Video Systems

Video Systems

By Cody Holt, column for February, 2004

Six years ago, one of Kate Carter’s closest friends was dying of breast cancer. The friend, who had lost her husband 13 months earlier to Lou Gehrig’s disease, had three children who were suddenly facing a lifetime without either parent. Before the woman passed, Carter had hoped to use her video production skills to make a videotape of her friend as a keepsake for the children, ages 16, 13, and 10 at the time. But on Jan. 27, 1998, Carter’s friend passed away before she had a chance to shoot the video. Devastated that she had missed an opportunity to give something so meaningful to her friend’s children, Carter made it her life’s calling to make up for that missed opportunity.

“Literally the day she died I made the first calls and laid the groundwork for what is now LifeChronicles,” says Carter, founder and CEO of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based nonprofit organization, which makes video recordings of people in life and health crises.

The videos, which Life Chronicles shoots and edits at no cost to the participants, allow people to communicate messages of comfort and assurance, and to preserve and share lifetime memories. They also become a permanent memory of the individual, and in some cases, a digital reminder of the person before a debilitating illness limits communication.

Volunteers from LifeChronicles have been present as more than 120 people have recorded their most personal thoughts for posterity. Carter says the taping sessions run the gamut of human emotion, but it’s really not,” she says. “Usually people don’t talk about dying. They talk about how they feel about each other. They talk about the most wonderful times of their lives.”

Because Carter sees the messages as a rare gift, she uses only student volunteers to videotape the sessions. Typically, two high school or college students operate two digital cameras while a volunteer project manager supervises the shoots. In Carter’s eyes, this as a winwin: The interviewees give their loved ones a permanent record of themselves and their thoughts, and the students gain access to the kind of human emotion rarely expressed.

“The students come to volunteer with us because they love video technology, but they come back for the life experiences,” says Carter, who estimates that LifeChronicles has a pool of 70 student volunteers, many who have only basic video production skills. “I always tease them that reality TV isn’t reality at all. What we do is reality. And they get that.”

After the video is shot, typically on a Sony VX1000 and a Panasonic one-chip camera, the students help edit the videos in Adobe Premiere. Photographs are scanned and added, along with titles and a music bed. Carter estimates that it takes the students an hour to edit one minute of finished video, and says the videos average 40 minutes in length. Currently, Carter says LifeChronicles has a backlog of about 35 videos to edit.

“Our priority is to get right on the taping because you can’t go back and tape someone if they pass way,” she says. “After the taping we prioritize the editing and let the families know the timeframe upfront. They’re usually very understanding.”

In LifeChronicles’ six years of existence, Carter says she has never turned down a video request. Most of her referrals come from agencies, hospices, and cancer centers, primarily in southern California. However, volunteers in other parts of the country have contacted Carter about organizing similar groups in their areas. A group of volunteers is currently operating in Chicago, and other groups are beginning to organize in Canada and Missouri.

LifeChronicles has begun to expand its services. As well as making videos of terminally ill patients, Carter and her volunteers create video messages of mothers giving their children up for adoption. They’ve also made videos for bone marrow patients and for children of military personnel headed overseas.