Family Stories

I’ve been working for awhile on a memorial video for my mom who passed earlier this year. I had videotaped her looking at photo albums and I recorded her reactions and her thoughts, but those recordings were never used. I’ll explain why. Back in ’96 I filmed my mom using my Arri 16mm BL camera. This is before I made my feature “Deadly Obsessions“. I thought it would be a good exercise to get familiar with the camera while at the same time putting my mom on film for posterity. I had no idea on how or when I would use this in the future. I even recorded our first Thanksgiving dinner with the family in our small apartment in New York. It was fun and I was trying to do the things that I was taught in film school at Brooklyn College. I bought the Arri BL to force myself into using it. I did, and it was a good idea, but hard and a bit of a pricey experience. There were some problems, but since it was a test run to get me more familiar with the camera I managed to get image and sound. Just a small amount of footage was unusable, but the sound was good. It will always astound me that future generations will never know the butterflies you get when you load film in a changing bag, and the then wait to see your dailies from the lab. In a pure digital realm there are other problems of course like corrupt drives, but loading a film magazine in a changing bag can be a sweaty and nerve wrecking experience. As they say. Practice, practice, and PRACTICE!

I had hoped to make a film about my dad who passed in the mid 90’s. I needed to learn about those early days and since I did not have an interview with my dad on video or film. I would have to rely on people who knew him. My mom was that person. That was the plan, but as usual life got in the way and the film became more about my mom, and how she met my dad and how she grew up after losing her father and then mother. I was glad to have the footage and it is in the majority of the film. I had the footage transferred to VHS and digitized that footage for the film. This was way before digital media, and so I figured this was the better way to see how well I had done. Back when I did the interview hard drives were expensive, and transferring it to digital cost. There is still a bit of a perfectionist in me to have the film transferred to a hard drive now and re-edit the film with better looking footage of her. I may do that just to satisfy the archivist in me, but first I need to find a facility near me that does this or I might just have the lab I originally used to do it. The lab was DuArt films in New York. I’ve used them since I was in film school, and they alway did a GREAT job. Another lab worth noting is ColorLab down in Maryland. I used ColorLab to strike an answer print for my feature, and their also tops in their field. I’ll see how it goes, but first back to the film. I wanted to get the film done in time for my dad’s and moms anniversary in October. I don’t know why, but I gave myself a deadline and that helped me get the film done. It forced me to focus and find a beginning, middle and an end to the film.

I used Adobe Premiere to edit my mom’s film. I was familiar with the program having used it in the past, but now I had to re-learn it and what better way to do that then having a project to finish. I used tutorials on YouTube and tutorials from Adobe. Adobe has a whole lot of tutorials on their website, and when you subscribe to the service you get a whole host of videos to help you navigate and learn Premiere. To say that I learned a lot is an understatement. I’m still in the process of learning the software and have found out that it does way more then it did when I first used it. I edited for over two months to get the footage in order and scanned many old photos to use in the film.

My only regret is NOT filming more of my mom. The DV footage I shot was of little use. I mostly used them to know where and who were in the photographs. I got a sense of how they went chronologically and that’s how I got to know my mom’s history. To say that the DV footage didn’t have any value is not correct. It gave me a better understanding of my subject. But time is your enemy, and if you think you’ll one day do this yourself I would suggest you to whip out your cell phone and start recording your subject NOW! I was fortunate that I recorded my mom when she had most of her facilities and she remembered a lot of what happened throughout the years. I think I did the best I could do, and have been complimented on the film. I simple named it “Irene” and it felt fitting. I could hear her complain about being made a fuss over, but that’s the point. How many of us know our family members and their story. Our parents were young at one time and it was much different then then it is now. With ever death the stories are lost, and those stories need to be told. Each story is a moment in time and I firmly believe that there is a fabric to life that is woven in these stories. It’s as old as sitting around a campfire and talking about our experiences. It’s only when you zoom out and look at the bigger picture that all those stories make sense finally, and through them we see similarities with one another I find that very fascinating. Were not all that different from one another. Good stories are meant to be told. The more real the better.

I have to confess that I was very inspired by Martin Scorsese’s film “Italian-American”. In the film he talks to his mom and dad about growing up in the old neighborhood. It’s a love letter to his parents and better yet it’s a testimony of the love Scorsese’s parents had for each other. I wish I had done this with my parents. Now days it’s even easier to just film people with your cell phone and not use bulky noisy equipment like 16mm cameras, but you need to take the time to do so, and time is what we don’t have. We think we do but we don’t.

The film hopefully is for future generations to look back at. Everyone loves an origin story & we all have them. We may not be rock stars, or famous actors or actresses but we all know people who did extraordinary things. Raising a family is an accomplishment in itself, and maybe finding common connections with one another helps us understand each other better. Because when we understand and know how people grew up we might just find out we have more in common with each other then we realize. By knowing that we may just start talking to each other instead of shouting at one another. At least that’s my lofty idea. Whether it comes to fruition is anybody’s guess. So without further pontification I’ll just let the work speak for itself. I learned a lot from this exercise, and have an idea on doing one on my father, but that entails digitizing old media and putting myself in front of the camera. It’s an exercise that will be challenging, but worth doing.