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How To Make A Legacy Documentary

How To Make A Legacy Documentary

Otis Redding

Jackie Kennedy

Malcolm X

What do these three people all have in common? My mother crossed paths with each of them.

My mother is a low key woman. But she can surprise you with the experiences she has had in her lifetime. Recently at dinners she has been sharing more and more. Everything is pretty amazing.

I've been thinking that I'd like to make Legacy Documentaries of both my parents. Not just to capture their lives but their take on the world around them.

It would be a great gift to leave to my grandchildren. The ability to hear first hand what the world was like in the past. In addition a way for them to know who their Great-Grandparents were.

Here's some tips to making a great Legacy Documentary.

  • Don't get technical with the set up. Unless you already know how to set up lighting, mics, and a set don't do it. You want this to be as comfortable and real as possible. Use a chair that the other person can sit in for a duration. Natural light is so flattering (try to use morning light it's the most complimentary).


  • Have the person you are interviewing wear their everyday clothing. You want future generations to have a sense of who this person is. If your Mom wears suits every day let her wear a suit. It will also help them to feel more at ease in front of a camera to look like themselves.


  • Do the interview at home. Car horns, noisy coffee shops, dishes being dropped in restaurants. All these things will make recording a video impossible! Stay at home where it's quiet and in your control.


  • Set up a small table with water next to the subjects chair. You know on talk shows how the guest and host are always holding coffee mugs. It's water in case their mouth goes dry from all the talking. Stopping in the middle of an amazing story to get up for a drink of water could disrupt the flow and you might miss out on some great details.


  • Do a pre-interview. Nothing too in depth. Go over what you would like to discuss. Any stories or memories they would like to share. Do some research on large events in history that have occurred during their lifetime. Find out if they have any specific stories from those events you want to make sure to include. (For example if I were interview my Grandmother I would ask questions about life during the great depression, WWII, all the technological creations that came about in her lifetime).


  • Know when to ask questions and when to just listen. Some people can just tell a story no prompting needed. Others need a little bit of help getting going. Asking someone about their thoughts and opinions on a topic is a great way to get the story flowing.


  • Start at the beginning. When were you born, where were you born, where did you grow up, who did you live with, what was that like? Conducting the interview in a chronological order will create a smooth flow when viewing.


  • Have family photographs handy. Looking at pictures is a great way to stir up memories of Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, etc.


  • Mostly HAVE FUN! Laugh, joke and enjoy getting to know your loved one better than you did before.

If you'd like to give things a James Lipton feel here's the questions he asks at the end of every interview.


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