Once I had completed the most basic research and transferred Angela’s movies to video, I had to figure out how to keep track of the content of her collection. Though I only later learned about the importance of metadata and the availability of online archivist classes, I began simply and naively with a system that has served me well. I created a basic Filemaker Pro database with screengrabs from the home movies and just enough data to let me quickly find movies by persons featured, keywords, and/or their location on specific film reels or transfer tapes. I think this screen grab is somewhat self-explanatory:
As you can imagine, the keywords tend to be most useful. The beauty of using Filemaker Pro (as opposed to a library-designed data management software or, even worse, paper-based finding aid system) is that I can create ways to look for and quickly find what I want in a way that make sense to me. It’s also one of the most affordable solutions I’ve found.
Of course, I quickly discovered I would need hard drives and backups of those hard drives for all the data and the video files, and when you’re dealing with hundreds of hours of footage, it’s quite an investment. I’ve found this brand to be especially reliable and affordable. As part of the “best practices” I’ve adopted, I always keep one copy of master tapes and hard drives with data in a separate, secure, climate-controlled location (e.g. not in a basement, attic, or anywhere subject to big temparture fluctuations or humidity). I also set alarms to remind myself to power up and spin the heads on the harddrives at least once every six months. Failing to do so can mean a total loss of data.
Even for filmmakers who aren’t interesting in shooting small format or working with family archives, home movies have a lot to offer. As opposed to much archival footage that comes with hefty fees (my searches online yielded rates ranging from $25 per second to $350/second and up), home movies often come free for the taking (with attribution) or for a song at garage and rummage sales. More than that, I believe there’s something inexplicably beautiful in these smaller than life versions of everyday scenes. Maybe it’s because small things distill life to its essence…or maybe it’s because the world seems so big and wonderful when things appear so small. Whatever the reason, if you come across orphan or neglected home movies, I hope you’ll consider preserving and using these beautiful artifacts or donating them to an archive near you.
In the next making of For Memories’ Sake post, I’ll share how I scanned and catalogued 30,000+ photographs without taking too many years off my life.