How to Create a Unique Family Legacy Documentary

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Seeing your great-grandfather’s photo take during the Great Recession shows the form of the man. But if you watched a video of him going through daily life, it would show you who the man was. Was he an amiable fellow easy to get along with, or an arrogant insufferable fool?  This is what a family legacy documentary is about.

A family legacy documentary video shows the people, history, and experiences of a family. The story is told orally in filmed interviews. The stories are supported by photos, letters, souvenirs and other family memorabilia. The end product is usually for the consumption of family members.


What is included?

The family and the producer of the documentary are pretty much free to include anything related to the family. However, many family legacy documentaries revolve around:

  • The family tree – This kind of documentary brings the family tree to life. It captures the family history through oral, written and photo materials provided by different family members. The film can show the steps that were taken to trace the family tree, for example, a trip to England.
  • Personal history – Here the purpose is to show the life of one person of the family, for example, a grandparent or parent. They tell the story in their own words supporting it with photos, memorabilia, photos and so on, for example, grandpa’s time in the Philippines during World War II.
  • A special occasion – This documentary revolves around an event, occasion or experience for example ‘2016 Summer at Uncle Jim’s Texas Ranch.’ This kind of film is usually for inspirational purposes to other family members to keep up the tradition.


What are the steps in making the film documentary?

  1. Recording equipment

You will be doing a lot of audio and video recording.  A phone could work perfectly but it does not have the same capabilities and effects such as you would find on a Sony Handycam. Choose equipment that is easy and comfortable to handle.

  1. Record interviews

Make up a list of family members you want to interview. Call them and explain what you are doing. Ask for an appointment when they will be relaxed and comfortable to tell their story unhurriedly. Ask them to have on hand old photos, souvenirs, and memorabilia to support the story.

  1. Include the supporting material

Look for a way to include the old photos, souvenirs and other memorabilia that you have gathered. You could ask the owner to explain what the object means to the story, or you could highlight the object and tell it in your own words.

  1. Consider recreating events

Sometimes the story is available but there is no supporting material. A plain oral story can get boring. Spice it up with recreations. You will have to get a bit creative and also get family members to cooperate in putting up the acts. You will have to plan for time and other items such as costumes and stage props.

  1. Plan the story

After collecting all the video you want, outline the plot of the documentary. You could opt for a simple plot like showing the interviews one after the other as you recorded them.  You could also opt to categorize your story based on generations, time or events.

  1. Upload and edit the film

Upload your film to your desktop or laptop for easier editing. There is numerous film editing software packages. Ensure the editing is in line with your plot outline. Remember that a family documentary does not have to follow the strict rules of editing like a commercial production.

  1. Share the documentary

Share the final product by several means. You could upload to the social network group of the family, write on DVD and send by mail, or show it at the next family gathering.


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