Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Video Biographies: How to make sure they last

An interesting question came up at a recent video biography workshop here in Austin. One of the members of the 'audience' shared her experience recording her mother's stories on video many years ago. She never got a chance to look at the video much since then, and two days before the workshop, she decided that the time was finally right to play the tape that it was stored on. Imagine her shock then when all she saw on the TV screen when she pushed the 'play' button was static-y snow... no image, no sound, no memories.

So what happened?

The lady mentioned lending the tape to someone else who wished to make a copy of it for their own use... and while it's hard to guess what really happened, I'm going to hark back to my TV news channel days to give my take on it. A news channel can use a LOT of tapes (at least the one where I used to work did!) and once they had been stored for the necessary amount of time, they were ready to be reused. At which point they were 'scrubbed' i.e. wiped clean of all existing footage on them and made 'new' again. If I were to guess, I think somewhere along the way, instead of hitting 'copy', the button 'delete' or 'scrub' was accidentally pushed, resulting in the current state of the tape. Of course I'm simplifying the situation a lot here (!) but the point is to provide an idea of how easy it can be to lose valuable information... in this case, precious memories of a very important person in the lady's life.

If you are planning to record the stories of your loved ones, then try and make a copy of the original tape wherever possible. Store the original, and use the duplicate for your editing purposes. Once you're done editing the video to your satisfaction, burn a few DVDs for your records. Yes, there will always be a file stored on your computer and this may seem like an unnecessary precaution, but computers have been known to crash without prior notice... and why risk the loss of all that valuable information?

Now if the lady's video had been a digital file on her computer, there could still be a hope of retrieving the data she lost... of course, you would need to go to someone who is a technical expert in these sorts of things and in no way am I that person. But there is a larger possibility of retrieving files once they've been digitized. And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that in my experience, DVDs have proved to be good for storing my audio/video files. They are durable, sturdy, last long, and can be duplicated without much trouble. All this provided you handle and store them right!

Happy interviewing!


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