Items Needed to Get Started

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Congratulations! You’re about to start an adventure that will bring you closer to your past and let you share your heritage with your family.

FamilyTales will help you easily go step by step through the process of making a family movie. From the basics of organizing your materials and gathering family interviews to putting together an entertaining and informative DVD production FamilyTales will be there every step of the way.

One of the first things you will need to know is the equipment required to do this project.

A Computer

You need a computer that can handle video editing. This is where we get into all those numbers the guys in computer stores like to throw around. The important thing to understand is that video is very taxing on a computer. The more memory and the faster the processor, the easier this project will be.

Your computer will need a graphics card to process the video information and it will also need a 1394 input to download your footage from your camcorder. This input can also be called a Firewire or iLink.

You should have a processor with a minimum of 2 GHz, 512MB of RAM. Look for a large hard drive, 100 to 300 GB are common now. The bigger and badder your system is – the fewer headaches you’ll have down the road.

I suggest investing in an external hard drive of at least 500 GB (again more is better)

You will also need a DVD burner to be able to share your masterpiece when it’s completed. If your final movie is 4.7 GB (about 70 minutes running time) it will fit on a normal DVD. If it is bigger, but under 8.5 GB it can be burned on a dual sided DVD. This requires a special DVD burner. If you don’t have a DVD burner yet, wait and see how long your project is in its final form, then you can get the burner that will be best for you.

A Camcorder

The standard format for video editing is digital. The preferred format is a camcorder that uses a miniDV tape. There is also a digital version of 8mm that you can use.

There are two things you need to look for. A camera needs to have a Firewire, iLink or 1394 connector to be able to connect to your computer. You should also have a “Video In” capacity so you can input video from a VHS source. These cameras can download the video directly into your computer. If you don’t have a camcorder, check out the internet auction sites. There are a lot of used camcorders in very good shape available for a lot less than new.

You can use a VHS or standard 8mm camcorder but you will need an interface that will convert the signal to digital. If at all possible use a digital camcorder.

One word of caution, there are newer camcorders that record to a disc. The issue with these is the video information is already compressed. When trying to download video to your computer there may be a loss of quality and the compressed files may be difficult to edit.

The miniDV tape format was created for easy, high quality editing. If you want to do your project with the least hassles use a miniDV camcorder.


There is a comparison in the tutorial of different software programs. In the tutorials we used Pinnacle Studio 11. These tutorials are not meant to teach you how to use your video editing program. The tutorials will teach you professional editing techniques that can be used with any editing program.

There are a number of editing programs that allow you to download a trial version of their product. This is a good way to find a program that works for you.

You can also look into editing programs that are free on the internet.

A Scanner

The majority of your research information will be in the form of photos and documents. You will need to scan them to use them in the editing program. We suggest a flatbed scanner for this task. With your own scanner you will be able to control the quality and file sizes of your photos and you don’t have the worry of leaving precious photos down at the Quickie Photo Store

Nuts and Bolts

For those of you who have viewed the tutorials but are still thinking “Just tell me what to do!”.

Here’s your plan of action

Identify yourself – are you:

a. An experienced genealogical researcher with a complete family tree you want to share

b. A person who just found a huge trunk full of old family pictures and wants to share them (that was me)

c. A total beginner who thinks this family history thing would be fun.


Computer Skills – are you:

a. Experienced with graphics programs like Photoshop.

b. Comfortable with standard computer programs like Word and using the internet for research.

c. Are you thinking, “Uhhhh, wait a minute…You click the Start button to turn it off???

Be realistic about your skills. However, if this is all new to you don’t be scared off. This could be a way to enlist more computer savvy family members. Younger people are generally more adept at computer skills. A shared project also may spark an early interest in the family history.

Next, decide whether you want to make a movie of interviews with family members, using photos to illustrate their stories.


Make a Video scrapbook (what we call a montage) with photos, titles and music telling the story of your family.

A video scrapbook is an easier project. If you’re completely new to this, it’s a good place to begin. Review the Basic and Advanced Editing tutorials to learn how to get started. You might want to try a simple test video to get your feet wet. Try a short montage with titles and background music. Once you get the hang of editing you will want to try more complex variations, but take it easy to start and do a simple 3 to 4 minute edit.

Organize your materials

I can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t fall into the trap of dumping all your information into one file and calling it “Family History”. You need to be able to access your files for use in your editing program. Save yourself a lot of grief by first making a folder and then sub folders where you can store your scanned photos.

By default a scanner will probably send your pictures to your ”My Pictures” folder. But by setting up a separate folder to store your pictures, you’ll know exactly where they are. How you set up your folders, by era or by person doesn’t matter just remember that it will be considerably easier in the editing process if you take the time now to get organized.

File your information by person or by era, whichever makes sense to you and also by type (picture, video clip, document). Also take the time to note all the information you have on a visual. Include any dates on the picture, identify the subject and be sure to record any information on the back of photos.

Be sure that you make it a detailed filing system so you will be able to easily retrieve your materials during the editing process.

Scan photos and documents

This will end up being the most time consuming part of the project. One, because you are going to spend some time looking at the photos (trust me, you can’t help yourself) and two, because you will need to be doing your organization and filing at the same time.

Here’s a tip, if you don’t have a scanner, and are considering having your photos done by the local Quickie Photo Shop, first check out the prices, I’ve found that a lot of times buying a new scanner is a lot cheaper than having photos commercially done.

You may be thinking of using one of those do it yourself CD makers at the grocery store. The problem is the resolution that a photo is scanned is too low for effective use in an editing program. And the resolution will impact the quality and usability in your movie. Also by doing it yourself you can custom scan your pictures so you are sure to get the results that you expect for your movie. Too low a resolution will lose the sharpness of the picture, too high and you’ll have files so big it will bog down even the fastest computer. What you have to find is the happy medium.

My personal rule of thumb is to scan the average snapshot at 300 dpi.

For small photos I will go up to 600 dpi and for large ones I may go down to 100 dpi.

Again, there is a bit of a learning curve here because you’ll be using your own equipment and programs, however, spending some time experimenting with scanning at different resolutions will let you find the best set up for you.

If you have 8mm film and VHS videotape you will also have to transfer and store it in your files.

VHS video can be easily transferred by connecting a VHS VCR to the input of a digital camera and recording on a digital tape.

Home movies can be transferred by using the technique shown in the tutorial or by having the film transferred by a film lab.

Conduct interviews with family members

This is the fun part of this project. In the movie business it’s called production, the actual shooting of the movie.

Now you’re going to tape the stories of your family. Don’t limit your subjects, interview everyone you can. You’re probably going to learn some things about your family you never knew!

Remember you’re also capturing the personality of your relative.

Though it takes more time, I think you’ll find that the finished movie will be substantially better using family interviews. I’ve never heard of anyone who hasn’t wished they started this project ten years earlier when certain relatives were still around.

We have information in the tutorials that explains how to get professional looking results without the costs of professional equipment. However, if setting up a shoot is too much for you, a simple camcorder and tripod will do a good job of capturing your family stories.

Review your interviews and see how your photos fit with them

Documentary directors (and that’s you) usually start out with a basic idea of the story they want to tell. Many times they go out and get the footage for the movie and then write the story.

One example is a documentary about nature. If a camera crew luckily records an unplanned scene the director may write the whole story around it. After starting to collect interviews, you may find the path of your movie going in a totally unexpected direction.

Write the story for your family movie

This movie will be a documentary, the story of your family. To decide how you want to see that story told you’ll need to visualize what it will look like. By that I mean the format of telling the story.

The format you select will be one of two choices.


1. A photo montage with titles and background music

2. Using a narration to tell the story of the photos and film clips of your family history


Either of these formats can be as detailed as you want them to be. One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make is how much of your family research to include. Be realistic about ancient ancestors. You may have researched your family tree back 500 years but aside from names and dates do you have much else? Concentrate this project on ancestors you at least have photos of.


There are different paths you can take.

You can make your movie as an overview of your family story. This is a great way to get others interested in learning more about the family.

By basing the movie on interviews with family members it can be a “tribute video” as well as a family history.

If you’re preparing this specifically for an event, like a reunion, a shorter “family highlights” format may work best.


Be creative with your story, review and take notes on your family interviews. Find where different people talk about the same incident. You may have subjects who speak of a specific era like the Depression or WWII. Combining these narrations will add to the richness and interest in your final movie.

Take a tip from television producers. When you watch a TV show it’s divided up into 13 to 15 minute segments. Divide your movie up with “commercial breaks”; short segments that are unexpected and fun. A pet parade montage or a holiday or birthday music video will refresh your viewer.

Edit it all together

Now we come to post-production.

This isn’t the time to rush things. Take the time to review your work a few times. The tutorials included are made to take you from the simplest editing techniques to the most advanced. The techniques presented will work with any editing program.

Burn to DVD

Burning a DVD is program specific. Editing programs have different names for the same functions, so be sure to read the manual or the help section on how to burn a DVD on your system. You will also need to decide if you want to use a menu in your DVD.

When everything is complete and you are ready to burn a DVD remember to save the project!

Now burn a test DVD and put it in a DVD player and watch it on a TV – not on your computer. You may find that there are things you want to change. The most common issue is sound levels. Background music may be too low and you don’t even hear it, or it may be too loud and cover up dialog. Take the time to review your movie at least twice. Take notes on changes you want to make. Head back to your editing program and make the changes and burn a final test DVD and go through the same thing – watching it on a TV. A Warning – you will see the smallest flaw every time you watch the movie, so be sure to make it as good as you can. When you are happy with the result burn your Master DVD – the one you will be making copies off of. Don’t use this one to play – use it only to make copies.


After all this work you want to be sure to preserve your movie for future generations. The easiest way to save that file is to output it to a digital videotape.

One way is to send it back to a digital video camera or a digital VCR using the same hook-up you used to input the original footage.

After saving it, take that tape and seal it in a ziplock bag and put it away in a cool dry place. It should be safe for 8-10 years. At that time you can see what improvements in video presentation are available and maybe transfer it to that technology.


Now – Relax and have a refreshing beverage



GB – Gigabyte

MB – Megabyte

Ghz – Gigahertz

Montage – (from the French for “putting together”) a technique in film editing that refers to a segment which uses rapid editing, special effects and music to present compressed narrative information


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To Do

Organize your photos

Set up Filing System

Scan Photos

Prepare Interview Questions

Interview Relatives

Review interviews and find useful photos

Look for archival material

Edit movie

Burn to DVD