In recent weeks as the tragedies of hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastated Texas and Florida, over and over again we heard many of the victims say the first thing they did was to try to get the family photographs to safety. That may be easy if you’ve got a couple of albums. But many of the folks I know have baskets, or boxes, or closets filled with old photographs, videos, movies, and slides. I have an old jeweler’s safe stuffed with them, and that’s probably only about a quarter of what I’ve got. Some of them are my father’s
home movies dating back to the 1930’s. Others are faded black and white pictures on cardboard from my mother’s farm dating back to the turn of the last century. But it’s important not just to save them, but to give them context. Notes, descriptions, names, dates, places. When my brother-in-law passed away a year ago, he left behind albums and boxes of photos, but there were no notes, no references, and so sadly most were chucked. Sad. A loss for my wife and my kids. The first step to protect these memories is to have them digitized, then store them someplace safe. I suggest putting them on both a non-volatile storage medium like a CD or DVD or a solid state drive. I also strongly suggest send them to a cloud storage service so that there’s always access no matter where you are. There are lots of ways to save these assets. You can scan hundreds of snapshots quickly with the Epson FastFoto (model FF-640). If you have larger format pictures or slides you can use a flatbed scanner such as the Epson Perfection V600. Or you can call on a service such as ScanMyPhotos.com which can transfer photos, videos even old 16mm movies.
Okay. So now you have all of these treasures saved for posterity. But does posterity care?Your kids are unlikely to go through those pictures or movies, even with notes. So ask yourself, what do I really want my kids to know about my family, my background, and my life? The key to creating a visual legacy is to start with a story and worry about the assets later. According to Jack Giarraputo, the chairman and founder of UrLife, it’s all about the story. He should know. Before starting this service to bring Hollywood quality movies to your memories, he was a successful producer, making some 30 movies including those with Adam Sandler such as Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. So why go from Hollywood mogul to crafting home movies?
I retired to watch my kids grow up, and as I was the one now following them around with the camera phone, once I captured all the footage, I realized there was no quality option to organize and tell the stories of what I’d just captured. It was all do-it-yourself or robots or algorithms. So, being a storyteller myself, I would film the trip or the holiday and give it off to the editors that I used to work with and pay them a couple of hundred bucks to do a little moonlighting and we came up with a really nice short-form high-quality storytelling package that now organizes all the memories and has a story and context for each one that you could look back at ten or twenty years from now and it’s just amazing like you are reliving the day.
Giarraputo puts it succinctly, “There’s nothing more important than saving memories and that’s why I started this company.”
Many Baby Boomers and seniors have hundreds or thousands of photos, slides, and reels of movies, and boxes of videotape. We asked Giarraputo how someone can put that all together so it will be meaningful to their kids, and prompt them to actually watch. We spoke with him about creating a visual legacy.
He says there are three ways to organize memories so they will be meaningful. He calls them “Back, Buckets, and Babies.”
“Back is looking backward from today, the past. The second is bucket list, Everyone talks about ‘what’s on your bucket list’ but now we can talk about what’s in your bucket. How many of those things have you done and what’s in the bucket.”
In short, he suggests that when you go on that next bucket list trip, you think about how you would make a memorable movie with it. Not just the places but the experiences. So for example, at Jerusalem’s Temple Wall, not just pictures of the wall, but pictures of you and your family at the wall. Then narrative, what did you feel in seeing this, how did the experience affect you? Then he says you’ll have a bunch of things in your bucket that you’ll be proud to show people.
The third item is babies,
If you don’t see enough of your grandchildren, or you live geographically apart, this is a great gift to give to your son or daughter because they get to curate the baby’s memories, or the toddler or the youngster and then you get to see it. So this really started when I did this for my kids for Halloween, Christmas, whatever my grandmother couldn’t be at and I would send to her and she would just watch them forty times and show them to anyone who came in the house and felt like she was watching the kids grow up even though she was three thousand miles away.
But when it comes to looking backward, you have far more visual assets. So how do you put that together to make a meaningful legacy?
There are lots of services and devices that will take your stuff and put it onto digital storage. I think it’s great because it will enable it to not deteriorate. That’s where we come in because once you have it digitized you can call us up and we’re very high touch, we talk to people and we talk about a story and we write down the story of your life and whatever you want to emphasize. Then we look for the media to support that from your archives and we put together a really nice documentary of your life. And it could be five minutes, it could be fifteen minutes or longer. We just charge as much as we have to to pay our editors and keep the lights on, we’re not trying to rip anyone off, we just think its a good business to be in.
If I could, I would tell everyone to go backward and do your origin story, where did the family come from, how did they get here, did they come over on the boat and go through Ellis Island? And that sort of gets you up to date and then going forward you document it all in shorter bursts.
Giarraputo says there’s been a revolution in the way we capture these memories. It used to be you needed to spend a lot of money on fancy cameras, film, developing, etc. But now just about everyone has a smartphone so you can capture those memories without much effort at all. “It’s high def and it’s awesome. It’s a film and video camera. It’s amazing and it’s in our pockets. So going forward we’re going to be capturing everything so we want people to organize the stuff as they go along so they don’t end up with a big unwieldy pile of stuff the way we have it now.”
Giarraputo says that when creating someone’s story it’s not necessary to have all the elements yourself. You can find video, stills, and newspaper headlines about almost any event you may want to reference on the Internet, and he will integrate those into your story. Of course, that also extends to music that conveyed the era as well.
My one additional suggestion is to put you into your story. Get in front of a camera, talk about your experiences, and don’t cover it all up. Let your kids and grandkids not only see you but also hear your emotions, your facial expressions as you talk about the most important events in your life. Make that a part of the backbone of your story. But remember, the way to move this from a pile of pictures to a living memory is to tell your story.