This month I had the privilege of being an exhibitor at RootsTech, a 4-day gathering of the genealogy community in Salt Lake City. The event features keynote speakers, workshops, networking and the biggest expo floor I've seen. This article journals the experience.
I heard about RootsTech last year from colleagues who work for family legacy and photo preservation companies. Attending this conference is a no-brainer, but Salt Lake City isn't exactly close to San Diego. How would I get there? What would I bring? Where would I stay? How would I endure a 4-day expo by myself? I submitted my application and punted these questions until later. RootsTech accepted me as a vendor and the event went on calendar.
I successfully booked a room at a Holiday Inn across the street from the convention center. Nice. To make the trip smoother and less stressful, I decided to arrive a couple days early. The expo started Wednesday night, so I would arrive on Monday. Plenty of time to get my bearings, buy provisions and set up.
I've done several expos, and I'm proficient at building an expo table. I always put my transcribed books on display because my words cannot do them justice. People need to turn the pages to really see the value of the Reflection Package. People don't always immediately grasp the custom documentary concept when I explain it, but everything clicks when they see the book.
After my grandfather's passing in October, I remastered and reprinted his book. The book I created for him was my first ever, and it was a prototype. I wasn't pleased with the binding or the layout, and after he passed I remade his book and shared it with the family. I found a new book bindery just minutes from my home (Golden Rule Bindery), and they create handmade hardcover books. My grandfather's book was ready for pickup just in time for the trip. It's the best book made by Eternal Roots to date, and I couldn't wait to display it at the expo.
The Drive North
After packing my bags and my car the day before, I hit the road on Sunday, February 25th. Interstate 15 literally goes from my home all the way to Salt Lake. Las Vegas is (almost) the halfway point, so it made sense to stop there for the night. I've always been curious about the South Point resort on the southern tip of the Strip, and the room was only $90, so the decision was easy. I met an old friend for dinner, played some craps, and I was back on the road the next morning. I haven't been north of Las Vegas since I was a teenager, so the area was a strange blend of foreign and familiar.
Once you get an hour north of Vegas the topography shifts, and you start seeing beautifully jagged and colorful rock formations and mountains. After passing through the Nevada resort town of Mesquite, there is a 40-minute ride through an Arizona canyon in the northwest corner of the state. Soon after that you're in St. George, Utah. What a beautiful state. I was there in late February, so it didn't take long until snow was visible on the ground. I had a couple pit stops, but was determined to check in to the hotel before the sun set. I arrived at the hotel late Monday afternoon. Snow was everywhere from a recent storm, and the weather was in the mid-40s.
The Expo Hall
Here are some photos of my empty booth and the expo hall under construction. The last photo is a view of my hotel from the convention center entrance.
I arrived early enough to see the big vendors (Ancestry, 23 and Me, etc.) using cranes to set up elaborate booths. My booth was in a remote corner of the expo floor, but it was near a breakout room and the food court, so I was quite happy with the location.
I used my hotel room as a staging area, efficiently loaded my wagon with most of the expo materials, and did a rough setup for the booth.
This is the registration line. It was a total zoo. I came back the next morning when they opened, at 7:00, and got my badge in a matter of minutes.
Eternal Roots Booth
The day before the expo began. I like the concept of having an open booth that invites people in.
The main feature of the rear table is a computer monitor with a muted promo video on loop (with subtitles). This table featured some mentions of Eternal Roots in the media, a opt-in sheet, brochures, and my grandfather's transcribed book. I felt a little nutty watching the same video over and over, so I swapped through a few videos over time.
The main table has a branded tablecloth, more transcribed books, brochures, and a digital photo frame (barely visible on the right). Through the course of the week I experimented with moving materials around the table. To anyone having an expo table, I learned the hard way long ago never to put out too many pens. People will grab them by the handful and walk away without looking at your materials. I put about a dozen pens in a cup, and move it deeper into the table. That way you have to come in and look around if you really want that pen.
The Website Facelift
For some time I've been aware that the copy on my website was getting dated, the package details needed massaging, and the package thumbnails needed replacement. Life always got in the way, and I have been too busy serving clients to polish the website (hence the reduced blog posts lately).
The night before the expo, when I was thinking I could unwind a bit, I reviewed my website from the eyes of a casual RootsTech attendee, and had a little freak out. The site had 2-year old copy that was badly dated. The project has evolved greatly and the packages have been refined. Even the FAQ page was dated. I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. the night before the expo, rewriting much of the copy and headers on my website. I also changed the package thumbnails. I had been meaning to do this for some time, but the expo provided excellent motivation.
The expo started Wednesday night, February 28th, for a 2-hour preview session. Some vendors were still setting up. I set up the day before and had a stress level of zero. Because of the massive size of the expo floor, it took a while for attendees to trickle back to my corner of the room.
I start my Reflections interviews by asking clients about their ancestry. Most people don't know anything beyond their grandparents, and many people know little about them. Not this crowd. Genealogy enthusiasts can proudly recite their heritage going back hundreds of years. They were delighted to learn that I provide a vehicle to record their ancestry through the video and book format.
I was impressed with the variety of vendors at the event. There were ancestry and DNA-related services, online forums where families can share stories and records (like a closed Facebook), photo preservation/digitization services, and vendors who provide a variety of related services, the "other" category. I found vendors who convert family stories into illustrated children's books, people who created framed family trees, and even family themed board and card game creators. I plan on following up with several vendors to explore strategic partnerships.
I fall in the "other" category. I found several vendors who provide services similar to me, but we all had nuances that differentiated us. They all were focused on either video or book, but none of them do both. Some of them were brand new and had little to no work product. Others were more established. One person approached me to say she records life stories just like me, then commenced a lecture on everything I was doing wrong (meaning different from her). She charges 3x my fee, her videos are 1/3 my length, and she doesn't create books. I certainly agree my price point is too low, but we're all pursuing our passions in our own way. People have the choice to select the interviewer who is the best fit. I have grown greatly by accepting critical feedback, but sometimes you need to take it with a grain of salt.
I learned there is a difference between genealogy research and DNA research. There are different companies filling each need. Some people like researching the stories of their ancestors, while other people like researching their genetic roots (they are not mutually exclusive, of course).
The floor got a quieter when breakout or keynote sessions were active. I used those opportunities to sit and rest or walk the room and network.
The final day of the event is known as Family Day. This is where people could attend for free, and there were large family groups coming through. The booth next to me, Connect2Family, had a bowl of mints on the border of our two booths, and it did a great job of bringing people in. Taking a cue from my neighbor, I put a stack of Eternal Roots tote bags on a chair next to the mints, and watched them fly. Anytime I saw someone struggling to hold brochures and the many things one obtains at an expo, I promptly offered them a bag to help. I was surprised to see very few vendors doing this. I wish I did this on Day 1, because by the end of the day my bag supply was nearly depleted.
By the end of the event I was ready to get home. I broke down the booth in record time. Unlike setting up, where I took a couple trips I got everything stacked in the wagon in one take (clearing out my bag supply that day really helped).
I got back to my room, loaded the car, packed my bags, then went to a nearby restaurant for a celebratory burger and beer.
All week long we were under a snowstorm forecast. The storm was supposed to hit during the conference and be done before the drive home. I awoke Sunday morning, travel day, to a whiteout. Snowfall was heavy and the streets had not yet been plowed. This San Diegan, driving his non-chained Nissan Altima, was not prepared to drive in weather like this, but this is what you expect coming to Utah in the winter, right?
I left the hotel at 9:00 and drove out into the icy and unplowed street, and found myself fishtailing and hydroplaning in no time. I found my way to the freeway, and that's where things got hairy. I'm sure Utahns (I heard that's the official nomenclature) are totally used to this, but I learned quickly that you disregard the lane divider lines, which you can't see anyway, and just follow the ruts of the cars ahead of you. Snow was falling sideways, visibility was poor and I was battling my foggy windshield. I had a police officer behind me as I started. While that would normally make me nervous, I took comfort knowing I would have immediate assistance if I spun out. I drove by a couple people who had that misfortune. By the time I got through South Jordan, the weather eased up and my knuckles turned less white. By the time I hit Provo the weather was even more intense, and I couldn't see beyond 50 yards. The weather didn't ease up until I hit the middle of the state, then the southern portion of the state was as beautiful as it was while driving north. I snapped this picture while driving through southern Utah. (I totally pulled over and didn't take this while driving!)
Overally, attending RootsTech was a wonderful learning experience. It's also therapeutic to have some time away from family and go on a solo roadtrip. The heart grows fonder with absence, and it's great to be back home with my family. I have a ton of follow ups and videos to send, and strategic partnerships to explore. I'm leaning heavily towards attending the event next year.
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!
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 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.
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."
If I may be candid, I have procrastinated creating promotional videos. My strengths are writing and interviewing, and that is the essence of what Eternal Roots is about. I care more about the substance of the questions and answers, and less about snappy promotions and graphics. I never want to distract from the stories being told by the interview subjects. However, in order to properly showcase my products, I need to turn the camera around on myself and get hands on with the products. While this is outside my comfort zone, my interview subjects are also outside their comfort zones, and they are sharing intimate details about their lives.
Today I launched a new Products page on my website. It introduces my DVD and booklet in simple and understandable terms. The page also features the video above, which showcases the booklet. I'll say this simply - I am very proud of this booklet.
I started this project solely with video production in mind. A transcribed booklet was not even on my consciousness. During the video editing process, while fading in photos to correspond with the stories, I wondered how it would look in written format. When the video was done I donned headphones and started transcribing. It was a laborious process, but when I inserted the first photo between paragraphs into the Word document, I knew I was really on to something. I sent the file to our local printer, who produced the pages on thick glossy paper, then bound the pages into a hardcover book and had a custom jacket printed. The moment I held the completed book I knew I had something special, and I needed to share it with the world. There are a handful of people in the country who have businesses similar to mine, but none of them create anything remotely like this.
Please enjoy the video and share your feedback. It's always a work in progress and subject to revision, but I want you to consider what it would mean to your family to have one of these books.
PS - While shooting this video in my backyard, I had needy cats nuzzling on my feet and meowing at me. They kept breaking my concentration and making me laugh, leading to several fails and do-overs. I finally scooped up my elder cat, named Mouse, and I spontaneously shot a clip about a Custom Catumentary. I scooped up my other cat Snickers and did a couple clips with her. They were so unplanned and unfiltered that my head was cut off in one of the clips. I spliced them together for your viewing pleasure, and so you can see I don't take myself too seriously.
When I first approached my grandfather about doing an interview (before I even conceived of the Eternal Roots concept), I did it with zero tact and little planning. When our lunch tab arrived, I just hit him between the eyes:
Me: Grandpa, I'd like to interview you.
Me: And I'd like to videotape it.
Me: And I'd like to make DVDs to distribute to the family.
Ten minutes later we were in my office with the video camera running. It was surreal. Turning this project into a business occurred to me weeks later. If you want to preserve your family's story, I don't recommend you approach it as clumsily as I did. It could work, but this project is important and you want to employ some tact. You might get some resistance at first, and I suggest a better approach. First, I'll share a couple failures.
I had a networking lunch with a colleague a few months ago. I explained the process involved in creating the documentary, and she asked to see the final product. I proudly produced the transcribed booklet I made for my grandfather (below). After flipping through a few pages she said, "That's it, I'm just going to hire you myself."
Her family was throwing a birthday party for her father in Palm Springs, and she wanted me to travel for the interview. The venue was at my favorite golf course, so I was game! When I followed up she said her father was "pretty anti" about doing the interview. Maybe he wouldn't have been interested regardless, but I could have better equipped her to pitch the concept.
At a recent networking lunch with another colleague, he was sold on interviewing his dad without seeing the book. This time I was marginally more helpful: "Great, show him the website, then let's book a session." It never happened. Dad wasn't interested. This happened a few more times.
The sad thing here isn't lost business for me. The sad thing is these families were denied an opportunity to preserve the life stories of their patriarchs. Just because you understand the value of the custom documentary doesn't mean Mom or Dad will immediately get it. Your parent might think his or her story isn't interesting, that no one wants to hear an old person prattle on about the past, or they might feel self-conscious and uncomfortable about a video recording.
If you approach it the following way, you will get a good feel for whether your parent or grandparent is a good candidate for Eternal Roots. Simply engage Mom or Dad in a conversation about a distant time in their life: "Mom, what was it like growing up during the Depression?" or "Dad, what is the craziest thing you did in college?" Ask them to share a time of their life you don't know about; ask them to re-tell one of their favorite stories. Get them engaged in casual storytelling, then compliment them on their storytelling ability. Express sincere admiration for their accomplishments and resiliency. Say you could never hand down these stories as well as they do. Tell them their grandchildren would have a greater connection with their heritage if they had a recording of your life story. Then mention Eternal Roots.
Be your authentic self, but the point is to get them reflecting on their life, and express how important it is for you to preserve their life story so you can share it with your own children one day.
The picture at the top of this post is me having a casual chat with my Dad over a glass of wine. While this photo was taken long before Eternal Roots began, this is an example of the perfect context to bring it up.
Who benefits from this process? Where is the value in this project?
Everybody wins here. Everyone involved in the process, from the interview subject, to the family watching the video, and even the interviewer, receives value from participating. This post explores the interview process from these different perspectives.
The Interview Subject
I can't know exactly what it's like to be the interviewee because I don't sit in that seat and I haven't lived their life. However, from sitting in the other seat, looking the interviewee in the eye and asking questions, spending hours editing the video, blending in their photos, and transcribing, I get a sense of how the project feels for them. No adjective adequately describes it, so I can only explain it through the process.
People being interviewed about their lives tend to take the process seriously. They know the interview will remain long after they are gone, it is a way to preserve stories that would otherwise be forgotten, and it connects them with future, even unborn, generations. Imagine a great-great granddaughter, whose mother is unborn or is a baby herself, watching your video thirty years from now. Heavy, right? What would you like her to know about you and her heritage? What would you say to her right now? This project provides that very opportunity. The gravity of the process can weigh upon you if you really think about it, and it is natural to want to get things "right." It is also natural for one to portray themselves in a positive light.
It is impossible to share every story of your life, and that of your family, in just a few hours. You have to be judicious in what you discuss, so you should avoid going down too many rabbit holes. For this reason, it is important that the interview subject spend a few days before the interview reflecting about their life, reviewing journals, yearbooks, photos, etc. Ultimately, this is a vehicle for people to connect with future generations in a lasting way.
This process likely stirs up several emotions at once. It can inspire nostalgia, joy, gratitude, dread, anger and regret all within minutes of each other. The interview subject is recalling memories and feelings that haven't been accessed in years or decades, and the process can be intense and cathartic. Having said that, I have personally witnessed a sense of relief and closure when the process is complete. There is a palpable sense of accomplishment in the air, not unlike completing an academic school year.
Here at Eternal Roots we give you the option of having copies of the package, both the disc and the transcript, delivered directly to the interview subject's family members (or other people of their choosing).
If they know this project is in the works, and that a copy of the disc is incoming, it will be received with great anticipation. This is an opportunity for family members to get to know a parent or grandparent in an intimate and lasting way. They get to hear about the interview subject's successes and failures, including questions they may have never thought to ask. This is also a vehicle for oral traditions to continue in a tangible medium. Not only can you get to know your parent/grandparent on a deeper level, you can share this with your own children, giving them a sense of belonging.
I ask the interview subject to go as far back in their ancestry as they can recall, then move forward to discuss their children and grandchildren. Hearing your parent/grandparent talk about you, coming from a place of love and pride, will make you feel connected. You get a sense of where you fit in, as the interview subject discusses their upbringing, and eventually discusses how you came into this world and your effect on them.
However, the impact on the viewer is unique to the viewer and their relationship with the interview subject. Regardless, you will come out of this process feeling more connected with the interview subject and your heritage.
The interviewer is the lucky one.
In researching his timeless book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill interviewed 500 of the most successful people of the time. Their wisdom and insight filled the pages of this transcendent book. Do you think any of their mojo rubbed off on Napoleon? It's not feasible to image that process having no impact on him. One of my favorite personal development authors is Darren Hardy. He's the former Editor of Success magazine. Every month he had the privilege of interviewing titans of industry and entrepreneurs about their stories, and the interviews were published on CDs that shipped with every issue of the magazine. If I grew from listening to those CDs, how much did Darren grow from preparing for the interviews, conversing with the interview subjects and editing the interview? The interviewer must grow from this process, and if you are not growing from interviewing people, then you aren't paying attention.
Interviewing people about their lives is a privilege because I get to soak up the life lessons of people from many different walks of life, people with experiences and backgrounds different from my own, people who grew up in a completely different time. Talk to enough people about growing up during the Great Depression, and you will appreciate the things you take for granted. Talk to a couple dozen people about their successes, failures, inspirations, lessons, regrets and accomplishments, and watch what happens to you. Talk to enough people about their lives, and it will become a mirror for your own. Talk to people about their failures, then avoid the same mistakes. Talk to people about their successes, then emulate their activity. By interviewing others about their lives, you are the greatest beneficiary of all!
You've scheduled an interview and might feel some pressure to "perform" well. The thought of answering questions about your life under the gaze of a video camera could appear daunting. Here are some tips on how to be an ideal interview subject and enjoy the process.
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.