Its Web site says, All you do is gather photos, sit back in a favorite chair, and talk.
The product is a video biography of individuals or couples, ranging in length from five to about 50 minutes, and a Spokane Valley company called Biography Films is wedging a niche for it in the local market.
Paul Merchant, the young ventures co-owner and president, says he markets the biographies as an affordable alternative to the documentary-type productions for which he asserts companies elsewhere charge $2,000 to $20,000. Biography Films, he says, offers packages starting at $280 and averaging about $1,000.
I wouldnt be doing this if technology was what it was even five years ago, Merchant says. I wouldnt have been able to make it affordable.
Biography Films includes in its biographies footage from the on-camera interviews it does with its subjects, their family members, and sometimes their friends and co-workers, and merges with that old photographs, home movies, music, and other materials it collects for the project. It combines all that using multimedia editing software and hands it to the customer in the form of a DVD.
Usually, theres no script, except for one option in the 40- to 50-minue feature biographies the business sells for about $2,200, which includes professional narration. Instead, says Merchant, its the scanned photographs, movie clips, and music that help frame and provide context to the video interviews of people speaking on subjects they care about.
Theyre not just talking heads, says Merchant of the spontaneous interviews that so far have included no artificial re-enactments of events.
Launched in September, the business employs just Merchant and one other full-time employee. Together, they have completed about 12 films to date and, with business now picking up, theyre averaging a couple of film shoots a week, he says.
Were set up to grow, says Merchant, who once owned an Internet media company called Paperquote that produced quotations on scenic backdrops and transmitted them electronically to about 10,000 desktop computers daily. He most recently worked for Gibby Media Group, of Spokane, as vice president of technology. Merchant co-owns Biography Films with a silent partner.
He believes the tiny venture will grow because hes been able to keep its overhead costs low. While corporate videography companies easily can have $100,000 or more invested in equipment, plus pay for office space, Biography Films has spent about $7,500 for equipment thus far, and Merchant currently edits films in his home, he says.
He hopes that business volume in the Spokane area, where he has secured most of his clients to date, soon will generate enough revenue to enable the business to hire another biographer/videographer to work in the Coeur dAlene area. His vision for expansion beyond North Idaho extends to Boise, Seattle, and the retirement communities of Arizona.
By using Spokane as a base, Merchant hopes eventually to hire individuals to do the interviewing and photography in other markets, then ship the video footage they produce to Spokane for editing and packaging. Afterwards, the company would ship the completed product back to the interviewer for distribution to the customer.
Merchant declines to disclose revenue figures for the young company, nor projections for its future growth.
To make clients comfortable in front of the camera, Merchant and his full-time employee, Noel Piercy, normally take a scanner to an interview and scan old photographs while verbally breaking the ice about the upcoming interview.
We want the people being interviewed to be as relaxed and spontaneous as possible, says Merchant. With that in mind, they require no makeup for the cameras, encourage those being interviewed to dress comfortably, and urge them to have fun.
He says having a third party do the interview brings a lot of respect to the process and keeps the interviewee from omitting important elements of a story that might have been overlooked if it were being told to an audience that had heard the story many times.
Because people are generally talking about themselves, and are often older, even those who are nervous ahead of time usually end up having fun, Merchant says.
Typical customers of Biography Films are individuals in their 50s who want to record the life stories of parents in their 80s, says Merchant.
Everything we do comes down to history, he says, adding, though, that history can be of a more recent nature.
One customer, in this case a company here, commissioned a video biography about one of its employees, who, as a green beret, had recently been deployed to and returned from Afghanistan. The company showed the video at a coming-home party for the soldier from Liberty Lake, with co-workers and the interviewed soldier seeing for the first time the comments of others, says Merchant.
The result was a patriotic package that generated many tears, he says.
Biography Films charges about $560 for each shoot, which can include as many as four short interviews, Merchant says.
For a two-shoot, 20- to 30-minute tribute biography, the interviews can be longer at each location. The $2,240 package includes four shoots, and other projects, costing upwards of $5,000, can go well beyond that.
Merchant says the company is currently working on one such comprehensive project.
The entry-level $280 package includes one location shoot with a 30-minute interview, up to 20 photos or other memorabilia to include in a five- to eight-minute video, and one DVD, says Merchant.
Clients, who dont participate in the final editing process, normally receive from four to 10 copyrighted DVDs for their investment, and can buy more at about $20 apiece, Merchant says.
Theres no such thing as an uninteresting life, Biography Films says on its Web site.
Merchants penchant for individual history may have been generated by his mother, whom, he says, was a family history nut who was always thrilled to find a photo or even a tombstone of an ancestor.
As a teenager growing up in the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee, he says he tagged along while his mother interviewed distant cousins, and visited cemeteries, old churches, and libraries in a quest to document her family history.
Now, hes trying to bridge what he calls a communication gap, filled partially through the years through photos and home movies, with what he calls a new approach to biographical videos, which he contends will become more and more popular.
A lot of people dont leave diaries, and so much valuable information is lost when they pass on, Merchant says. Now, in just an afternoon, we can document, in their own words, thoughts about the Depression, World War II, or even how ones parents first met, says Merchant. These people have a perspective that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren need to hear, he says.
For his initial video, Merchant interviewed his grandfather, who had always enthralled him with personal stories about World War II. To me, its priceless, Merchant says.
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