The Searchers

The following incident was the inspiration behind the John Ford/John Wayne classic western, The Searchers, but the film bears little resemblance to the actual story.

On May 19, 1836, Comanche warriors (along with Kiowa and Kichai allies) attacked Fort Parker in Central Texas. They killed several inhabitants and seized five individuals, among them 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker, the 5th great grand-aunt of my nieces. Four of the captives were eventually released, once the typical ransom had been paid. For some reason, the Comanches chose to hold onto Cynthia.

For the next twenty five years, Cynthia lived among the Indians, forgetting the ways of the white man. On at least two occasions, she was offered the opportunity to return to her white family but she refused both times. 

By the mid to late 1840s, she had married a Comanche warrior named Peta Nocona and later gave birth to two sons, Quanah and Pecos, as well as a daughter, Topsannah. She had become a full-fledged member of the tribe.

In December of 1860, Texas Rangers attacked a Comanche hunting camp and during the raid, they captured three Indians. One of them was a non-English-speaking white woman with blue eyes and an infant daughter. She was later identified by her uncle, Col Isaac Parker, to be his niece, Cynthia Ann.

She made numerous attempts to “escape” back to her Indian family and she was never reconciled to the idea of living among white society.  She resided with her white brother and later her white sister but never stopped mourning the loss of her Indian husband and children, refusing even to speak English. After she died, her son Quanah, who had grown to be an influential leader during the reservation era, claimed her body and she was reinterred in the Oklahoma territory where she remains to this day, lying next to his body.  

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. And please take a look at our TEDxEustis talk and let us know what you think.

Gone Too Soon

In the 1970s, a new genius burst onto the comedy scene. Originally a student of the famed Julliard School, Robin Williams departed after his junior year when told “there was nothing left they could teach him.” He began performing in comedy clubs in San Francisco and New York and was quickly recognized for his rapid-fire delivery, brilliant improvisational skills, and indefatigable energy. Producers wasted no time finding vehicles for him.

He reached superstar status when cast as a bizarre but lovable alien in the TV show Mork and Mindy which ran for four seasons (1978 – 1982). He continued performing his standup comedy albeit in larger and larger venues and then decided to bring his considerable talents to film. His first notable performance was in Robert Altman’s Popeye which, while not considered a critical success, did showcase William’s incredible mimicry as the title character. He would continue to hone his craft and create memorable performances in such films as Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the animated film Aladdin where he voiced the genie. Thrice nominated for the Academy Award, he won for his role of a therapist in Good Will Hunting (1997).

Robin was the son of Robin Fitzgerald Willams, a senior executive for Ford, and Laurie McLaurin, a former model from Mississippi but we happen to share an ancestor. Robin’s 8th great grandfather Abraham Martin, who originally emigrated from Ireland to the United States in 1680, was also my 9th great grandfather. 

Robin Williams died in 2014 at the age of 63 after suffering from severe depression. RIP cousin.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, film, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to check out our TEDxEustis talk at

Fiddle Dee Dee

Rev. Gospero Sweet was a Methodist minister and planter, and the 5th great grandfather of my niece’s husband. He and his wife, Ann Munnerlyn, had moved from South Carolina to Georgia before settling in Florida. It was in Georgia where his granddaughter, Deborah, met Russell Crawford Mitchell, a young Confederate soldier, while he was recovering from severe wounds received at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) in Thomasville, Georgia. After his convalescence in Thomasville, R. C. Mitchell went back to the War, fighting to the end. Then he returned to Florida, where he and Deborah Margaret Sweet were married on 10 August 1865.

In the days immediately after the War, Russell Crawford Mitchell made a considerable fortune investing in cotton and selling it to the North, but he got into a fight with a carpetbagger, ran afoul of the Yankee occupation government in Florida, and had to flee to his family in Atlanta. His wife soon joined him there. They debated whether to go to Texas or to stay in Atlanta, and Mrs. Mitchell suggested they remain. She commented that her husband “seemed to have the knack of making money.” He began with a lumber mill, and branched out into real estate investments. Eventually, he became one of the wealthiest men in the city, and also served as mayor for a time.

Deborah Margaret Sweet and Russell Crawford Mitchell had eleven children and many grandchildren, all born in Atlanta. One of them, Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell, a third cousin (three times removed), was greatly influenced by the stories of the family’s history she heard while growing up. She wrote one of the most influential books of her time, Gone With The Wind. 

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 Christian Critic

It recently struck me as I continue to delve into the past, uncovering the almost forgotten stories involving my ancestors, that I have my own stories that one day will be in danger of being lost to time. As I approach the 66th anniversary of my birth, I find myself reflecting on some of the experiences I’ve had over the years. I would have to say that the stories of mine that may be most at risk of fading from public memory would be the ones that occurred in the ten year period where I was known by a different name.

From 1998 to 2008, I ran a website called Movie Parables, and was known in the online community as Michael Elliott, The Christian Critic. (Elliott, for the record, is my middle name.) It all started with watching The Man In The Iron Mask starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and becoming aware of a number of biblical truths that were reflected in this secular movie. I found this to be interesting and decided to write my observations down. For fun, I did so within the framework of a movie review. I then challenged myself to see if I could do something similar for the next movie I watched… and the one after that. 

After I collected a few, I decided to share them online. That snowballed into a number of opportunities that came my way: acceptance into the Online Film Critics Society, syndication in a handful of papers around the US, being added to the PR press junket list where I’d be flown to LA to interview the actors and directors of upcoming films, a contract with Tyndale Publishing, and the release of two books. It was a fun and exciting time.

I still believe in the premise that led to the creation of those reviews:  While art does indeed imitate life… God was the one who created it, so any art form must borrow from God’s creation. Therefore, there must be evidence of His handiwork in every movie we watch – whether it is placed there intentionally or not. All it takes are the spiritual eyes to see it. As well as the will to look for it. And once we become practiced at spotting the invisible spiritual realities, we’ll start to see those truths all around us because they were always there. And still are.

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.

And Devil Makes Three

I love it when people bring in family treasures that they’ve inherited or found but have no idea what memories may be contained within them. It is a mystery that I can help to solve. Today, a woman brought in boxes from her home that contained reels of film, carousels of slides and envelopes of photographs. And tucked away in the bottom of one of the boxes were two 45rpm records  containing recorded messages along with a written letter that came from a soldier stationed in Germany in the early 1950s.

I’ve yet to transfer the audio but I glanced at the letters from 1952 that the soldier wrote home describing life in post war Germany. He was excited because Gene Kelly was in the area making a film and some of the Americans stationed there were going to be tapped to be extras in his movie.

Upon investigating, it would appear that the film in question was “The Devil Makes Three” which was made in 1952 on location in Germany and starred Gene Kelly and Italian actress Pier Angeli. The film was about a man who returns to Germany after the war to track down the German family who protected him when his plane was shot down. While there he uncovers a neo-Nazi group still operating in the shadows.

I don’t know if the writer of the letter ever appeared in the film. All I know is that he was excited that he might be among those chosen. I did find out why Gene Kelly was appearing in a film shot on location in post-war Germany.  It turns out that in 1951 the US Congress passed a law that allowed a significant tax break to any Americans who lived abroad for 18 months or longer. During that time those ex-pats would not have to report any earnings they received while out of the country.

Kelly was one of the first Hollywood stars to take advantage of this new law. The Devil Makes Three was the first of three films Kelly made overseas during this time. While some believed Kelly’s move was purely financially based, others thought that Kelly moved to get away from the McCarthyism running amok in the US at the time because his wife, Betsy Blair, was known to outwardly support several left-wing Communist causes and he felt he could protect his family better outside of the country.

While his film was not received warmly upon its release it has endured largely because it provides a real time perspective of post war Germany. Its final scenes were even shot in Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden before it was demolished in 1953. 

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 Important Memories

I like to think that in my job, like everyone else, I have my good days and my bad days. The difference perhaps is that my good days are really, really good. And it is all because of the people I get to meet and the stories I have an opportunity to hear.

Today, in my studio, I had the pleasure to meet a gentleman in his 80s who had a number of film reels and videotapes he wanted transferred to a digital form. As we were talking, he disclosed that before he retired, he made his living as a professional cameraman. I’m talking high level… He worked on The Fugitive with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, Edward Scissorhands with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, The Untouchables with Sean Connery and Kevin Costner, and many others.

The stories he told… the behind-the-scenes look he provided… fascinated me and, I have to admit, I kept encouraging him to tell me more. He provided me with inside stories about how Hollywood movies are made, what the stars were like, how the unions operated, and what life as a camera technician in those days was like. He also shared professional tips on how to get the shot that was needed… and it wasn’t always a method that was taught in film schools.

But the real reason he came to see me was not to tell me stories or relive his past glory days. It was because his granddaughter had asked him a simple question: “Grandpa, what was my mommy like when she was my age?” And he suddenly realized that he had all this old family footage on 8mm film and videotape that his grandkids had never seen. So he brought it to me to have me turn it into a digital form that could be played on today’s equipment.

He didn’t want to show off his Hollywood credentials, as impressive as they are. He just wanted to share the personal films he took of his family with his family members who had never seen them. I was thrilled to meet and speak with him. But I am more thrilled to be able to help him deliver to his family the memories he most wants to share. And I feel that way about every client who walks through my door. No matter what they did (or do) for a living. I am always happy to hear your stories, but I am happier to be a conduit for you to be able to share them with those you love.

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.

You Say Football, I Call It Soccer


As we continue our semi-isolation, we are ever vigilant for some new, engaging television shows on which to binge.  My wife and I just recently finished the six episode mini-series from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. It’s called The English Game and it is currently streaming on Netflix.  It is an excellent depiction of the early years of the game the English call football. For some reason we, in the United States, call it soccer.

Based very loosely on historical events, the series follows the lives of its two main characters: Arthur Kinnard, an upper class gentleman and founding member of the Football Association (FA) which sought to provide rules and structure to a fledgling sport; and Fergus Suter, a working-class man who made his living as a stone mason who dared dream of a life playing the game he grew to love. These two individuals, who actually existed, did more than most to build the game of football/soccer into a global obsession.

Excellent character development, interesting historical elements, and dramatic pacing and flow make this a must-see show for those of us starved for entertainment diversions.  I heartily recommend it.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora 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.

Safer at Home – Day Twenty-Three


April 24, 2020

I spent much of the day running some 8mm and Super 8 film for a client in order to convert it to a digital form so it can be put on a DVD or USB flash drive. I would say that 95% of the film I receive in our studio is silent. The video cameras of the 1970s and 1980s that included a built in microphone were a bit pricey and most families opted for the more reasonable silent film option.

Which leads me to today’s topic… What is my favorite silent film?

There’s a lot to choose from. My favorite happens to rank #11 on the best silent film list on (international Movie Database). Not surprisingly, Charlie Chaplin directed three of the top four films. But my favorite was not a Chaplin film, although they are all worthy. Instead my choice goes to one of his contemporaries.

In 1926, the incomparable Buster Keaton starred in a Civil War comedy/action/drama called The General. It has long been recognized as a masterful example of its form. A mere 67 minutes long, it tells the story of a train engineer who tried to join the Confederate Army when the war broke out only to be rejected because he was too valuable in his job. But his sweetheart, Annabelle Lee, thinks him to be a coward. When his beloved train, “The General,” is stolen by Union spies with Annabelle Lee on board, he must move heaven and earth to rescue both.

Keaton is at his best here with his deadpan delivery making the amazing stunts and action sequences more humorous than we might expect. I heartily recommend it if you haven’t seen it. After all, being told to stay at home can have its advantages.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora 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.

Safer At Home Journal

man in iron mask.jpg

April 4, 2020 – Day Two

I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook or Internet challenges online. I guess it is a way for people to pass some time as they grow increasingly bored with the self-imposed confinement.

So I decided to come up with a challenge of my own.  The following was posted on my personal facebook page earlier today.

As we continue to obey our stay at home orders, one thing that is sure to increase (other than our waistline) is the amount of TV we will be watching. This leads me to issue a little Internet challenge.

People may not know this but I spent 10 years (1998 – 2008) as “the Christian Critic”. Under the name Michael Elliott, I published reviews of the films of Hollywood and embedded in each review was a biblical parable. I used some element of the film to explain or illustrate a biblical principle. I get that we all want a little entertainment escape from what is happening in the world around us. But, in my view, we always need to embrace the spiritual truths of God that can comfort and embolden us in times of trouble. One doesn’t necessarily preclude the other.

While I was writing these reviews, I often explained the purpose of them by saying, “Art reflects life; but God created life.” Any art form, by this definition, has to include elements of God’s truths – whether inserted intentionally or unintentionally. It just requires us to look a little deeper and reflect a little more while watching them.

It all started one day as I was watching The Man in the Iron Mask with Leonardo Dicaprio back in 1998. While watching, I suddenly became acutely aware of some parallels between the movie and a teaching I recently gave in our home Bible fellowship. I wrote down my thoughts and vowed that going forward, I would try to find a biblical illustration in every film I watched. As it turns out I was always able to find them – over 1,000 films in a 10 year period. Perhaps it was because I started to actively look for them. So I challenge you to do the same. Enjoy the films you watch… but then also use that time to reflect on God’s Word. Trust me, it’s a win-win.

Here’s the first review I ever wrote back in 1998:

The Man in the Iron Mask – review by Michael Elliott. Dec 6, 1998

Good vs. evil is the classic formula for conflict in movies as well as in life. This time, in The Man in the Iron Mask by writer/director Randall Wallace, those fighting on the side of good are the famous harbingers of justice, heroism, and duty: The Three Musketeers. Albeit they are a bit older, larger around the middle, and more disillusioned with life. Fighting against them, on the side of evil, is the son of the man they once served so faithfullly, Louis XIV, king of France, played by Leonardo Dicaprio.

Caught in the middle of this moral struggle is D’Artagnan played by Gabriel Bryne. D’Artagnan is the one-time “fourth musketeer,” now serving as captain of the guard. For reasons of his own, he has continued to serve king and country despite the less than worthy character of the one occupying the throne.

As France starves under the iron hand of King Louis, our retired Musketeers find themselves inexplicably drawn into the center of the fray. Banding together once more to save France, and perhaps their own souls, they concoct a plan, the success of which hinges upon the rescue and cooperation of the title character, a man imprisoned by Louis and forced to wear a mask welded about his head to ensure his anonymity.

DiCaprio is afforded an opportunity to flex his acting muscles in the dual role of the king and title character. Exploring the polar regions of man’s regions, he succeeds in that he keeps each of his characterizations somewhat one-dimensional. The king is truly evil. The man in the iron mask is truly good. And thus the internal struggle facing all humans can be clearly seen as it is manifested between these two characters.

The internal struggle of man is also embodied in the much more complex personas of The Three Musketeers: Aramis (Jeremy Irons) is seen struggling with the knowledge of past wrongs as he seeks redemption and forgiveness. Athos (John Malkovich) is seen struggling with grief as he seeks revenge. Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) is seen struggling with the pains of growing older while seeking a revitalization of his passion for life.

These struggles, because they are of the personal, internal kind, are perhaps the most intriguing to watch. Depardieu is especially brilliant in his humorous portrayal of a man, once larger then life, now coping with the reality of being merely life-sized.

The main story line which drives the movie is quite reminiscent of the record of Joseph which can be read in Genesis (chapters 39 – 41). Life the man in the iron mask, Joseph was unjustly imprisoned for an extended period of time. He maintained his integrity and decency throughout his wrongful imprisonment. Following his deliverance from prison, he rose to a position of great influence whereby he was able to save an entire nation from certain ruin.

In addition to the story line itself, the characterization of The Three Musketeers is also fodder for a discussion of spiritual truths. At one point, as they attempt to convince D’Artagnan to join their rebellion, Athos makes the point that, ideally, they should have a king worthy of their service.

As Christians, we live that ideal. We serve the one who will be the king of kings (Revelation 17:14). We may not be his “musketeers” but we are his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) and he is well worthy of the service we render him.

Later in the movie, the musketeers, facing insurmountable odds, are forced to make a decision that many great men of the Bible have had to make. Is it better to live and betray what is right, or should one be willing to risk everything from one’s beliefs? Their decision will surprise no one. What happens as a result of their decision is quite thrilling and speaks to the benefit of always conducting one’s life by the standard of honor, integrity, valor, and courage. The standard of truth.

We may never be called to test our commitment to the truth in such a life or death manner. But the internal struggle of good vs. evil still rages within each of us. Who will be the ones who have the conviction and strength of will to resist that which runs contrary to what is right? Who are the musketeers among us? And who will be the musketeers of tomorrow? Believe it or not, these are questions which one day will be answered. And in that day, we shall learn and live the true meaning of “All for One and One for All.”

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora 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.

I Work In a Time Machine


One of the best things about my business is the environment in which I work. It is kind of like stepping into a time capsule every day. Our studio may not be as snappy as a modified DeLorean fitted with a working  flux capacitor, but it often provides the same effect… we constantly find ourselves going “back to the future.”

This past week we spent a lot of time converting old audio recordings to CDs and mp3s. It was a blast from the past hearing a high school graduation ceremony – class of ’63. The students who graduated that year will be celebrating at their 55th reunion this year. I’m sure they would be mesmerized to hear their thoughts and dreams for the future (now the past) expressed on audiotape so many years ago. Thanks to our work, they’ll be able to.

I also had the pleasure of listening to one of my client’s parents encouraging her to talk while she was just a babe. She now has children of her own and will be going through that process again, this time taking the role of the parent teaching the child.

Time is a treasured commodity at Home Video Studio and a day doesn’t go by that we don’t recognize the importance of the many moments that have been recorded for posterity. There’s a reason we, as a people, do it. And there’s a reason we all keep schlepping boxes of these treasured memories around with us from house to house… even when we no longer have the equipment that can play them.

As the title of my blog says… Memories Matter. And because they do, we stand ready to help you ensure that your recorded memories can stand against the test of time. So instead of keeping all those memories locked away on archaic media that can no longer be accessed, bring them to us and give us the opportunity to deliver your past back to the future.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora 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.