Playing Through Adversity

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I am constantly amazed at how frequently history comes walking through our doors. Today a client brought us some films that were part of his dad’s collection. He then began to tell his story.

His dad was Paulino Caron, a Cuban musician turned dissident during the height of the Castro regime. He was an active participant in the disastrous Bay of Pigs “invasion” and as a result was captured and imprisoned by the Castro forces along with nearly 1200 other members of Brigade 2506. While in the prison camp, he was shot twice – once in the chest and once in the arm for being “uncooperative.”

What he was doing was trying to build morale among the other prisoners. He fashioned and led a prison camp band. They had no traditional instruments so they improvised. Broken bottles became horns, trash cans became drums. And they played music. It became so popular amongst the other prisoners they performed weekly shows. They took to calling it “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

After JFK finally arranged for their release in late 1962, the real Ed Sullivan, who had heard of their inspirational story, invited them to appear on his actual show with their makeshift instruments to play to his national audience. The video clip survives and can be found below. Paulino Caron is the one leading the band.

As the son was telling his father’s story, the pride in his voice and the glow in his eyes told me all – this was a story I needed to retell. I am thankful that he allowed me to do so.

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.

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It Was a Very Good Year

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At the close of every Home Video Studio season, we indulge ourselves a bit and take a look back at many of the projects that we and other studio owners around the country feel best represent the work that was done throughout the year. Then, in an Academy Award style gala event, we go head to head for top honors. This year, three of our submissions were chosen as being the best in the nation within their classification.

Best Documentary

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The Lucy Evelyn: From Ship to Store was a delight to work on. We interviewed ten family members and, using their words, told their story of how, from 1948 through 1972, they owned and operated the most unique gift shop in the world. The Lucy Evelyn was a 166-foot, 3-masted wooden schooner built in 1917. When the family was looking for a solution to keep their retail store from continually flooding during the high tide season of Long Beach Island NJ, they bought The Lucy Evelyn at auction, had it towed and beached it on the shores of Beach Haven. It was refitted, filled with high end merchandise, and it remained as a landmark, gift shop, and tourist attraction for many years. It was a great story to tell with a wonderful family who told it well. We were also blessed to have available a lot of archival footage that we were able to insert into this one hour movie. Best of all, the family now has this section of their family history preserved in a narrative and cinematic form that is sure to become a treasured keepsake to be passed down through future generations.

Best Photo Keepsake

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We were honored to have been asked to build a memorial tribute for Canadian country music legend Ronnie Prophet. We worked closely with Glory Anne Prophet, Ronnie’s wife, duet partner, and a Juno-award winning singer in her own right, to somehow capsulize the talent and charisma of a man who was once dubbed “the entertainer’s entertainer.” Once the project had been completed, Glory-Anne stopped by to show us a newspaper clipping that she had found among his archives. In it, an interviewer was commenting on how Ronnie had accomplished nearly everything in his industry: Juno Awards, Gold Records, Male Vocalist of the Year, Hall of Fame inductee… and yet he was still performing. When, the reporter asked, was he going to retire? He replied in his inimitable style, “It has always been my plan to sing at my own funeral.” Thanks to Glory-Anne and the work we did for her, he did just that.

Dr. Strangelove Award for unique video

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When the Mount Dora Boating Center and Marina needed a video centerpiece to introduce their Godfather theme for the upcoming Orlando Boat Show, they reached out to us. Their initial concept would have required building a set, hiring actors, and finding period costumes, all of which would have pushed costs beyond their budget. Our solution was to use a little green screen magic and merely insert one actor into a scene from the original Godfather. They played their film on a repeating loop as they manned their booth all dressed as gangsters inviting Boat Show attendees to “Make Us An Offer We Can’t Refuse.” I’m told it was quite a draw.

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While winning awards is always fun, our main reward is the satisfaction we receive from helping our clients and members of our community with their video and media needs. Whether it is preserving memories through digital transfers, creating memorable video gifts, or using digital media to promote a service or product, Home Video Studio of Mount Dora stands ready to help you.

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.

 

Devil Boats

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My reference points regarding PT boats have always been restricted to two sources: JFK’s exploits described in his book, Profiles in Courage; and the TV sitcom McHales Navy. Needless to say, neither really explained much about this unique and highly specialized craft. While the stories I read or watched regarding PT 109 and PT 73 captured my interest, they did not shed a lot of light upon this particular type of warcraft.

I have been working on a documentary for a nautical family and one of the facts that came out during the interviews was that the patriarch of the clan fulfilled his WWII service by building PT boats for Vetnor Boatworks in New Jersey.

I was surprised to learn that the PT boats were made from plywood, not steel. They were fast, highly maneuverable, and relatively inexpensive to build. The PT stood for Patrol Torpedo Boats. They were nicknamed Devil Boats by the Japanese or, as a whole, the Mosquito Fleet because they were small, fast, and a continual nuisance to the Japanese Navy.

A little research shows that the PT boats came into existence because in 1938, the US Navy sponsored a design competition for companies to devise a highly mobile attack boat. When the US entered into WWII, there were no less than 12 companies designing and building these attack boats for the US government. As time went on, the design became more standardized and two companies stood out among the rest: Elco, based in Bayonne NJ; and Higgins, based in New Orleans.

When I learned that the boats were wooden, I expected to discover a high casualty rate among them but instead found them to be surprisingly resilient. Of the 531 ships that were put into wartime service, only 69 (13%) were lost. And of the estimated 63,000 men who served on the PT boats, 331 (less than 1%) were killed in action. There are only a few of these boats that remain in existence today as most were destroyed at the end of the war due to the high maintenance that wooden boats require.

My client attributes his woodworking skills (which are considerable) to those days in the Vetnor Boatworks. This is just one story among many that were revealed while interviewing family members for this documentary. We are honored that they have chosen us to tell their story.

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

Life Before Google

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I suddenly realized how dependent I have become. As I blogged earlier, we cut the cable cord recently – deciding instead to rely on streaming technology for our TV entertainment.  What I failed to consider are the ramifications of Internet service disruptions.

We lost our Internet service on Friday. And life as we knew it pretty much stopped. Our TV went dark. Our smart phones became dumb. And so did I. I couldn’t ask Alexa for a weather report. I couldn’t google a recipe to make for that night’s dinner. I couldn’t visit any of the apps that I use on a daily basis. I had no way of finding out what my Facebook friends were doing. I was alone and adrift in an online world that was suddenly out of my reach.

The lack of Google especially troubled me. I was struck with the realization that I went from being intelligent to being clueless in the blink of an eye. It turns out my IQ may be based on my ability to find information quickly via search engines. Without them, I am shocked at how little I’ve retained from all that I’ve once learned.  But perhaps that is what intelligence is: the ability to gather information and disseminate the pertinent details from the irrelevant ones. It is what I’ve always done.

Before Google, I still had my resources to get information. In my day, most people were divided into two camps. The Encyclopedia Britannica group and The World Book folks. My family fell into the latter camp. We had the full set of World Books and opted to receive the yearly recap edition – a highly anticipated occurrence in the Ondrasik household.

Thinking back on it, I was just as dependent upon The World Book back then as I am on Google today. My A+ third grade report on frogs would not have been possible without the help of the F volume of the World Book. I even traced my cover illustration from the picture within its pages.

The World Book was as much a part of my cultural upbringing as Google is for today’s generation. We just didn’t make a verb out of it. We never said something like, “I don’t know, let me World Book it.” My generation didn’t make up words… except for “groovy” for which I have no logical explanation.

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.

Hail to the Chief

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One of the pleasures of life in a small town is that it doesn’t take much to rub elbows with the  movers and shakers of the community.  I recently spent a pleasant hour with the mayor of our fair city: Nick Girone.  He came into my studio, not to discuss affairs of the city or to canvas for votes. He was simply a client who needed to preserve a memory. And who knew he had such memories to preserve?

Long before he was an elected official, Nick was once part of a family business. One that brought great joy and excitement to thousands of people each year. Nick ran a fireworks production company for ten years. The VHS he brought me to preserve to a DVD format was a production that was held in the Philadelphia Eagles’ Veterans stadium on July 3rd in the 1980s. That show broke the MLB record for paid attendance up to that time.  It was an incredible show with pyrotechnics timed to an orchestrated soundtrack… made even more incredible with the knowledge that this was done before the ability to digitally preprogram the explosions.

I unfortunately didn’t ask for permission to upload a clip so I certainly won’t presume to do so now but I’m sure if you run into Mayor Girone and ask him to play it for you, something tells me you won’t have to twist his arm too much. He has a right to be proud of the work that he did so long ago.

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 Lucy Evelyn

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First day in AZ… It’s hot. Really hot. How hot is it? It is so hot nobody here has body hair… it has all been singed off. We wisely stayed inside the hotel most of the day. After all, we’re not here on vacation.  We’re taking part in the annual Home Video Studio Getaway. It’s a time to recharge our batteries and re-educate ourselves on industry trends and new developments. The morning’s session… Documentary-style filmmaking: from proposal to final product.

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This comes at a great time. One of the jobs waiting for me once I return home is a commissioned project for a family who wants to tell the story of the Lucy Evelyn.

Briefly, the Lucy Evelyn was a three masted schooner which from 1948 to 1972 sat aground as a permanent fixture of the boardwalk in Long Beach Island, NJ where it served as a landmark, tourist attraction and home to a series of unique gift shops. It’s going to be an interesting story to capture on film and I look forward to getting started.

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Normally, I would blog about this project after it was completed however, I have an unusual request. If any of my readers, who are local to the Mount Dora area, can remember visiting the Lucy Evelyn during the time it was beached on Long Beach Island, we’d love to capture you on film sharing those memories for possible inclusion into the film.

If you are willing, contact me at michael.O@homevideostudio.com. We’ll set up an appointment and get the cameras rolling. It’ll be fun. 

In other news, nominations for this year’s Hanley Awards are being announced Wednesday night. We’ll keep you informed of any developments.

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.

(Note: Home Video Studio of Mount Dora will be closed until Monday, July 30th while Michael & Kate attend the 18th annual Getaway Conference in Tucson, Arizona. See you when we get back.)

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.

 

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.

Please Czech This Out

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Sometimes we just wait too long and then it is too late.

I spoke today with someone serving as caretaker for an elderly person. It is hard, especially when you’re caring for someone you care about. But the reality is that none of us are going to be around forever. We would be wise to take the opportunity while it exists to ask the questions and get information that will otherwise be lost for all time.

We offer a service that we call LifeStories. It’s where we sit an individual in front of a camera and ask them questions about their life: what their childhood was like; what events stood out for them during their lifetimes; what their fondest memories were. Their answers are recorded and preserved in a video format that can then be passed onto the family members, and preserved for generations to come.

Not doing something like this results in a hard lesson to learn. Inevitably, gaps in our understanding will come to light and we’ll wish we knew more about our ancestors and our family history.

Case in point: The above picture was found in a box filled with other photos belonging to my family.  I don’t know the people pictured. I don’t recognize the setting. I have no idea what the occasion was that prompted the picture to be taken. But it was apparently noteworthy enough to be included in a collection of our family memorabilia.

There is a clue. On the back side of the photo are non-English words scrawled in pen. I don’t speak the language. I’m thinking it is Czech, the nationality of my father’s side of the family. I post it here in case anyone can translate it for me.  It may be nothing. It could mean everything.  No way for me to know.

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I plugged it into a Siri driven translator and it came back with the following: “This is a shoe shooter Terom – the son of a bathtub slips the torch eo mu pomrala heraz feathers.”  Perhaps it is just me but somehow I think Siri’s translation may be a bit faulty.

If only I had taken the time and effort to learn more about my father’s parents and their past while they were here to answer those questions. #MemoriesMatter.

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.

Have I Got A Girl For You!

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So I released the images taken at our corporate photo shoot today. What you see above was one of the pictures that made the final cut. Thanks to all who left positive comments. We agree… we think they turned out fairly well. Thank you to Stephen Flint Photography who worked with us throughout the process.

Seeing the picture, I couldn’t help but reflect on the passage of time. This past April, my wife and I celebrated our 26th year of marriage. Here’s what we looked like in our “infancy.”

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Personally, I think we look better today than we did back then. But then again, photo retouching has come a long way since those days.

Still, digging out this old wedding photo reminded me that it almost didn’t happen. I think I blogged about how I met my future wife while doing a play in Orlando. We were cast opposite each other. She caught my eye immediately. What I didn’t know at the time was that I also caught hers… just not in the way I would have wanted. She shared with me much later that she tried to set me up with a girlfriend of hers. Apparently I was good enough for a friend… but I didn’t quite exceed past that bar. At least not at the start.

Fortunately I was too obtuse to pick up on the hints that she wanted to introduce me to someone. Sometimes being unaware works out for you. What did Forrest Gump say? “Stupid is as stupid does.” I’ll take that kind of stupid every day because sometime during the long rehearsal period I must have grown on her. She eventually stopped dropping the hints about getting together with some “friends” and just decided to spend time with me.

Personally, I think she made a good decision but I can’t speak for her.  (Well, I could but I’ve learned not to – stupid is as stupid does, remember?)

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.