We have come, finally, to the last stage of our family documentary production process.
Over the last four days, I've discussed the first four elements you need to create your family history video biography.
- Part 1: Video and voice recording equipment.
- Part 2: Preparing for your parental interview.
- Part 3: Fixing still photos.
- Part 4: Converting footage from old videotapes.
If you carefully plotted, planned and executed your parental interviews, you may decide to do nothing more than transfer the interview footage to your PC for uploading to YouTube or other video sharing sites or to burn DVD or Blu-ray discs.
But if you're more ambitious, today I present the final step – assembling this mess o' photos and videos into a final production that would make Ken Burns blush.
Editing advice and caveats
If you've never edited video footage before, my condolences.
Editing video is the most grueling, time-consuming, mind-numbing…let's put it this way – I try to avoid it all costs. Figure anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour of editing for every minute of footage.
But there's no question that once you're done, you'll glow with a feeling of accomplishment unlike any you've ever had.
Watch a Ken Burns documentary to get a sense of pacing – how to mix up the varying interview, photo and old video pieces. If you get facile enough with your editing, you can lay interview vocals over a photo or even over video footage. Nothing should be on screen for more than a couple of minutes, a still photo no more than, say, 15 seconds.
As long as your production is for private usage – no selling your opus – you can use any commercially available music you'd like.
A final warning: video editing is not for the faint of heart. Even the simplest video editing program is not nearly as transparent to the neophyte (which is most of us) as their developers think they are. You will get frustrated.
The best way to maximize your time and minimize the technical hiccups is to get all your materials and your production organized before you even attempt to assemble the pieces in software.
Organize your assets
If you've followed my general guidelines over the last four days, you should have in your PC the video footage of your parental interviews, video interviews you may have conducted with family and friends, dozens if not hundreds of scanned and fixed photos, and footage recovered from old, rotting camcorder videotapes. Here's how to organize all this material.
- Make a list of all your production "assets." I suggest a spreadsheet. In Column A, list events for which you have assets – photo or video – in chronological sequence.
- Label the next columns (B, C, D, etc.) by type of assets – Photos, Parent Video, Friend/Family Video, Home Movies, Documents, Music, etc.
- Now in the cells where the row of event/time intersects with the column of type of asset, list your asset.
- If your asset is video, try to include the time in the video in which the clip you want appears and how long that clip lasts (i.e. :44-1:12). If it's a photo, list the photo's file name.
This organizing process forces you to become intimately familiar with all your materials.
Create a production rundown
Once you get all your materials organized, you may discover you're about to produce a 10-hour mini-series. You now want to create a production rundown, which you can edit down to a reasonable length before actually using the video editing software.
- Open another spreadsheet page or tab to assemble a production rundown from all your assets.
- Column A should list each asset – for instance, "title sequence" in Line 1, "clip of mom talking about grandpa" in Line 2, "photo of grandpa" in Line 3, etc.
- Column B should indicate the length of each individual asset.
- Column C should list the total elapsed time of the production, the total time of all assets to that point. So if your title sequence is 30 seconds long and your clip of mom talking about grandpa is two minutes and you leave the photo of grandpa up for 10 seconds, Column C/Line 3 will say "2:40."
By listing each successive asset with their elapsed time, you'll be able to see how long the entire production will last, and you can then edit – remove, rearrange or shorten assets as needed – all before you get to the actual editing process.
(And if you're REALLY facile with Excel, you may be able to figure out how, if you remove an asset, the elapsed time in Column C automatically recalculates the elapsed time. I know there must be a way of doing it, I just don't know what that way is.)
All-in-all, getting your production completely organized will save you gobs of time when you're doing the actual media software editing. You'll waste little or no time trying to figure out what asset to use when and where that asset is located.
Believe it or not, editing all this material into a finished production may cost you nothing but time. Lots of time.
That's because Microsoft and Apple each provide free video editing software.
Microsoft's is called Windows Live Movie Maker. If you are running Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8, you may already have Movie Maker installed.
If you don't you can download it here.
I'm not going to explain how Movie Maker works – as a Mac person, I've never used it. But here are some tutorials, both text and video:
Just be aware there are slightly different versions of Movie Maker for each Windows operating system.
iMovie for Mac
If you're a Mac owner, iMovie 11, Apple's video editing software, should be sitting in your Applications folder or in the application dock – it's a star-shaped icon with a video camera in the middle.
If you don't have it, it'll run you $15 in the Mac App Store, way cheaper than any other alternative.
Apple, of course, provides a plethora of iMovie video tutorials. You can watch an overview of the main and new features here, and you can find eight specific step-by-step "how to use iMovie" tutorials here.
Advanced video editing software
Experiment with the free Movie Maker or iMovie software first.
And instead of diving directly into your family history opus, try to create something only a couple of minutes long, just to familiarize yourself with the process and the software.
By creating something short first, you'll discover what may be lacking in the free software, which will give you a sense of what to look for in the more sophisticated video editing software programs, such as:
- CyberLink PowerDirector 11 Deluxe ($65; 30-day free trial, Windows only)
- Adobe Premier Elements 11 ($100; 30-day free trial, Windows & Mac)
- Nero Video 12 ($30; 15-day free trial, Windows only)
- Pinnacle Studio 16 ($60; no free trial, Windows only)
- Apple Final Cut Pro X ($300; 30-day free trial, Mac only)
As noted above, most of video editing software programs are available for 15- or 30-day free trials. If you plan everything out right, you may find you can complete your production during the free trial period.
Finally, don't edit your original assets. Make copies of EVERYTHING and work from the copies. If you need to start again, make another copy. Never ever work from irreplaceable original copies.
Once you're done, all these programs provide methods of burning your production onto DVD or Blu-ray to distribute to family and friends.
And that's it! Happy family history documentary producing!