Edmonton Journal September 17, 2013
EDMONTON – A few years ago, Nicole Beart convinced her notoriously camera-shy grandmother to do an interview on video.
Anne, then 86, was an important influence on Beart’s life, and she wanted to record her grandmother’s stories. Eight months later, her grandmother died.
“I showed the video at her celebration of life, and just seeing everyone’s reaction to seeing her up there, talking and laughing and joking around, even though she was gone, was such a powerful thing,” said Beart.
The 32-year-old is building a business, Memory Catcher, inspired by that experience. She helps people chronicle their life stories on video to share with family members and future generations.
“My family will be able to put on this video and future generations can kind of meet my grandmother, and know who she was other than just a still photograph,” Beart said.
The videos combine interviews, photo montages and music and aren’t shown exclusively at funerals — clients have also hired Beart to record their stories for milestone birthdays, anniversaries and retirement parties.
She likes to tell clients the finished video “takes people on a guided walk down memory lane.”
One of those clients is Grace Knight, who hired Beart to make a video to show at her and her husband’s 20th wedding anniversary celebration.
“I’m a shy person and was very nervous to be filmed, but she made us feel at ease,” Knight said.
Beart filmed interviews with the couple and their son and went through 20 years of photos to make a video of the couple’s love story.
“It was fantastic,” said Knight.
Beart has joined the Association of Personal Historians, a non-profit organization with 650 members worldwide, including 60 Canadians. Members are hired to help clients create personal histories, including memoirs, video tributes, autobiographies and family histories in the form of books, audio recordings and documentaries. Association president Sarah White said the personal history profession is growing as baby boomers retire and seek help recording their family’s stories.
“They’re a generation accustomed to hiring coaches, be it a career coach or fitness coach, to help them,” she said from Madison, Wisc.
Another trend at play is the rising popularity of genealogy as a hobby, White said. People are increasingly focusing not just on important dates from the past, but also on stories. Those people are willing to pay strangers to record their history, White said, “in part to just get it done.”
“Also, someone from outside the family brings the neutrality to ask questions that family members might overlook.”
Beart’s clients are typically baby boomers who pay $800 to $3,500 to have their family histories recorded. The client’s senior parent is often the main interview subject. She has also worked with terminally ill clients wanting to leave a legacy of stories and messages for loved ones. They may pass the final video on to family members as part of their estate, Beart said.
Each project begins with a pre-interview consultation, then Beart typically spends a full day interviewing the subject, often in a home or office. Once filming is completed, it takes about six to eight weeks for Beart to finish the video, which she then screens for clients.
“Usually there’s the teary hugs at the end,” Beart said. “It’s always really powerful.”
Some clients want only raw, unedited video footage, which can cost $800 to $1,000 for six to eight hours of filming. Others want a finished, edited video, which runs around the 15-minute mark and costs about $3,500. Beart also offers audio-only options.
She said she doesn’t know of anyone else in Edmonton doing the same type of work.
“I think she’s providing something very unique,” said Shirley Lowe, the City of Edmonton’s historian laureate.
Lowe said there are a number of people in Edmonton recording oral histories — in fact she has hosted a workshop on recording oral history — but she hasn’t heard of anyone else creating videos.
Beart incorporated Memory Catcher more than two years ago and has been working full-time for the past few months. She didn’t set out to become a personal historian or entrepreneur, but a car accident caused spinal injuries that forced her to reconsider her current job teaching Grade 1.
She had spent summers working in the local film industry, and that experience combined with recording her grandmother’s story encouraged her to launch Memory Catcher.
Beart has completed about 20 personal biography projects and another five videos for corporate clients, and would like to see those numbers grow, albeit slowly.
“Ideally I’d like to see four to five projects a month. I don’t necessarily want the business to grow to the point it is huge, as I want to be able to have that personal touch and deliver high quality projects.”