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Gone Too Soon

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Our clients will often compliment us on our customer service and the friendly atmosphere that infuses our studio. What they don’t seem to understand is that whatever “vibe” they are getting from our studio most often originates from them.  We genuinely love hearing the stories of our customers… both the experiences they’ve had and the memories they’ve accumulated. The more open and animated they are in telling them, the more excited we get in hearing them. Our “customer service” mindset is firmly based in a curiosity and interest in the lives of the people who cross our threshold. We are honored that they have selected us to help preserve the memories they have made.

This past week, we have been particularly touched in getting to know one of our clients – the wife and partner of a true country music star who has sadly departed this earth. We have been helping her prepare an edited compilation of his many television appearances to be used in a memorial service. While the situation that brought us together is a sad one, learning of her husband’s life and legacy has been joyful.

I don’t profess to know what mystical element propels performers into the rarified stratosphere of super-stardom. It can’t just be talent because, if it were, this gentleman would have topped any A-list. He certainly spent decades performing with many who were considered to be the best of the best.  His winning personality coupled with a remarkable musical talent allowed Ronnie Prophet to carve out a place in the country music ethos. He has left a legacy that will not be soon forgotten.

I did not have the pleasure of ever meeting the man. But after meeting his wife and hearing of the life he lived – both on and off the stage – I feel a genuine loss in having missed that opportunity. I look forward to rectifying that loss in the next life.

Rest in Peace, Ronnie Prophet.


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

 

As You Wish

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Some movies just have a special place in your heart or mind.  I found out that my mother-in-law had never seen The Princess Bride so we took the time last night to watch it. It is, for me, classic storytelling. And I never get tired of watching it. That is the sole criterion for me when looking to put together a top ten list of favorite films. That, no matter how many times I may have seen it, it never fails to draw me into its world when I see it again.

While my Top Ten list is an ever fluctuating and always incomplete thing, here are some of the films that I’ve seen multiple times and have not been bored by them yet.

It’s a Wonderful Life – is always at the top of my list. An average, good, decent man comes to discover how impactful his life has been.

The Shawshank Redemption – a riveting tale of perseverance and hope set in the bleakest of all places.

A Few Good Men – I’ve always been a sucker for courtroom dramas or legal thrillers. This one, about a military court-martial, never fails to entertain.

Pretty Much any Pixar film – Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Monsters Inc, Up, Ratatouille, Toy Story… the fact that they place the story and characters on an equal if not higher plane than their animation is what makes this team so successful.

Hacksaw Ridge – Films that depict actual events, when done well, will always capture my interest. This one particularly so because I learned that the filmmakers chose to leave some events out as they thought the audience would think them too unbelievable – even though they did actually happen. It is a remarkable story of courage and conviction.

Being There – a fanciful tale of a man whose only frame of reference to life has been what he has seen on TV. Peter Sellers is masterful in the role.

The Star Trek reboot – breathing new life into an old series whose audience appeal appeared to be waning is no small feat. That J.J. Abrams successfully did it, not just with Star Trek, but also with Star Wars defies all odds. Brilliantly conceived.

These are just a few of the films I’ve enjoyed watching and rewatching over the years. I’m sure you have your own list of favorites. But nothing Hollywood puts out can ever match the level of joy derived from re-watching your own life played out on the screen via your digitalized home movies.

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

 

Final Cut

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There was a Robin Williams film made in 2004 called Final Cut.  It was somewhat panned by the critics but generally liked by the movie-going public. In it, Williams played a man known as a “cutter.” In this futuristic reality, people would pay to have microchips installed in their brains that would record everything they saw and heard during their lifetimes. Upon their death, the chip would be extracted and given to a “cutter” who would then edit all that recorded information down to a viewable video summary of a life lived, cutting out any of the negative or emotionally troubling memories the surviving family members wish to forget.

In a way, it’s kind of what I can do for people – except for that creepy “install a microchip in your brain” element.  People bring me their films, video, photographs, audio recordings, etc. to digitalize them. Once they have been converted to a digital form, many clients take the extra step and have me edit out the unwanted aspects of their past – or edit in a missing aspect.

Do you have a family photo that is absolutely perfect except for the fact that Dad was behind the camera and therefore not in the shot? I can add him to the picture and blend him in so it looks like he was always there. Are all the videos of your children growing up painful to watch because your ex’s voice could be heard throughout as he “directed” the kids? Keep the images of the kids and replace the audio track with a more pleasurable musical score.

I often tell my clients that with today’s digital technology, we are limited by only two things.  Budget and imagination. If we can think it and afford it, it can be done.

I often check out this site when I want a good laugh. James Fridman has mastered the tools of the trade and people will send him their photos requesting specific changes. But it is how he interprets their requests that always makes me laugh.  Take a look here.

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

Now, What Did I Come In Here For?

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When you reach a certain age, you have probably have had this experience: You’re sitting in one room of your house when you suddenly get up and walk into another room for a reason… but when you get to that room, you find you can’t remember why you went there.

Memory is sometimes fickle like that. One moment you can recall with absolute clarity the finest details of your past and other times the memory you are searching for seems just out of reach like it is hidden behind a veil. You know it’s there but you are unable to reach out and pull back the curtain to reveal it. It is frustrating.

Having your memories stored on devices that can no longer be played is just as frustrating. All the events, occasions, and family times that were important enough to record for future reference were supposed to be available to us when we reached the future. But technology had other plans.

Fortunately, there is a way to retrieve those memories and bring them with us to our current day and time. If you have a 8mm or Super 8 film but no projector to play them on; or a VHS, hi-8, or mini-dv videotape but no working tape player; if you have boxes of 35mm slides but the irreplaceable bulb in your projector is dead; or you have photos so faded you can’t see the people in them clearly; or if you found an old audiotape that you don’t recognize or a vinyl album you vaguely remember but lack the equipment that can play them… there is a solution.

My company, Home Video Studio specializes in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of old analog media. Bring us a 8mm film, we’ll give you back that footage on a DVD or a computer file that you can play today. We can even offer you the ability to stream that home movie to your smart phone or tablet. Same with all those videotapes you haven’t seen in decades. And as far as the slides, photos and audio recordings go, not only do we give you the access once again to view or listen to those memories, our digital products take up much less space than their bulky analog counterparts.

Your memories deserve to be preserved and protected. More importantly, they ought to be remembered. At Home Video Studio, we make sure they can.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio stand ready to help you protect your memories. And right now, we are in the midst of our Christmas in July sale, offering up to 40% off many of our transfer services. Call 352-735-8550 for more info or visit our website.

A Forgotten Memory Restored

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It never ceases to amaze me how much our individual and unique memories are often shared by others we have never met. I was transferring some footage from a client of mine today and suddenly the unknown home movie footage I was monitoring shifted to a memory that was all too familiar to my past.

There was a tourist attraction near my childhood home called Enchanted Forest. Its concept was to build exhibits centered around the fairy tale stories familiar to children. I haven’t thought about it in years but the footage from my client brought those memories back to life.

I remember the Old Woman’s Shoe (you remember… she had so many children she didn’t know what to do?) In the Enchanted Forest version it was a two story shoe that encased a slide. Kids would walk into the shoe, climb the stairs to the upper level and then slide down to the ground.  It probably should have been called the Old Woman’s Boot but why quibble?

There was a cartoon whale named Willie, a gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, and a storybook castle with a dragon among other similar themed “rides.”

Admittedly, Enchanted Forest was a poor man’s version of Disneyland but if you couldn’t afford to go to the house of the mouse, perhaps Enchanted Forest provided a decent alternative at a more affordable price. It was a one man brainchild the likes of which we may never see again. There was nothing showy about it. Most of the attractions were simple structures that kids could play on or in, letting their imagination take them where it would. It was a simple pleasure for a simpler time.

Nothing wrong with that… in fact there’s a whole lot of good in that. Although it closed in 1995, after nearly a decade of neglect, there was a movement to save many of the pieces in the Enchanted Forest from further disrepair. Piece by piece, surviving items including the ones mentioned above were transported to a local farm, restored and put in place where they continue to be enjoyed by passers by.

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

Light Up The Sky

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We had a great time in Mount Dora on Tuesday night at our local Freedom on the Waterfront celebration which culminated with a spectacular fireworks display. It made me think back to what might have been the most memorable 4th of July in my memory.

There was the time my family drove to a local Maryland park and we laid out a blanket and had sandwiches and sodas while listening to an army band and watching the explosions in the sky. I was probably 8 or 9. It was my first major fireworks display that I saw in person.

Then there was the time I was driving on I-95 on my way from DC to Cape Cod. I just happened to pass NYC as they were lighting off the fireworks. The year was 1986, the year we celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. I’m told the fireworks were incredible – I didn’t dare look at them, traffic was intense and we were traveling at 70 mph plus. My eyes stayed locked on the bumper of the car in front of me.

There was the one year in Orlando where my family and I, along with thousands of others, gathered around Lake Eola even though a lack of rainfall caused the fireworks display to be cancelled. City planners instead quickly arranged for a laser light show in its stead. It fizzled.

But the fourth of July that stands out the most in my mind occurred a few years ago. We were visiting my son, who is in the Coast Guard, and we were invited to take part in their 4th of July family day. Servicemen and women were invited to bring their families onto the base to celebrate the day together. What made that particular celebration most meaningful was not necessarily the pyrotechnics, although they were impressive… It was that, as we stood there looking up at the night sky, surrounded by men and women who had made the decision to join the military to serve our nation, we could not help but have a deep appreciation for that service and their sacrifice. Celebrating our country’s Independence Day with them and their families put the day’s celebration in its proper perspective.

Wherever you may be, have a Happy Independence Day but try to remember the why of the celebration. As John Adams once wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail:

“I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory.”

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

How To Plan a Successful Family Reunion

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It is that time of year… a lot of families are planning events or joint vacations in order to touch base with their relatives. I have heard many heartwarming stories about events like these but I have also heard some heart wrenching ones.

If you have been saddled with the weighty responsibility of organizing a get-together for your relatives, here are 10 tips on how to plan a successful family reunion from familytreemagazine.com:

  1. Make a plan.  Start by picking a date and location.
  2. Recruit and delegate. No one person can manage all aspects of a family reunion. Surround yourself with capable and enthusiastic committee members.
  3. Create a command center. Keep your records organized. You’ll refer to them often.
  4. Build a budget. Keep your costs down or try to give the family plenty of lead time to budget. Give an idea of the price in the first mailing.
  5. Prepare a back up plan. If it is organized as an outdoor event, know what you will do in case of inclement weather.
  6. Get the word out. Flyers, emails, websites or all of the above. Try to build engagement and a sense of enthusiasm.
  7. Offer something for everyone. Offer a range of activities to meet varied ages and interests.
  8. Start with a bang. Getting everyone involved as they arrive is essential to setting the right    tone.
  9. Share your family’s story. Use the opportunity to make a family photo album (everyone brings pictures and create a page), a book of family stories, a video of reunion footage, or a family recipe book.
  10. Maintain the momentum. After the reunion, plan to keep in touch until the next one.

This blog post idea stemmed from a client who needed me to convert video footage of her family’s home movies so they could be played at their semi-annual family reunion. They have found that their “movie night” is the most popular segment of their time together.  There are now up to 40 family members who attend their reunions regularly and they have home movies that date back 50 or 60 years. Watching them as a group experience brings a certain hilarity that cannot be found anywhere else.

My client plans to purchase paper popcorn sleeves and make a grand time of it. I envy her. Nothing, absolutely nothing, brings a family closer together than the memories they share.

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

Dust-filled Memories

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I filmed a section of a LifeStory last week. This is when we set up our cameras in the studio and give people an opportunity to record some of the memories they have of growing up in their day and time. This one involved a woman who, as a child, lived through what is sometimes called “The Dirty Thirties” – a period more commonly known as the Dust Bowl. Her recollections were harrowing, leading me to try to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of this US environmental disaster.

Here are some little known facts about the Dust Bowl, reprinted from an article by Christopher Klein which first appeared on History.com in 2012.

Families were driven out of the once fertile great plains by massive dust clouds–one that rose to 10,000 feet and reached as far as New York City.

1. One monster dust storm reached the Atlantic Ocean.

While “black blizzards” constantly menaced Plains states in the 1930s, a massive dust storm 2 miles high traveled 2,000 miles before hitting the East Coast on May 11, 1934. For five hours, a fog of prairie dirt enshrouded landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Capitol, inside which lawmakers were debating a soil conservation bill. For East Coasters, the storm was a mere inconvenience—“Housewives kept busy,” read a New York Times subhead—compared to the tribulations endured by Dust Bowl residents.

2. The Dust Bowl was both a manmade and natural disaster.

Beginning with World War I, American wheat harvests flowed like gold as demand boomed. Lured by record wheat prices and promises by land developers that “rain follows the plow,” farmers powered by new gasoline tractors over-plowed and over-grazed the southern Plains. When the drought and Great Depression hit in the early 1930s, the wheat market collapsed. Once the oceans of wheat, which replaced the sea of prairie grass that anchored the topsoil into place, dried up, the land was defenseless against the winds that buffeted the Plains.

3. The ecosystem disruption unleashed plagues of jackrabbits and grasshoppers.

If the dust storms that turned daylight to darkness weren’t apocalyptic enough, seemingly biblical plagues of jackrabbits and grasshoppers descended on the Plains and destroyed whatever meager crops could grow. To combat the hundreds of thousands of jackrabbits that overran the Dust Bowl states in 1935, some towns staged “rabbit drives” in which townsmen corralled the jackrabbits in pens and smashed them to death with clubs and baseball bats. Thick clouds of grasshoppers—as large as 23,000 insects per acre, according to one estimate—also swept over farms and consumed everything in their wakes. “What the sun left, the grasshoppers took,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said during a fireside chat. The National Guard was called out to crush grasshoppers with tractors and burn infested fields, while the Civilian Conservation Corps spread an insecticide of arsenic, molasses and bran.

4. Proposed solutions were truly out-of-the-box.

There were few things desperate Dust Bowl residents didn’t try to make it rain. Some followed the old folklore of killing snakes and hanging them belly-up on fences. Others tried shock and awe. Farmers in one Texas town paid a self-professed rainmaker $500 to fire off rockets carrying an explosive mixture of dynamite and nitroglycerine to induce showers. Corporations also touted their products to the federal government as possible solutions. Sisalkraft proposed covering the farms with waterproof paper, while a New Jersey asphalt company suggested paving the Plains.

5. A newspaper reporter gave the Dust Bowl its name.

Associated Press reporter Robert Geiger opened his April 15, 1935, dispatch with this line: “Three little words achingly familiar on a Western farmer’s tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent—if it rains.” “Dust bowl” was probably a throwaway line for Geiger, since two days later he referred to the disaster zone as the “dust belt.” Nevertheless, within weeks the term had entered the national lexicon.

6. Dust storms crackled with powerful static electricity.

So much static electricity built up between the ground and airborne dust that blue flames leapt from barbed wire fences and well-wishers shaking hands could generate a spark so powerful it could knock them to the ground. Since static electricity could short out engines and car radios, motorists driving through dust storms dragged chains from the back of their automobiles to ground their cars.

7. The swirling dust proved deadly.

Those who inhaled the airborne prairie dust suffered coughing spasms, shortness of breath, asthma, bronchitis and influenza. Much like miners, Dust Bowl residents exhibited signs of silicosis from breathing in the extremely fine silt particulates, which had high silica content. Dust pneumonia, called the “brown plague,” killed hundreds and was particularly lethal for infants, children and the elderly.

8. The federal government paid farmers to plow under fields and butcher livestock.

As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal government purchased starving livestock for at least $1 a head. Livestock healthy enough to be butchered could fetch as much as $16 a head, with the meat used to feed homeless people living in Hoovervilles. The Soil Conservation Service, established in 1935, paid farmers to leave fields idle, employ land management techniques such as crop rotation and replant native prairie grasses. The federal government also bought more than 10 million acres and converted them to grasslands, some managed today by the U.S. Forest Service.

9. Most farm families did not flee the Dust Bowl.

John Steinbeck’s story of migrating tenant farmers in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” tends to obscure the fact that upwards of three-quarters of farmers in the Dust Bowl stayed put. Dust Bowl refugees did not flood California. Only 16,000 of the 1.2 million migrants to California during the 1930s came from the drought-stricken region. Most Dust Bowl refugees tended to move only to neighboring states.

10. Few “Okies” were actually from Oklahoma.

While farm families migrating to California during the 1930s, like the fictitious Joad family, were often derided as “Okies,” only one-fifth of them were actually from Oklahoma. (Plus, many of those Oklahoma migrants were from the eastern part of the state outside of the Dust Bowl.) “Okie” was a blanket term used to describe all agricultural migrants, no matter their home states. They were greeted with hostility and signs such as one in a California diner that read: “Okies and dogs not allowed inside.”

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

The Tale Of The Three Sisters

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I heard a new story today. Actually it is an old story… it was just one I hadn’t heard before. One of my clients was telling me about a place where he used to live. It was by the Blue Mountains of Australia. He described it by saying “imagine the Grand Canyon… only green and full of life.” He said he lived within walking distance from the three sisters.

When I said I didn’t know who the three sisters were, he told me the Aboriginal legend of ‘Meehni’, ‘Wimlah’ and ‘Gunnedoo’. They were three beautiful sisters of the Katoomba tribe. They were in love with three brothers who were from a neighboring tribe. Unfortunately, their tribal laws forbade any possible relationship from forming between them.

The brothers, being members of a warrior tribe, decided to take their chosen females by force. In order to protect the girls during the ensuing battle, a witch doctor cast a spell which turned the sisters into stone. The plan was to restore them to human form after the battle was over. Unfortunately the witch doctor was killed in the skirmish and no one else knew how to reverse the spell. And so the sisters remain – frozen in stone overlooking the lovely Jamison Valley in New South Wales, Australia.

What a sad story in such a beautiful location but it does answer a question I had. We were in Sedona Arizona last year when I noticed this unusual rock formation.

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I always wondered what happened to Snoopy.

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