Not Your Dad's Home Movie | Answering Your Questions About "The Family Film"

Did your parents record any home movies of you when you were growing up? REALLY old, Super 8 movies of us all – pre-sound! – come to mind when I think of ours. Once, when I was in high school, they were pulled out during a visit to my aunt and uncle’s. 

We HOWLED at the sight of our little selves in ugly seventies clothing! Those videos were so raw - no edits, no music, just rough run-and-gun shaky footage. And you know what? That footage was magical. 

It was magical, because the people on screen were alive.

Moving. Laughing. Dancing. Playing.

And, in the more recent videos – talking!

The memories that I had forgotten just came rushing back. Family members dancing and singing Christmas carols. The sweet voices of children that changed long ago. The unmistakeable laugh of my Uncle Pete. Grandparents up there on the screen, who are no longer with us, vibrant and alive once more.

Those videos gave me back those people, that time, those memories. At least for a little while, I was transported.

Photographs are pretty magical, but there is something about seeing motion and hearing voices that just makes video priceless.

Think back to what just 5 years ago looked like. What would you see? What movement and sounds come to mind? Seriously, pause and think for a moment.

THESE are the kinds of things a family film can encompass.

Just the other day I was deleting things from my phone to make more space, and I fell down a rabbit hole of watching old Instagram videos of my kids when they were babies. Lila somehow managing to climb up on top of the kitchen table to reach the cat at age 1, and the adorable purring noise Logan used to make as a newborn.

I look at those videos and can hardly believe those moments ever happened as I now have a 3 year old and almost 6 year old tearing around the house.

How valuable are these little moving memories??. They are priceless. They let us re-live moments that would otherwise be forgotten. 


You’ve probably seen these family films to music making rounds across the internet – a little more polished than your dad’s home movies, right? Bottom line: they tell the story of the family and they could be a fun experience for your family too!

Well, now that I’ve spent a few years making these little “Family Films”, let me answer a few of your most-asked questions.


1.     How do we prepare for a family film session? 

A few weeks before your session, I send you a questionnaire asking you about the details in your life at present that you would like documented. We brainstorm together about activities that would be interesting or relevant to film, and then we come up with a basic itinerary for the shoot. I also discuss with you how you envision your film ending. Having a solid opening and closing to your film is so important!

In terms of preparation the day of, there is not much to do! Your house does not have to be spic and span, as I believe a lived-in and loved-in house has much more to say than one that looks like a Pottery Barn showroom!

The one technical element I do appreciate very much for video, is having all the artificial lights turned off, if possible, and opening up all the curtains and blinds. Artificial light - especially when mixed with natural light from windows - is very, very hard to correct in video files. Natural light is much preferred!

When I arrive at your house, we will spend a few minutes getting to know each other and then we will get started!

You just go about the activities we have planned as you would if I was not there. I love chatting between filming, but I have to try to be quiet when the record button is pressed as there is nothing more annoying than hearing my own voice on your family’s footage!!

2.     What is the time commitment?

A family film session time lasts about three hours. This ensures that we have adequate footage without feeling rushed, and gives us time to “break the ice” and relax with each other.

I also shoot still photographs during the session, so this allows time for those as well.

3.     How long are the final films? Do you do longer format films?

A regular family film is about 3-4 minutes in duration - generally the length of a song.

I am really interested in making longer format films as well

I would love to document a family reunion and interview various family members, and integrate them all together into a longer format film.

4.     What if we don’t have a normal??

Spontaneity, adventure and a little bit of chaos make for great footage! I’m a mom of two young kids. My husband and I have never had 9-5 jobs. I once traveled around the country for four years WITH MY CAT. Believe me, there is no normal at my house either!

5.     What if we are boring?

As long as you interact with each other, you will not be boring, I promise you! I am an introvert at heart, so I know what it is like to be on the quieter side. Luckily this means I also recognize those subtle, in-between moments that mean so much.

As long as you don’t turn on the TV or sit and look at your phone the whole session, I promise you, you won’t be boring. 

6.     Will it seem natural? Will we be able to be ourselves?

There will likely be a little bit of awkwardness at the beginning of the session, I’m not going to lie. That’s why I like to give three hours to these sessions.

We can get to know each other, get used to the weirdness of having a camera around, and then move on.

I promise that before too long you will get into the groove and just ignore the camera.

I love to hang with all the families I film. I seriously end up being friends with most of my clients, so after a while it will just seem like you are hanging out with your friend who happens to have a camera. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how natural you will be on film. 

7.     How is privacy handled? How personal are the films?

The first thing you should know about these film sessions, is that they are for you.

We are documenting  your life, your legacy.

These films should be as personal as you want them to be. You are hiring me to record what is important to you to remember. Dig deep. Let’s make these films true treasures that will have great meaning to you, and also to your children.

As much as I love sharing the amazing stories of all my clients, if you want your film to be just for you and kept private from social media? Just say the word. Done. This is yours.

It is more important for me to create a meaningful film for you, and have only your family view it, than to create a surface-level film that doesn’t have much meaning, just to be able to share it on social media.

You do not have to sign the model release if you are not comfortable with it. No questions asked. You and the legacy we are recording in your film are more important to me than marketing on my website.

8.     Are the films edited? Does the family have input on editing?

Yes, the films are absolutely edited!

I think the editing process has equal weight to the filming process in terms of crafting the complete story. I love to sit down and edit, picking the perfect music to fit your family and the day and weaving it all together.

The family does not have editing input, but I do ask a question about music in your pre-session questionnaire, which is very helpful to me in picking an appropriate song for you. 

9.     How do you get the kids to ignore the camera?

They will likely be interested in the camera at first, but kids generally get used to it really quickly. Because I don’t make them do anything special for the camera, and because I talk to them a lot and really downplay the fact that I am even holding a camera, they soon lose interest in it.

I also use distraction a lot - if a child is aware of the camera, I’ll ask them to show me their room or a favorite toy, etc, and they soon become more interested in that than the camera.

10.   Are these films only for families with kids?

Heck no!

If you have a story to tell, then a film can be made.

I have a number of different film ideas on my “bucket list” that are outside the traditional day spent with a family. They include documenting a day with a group of high school best friends before they go their separate ways to college, a high school senior documentary film session, passion project sessions where I document you participating in whatever hobby/creative outlet you are passionate about (are you an artist, a musician, a maker? Let’s make a film about it!), a film interviewing grandparents and recording some of their stories, and a family reunion with interviews.

I also make small business story films and special event films.

Check out this is film I made documenting a photography retreat and also this one documenting a brunch with friends.

11.   How much is really documentary vs. some instructions given?

We do a fair amount of pre-planning to make sure we have activities lined up that will facilitate interaction between everyone, but otherwise the films are completely documentary.

I do help to keep you on track with our pre-planned itinerary, but I don’t direct the action in any way. 

* * *

Now that you get the idea of the process, let’s talk film IDEAS! This is the fun part where you can look at ALL the goodness in your life and see just how much you have worth preserving via a film.

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So, what questions are YOU left with? Send me a message and ask away!

But ask yourself this: Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back. What if you got it back?
— Mitch Albom

Francesca Russell is a documentary-style family photographer and filmmaker located in Garden City South, NY. If you'd like to see more of her recent documentary family photography, head over to her Facebook page or follow her everyday adventures on Instagram. If you are looking for a family photographer on Long Island or in the New York City area to preserve your family's legacy, please contact her for a session!