A low lit room as the camera slowly moves toward a vintage living room radio.
Sounds of the radio broadcasts of the day fill the room as the camera slowly sweeps toward framed photos on the mantel.

Audio Narration

As the camera turns toward and moves out of the window a panoramic scene of the bustling city  mothers parents settled into leads into audio narration that begins to tell the family story.

As the narration progresses we slide through photos taken of the houses my mother and father lived in as children complete with street signs and then we progress through images of them as a teenagers. Audio of my mother and father telling the story of how they met, dated, courted and wed takes over.

The number of interviews outlined in the script will translate into quite a bit of dialogue. Watching only the speaker through the entire interview could prove monotonous and downright tiresome. That said, while the interviewee is talking I'll add some breakaway scenes that are descriptive of the subject at hand.

As they talk about their courtship we see video segments of how life was in those days.
Scenes of a local ice cream parlor.
A couple sharing an ice cream soda.
A circus parading down the neighborhood
A television broadcast of a local baseball game or popular entertainer of the day.

Developing and Directing Scenes

When considering the kind of footage to shoot and add to the documentary it's best to start off with some specific ideas regarding location, setting and lighting. When shooting a scene I'll allow those involved to be as relaxed and natural as possible. In some cases I will just raise the camera and let them go about their activities.

I will use similar camera angles, locations, subjects and techniques as in my visual/audio documentary templates to capture the essence of the moment in time being described by the narrator and interviewees.  The following scenes and still life visuals are required for this documentary:

1. Nostalgic era photos such as my parents childhood home, activities growing up, and
their first home after marriage and the day to day activities we enjoyed as a family.
2. Nostalgic era video such as a horse and fruit carriage, a television baseball game, entertainers and other moving pictures of the day
3. Scenes of family gatherings
4. Scenes of weddings, births, showers and graduation
5. Video of feet walking toward destinations being discussed
6. Silhouettes of faces looking out windows
7. Movie segments with scenes similar to settings or situations being described
8. Hand turning through the pages of a family album
9. Hand opening a family keepsake booklet
10. Hands cooking at stove
11. Scenes of engineers using schematics, musicians writing and playing music, trolley drivers,  grocery managers talking to store clerks.

Most of these scenes are already in my Lunch Break Family History Research Files. I have photos and video of family gatherings, weddings, births, graduation, news reels and historic events, Other scenes I will have to develop and shoot myself.

Video Equipment

Much of my video footage can be shot using a smart phone camera or tablet. Consider using some royalty free photos and video where appropriate. Creative Commons licensed video can be found at

As I studied other documentaries I took note of specific desired scenes, music sequences, locations and photo stills I had the equipment and competence to reproduce in my movie.

My family history documentary movie is starting to take shape, life and form. I am pulling it all together using a simple video compiler like Windows Movie Maker.

Background Music

I will use varied genres of background music for interviews depending on the type of story the interviewee is telling. When I'm shooting a spirited bubbly interview I'll use upbeat background music. Something light and jazzy. When it is a more somber and reflective interview I'll use background music that dignifies the mood.

The script will step me through the entire process of documentary movie production from beginning to a bitter-sweet conclusion. Hope you're enjoying your Lunch Break Family History Research project.  Other fun family related projects can be found using Fimark's Family Reunion Planner Social web app. Click the link found below this blog post.

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