Tips for Making Family Videos
Family holidays are often a rich source of positive family memories. These days the smart phone in your pocket can help you record precious moments and even make them into cool little videos that capture the spirit of that special family time, and last long after the holiday is over. You can do this with just a phone, a movie making app and the kids. And if your children are tech heads, YouTubers or creatives types, they’ll love it too. Read on for our personal tips for making family videos…
Making family travel memories
Just under a decade ago, when the boys were two and four, we decided to spend a gap year biking New Zealand. The response from friends and family was muted and mostly along the same lines. “Why are you bothering to do it now? They won’t remember any of it.” But we didn’t do the trip to create shared memories. We wanted to have an experience and enjoy some extended family time together.
However as a writer and keen photographer we couldn’t help ourselves. We wrote diaries, took photo’s, sent e-mails and created a website. In the years since, the kids have looked at those and, weird as it sounds, I think they have woven their own memories of that trip out of those stories and images.
How do I record our family memories?
It helped that the time we spent in New Zealand was intense, unfamiliar, memorable, striking and action packed. The kind of family time that you don’t tend to get at home. Memories, on the whole, are not made while you are putting the bins out. Not for me anyway. Travel makes for the kind of quality family time that makes for quality memories.
In the modern world we create and curate these memories in many ways, on many platforms; sometimes very publicly through social media. Memories are not just in our heads, but on our phones, on our cameras and on our computers. With new technology the moment is no longer just a moment; it’s an Instagram picture, a Facebook album, a blog, a storify, a YouTube channel.
Family videos can be one of the most immediate and colourful ways of preserving memories. But there’s no need for 8mm film, sound stripes and cut and stick editing these days. They’ve got so much easier to make. And cheaper too. You can create something on your phone using your video camera and a simple editing app, for next to nothing and in almost no time at all. Check this one out, made in an hour using just an iPhone, a few random clips we recorded while out, and about a preset movie maker on the iMovie app, purchased for a few pounds. The kids thought we’d been signed up by Hollywood and were about to star in a feature film.
How do the professionals do it?
Maybe you’ve seen the ‘Your Family Time’ Center Parcs TV advert? See the end of this post if you missed it. It features lots of families doing the kinds of things we love to do, and films them making their memories together. It is emotive and happy, and makes you think of your own precious family time. They didn’t make it quickly or for next to nothing though. Check out the infographic at the foot of this post for some incredible stats on the time and effort involved when the pros set to work to make a short family holiday movie. Just to pick out a few: there were 35 crew involved in filming 6 families and 80 extras. It took a total of 275 days from idea to finished edit, including six days of filming. They produced 46 versions of the ad before settling on the final one and shot over 1200 photos. All to convey the idea of perfect family time.
How do I start to make a family video?
Now you and I don’t have that kind of time, money or resource, but we can learn a thing or two about shooting a good little video from them. Take a close look at the video. It features a series of shots of families having a good time together. They are ordinary families in the kind of place you may visit and the shots, when stitched together, create a mood, paint a picture, capture a memory.
You could create that mood in a video on your holiday or weekend break with a fraction of the budget, using your own camera or phone. Here’s some of our tips for making good family videos on the fly, that record your time out together and make a fun shared memory for the future.
Our 10 top tips for making family videos
1 Keep it natural and relaxed
Children are children, not actors or reality TV stars. Let them be themselves. That’s the whole thing you are trying to capture isn’t it? The minute you try and put words into their mouths or set up unnatural situations they will either ham up or clam up. Do something you know they will enjoy, or follow them as they potter and you’ll get more organic, natural footage. Asking questions on camera can help capture something of their experience too. Simple ones like ‘Where are we?’ ‘What are you doing?’ ‘What’s it like?’
2 Be happy with imperfection
Give them a line to say to camera if you’d like them to present, but make it short and keep your instructions clear and concise. Be happy with imperfection; don’t make them do take after take as they will get bored. Keep all takes. You may want to return to earlier ones if it all goes pear-shaped half way through. And sometimes voice-over when you are back in the warmth of home works just as well as a long piece to camera.
3 Shoot them while they are engaged in something
A trip to a stonemasons and a pottery wheel both produced quality footage for us as our kids forgot the camera was there and got stuck in to the creative task while occupied by the stonemason. Your kids don’t have to be the centre of attention, shoot them working with someone, being led by a guide or under the supervision of an instructor. You can even interview your guide or instructor for some added interest.
4 Know your camera and use it
Don’t try and figure out how to work a complicated video camera on your shoot. If you are more familiar with your phone then use that instead, these days it’s good enough. If it’s an iPhone, you can edit in iMovie and there are even great little auto edit features that can give the whole thing a pro feel really easily. Don’t try and do tricks like pulling focus or turning one of your family into a hobbit and the other into Hagrid unless you can do them quickly and make it fun. Take lots of different shots; close ups, medium shots and long shots; it will help you edit things together more easily. And plenty of cut aways (shots away from the action) of the landscape, the props or other people doing the activity.
5 Step into the light
Be aware of light and shade and use it. Don’t stand the family next to the window or they will all be silhouettes. A boring shot can become interesting if your subject is bathed in gold. If the light is poor or you just want to create some cool effects, try using torches to light your subjects.
6 Be organised
If you want to create something more complicated consider storyboarding in advance. Think about the kind of shots you want to tell your story. Set up the camera before you go. Recce the location if necessary. Use two cameras if it speeds things up. You can lie and wait for the kids to do something interesting but avoid making them hang around for you.
7 Involve the kids
Kids don’t have to be the stars of the video or hangers on. They can be part of the crew or creative team. Get them to think up ideas for a video, to plan and storyboard the shoot. Appoint one as a Director and one as a camera person. Make it their project. Let them make the decisions about length and format; whether they want to shoot a feature film, a three minute edited movie or a 15 second Instagram video? You’ll probably find they can use the shoot and edit apps much better than you and without any training! One of our kids wrote a poem and wanted to make a video of it. So we did.
8 Be aware of sound
The sound can be the most overlooked part of making a family video, but it’s very important especially for interviews, commentary and natural sound effects. It can make your footage unusable if it’s no good. Be aware of traffic, background noise or anything that’ll obscure or interfere with the sound you want. Don’t be afraid to wait, move location or ask to shoot again if you think the sound is no good. Think about using microphones or if it’s windy stick a tiny piece of cotton wool over the mic on your phone or camera to help reduce wind noise. If it’s really important try and check the sound before you leave, using headphones.
9 Enjoy the one shot wonder
If you’re put off by the thought of editing (and we were for many years), remember with a little thought and maybe a quick rehearsal you can make an engaging and quirky video in one take. Cut to the heart of the action. Shoot, trim and publish. As the family video maker you are a success. Then go eat doughnuts. Like this.
10 Capture movement
Video is all about movement so have people walking in and out of shot. Or bobbing up into it. Track them occasionally with the camera. But don’t move the camera around all the time. Don’t zoom your family video – it’ll mark you out as an amateur! Hold your shots for 5-10 seconds to make editing easier. Buy a tripod to reduce camera shake or to enable you to star in your own movies.
Whatever you do, remember you’re not Spielberg. The point is to have fun together not to fall out with each other in the quest to produce an Oscar winning movie. It’s family life not great art. When they’ve had enough, pack up and go home. If the weather is awful, wrap up the shoot along with their cold fingers. Stop for lunch. It’s a holiday after all. Keep your memories intact instead of spoiling them with a row. Good luck. Break a leg.
If you like what you’ve seen and want to keep up with our movie making, click here to subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Here’s the Center Parcs advert in case you didn’t catch it:
Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you in part thanks to support from Center Parcs who provided the infographic. The other ideas, opinions and experiences remain, as ever, entirely our own.
Further reading: You might like to check out my post on how to write a poem about a city for more creative inspiration with your kids.