Twenty-seven frames appear, showing three different events filmed of a one-year-old boy.

From Tapes and Cassettes to Edited Clips

If you are digitizing old media (Hi8, VHS, and VHS-C tapes), take the opportunity to separate unrelated clips that were previously stored on a single tape or cassette. Digitization is also the ideal time to document, improve audio and color, and remove irrelevant footage.

I have three active clients with old media, including Hi8, VHS, and VHS-C tapes. Some VHS tapes are over 20 years old (the upper end of their life span), and the picture quality has been compromised (see this post on degradation). Since all of these media do degrade with time, the first step should be to transition the home videos to new media (best practice is three copies, on different media, to guard against different hazards – see this post on media storage options). Your primary focus should be to get the home videos off of the tapes and cassettes and onto three other forms of media (DVDs, hard drives, USB drives, or cloud storage). If that is all the time or money you have to invest at this point, then pause after this step, but think about when you can tackle the next step.

The second step should be to consider why you captured these home videos in the first place. Do you want to enjoy them, share them, and use them for future events? Transitioning the home videos as-is, onto new media, still limits the ability to really use them in a practical way. Historically, we captured these videos over a series of weeks or months, leaving some blank footage between events (note the blue frame in the image above), and using a single tape or cassette until it was full. So we ended up with a series of unrelated events on a single tape or cassette. If we now want to share a single, 15-minute event from a decade ago, we shouldn’t have to share an entire 1-hour video. Fortunately, we don’t have to:  the second step should be to separate these unrelated clips and do some basic editing of them at the same time. My tool of choice for separating clips and basic editing is iMovie.

In iMovie, my first priority is to include a description of the video content: who appears, the date, and maybe a fun title to capture the event; I add a title image for this purpose. I try to pull the title from the audio; for example, in the end frames above, the mother told her son, “Blue is your color” – and that became the title for that event. In years past, we labeled a tangible item (tape, cassette) with date and event information. While labeling new media (DVDs, hard drives, USB drives) can be helpful, we need to recognize the way these clips will be consumed in years to come. If someone has to find a device and connect it to something to view a video, the viewing is less likely to occur. In today’s world, we are much more likely to view things stored on a hard drive or a server (no device needed). Embedding the documentation of the video into the movie ensures that the individuals, dates, and events will be preserved with the video for years to come. We need to move away from the only form of documentation being what we write on a tangible item.

After documentation within the movie, other edits performed include:

  • adjusting sound (dealing with sound spikes, lowering volume overall)
  • adjusting color (if needed)
  • adding transitions (even videos of single events can have pauses in filming that benefit from transitions)
  • stabilization (if video is shaky)
  • removing irrelevant footage (black screen, blue screen, lens cover)

Consider how we shoot video today – unrelated events are no longer stuck together in an hour-long stream of video. Instead, we have separate clips that we can choose to place together in a single movie of an event, or leave separate, or both. Separating, documenting, and editing historical clips will leave them in a format that is more useful and appropriate for the age we are in.

Many entities provide the service of converting home movies on old media to new media, but not all include the editing described above as part of the service; photo organizers are more likely to tailor the service to your needs. Ask questions about what the service includes or excludes. If you are only pursuing the first step at this time, be sure to ask whether the new format of the home videos will enable future editing. Remember, you captured these videos for enjoyment; consider what steps you can take today to ensure flexibility that will enable enjoyment for multiple generations.

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