Oh, The Things You’ll See

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“You must see some pretty wild stuff.”

I get asked that question a lot. People are generally disappointed by my response.  “Not really,” I say. I see interesting stuff; heartwarming stuff; funny stuff; but not that much that would be called wild.

When I first started transferring people’s home videos to digital form, I quickly began to recognize patterns. I realized that deep down, we are all pretty much the same. We all seem to want to record and preserve the same kind of memories. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, vacations, holidays, and a lot of videos of kids just being kids until they aren’t kids any longer.

Now I don’t mean to say that all videos are alike. All of my clients’ tapes are special because they contain memories specific to them and their lives. Some even have historical significance. I’ve transferred film from a European vacation a client had in 1937 that captured the motorcade during the coronation of King George VI. I once transferred a video of a presidential inauguration. The camera never got close enough for me to see which one but Gov. Ronald Reagan was definitely in attendance. I even received film taken during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

I believe that every video transfer job I do is an opportunity to peek into the past and keep a memory alive. But there is a side effect that happens when your job is to help preserve the memories of others. And I have definitely experienced it.

There are times when an adult will come into the studio to pick up the order their parents had placed with me and I will recognize them as their 10 year old self. It is weird to have a sense of knowing someone you have never met. So you’ll have to forgive me if I act overly familiar. For me, it is like seeing an old friend again after many years.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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Keeping In Sync

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As many years as I have been transferring home movies for families, I would have thought I had captured every sporting event known to mankind.  I have transferred baseball games, football games, soccer matches, volleyball games, lacrosse matches, field hockey games, martial arts exhibitions, and more. But yesterday was a first. I transferred a videotape that had actually contained a client’s family member performing a synchronized swimming performance.

Now, let me first state how appreciative I am at the discipline needed to effectively pull off a synchronized performance of any kind. It requires great concentration, skill, and practice to move in unison with another person. Just ask the Rockettes. But, in this particular instance, there is a problem… the elephant in the room if you will…

I discovered through the watching of the tape I transferred that I am incapable of seeing a synchronized swimming performance without bringing to mind the Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Martin Short and Harry Shearer. First aired in 1984, it has arguably been declared as the best sketch ever to have appeared on SNL.  That is high praise. There may be a few sketches that I would personally rank higher but I can’t argue with the impact it had upon my brain because this sketch will invariably come to mind whenever when I see a legitimate synchronized performance no matter how good it may be.

In the sketch, Shearer and Short appeared as brothers who pursued their passion for the sport even though, in Short’s own words, he is not that strong at swimming. For your viewing pleasure, here’s a link to this classic SNL routine:

 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio cassette, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

That’s A Long Way Down

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More swimming videos today so… another swim instructor memory. I remember that one of the treats I often dangled in front of my beginner class students if they met the goals we set at the beginning of the class, and ONLY IF THEY WANTED TO, is that I would take them onto the high dive and let them jump off it.

The high dive to a five year old might as well have been Mount Everest. It was at once intimidating and enticing. It was a great reward to offer as I knew that all of the kids wanted to do it and few if any would have the courage to take me up on it.

But there’s always the exception. There was this one kid I had and all he talked about for two weeks was jumping off the high dive. I knew I was going to have to honor my promise.

So on the last day of the class after congratulating all the students for how well they did, I asked, “Who wants to jump off the high dive?” No one raised their hand… except that one kid.

I tried to talk him out of it.  No dice. So, I led him to the diving board. Had him start the long climb up to the diving platform, being sure I was right behind him on the ladder. We reached the board and hand in hand began to inch our way to the end. I looked at him. He seemed eager. So I said, “Here we go… I’ll count to three and then we’ll jump. One… Two… Three…

What follows is best imagined in slow motion.  I jumped. He didn’t. Sensing something amiss, I twisted my body to face the board even as gravity began to pull at me. I saw his terrified face. Suddenly, he lunged off the board, wrapping his arms and legs around my head and neck as we plummeted toward the water.

Remember the scene in Die Hard when Alan Rickman fell off the tower at the end? I imagine that’s how I looked. I hit the water square on my back, the kid safely nestled on my chest.

As I made my way with my excited student in tow to the edge of the pool I’m pretty sure I heard a fair amount of snickering coming from the parents in attendance. And more than one guffaw.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Fit For A King

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So I’ve mentioned before that I’m a pretty good cook. But I certainly didn’t start out that way. Quite frankly, it would be kind of hard to make that claim since I’m on record somewhere as saying Spaghetti-Os is my favorite Italian dish.

However, as a young boy, I did have a go-to lunch selection that, in my mind, was perfection. In fact, the combination of ingredients needed to be so precise I was the only one who could make it correctly. And I would love to share this secret recipe with you at this time:

You’ll need bread. White of course; Wonder is preferable.

Pickles. Dill, whole, kosher.

Mayonnaise. Kraft. Is there any other kind?

Braunschweiger (aka Liverwurst): comes in a yellow wrapper.

Make sure all your ingredients are on the counter. For a proper sandwich, assembly must be done quickly. This is key.

Step one: Place bread slices in toaster.

Step two: While bread toasts, thinly slice the Braunschweiger and slice one pickle lengthwise.

Step three: Open the jar of mayonnaise then hover over the toaster.

This is the important part. Next steps should come in this order and in quick succession.

As soon as the bread pops us (bread should be warm but not fully toasted), slather one slice of bread with the mayonnaise, put down a layer of the Braunschweiger slices followed by a layer of pickle slices. Braunschweiger may slightly overlap the sides of bread but not excessively. Pickles should be oriented so they lie vertically (their ends should be at the top and bottom of the bread slices.) Cut the sandwich in half widthwise. Never diagonally.

Eat immediately while bread is still warm. There’s a small window of opportunity. Be advised that eating a cold Braunschweiger sandwich is a different culinary experience. Chase with a glass of cold white milk.

It takes practice to get everything exactly right. But I promise you, if done correctly, it will be 60s kitchen counter dining at its finest. If memory serves.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

A.R. Gurney Wrote My Pickup Lines

 

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You’ll have to indulge me… I’m having a bit of a spousal pride moment. Yesterday, I attended a party held in honor of my wife who is retiring from her position with Orlando Health after 17 years. It is always nice to hear kind words of esteem and appreciation directed towards the woman I love. It came as no surprise – she has always impressed me.

I met her in 1991. I had just moved to Orlando and didn’t really know anyone in the area. I decided to audition for a community theatre production of A.R. Gurney’s The Cocktail Hour to help pass the lonely nights. During the process I noticed an attractive actress who was auditioning for a supporting role. I was delighted when we were both cast.

If you have never worked in community theater before, the process is a bit different. In professional theater, the object is to move the production from rehearsal stage to live audiences as quickly as possible in order to begin recouping production costs. In community theatre, there is an extended rehearsal process followed usually by a short performance run.

I got to know my future wife fairly well during the six weeks we rehearsed. Well enough for me to not want the show to end. When the show opened, the time we spent together was dramatically reduced.  Concocting a reason to stay connected and continue the flirtation, I suggested we run our lines backstage before the show started. I had never done that before in any other play.

The other cast members noticed our mini-rehearsal routine and wanted in. It wasn’t long before our four person cast was doing a full backstage performance of the entire show before the show actually started. I can’t say it served the play well. I know I had more than one deja vu moment onstage where I felt like we had already done a scene before we actually did it. But the audiences didn’t seem to mind. The show was held over by popular demand and a year later that actress and I got to deliver some more rehearsed lines… our marriage vows.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides (and yes, we do have a digital copy of the show we did together as part of our memory collection.) For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Sink or Swim?

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I am currently transferring a large number of a family’s videotapes that span a decade or two. Today I went through a series of tapes where the parents lovingly worked with their children in the pool, teaching them to swim. That sparked a memory within me.

I believe I mentioned earlier that I used to be a lifeguard. I was also a swimming instructor. I typically taught beginner classes because, as I said in an earlier blog, I do enjoy working with children.

One day, I was in the lifeguard tower when I heard a high-pitched, terrified scream. I focused in on the sound and saw a young boy struggling to reach the side of the pool. He made it and a male adult, who I assumed was his father, pulled him out of the pool and threw him back into the water. The crowd was watching. I jumped down from my station and began walking toward him.

Not a good scene. Here I am, a 17 year old kid in a speedo with a whistle around my neck, approaching a grown-ass man who, in my view, was abusing his child. This could get ugly.

The child, once again, managed to get to the edge of the pool and before the adult could throw him back in, I spoke softly: “I can help you.” He looked at me. “If you want to teach your son to swim, there are better ways. I have a class starting next week. I can leave a spot open for him. No charge.”

I thought the father was going to create a scene but he backed down, perhaps sensing the crowd was not on his side. The mother, after he left, came up and thanked me and offered to pay me for the lessons. I declined.

I have never taught anyone as fearful of the water as that child was. It took the better part of a week to get him to let go of my arm when we were in the water together. Another half week to get him to trust me enough to lie still with my hand beneath his head as his body floated on the surface. On the last day of class, I removed my hand and he floated on the water all by himself.

The entire poolside of parents stood and cheered. I high-fived the young boy and then looked over to his mother and her expression of pure joy and gratitude will always stay with me. A few weeks later, I saw the boy, happy and playing in the water with other children his age. I never saw his father again. And I had no problem with that.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos, slides, and more. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Trivial Pursuits

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Flipping around the channels last night, we settled on Genius Junior. Have you seen this show? Kids, twelve and under, face off against each other to solve memory challenges. On the surface, they demonstrate some pretty amazing feats of brain power for any age.

I always considered myself to have been a bright kid but there was nothing like Genius Junior when I was growing up so I couldn’t test myself on national tv. Instead, we had the board game Go To The Head of The Class. And I’ll have you know I crushed anyone who dared challenge me at that game… which is why other kids stopped playing it with me. I must have been an obnoxious winner.

I’ve always enjoyed trivia. It is strange, because I was never a great history student while growing up. But give me a piece of useless information and that weird factoid I would store away for the opportunity to use it at a future date. Usually that opportunity never presented itself. That is… until the home computer came along.

I remember back before the Internet was the Internet, electronic bulletin boards were the growing rage. I would sit in front of my Commodore 64 computer and use my dial up modem to access a board that ran real time trivia games. The “host” would post a question and all participants who were on the board that night would have to type the correct response before the “host” called time. Modem speeds being what they were back then, players could have anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds to form their answer, depending on what kind of equipment the host was working with.

I wasted many a night in front of that Commodore – just me and my computer where the only sound that I heard all night long was this:

 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Here Comes the Bride

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One of yesterday’s jobs consisted of a tub filled with video tapes (mainly VHS and hi-8) that contained all the family’s memories of their years together. The mom and dad brought them to me with a rush request. Their daughter is getting married soon and they need to put together a video presentation with footage of the bride as she was growing up. It is to be featured during the reception planned for after the ceremony.

Unfortunately, all those memories are trapped on the obsolete format of videotapes. The problem is how to put them into a medium that can be viewed, edited, reassembled and exported into a playable form. The solution: bring them to Home Video Studio. This happens to be our specialty. Rush jobs don’t scare us. We like the challenge.

In fact, as they were leaving, trusting me with all their tapes, I showed them an example of a quirky little service we developed to use for graduations, milestone birthdays, and yes… weddings that they might want to consider including in their presentation.

We call it Face to Face: A Video Portrait. All we need is a series of photographs of the same person in different stages of their life. Headshots work best. School pictures, if they were saved through the years, are perfect. But any clear picture of the subject that has the face in focus against a neutral or non-distracting background will do.

We do the rest. We set the pictures on a video timeline, but instead of cutting from one picture to the next, we force the picture to morph into the next one. It gives the illusion of the face actually growing from childhood to adulthood before our eyes. With the right song playing as its soundtrack, it’s a clever and unique way to commemorate a special milestone event and will certainly delight those who are there to celebrate with the happy couple.

Here’s an example of a Face to Face presentation:

 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Replacements

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I saw an old movie on TV the other night. It was a Keanu Reeves film called The Replacements. It was inspired, though not based, on actual events that I still remember. It was, without a doubt, the most enjoyable football season that I, as a fan, ever lived through. Most others vehemently disagree.

The year was 1987 and the NFL players union decided to hold a strike during the regular season. Wanting a change in the free agency program, the players, after game two of the season, decided to sit out games until negotiations went their way. The owners had a different idea. They chose to field replacement teams using players they found wherever they could. Some had been cut during training camp, others were passed over by the draft, some were just invited to play because they were big and strong. They dressed these guys in the uniforms and put them on the field but they had precious little time to teach them the game and how to gel as a team. The result was a series of some pretty ugly plays disguising itself as a football game.

I was fortunate because I grew up in the DC area and was thus an enthusiastic Redskins fan. This all happened during the Joe Gibbs era and he was a master at manipulating events to his favor. I don’t know how he did it but he managed to go 3-0 during these replacement games. It may have been because of his quirky and charismatic replacement quarterback, Babe Laufenberg.

I found Babe fun to watch because every down brought what seemed to me to be a broken play that required him to somehow improvise to find a way to advance the ball. And a lot of times he did. Games were unpredictable and resembled more of the neighborhood backyard football I played as a kid. You remember the kind I mean. We huddled and the play called was always the same… “go long… I’ll throw it to you.”

After three games, the regular players came back. I guess they realized they needed the league more than the league needed them. The Redskins went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Babe Laufenberg was released by the Redskins, no longer needed or wanted. And for this one fan, the game would never be the same. 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

All Tapes Are Not Created Equal

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The image above was taken yesterday. This is a new order that just came into my studio. At first glance there doesn’t seem like anything is amiss. These are 8mm tapes – could be Hi-8 or Digital 8 – but definitely something that we should be able to convert into a digital form.

Most people are aware of the evolution of video tapes. First came the Betamax. Closely followed by VHS at which time the two of them battled for dominance in the market. VHS-C was introduced shortly thereafter allowing for the production of smaller camcorders. Then various versions of the 8mm camera and tape were introduced. Followed by the mini-DV tapes and cameras. After that, digital cameras that were able to record onto memory chips or sticks became the rage.

But what was brought into my studio did not fall into one of these categories. True, they are 8mm tapes containing home movie footage of my client. But my client was raised in a European country and so these tapes were recorded with a PAL camera. They will not play on US machines which use the NTSC format of video recording.

Fortunately for my client, I have a PAL playback device that will not only allow me to play his tapes… it will allow me to pass them through an international converter to capture the files in the NTSC format thereby allowing him to watch them with his US equipment.

If you ever discover media that you aren’t sure about… bring them by the studio. I’ll be happy to take a look and let you know what it is that you found. And if I don’t know, so much the better… I love learning about new obsolete media.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos, slides, and more. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.