Recruiting Your Family Members to make a Legacy Film
Updated: May 11
Whether you've been toying with the idea for years or a trusted advisor has just recently suggested the idea to you for the first time, the decision to make a Legacy Film or series of Legacy Films is a huge one.
Not only will it be an investment of time and money on your part, but it will also require the vulnerability of asking others in your family circle to participate in order to create the kinds of films that will stand the test of time.
One of the main things that sets our company apart from others who claim to do similar work, is that our emphasis is on multi-generational storytelling.
What does this mean? This means that not only do we want to interview you and your spouse or partner, but this means that your parents, stepparents, children, grandchildren, daughters and sons-in-law are all key components in painting the most complete, holistic, and interesting picture of who your family is.
The challenge becomes, how can you get the rest of your family to be as excited, motivated, and inspired to be a part of the storytelling process as you are?
Start with Your Why
That is one of the first questions we will have asked you when you reach out to us, why do you want to create a legacy film? You may think this is obvious, but since this is not a part of our popular culture, like owning a car, taking a family vacation, or investing in education, it takes some introspection and reflection to get to the heart of why you want to do this. We don't assume that everyone we work with has the same why, and your why will potentially be different from your spouses.
Some typical whys from recent clients include:
We're concerned that the youngest kids in our family just cannot comprehend how hard it was in the beginning for us. I'm worried that they're not going to have the same values that we had since they're growing up with so much more.
I lost my parents young, and I never got to ask them so many questions before they died. I want to spare my family members this same regret.
We haven't historically been a family that speaks openly about our history or our feelings and I want to change our family culture.
There was a family rift a couple generations back and I wonder if a project like this can heal it for current and future generations, and bring us back together as an extended family.
We are so close and family storytelling is something we put a lot of time and attention into already and we want to preserve this tradition for future generations to pass on in a more tangible way.
I've never really shared anything with my kids or grandkids about how difficult my childhood was and how different it was from theirs and its time they heard about it.
I married into this family business, and while we are constantly telling the story of my husband's side, little to nothing is shared about my side. I want to change this.
These are just some examples of reasons people embark on a project like this, and if you aren't clear about your why and don't communicate this to your extended family when asking them to participate, you are likely to be met with resistance, confusion, and blatant refusal when you approach them to join in the process.
Don't Assume they know what a Legacy Film is
It is crucial that you also don't assume that just because you are excited to do something like this that everyone else will jump on the bandwagon. It is important to present the idea to the family as a whole and then to have individual conversations with each family member whom you wish to have participate, in order to ensure a successful project. Rare is the documentary film that can entertain and inform with just one or two storytellers. And nowhere is it more true than in families that we are a part of one another's stories.
Some of the most memorable, favorite moments of the hundreds of films we've made have come from dozens of family members sharing the same or close to similar recollections of their loved ones. There is nothing that we've seen bring a family closer than the sense of connection that comes from telling stories about shared, precious memories. We are the sum of all our experiences and all of the people who influenced us, and in most cases, our family members are the primary influencers who make us who we are for better or worse.
Even when we tackle difficult topics like addiction, abuse or family rifts, there is a nuance that comes from having many voices telling one story that democratizes things versus one or two family members acting as the "authority" on all things.
Make it a Conversation
We suggest you reach out and set up a time to talk on the phone or in person with all the family members who you wish us to interview before we reach out to set up the interviews. We have short information sheets about what family members can expect from the process that you can share with them in this conversation. We are also always available to discuss the process.
If you encounter resistance or downright stubbornness, it's important to be curious. If your family members feel like they are being forced, manipulated, or coerced into appearing in the film, they will resist. If they do not feel like they have the right to refuse, they may not want to cooperate.
Listen to them. Be curious. Ask follow-up questions. Validate their concerns and fears.
Maybe your kids feel like they are always being asked to do things for the family and they don't see how this is any different. Maybe they feel that family history has been shoved down their throat and they're sick of it. Maybe they are just overwhelmed in general in their life and feel like it's adding another to-do item to their already full plates.
By having a conversation about your why, providing some context for the time commitment, and listening to their concerns you're paving the way for a much smoother process.
One of the other main questions we always ask our clients when we first talk is who is the audience for these films? Likely your kids, grandkids and future generations, right?
That means that having them participate in the process and giving them the opportunity to have their voice heard creates not only a better film, but a process that is inclusive, connective, and fun.
However, we have found after doing this for quite some time that the process will only be as smooth and successful as the upfront communication is.
People can have A LOT of resistance and fear to appearing on camera and also to talking to someone outside the family about their experiences and family memories. Sometimes people are afraid that people outside the family will learn things that they don't feel should be talked about. Almost always, there are conflicting memories or stories about what actually happened when.
If we talk to three siblings who grew up in the same household, the same parents, in the same generation, they will often sound like they are talking about three different families. Sometimes people are afraid to share their side of the story for fear of hurting other family members or because they haven't felt seen or validated up til now.
If you are concerned or aren't sure how to start the conversation, we are happy to coach you and help you come up with some talking points for when you approach the family members.
We always start every interview we do by assuring the interviewee of the following:
This is not a test (of your memory, your love for your family, your loyalty, etc...).
If you say ANYTHING whatsoever that you wish you hadn't said, no one else will ever see it.
We will never put anything in the final films or the footage we share that would harm or damage relationships.
After all, our work is to bring families closer together through storytelling, not to tear them apart.
If this is also one of your goals, then we will make great partners in the family filmmaking process.