Video Navigation is Now Easier!
It's been a long time since I've written a blog post, I know. The last few months I've been so busy with video creation, mostly commercial videos, that my blog has been neglected. Hopefully you didn't get hit by any tumbleweeds in here.
Sometimes the best ideas materialize when you aren't trying. Yesterday I had an epiphany about how I could improve the custom documentaries, but struggled with how to communicate this discovery. I decided against creating a video to explain the concept (my video idea backlog is ridiculously long already), and figured this was a great opportunity to communicate the concept here in the blog. In summary, I found a way to make the documentary videos (averaging 3 hours in length), more accessible and navigable, and thus more valuable.
Suppose we created a beautiful Reflection video for your father, a 3-hour documentary about his life, including his ancestry, childhood, career, family, etc. The video is professionally edited, musically scored and replete with photos to compliment the stories. The video file is delivered to you on the custom flash drive shown below. You open the folder and click on the solitary video file to begin watching.
You're interested in watching the chapter where your father shares the story about meeting your mother, or about his military service or college years. You would open the video file, and because this is not a DVD with chapters, you would have to scroll the timeline cursor to the section you want to watch, looking for visual cues to find the correct place. I already create title screens for each chapter, but you would still have to manually scan through the video timeline to find them. It's inconvenient and burdensome. While I'm proud of the videos I create, this has been the only negative I've encountered with using flash drives (instead of DVDs) to deliver the videos. It's a hassle to find the specific section of a 3+ hour video you want to watch.
Going forward, I am going to provide you with the option of watching the entire long-form video, or individual chapters. This way you can easily find the subject matter you're interested in, and will spend much less time scrolling through the video timeline. The idea is to make the video more user-friendly, accessible and navigable.
Here's how I'll do it. One file will be the completed long-form video, in all of its 3+ hour glory. I will separately edit and render each chapter into a distinct video file with a descriptive file name. If you're only interested in watching the musical introduction, or if you want to see the Reflections chapter (always my favorite), then you can go right to it.
Below is a mockup of what the interior of the flash drive will look like upon delivery to you. I hope this improves the user experience and brings you closer with your loved ones.
Today I am writing about about the power of creating a video to show someone how much you, and others, love them. This is more meaningful than any gift you could buy, or words you could write in a card.
I had the privilege of making two Tribute videos this summer, where people expressed their love for their husband and father. Even better, I attended parties where the videos were presented as a surprise to the "tributee" (get used to it, it's a word now). This blog post explores the experience from inception to completion. I hope it inspires you to take action.
Chris & Angie
Earlier this summer I was contacted by a new friend Angie, whose 13th wedding anniversary was coming up. She wanted me to create a video for her husband Chris, but not his life story. She wanted to create a surprise video for Chris, featuring her, their kids, and his parents, talking about him.
After silencing reflexive thoughts of, "I don't offer that," and "I've never done that before," I realized the idea was brilliant. I said, "Why haven't I thought of this already?"
The first step was coordinating with Chris's parents, who live in Florida, to set up a Zoom interview. Yes, a couple in their 80s managed to use Zoom. We had a video conference for an hour, and they had a ton of material. They were full of stories about Chris's personality, resilience and character. They were a lot of fun to interview, and the tone was perfect.
Something interesting happened at the end of the call. Chris's dad pulled out a birthday card he got from his son, and started reading from it. I let the process flow, but did not know how or if the content would be useable. However, as he continued to read from the card, sharing intimate words from his son that obviously touched him, I envisioned the words on screen as dad talked - subtitles!
The final video contains an outro titled, "Chris in His Own Words," where his dad reads from a couple cards he got from his son. I added soft music, subtitled the words to give them resonance, and faded in and out with pictures of Chris and his parents. It's powerful.
Next I went to Angie's home, when Chris was away, to interview her and her kids. Angie's kids are the same ages as my own, so I felt comfortable asking them questions about their dad. It also didn't hurt that I interviewed my own daughter earlier this year. (You can learn about that project here.)
The kids did great. I spent less than 5 minutes interviewing each of them. I thought it would be fun to have them sit on an oversized bear during the interview. Not only did it help them relax, it made for an awfully cute setting.
Next I interviewed Angie, and got strong testimony about how they met, how their marriage remains strong 13 years later, their parenting and her favorite memories.
I created a musical intro montage, but it was much more than a photo slideshow with a couple title screens. I took some of the most salient comments from Chris's family, like his son saying, "He always supports my dreams," and sprinkled them throughout the intro. That was the easy part. With the intro out of the way, I was staring down four interviews (about two hours total) and a couple hundred photos that had to be condensed to about 30 minutes, something watchable at a party.
Candidly, this project taxed my ability. I thought I was being efficient, but I edited the footage in a way that resulted in more work for myself, not less. Regardless, I created four chapters, covering his childhood, personality, marriage/parenting, and closing reflections. I got choked up watching it, so I had a feeling it would resonate. I'm glad to have been challenged here, because that's where you get better - I certainly did improve. This experience equipped me to handle the next one.
Attending the Party
I attended Chris and Angie's party, along with my wife and kids. Chris and Angie were new friends - I had just met them a couple months prior, and the universe of my knowledge about them was gleaned from what I learned in the Tribute video. The challenge for me was to socialize with Chris, while hiding how much I knew about him. I really struggled when he asked how my business was coming along, especially when he said he would love to have me interview his parents, but doubted they could figure out remote conferencing. I wanted so badly to respond that they did just fine! As such, I tried to keep the conversation focused on common interests, and away from my business. I must have acted aloof and strange.
It was a huge relief when Angie sat Chris down on the couch, with her laptop in hand, and said she had a surprise. She managed to get the video, saved on her laptop, to play on their TV, and it looked and sounded great. Chris was floored that his family took the time to create this tribute to him. I could only imagine how it must feel to watch your wife, kids and parents talking about you with such reverence. No other gift could replicate that feeling. The best reward for me was watching Chris watching his own Tribute video. I also transcribed the video into a book for Chris's parents. (Pictures below.)
The experience inspired me to create a new package. Here is a 1-minute video I created to promote the Tribute Package.
I later met Chris and Angie at a networking event, and delivered their books in person. I was doing videography for the event, interviewing people to create a sizzle reel for a client, and Chris and Angie were generous enough to do a quick testimonial. See below.
I wanted to create a top-shelf package for people who really wanted to go all-out. Instead of creating something new, or just adding more time or photos to the pre-existing Reflection Package, I created a hybrid, the Legacy Package. This is a blend of Reflection and Tribute. You get a 3-hour life story interview, along with a Tribute video (the surprise element is optional.) (You can learn about the package here.) Soon thereafter I had my first Legacy client.
I was contacted by my friend Rhonda to create a Legacy project for her father Terry. Terry is an electrical engineer who has been active in the desert/Baja racing community his entire life, and his 75th birthday was coming up. Rhonda wanted a life story interview (called Reflection) condensed to a short version that could be screened at his birthday party. She also wanted to do a surprise Tribute video, featuring his kids, in-laws and grandchildren.
When I showed up at Rhonda's brother's house for the first round of Tribute interviews, I found myself interviewing 12 people. They were eager to share their memories and impressions, and I realized I was memorializing a special person. The next week I interviewed Terry himself. Because the Tribute portion was a surprise, I had to pretend I didn't know as much about him as I did. I felt like I was attending Chris's party all over again.
The evening of Terry's interview I went to his friend's home, where I had 11 more interviews. I also received recorded testimony from a daughter out of state. I would be lying if I said I wasn't having a mild panic attack about the volume of videos to sort through, including a couple hundred photos.
I whittled down the Reflection interview, 3.5 hours long, to 24 minutes, including a musical intro. Terry's favorite song is Hotel California, so I opened the video with a clip of Terry sharing a memory of listening that song over and over while offroading in Baja in the 1970s. The song then begins, and the video scrolls through old photos of Terry racing in the desert, mixed in with clips of him sharing deep thoughts about his family and the freedom he feels while travelling.
The Tribute video opened similarly, except I used a live and extended version of Hotel California, and showed brief slow-mo clips of the family and friends who participated in the interviews. The soundtrack was live, so it included a cheering audience. The live audience cheering as Terry's family are introduced created a really cool effect.
To keep the video moving and concise, I cycled through each of the speakers, talking about Terry's personality and memories, then the video closed out with each of them saying a personalized message to Terry, right into the camera. Here are a couple screenshots where I had all the participants get together when we were done shooting.
I was also privileged to attend Terry's birthday party, along with about 60 others. (Seriously, you have to respect someone who can rally that volume of people to their birthday party.) I perched myself in the back of the room, so I could watch the crowd watch the video. Terry is in the oversized chair in the middle.
In closing, a Tribute video is a very powerful gift for a loved one. Imagine receiving a surprise video from your spouse or kids, containing testimony from friends and family, coupled with photos and music, all about the impact you have had on their lives. Regardless of whether you use Eternal Roots for this process, I strongly recommend that you look in to doing this yourself.
You can learn more about the Tribute Package here. I'm happy to share some insight if you want to make one yourself.
I love to write, but I've been working on so many projects, coupled with summertime travel and having the kids at home, that I have barely updated my blog once a month. I have been so deep in activity mode that I haven't been able to come up for air to talk about it.
The product offerings at Eternal Roots are constantly updating and evolving. I cleared out a few packages that were redundant/unnecessary, and two new packages took their place.
This package will get (or at least deserves) its own blog post, but a few words must be said here. I worked with a wonderful family to create a tribute video for the husband as an anniversary surprise. I interviewed his parents in Florida (via Zoom) and his wife and kids, having them share what he means to them. I made a fun intro montage for his video, then broke up the video into chapters, with photos spread throughout. I was privileged to be at the party where his wife surprised him with the video, and I got to watch him watch a video about himself. I saw so much value in this gift that I had to offer it for others.
I decided to keep the body of the video, where the subject matter is deeply personal, confidential for the family. It's too intimate to share. However, I made a minute-long video that largely tracks the opening montage. I had a blast working on this project and can't wait for another opportunity. You can learn more about the Tribute Package here.
Here is the promo video I created for the Tribute Package:
Most of my clients have opted for the Reflection Package, which is the three-hour video that results in a video and book. I wanted to create a premier package with something extra, not just extra filming time. I decided to merge Reflection and Tribute, to create the Legacy Package. This includes a three-hour life story interview, coupled with a tribute video, which may or may not be a surprise to the tributee.
Next week I'm starting on my first Legacy Package. I'm doing a life story interview of a family patriarch, and am under a time crunch to get it completed before his birthday party. I'm going to condense the video down to the salient parts, approximately 30 minutes, so the family can watch it together at the party.
I'm also going to be interviewing his six children and their spouses for the tribute portion. Last I heard they're keeping it a surprise. I'm interviewing the children first, so when I interview the patriarch, I will play down the extent to which I know his family. (I'm a lawyer, I'm good at this kind of thing!)
You can learn more about the Legacy Package here.
Moving Client Projects Ahead
My main priority is always moving forward with client projects. I never have "downtime," as I can fill a whiteboard with projects and ideas. However, my default activity is always on the custom documentaries themselves. With so many moving parts, creating a three-hour video with photos, and a transcribed book, the projects needed an efficiency overhaul.
I have created guides detailing every step of the custom documentary process (there are a few dozen), and this enables me to track where every client is and is going next. I am also creating guides for my clients in pdf form, so I can educate them on what to expect at every stage.
I recently finished a project for Fred Harrison. His wife found me in a magazine feature, and hired me for a Reflection interview. Here are some pics of his book.
At the conclusion of Fred's interview I invited him to play a tune on his organ (he plays at his church), and Fred obliged. I like to create musical montages to open the Reflection videos, and decided to use Fred's own organ playing in lieu of a licensed track. I created a chronological slideshow of his photos, and faded in and out of him playing the organ. I sent this to Fred to get him excited about the upcoming video, and it gives me a chance to show the world what I'm doing.
I'm presently working on a project for the Chism family. It's amazing how you can sit down with someone who is so different from you on the surface, but as we get deep discussing life, all kinds of parallels emerge. We had a fascinating discussion about faith, spirituality, philosophy, parenting and personal growth. Here is a screen shot of the book I'm making for him (it isn't printed yet).
I'm working on his video right now. I prefer to do the book first, then the video kind of edits itself because I already know what goes where. The other night I finished the intro montage. Enjoy!
This is the name I'll be using for business promotional videos. When I set out on this adventure I thought I would only be doing life story interviews, and promotional videos for businesses were not on my radar. I started making them for colleagues on my Partners page, and got more detailed and experimental over time. This caused my editing skills to climb, and that crossed over to my life story videos (see above).
I've been talking about Prosperity videos on social media for months now, stating my intention to launch a "package" for it shortly. Something was always holding me back, and I think it was subconscious. I'm now grateful I held off, because this is much more than a "package." There is a multitude of potential offerings here, and it needs to be branded separately from Eternal Roots.
The plan is to create a Prosperity Videos page here on the Eternal Roots website. Eventually I will break it off to a separate website. We'll launch it once my rockstar graphic designer wife Nicole has finalized the logo.
Meanwhile, here are some of the things I've been working on, and these offerings will be available under the Prosperity brand.
Business Promotional Videos
This is where it started. I began interviewing colleagues about their businesses. Nothing fancy. Each time I would add something new and push myself.
Here is a video I made for a caregiver company in Temecula. This is one of the first ones I created. They provide cooking, cleaning, transportation and companionship services for the elderly.
Here is a video I made for a celebration of life memorial planner in Escondido. She really provides a valuable service.
Here is a video I made for an end of life planner in San Diego. She helps people get their affairs in order, which takes the stress off their loved ones.
Here is a video I made for a business optimization coach. We are working together now, and she is helping me streamline my processes and be more efficient, which is exactly what I need.
I am working right now with the business coach referenced above to create a weekly video series where she gives talks on various topics, then does guided meditations. The first four videos are done, but I'm not posting them because Jennifer is going to be sharing them with subscribers only. She starts with a powerful theme, gives personal examples and inspirational quotes, then she goes into a guided meditation. During the meditation I fade between relaxing nature video clips, mostly clips I shot during our recent trip to the Sequoias.
If you're interested in creating a recurring video series for your business, we should talk!
I have multiple upcoming engagements to provide event videography. In general, I will be videotaping the events, conducting interviews, then creating sizzle reels for future events.
Eternal Roots is now a merchant with Trio Rewards, a cash-back rewards program in Orange County. Trio is hosting a networking event next week for its merchants, and I am going to perform videography at the event. My focus will be interviewing the merchants so they can share their projects, and it will become a sizzle video for Trio.
I will also be providing videography for the 1000 Speakers Academy, coming to San Diego in October. This is an intensive training opportunity for aspiring public speakers. They will receive onstage training from acclaimed coaches, and will leave the event with a media kit. I will create sizzle reels for each of the participants, which they can use to promote themselves. I will also create a sizzle reel to promote the second training academy next May.
If you have an event and want to promote it in advance, and have a videographer onsite, then we should connect!
Laguna Woods Media Blitz
There is a 18k population retirement community an hour north of me called Laguna Woods. I'm running a magazine ad in a Laguna Woods publication called Sorbet. The ad is live now, and I'm already getting calls. Next month they will write an editorial about Eternal Roots.
I'm also running a TV spot in Laguna Woods. I created a 30-second ad that will run on several channels and on their message board, and once a month I will come to their morning talk show for an interview. Want to see the ad?
But Wait, There's More!
Reading what I've written above, I'm exhausted. Part of me asks, "am I insane for doing all this?" Perhaps... but I've only scratched the surface here! There's plenty more going on, I'm just too tired to keep typing. I'm too tired to talk about how I've got 200 pages of a book done, which gives advice to law students. That's in the pipeline. I'm too tired to discuss my plan to write a Do It Yourself book, where I teach others how to interview their elders. I'm way too tired to discuss my legal career (I'm a solo practitioner on top of this). I'm also way too tired to get into upcoming podcasts or expos, one of which will feature me as an expert speaker.
But I will end on this - I'm doing a collaboration with Pathe Magazine. They are featuring my DIY series in successive issues in their magazine, but we're starting something fascinating. We are doing a documentary, currently untitled, exploring how humans are more alike than different. In our fractured society, so full of hate and discord, we are going to explore how we are fundamentally alike deep down. I hope it will be a healing salve for the tumult in our society. A promotional video for this project is in the works. We're going to need volunteers to sit for quick interviews, so drop me a line if interested!
In this post I'll explain how I started creating videos on DVD, why DVD was a terrible option for me and my clients, and how I transitioned into producing files on flash drives.
Beginning with DVD
This is a promo picture we shot early on in this project. I'll start this off on a positive note. We initially envisioned creating custom paper DVD cases, in lieu of plastic jewel cases. My wife Nicole is a graphic designer who makes handcrafted wedding invitations (check out her website here), so we played around with some prototype designs. I always loved the label Nicole created for the DVD and it photographed well.
However, we never really settled on how we would package the DVD, and I was more focused on sharing the Eternal Roots message than with packaging. I figured it would work itself out later.
Upon producing my first DVD, I had instant misgivings about using this medium to produce videos. You have to create menu screens and chapter thumbnails. That's a lot of extra time and effort, in addition to creating the video itself. When you think you're done making the video, this extra work is unwelcome. The transcribed book I create is a totally separate time commitment in itself.
The video files are too large to fit on even the biggest DVD, so I had to chop up the video into two files to be burned onto two discs. We then had to print Disc 1 and Disc 2 DVD labels, and multiple discs complicated the packaging process. Even worse, DVDs take forever to burn. My computer whirs loudly like a lawnmower and vibrates while the disc is being written, and I feel like I'm overtaxing my computer if I used it for anything else during the burn. I shuddered to think that one of my recent clients requested three extra copies of the disc for their extended family. I would lose an entire day burning discs! Sometimes discs also turn out to be duds, and they won't play. This means I had to test each burned disc to ensure it worked. This seriously had me questioning the viability of this entire enterprise.
In summary, DVD creation entailed a ton of time and materials, and they were going to become a bottleneck for the entire process. These negatives are just on my end, as the creator.
DVDs are not optimal for the end user either. Most new computers are so thin and light that they do not come with optical drives, so they could only watch the videos in a DVD player connected to a television. Many people own a laptop, but not a television. DVDs are slow and cumbersome to use, and they are vulnerable to scratching and breaking. I would have people calling me to replace discs, and that means more burning for me!
So glad I'm done complaining - now on to a solution!
In early November 2016 I was an exhibitor at a continuing education event for the county bar association (pictured below). The event was for the local estate planning bar, and as an attorney myself, I need to educate this group about Eternal Roots.
I mingled with the other vendors at the event while the attorneys were inside the seminar. I shared my work with another exhibitor named Britta. She initially responded very positively to Eternal Roots, but she candidly said she would be unable to watch my videos because she doesn't own a DVD player, and her computer doesn't have an optical drive. I immediately realized DVDs were not viable for this project, and it only took a few moments to identify thumb or flash drives as the solution. Maybe I should have realized this months ago, but better late than never.
Flash drives are better for the user because they are small and compact, yet more durable than a DVD. They are easier to put in a purse or pocket, and are not prone to scratching or destruction. You pop them into any device that has a USB port, and you're watching the video instantly, without having to navigate menu screens. Even better, you can save the video file to your device, and can upload it to the web, such as YouTube, Facebook, or a website. You can't do that with a DVD.
Flash drives are also better for me because I'm freed from having to create menu screens and burning discs. The act of rendering the video file to .mp4 format takes a fraction of the time it takes to burn a disc. Then I just pop the drive into my USB port and copy the .mp4 file onto the drive. The whole process takes a couple minutes, and I'm spared the noise of disc burning.
I recently saw a catalog of a promotional company - one that puts your logo and name on virtually anything - and remembered that they had custom flash drives available. I figured something woodsy-earthy looking would fit with the vibe of my website, and found a cool model with a faux-bamboo finish. They only had storage up to 8 gigs, and that was way too small for my videos. My sales rep at the company said they couldn't go any higher, and I didn't see other wood options I liked, so I was off on a fresh search.
It didn't take long to find a new vendor that had these gorgeous drives that are cut like little wooden books. I got a quote for 50 units at 16 gigs, uploaded my logo, and this is the prototype they emailed me.
Done! This is it. I requested (and received) a first-time client discount, and the box of drives arrived about a week later. Here's a sexier looking photo of the real thing.
Now I always ensure that I have a flash drive on me because you never know when you'll have an opportunity to share your work with others. I always make a point of showing people these drives when I'm sharing my project, and the drives have made several appearances during podcast interviews. I scrubbed any mention of DVDs from my website and contract template.
The day the drives arrived I posted my first Facebook Live video. I had been phobic of that medium before this day, but my excitement at these drives overrode my fear of recording live. Here is the video I posted.
Since then my videos have increased in size as they increased in complexity. I started adding more photos and a musical montage intro. I started using chapter title screens to compensate for the lack of a DVD menu. The last video I produced was in excess of 19 gigs, so my 16 gig drives were suddenly obsolete. I re-upped on another order of the same drives at 32 gigs, so I have plenty of space (for now).
The moral of the story here is you need to stay humble and coachable, and be receptive to the input of others. I had to check my ego and be open to critical feedback. As a result, I upgraded the product my clients receive, and I can hand out the drives as promotional gifts. It's a win for everyone!
This year I had the privilege of working with the San Diego County Bar Foundation's (SDCBF) Distinguished Lawyer Memorial (DLM) program. This is an annual ceremony where recently deceased attorneys and judges are recognized by the legal community and given a permanent plaque in the county courthouse.
I have known about the DLM program for much of my career (I'm an attorney in San Diego), but candidly, I hadn't paid much attention because I was a young lawyer and had no connection with the inductees. (I also didn't own a custom documentary business in the years prior.) That changed this year, as I had the opportunity to collaborate with the SDCBF on this year's program.
Be sure to read to the end, where I share one of the videos that was screened at the event.
How it Began
In August 2016, I received an email from the SDCBF requesting nominations for 2017's DLM program. When I receive these emails I usually take a moment to consider whether I know any attorneys who recently passed away, then move on and forget about it. The DLM ceremony historically consisted of live speakers at the podium, and and this email planted the seed that this year's event could have a bigger impact if it featured videotaped interviews from multiple people.
The Eternal Roots website launched a few months prior, and I was initially looking to interview people like my grandfather. This email inspired the long-shot idea of doing interviews and videography for the DLM program. I first reached out to the SDCBF to introduce myself, explain my work and explore the possibility of collaborating. My contact at the SDCBF, Marcel, suggested that we collaborate on the DLM program. (This is what I wanted, but I was hesitant to be so direct at first.) After a quick phone call, a freshly drafted proposal sat in his email inbox.
Then I waited. And waited. After the passage of about six months, where I inferred the proposal was not going anywhere, I received a call from Marcel one Friday afternoon in late February. Marcel advised that the SDCBF was accepting my proposal. I was being hired to create memorial videos for each of the attorneys being inducted into this year's DLM ceremony. I was to interview three people for each inductee, and create five memorial videos of 5-7 minutes in length. The videos will be shown at the ceremony on May 24th. This is happening.
I drafted an agreement between Eternal Roots and the SDCBF to create these five videos. The SDCBF had one edit to my draft contract: six inductees were to be memorialized this year, not five.
The Pressure Begins
When I first pitched the videography concept, when I drafted the proposal, and when I drafted the contract, I knew I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was so intent on pursuing this project and making it a reality that I didn't really consider how I would interview 18 people, then create six memorial videos, to be shown before the local legal community. While working as an associate at a law firm. With other custom documentary projects on calendar and in production. While being a husband and father of two children. With a three-hour daily commute.
A couple weeks later I received a series of emails between the SDCBF and the points of contact for the inductees. I was cc'd and the emails introduced me and the memorial interview concept. Then it was incumbent upon me to follow up with each of them to explain the process, solicit and schedule the interview (to be shown publicly), then request introductions to others to be interviewed. I also had to get as many pictures as possible of the inductees. And be sure to interview some non-lawyers for the project, so we can get a more holistic view of the inductees. What the hell did I just commit to doing?
The first thing I did was solicit help. I knew I couldn't do all this alone, so I reached out to a video editor I know named Robert Wingo. A phone call later we had a verbal commitment to work the project together. That would free me up to coordinate the project and interview people. I was fortunate to get several interview projects under my belt before this one began, so the six month delay before my proposal was accepted was a blessing in disguise.
Here is a photo of me heading out the door to my first interview. I was set to interview the sister of a great man and attorney who died in a sudden accident. She is a paralegal who worked about 7 city blocks away from my office. I commuted downtown by train, so that morning I packed a briefcase, camera bag, camera tripod and lighting kit, and went to my office. I also packed a change of clothes, as I certainly didn't want to waltz into my law office displaying my Eternal Roots shirt to my employer. I told my boss I was doing this project, but we never got deep into details. He didn't ask so I didn't tell.
Here is the gear I carried on multiple train rides.
On the train that first morning I sketched out some questions on 4x6" cards. I felt tremendous responsibility and pressure to properly and accurately memorialize these inductees. As I prepared for each interview, I realized the inductees led extraordinary lives that merited recognition. The people I was interviewing were close and they had intimate relationships. I had to come to these interviews prepared and professional, yet empathetic and trustworthy. On many occasions it distinctly felt as if the inductees themselves were watching. I conducted myself as if they were in the room during every interview.
For every interview I entered a new person's home or office with my interview kit and adapted to a new environment. On the one hand, I had to build quick rapport with the interview subjects, explaining Eternal Roots and the SDCBF collaboration, and that I was actually a colleague of theirs, doing this on the side, while also being sensitive to the fact that his person recently lost a colleague, friend, or family member. On the other hand, I had to make difficult judgment calls about acoustics, background, ambient noise, natural and artificial lighting, and the orientation of my camera and lighting kit, in 18 different environments. There were hiccups and lessons were learned. But I did the job and got better with experience. Over time the interviews became more relaxed and the video and audio quality improved.
I brought my gear to interview a judge at the San Diego Superior Court, then immediately went across the street to the Southern District of California, the federal courthouse, to interview a retired district judge. At 91 years old, he elected to read from prepared remarks. That meant I had to make the scripted reading appear natural and similar to the other interviews.
You also don't just waltz into a federal courthouse, or any courthouse for that matter, carrying recording gear. A federal judge issued an order permitting me to enter the courthouse with my gear. Security personnel knew who I was when I entered the door and approached the x-ray. The line was empty so they enjoyed themselves and gave me a good ribbing. This actually relaxed me and put me in a good mood.
I also interviewed the presiding judge at the Fourth District Court of Appeal to memorialize her colleague. I was escorted through the building every step of the way. I didn't realize it at the time, but the DLM ceremony was going to be in the top floor of the same building (Symphony Tower) in a couple months.
At the Court of Appeal, awaiting my guest.
This journey also sent me to a couple churches. I interviewed the rector at an Episcopalian church and the head pastor at a Presbyterian church.
Both of these experiences involved deep discussions, on the record and off, about spirituality, faith, legacy and living a life of purpose and meaning. Meeting with church leaders close to a couple of the inductees really made me feel connected to the people I was memorializing - and to a higher power. I never felt "alone" on this journey.
Every person I memorialized led an extraordinary life. I'm not saying this just to put them on a pedestal following the memorial. These six people made the most of their time on this planet, they worked circles around most people, and they positively impacted the lives of others. A pattern emerged as I interviewed their family members, pastors and colleagues. Not only were these people at the top of their game in the legal profession or the judiciary (that's a given), they had strong relationships with their families, churches and colleagues, and they did so much more than practice law.
One of the inductees was well known for being present at every event at his kids' school and extracurriculars. I consistently missed recitals at my kids' school because I was downtown at the law office, chasing billable hours for the benefit of my employer. Every elderly person I have interviewed said one of their regrets was working too much and not spending enough time with their children when they were younger. Nobody told me they regretted spending time with family, and wished they worked more hours at the office. This attorney being memorialized had his own law office, so he had the freedom and flexibility to come and go as he pleased. This certainly nudged me in the direction of going out on my own, which I had been considering for some time.
Multiple attorneys were active in their church, leading Sunday School or performing in the church band and serving as church elder. They were unashamed of their faith and gave back to their communities.
Another inductee had a book club for adolescent girls. She held monthly meetings where she inspired and empowered young girls at an impressionable age. She was also well-known for her hand-written Thank You notes that she liberally distributed. Nobody does this anymore. I was most impressed that she personally mentored two women, a refugee and a foster child. They both became college graduates and productive members of society.
Another inductee was a Top Gun pilot, prolific author, musician, family man, church elder and famous trial lawyer. He accomplished more before he arrived at the office than most people accomplish in a day.
The theme here is Legacy. These people left positive marks on the world, they improved the world around them, and they were rightfully recognized by the legal community. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. Our lives can be snuffed out in an instant. If that were to happen to you, what would be your legacy? What would your friends and family say about you when you are gone? I was so humbled by the way these people were revered by their colleagues. I always regarded myself as an overachiever, and get into a funk when I act beneath my potential. These DLM inductees are a reminder that we can become anything we put our minds to, and your legacy is being written every day.
My role was to coordinate with the SDCBF and the 18 interview subjects, to conduct the interviews and direct the vision and tone for the videos. I forwarded the video and photo files to my editor and communicated the vision, and he did the rest. Robert created six memorial videos that struck the perfect tone - positive and uplifting. The SDCBF had some revisions, and Robert was on the ball. He kept introducing fresh ideas up until the day before the event. The time eventually came where we had to let go, submit the final product and hold our breath.
I spent much of May 24, 2017 on handwritten Thank You notes my wife designed. She created Eternal Roots-branded cards, and I wrote personalized notes to each of the people who participated in the interviews, thanking them for the time and care they put into their testimonies. I uploaded each person's video onto a flash drive, and my wife attached the drives to the cards with twine.
My primary objective at the ceremony was to find the interview participants in a sea of suits and get these cards out. I also bumped into a professor whose class I really enjoyed in law school. He was and is a judge on the Court of Appeal, and he taught Criminal Procedure. Even though I've never practiced criminal law in my career, I loved his class and took the opportunity to tell him so.
When the event began, at the University Club atop Symphony Towers in Downtown San Diego (it was over capacity), I found a place to stand off to the side. I wanted to see the crowd as well as the presentations. A speaker took to the podium to share memories about each inductee, then the video was shown. It was gratifying to watch the crowd react to the videos, which I had come to memorize from repetition. Every humorous anecdote inspired laughter, many eyes tears were shed, and each inductee received thunderous applause at the close of each video. None of this was about me, it was all about them. They lived their lives; I just coordinated the stories.
We omitted any reference to Eternal Roots in the videos. There were no title or credit screens. It wasn't about that. The SDCBF thanked Eternal Roots at the close of the ceremony, and this was the payoff from several months of hard work. Was it worthwhile? Imagine seeing your ideas come to fruition like this.
In summary, I am reminded of the Richard Branson quote that if you are presented with an opportunity, and aren't sure if you are ready, say Yes and figure it out later. Here I created an opportunity I was not yet ready for, but I figured it out and recruited some necessary help. This was an intensive and intense learning and growing experience, and for that I am eternally grateful. I am entirely comfortable conducting memorial interviews now.
To close out this lengthy post, I would like to share one of the six videos we created. Here is a tribute to the Hon. Franklin Orfield.
I have been absent from my own blog for way too long. I've had a long list of blog subjects on my To Do list, but life, work and business have been happening, and the blog has been neglected.
However, so much exciting activity has been going on behind the scenes, so I'm doing this post to let you know what's going on, and that I'm still here plugging away.
I left my law firm and went out on my own! I was becoming so busy with Eternal Roots that I had little time or energy left to write reservation of rights letters for insurance carriers. I felt a strong pull to go out on my own and be independent, so I took the leap.
I have been a solo practitioner since April 1st. This required brief time away from Eternal Roots because I had to get some infrastructure in place, doing public speaking engagements, and have had new clients to serve. I have been working with small businesses to rewrite their contracts, and am loving the independence.
Distinguished Lawyer Memorial
For the last couple months I have been working with the San Diego County Bar Foundation creating memorial videos for its annual Distinguished Lawyer Memorial. This is a program to honor prominent attorneys who were nominated by their colleagues to have a permanent plaque in the county courthouse (shown below).
I'll do a separate post detailing this experience because it has been life-changing. This year the Bar Foundation is inducting six attorneys into the DLM, and I was charged with interviewing three people for every attorney being inducted, for a total of 18 memorial interviews. This has sent me all over the county, setting up my gear at at homes and offices, interviewing people about their loved ones and colleagues. I've been to three different courthouses and two churches, and have interviewed attorneys, judges, pastors and family members. The videos will be shown to the legal community at this year's ceremony at The University Club on May 24th.
You can learn about the DLM program here.
I cleaned up my Package list by eliminating a couple redundant packages, and have created a couple new ones.
I snapped this picture at the San Diego County Courthouse, just after interviewing a judge inside. Security met me on the street to ask why I was pointing a camera around, but it's all good.
Attorneys have seen crazy stuff you wouldn't believe. They have litigated cases with fact patterns and personalities that no author could invent. We love sharing battle stories with each other, and I have heard multiple lawyers say they need to write a book to record their stories. They never do! Life gets in the way and they don't have the time or energy. That's where I step in.
I was inspired to create this package after interviewing an attorney about her life story. We were at the three-hour mark before we even got into her legal career. She shared some fascinating trial stories, then we ran out of time. We could have spent the entire allotted time on her legal career. At that moment I resolved to create a vehicle for legal professionals to share their stories. They are too busy to write that book, so I'll do it for them.
You can learn about the Esquire Package here.
This is not yet live on my website, but I'm very excited to launch. This is a vehicle for business owners to share their passion for their work and the value their clients receive. This will consist of an interview of about 10-15 minutes in length, and as with all Eternal Roots packages, your favorite photos will be incorporated into the video to complement your story. If you are open, we can also do the interview over Facebook Live, so your story can be shared on social media in real time. These videos always receive good engagement, and it's great to help people get outside their comfort zones.
This process started unintentionally on my Partners page. I started interviewing my strategic Partners about their businesses, and became more and more detailed with the videos I created. After seeing the engagement my friends received with the videos on social media, I decided to offer this as a package to other businesses.
To those who know me on social media, I've been talking about this package for a few months, so why isn't it live yet? As you can see with the other activity described here, my plate has been pretty full. I want to have a proper promotional video in place when the package goes live, but other things keep popping up. I have several Partner videos in the works, and wanted to get a few more done so I can get their videos out and so I have more material for the promo video. It's coming soon!
This is the whole reason why Eternal Roots exists - to preserve life stories. I interviewed several people over the last few months, and have videos and books to produce. The interview is the easy part. The video and book creation is where the real work happens. It's gratifying to have new videos and books coming out, and it's wonderful to see people so excited about receiving their custom documentaries.
Here is a screenshot of a book in production I recently finished. This client was being visited by his children and grandchildren, and asked if I could have the book ready before their visit. I happily agreed. The client then advised that the family meeting was advanced by a week, and told me not to worry about it. Nonsense. I got the book done, printed and bound, then I drove it to his home so he could have it in-hand before his family arrived.
Several more client projects are in different stages of production, and I can't wait to get the documentaries in their hands. This always has to be my first priority, so this largely explains why tumbleweeds have been blowing through this blog.
I have a quadrant of my white board filled with ideas for future projects, so exciting things are coming once I come up for air. Here is a sampling:
In closing, I wanted you to get an idea about the flurry of activity that has been happening. If the blog has been inactive, it's a sign that I've been very active. As always, I am eager to record your life story and family history!
I belong to a closed Facebook group called Dedicated Creatives, and I was invited to do a live tutorial presentation on a subject of my choosing. Given that I've already created this DIY series, it seemed logical to do a live video explaining how to interview your elders.
This is a Facebook Live video, meaning it was broadcasted in real time on Facebook. No editing, just raw video of me in my home office. I responded to real time comments I received while shooting the video, so that's why you hear me calling out people by name.
In this video I explain: the importance and urgency of doing a life story interview; how to ask for the interview; how to prepare; equipment; and how to conduct the interview. In other words, it condenses my entire DIY series (minus video editing and book creation) into a 30 minute video. Some people learn better by watching than reading, and I hope you get value from this video.
By Lauren Hanington
As children, most of us enjoyed a happy, carefree existence. Why not? We didn’t have to worry about doing laundry, running errands, or paying rent. We lived in the here and now. As for the future… we had our whole lives ahead of us. Sure, we might have occasionally thought about adulthood as we ran around the playground or had sleepovers with our friends, but it was usually with excitement and bright-eyed optimism. Being an adult was going to be absolutely wonderful.
Although I was not one to officially map out my life, I had a general idea of how it was going to play out. Suffice it to say, life did not go the way I thought it would—not even remotely. To this day, it still has not gone how I imagined it would as a child. At least now I finally have a bit more wisdom and understanding, if not patience and clarity.
Shortly before and for awhile after college, when I found myself in a city or job I did not like, I would ask myself “why?” “Why am I here in this city? Why am I working at this job I dislike so much?” “How will this help me get to where I want to be in life?” My restlessness and unhappiness made me question the path my life had taken. It was not a bad path by any means, but it was definitely a detour from what I imagined as a kid.
Despite the fact that life has not gone how I planned, I have been able to grow from every experience, set back, and hurdle. I have been able to look back at every detour and meandering path my life has taken and find something good in it—or, at the very least, glean a life lesson from it. Whether it was earning college credit while still in high school, moving to a new city where I did not know anybody, or working at a stressful job for a difficult boss, life has provided me numerous learning experiences and growth opportunities with each “trial” that has been thrown in my path.
In the moment, we may not always be aware of how an experience is shaping us or providing us with valuable life lessons. These gems are sometimes not clear until we have moved on to the next phase of our life. Only then do we realize that the job, city, or experience we bemoaned was a blessing in disguise.
So, the next time you find yourself in a job you cannot wait to leave or dealing with people that make you want to tear your hair out in frustration, take a deep breath, step back and look for the positive domino effect that will result from the current negative. Then, while you are implementing your move to bigger and better things, you will find comfort in knowing that no situation or experience is ever wasted.
I am engaged in the occupation of interviewing people and recording their life stories and family histories. I create books and videos memorializing people's lives. As I share this project I rarely hear "objections" from prospective clients. Most objections, if they can be called that, consist of,"but I haven't led an interesting life." Objections generally don't bother me, but this one does because: (1) it evinces negative self talk; and (2) I refuse to believe your life isn't "interesting." If you have given any thought to recording your story or writing your memoirs, please don't be held back by this self-limiting belief. Ultimately, whether your life is interesting is besides the point, because you aren't recording your life story to entertain people.
Watch Your Self-Talk
The way you talk about yourself is a reflection of how you think about yourself. When you say you haven't led an interesting life, the subtext or implication is you aren't an interesting person. After all, your experiences are a reflection of your choices. If you have been telling yourself the story that your life is uninteresting, you will act accordingly. Having said that, you can always find a way to change or improve your circumstances, and you can always change your outlook. You can choose to regard your own life as interesting, or you can use that feeling to inspire you to become interesting. Just don't tell yourself your life isn't interesting.
Of Course Your Life is Interesting!
It cannot possibly be true that your life is uninteresting. Millions of sperm raced each other to find an egg to fertilize, and the winner of that race became you! You are a spiritual being inhabiting a physical body, living a short existence tethered by gravity to a spinning ball of molten lava, hurtling through space in the orbit of a yellow dwarf star. Your mere existence is an awesome thing, and you have memories, perspective and personality distinct from anyone else.
Think of all the challenges and hardships you survived; the lessons learned and wisdom gained; the education you've received and are hopefully still receiving; the lives you have touched. Your life is a compilation of overlapping stories and nobody knows them better than you. Do you have a special skill or talent? Have you created something - another person maybe?
Even if you remain convinced your life is not interesting, I guarantee you have kids and grandkids, or other lives you have touched, who disagree. Others may regard you with gratitude, reverence and respect, and they would love to hear your story.
Your story is not just about you. Eternal Roots delves into your family history, including your parents and grandparents, going as far back as your memory allows. A life story interview is an opportunity for you to continue old family stories, so your ancestors' memories may live on through you.
Forget Interesting, Just Be You
I can go on and on about how you shouldn't say your life isn't interesting because it's poor self-talk, and I can continue about how your life actually is interesting, but none of this is necessary. The point of a life story interview is to be remembered, to connect and to impact others, not to entertain. If you're contemplating whether to preserve your life story, don't worry about whether it is "interesting." It doesn't matter if your story wouldn't qualify as a screenplay, if you never won a Nobel prize, or if you never traveled the world. You lived your life, and that is worthy by itself.
When I conduct life story interviews, I guide you with organized and chronological questions to tell your story. You are never left on your own with open-ended narrative questions, and you are not expected to share your life in a stream of consciousness. Eternal Roots interviews are structured yet fluid, and we cover each phase of your life. There are thousands of memories tucked away in your brain, just waiting for the right trigger. As the stories come pouring out, you'll be amazed at how interesting your life really is. So too will your loved ones. This process is too important, for your ancestors and your heirs, to be silenced by false concerns about whether your life is sufficiently "interesting."
Do you use Facebook to connect with your family and close friends, but find your news feed cluttered with angry political rants and mind-numbing cat videos? Do you log in with the intention of viewing your kids' photos, but find yourself clicking on random links, causing you to wonder where the last hour went? Famicity has the antidote. Famicity provides a closed network where you can invite family and close friends to view and contribute content about your family. No random friend requests; no acquaintances you haven't seen since grade school; no political rants; and the only cat videos are your own.
I found Famicity on Instagram. We entered each other's radar, likely through the use of mutual hashtags, and started following each other. I checked out their website and was impressed with their service. The website is easy to understand and navigate, and it has a compelling video at the top. After a couple months of liking each other's posts, I sent them an email to introduce myself and explore the possibility of collaboration.
Famicity is based in France, although their service is not geographically limited. I heard back from Famicity's social media manager, based in the U.S., and we took turns interviewing each other through video conferencing. These mutual interviews, and the common interest in connecting families, helped forge a relationship. I realized Famicity is a great collaborator with Eternal Roots because we both help families share their stories and connect, yet our services are so different that there is no competition. In fact, people who work with Eternal Roots delve into their photo and video collections to create their custom documentaries, then they can share the content on Famicity and engage with their families about the content. In fact, Famicity is creating video uploading capability (available around June), with up to 1TB of storage, so you could upload your Eternal Roots video there to share it with your family!
Famicity was founded by Guillaume Languereau and Jerome Blanchard, who met in engineering school. Famicity's creation story is similar to Eternal Roots. Guillaume's grandfather was the family genealogist, and Famicity was initially created to provide a platform where his grandfather could share his genealogical findings. "We created Famicity for him, and for us because we'd like to gather our families online and there was no place for that." Famicity is a vehicle for families to preserve their stories, photos and even documents (soon audios and videos) to be shared with future generations.
Famicity has been in operation for 5 years. They recently finished a Kickstarter campaign so they can roll out enhanced features such as audio and video files. Right now you can upload photos, documents, and you can type stories. The content is organized by the date of the post. Famicity is even available on mobile applications in the Apple Store and the Google Play store.
Famicity is free to use! You can sign up for a free account and become the page administrator, and you can invite people to join the page. The content is secured in a closed network, so it is not accessible on the web. Famicity offers premium memberships that enable uploading videos, audios and the ability to preserve documents in pdf format.
Click here to learn more about Famicity. I am always happy to support projects that connect families through generations, especially one with a startup story so similar to mine. Famicity was conceived through a desire to connect with family, and the business concept came later. Eternal Roots was hatched the same way.
About the Blog
Here I write about the evolution of this project, the act of preserving life stories and personal development. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.