(Family) History Lessons

A self-described “personal historian,” Peter Savigny helps people look back—and forward—with his commemorative videos.

A picture may indeed be worth a thousand words—but only if you have someone around to explain what’s being viewed. That’s the personal dilemma in which Peter Savigny found himself one day with his four-year-old son—a dilemma that the Emmy-winning creative director parlayed into a career change. “When my mom died, I inherited a box of photos the size of a picnic table, and I just threw it in the closet,” recalls Savigny, who lives in White Plains. “But when my son asked me to tell him about his grandmother, I pulled it out and I realized I didn’t know anybody in these pictures.”

    That’s when Savigny got the idea to use his skill in video production to create personal video biographies of people’s deceased and living loved ones—and his business, Heirloom Biography (heirloombiography.com), was born. “I started it doing personal biographies and then expanded into any type of video testimonial—tributes, montages, anniversaries, etcetera. What I found out is that it really all comes down to capturing stories.”

    Savigny offers a range of commemorative options at various price points. His entry-level product is a narrative photo book, which he characterizes as a “step above ShutterFly and those do-it-yourself photo albums. I work with the client to develop a narrative copy that gets interwoven with your photos and drives the story along—whether it’s your family history, or the trip you and your buddies took on your fiftieth birthday.”

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    At higher price points, Savigny produces videos of varying lengths, depths, and scopes. As with the photo books, the videos can assume any number of forms. “I do corporate histories; I did the Yorktown Heights’ volunteer fire department for its one hundredth anniversary. I do personal biographies—like I’m doing a woman’s mother who died when the woman was really young. So I’m interviewing the woman’s aunts to piece together the story of her mother’s life. I really like to say that I’m a personal historian. I’m more than a ‘videographer’—when people hear that they think I record weddings and bar mitzvahs. I don’t do that. But I can create something for it—I can interview the bride and groom before they get married: ‘What were you looking for? How did you know she was the one? Where do you think you’ll be in ten years? How many kids?’ And then it gets played at the reception or the rehearsal dinner.” Savigny also does “time capsule” videos of young children. “You ask them all sorts of questions, such as ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘Why is the sky blue?’ ‘Where does God live?’ You put it away until the kid graduates college or gets married, then you hand him the DVD and say, ‘Here you are at four, talking about your life. Did it turn out the way you thought?’

    “At their best,” continues Savigny, “these videos are a little bit of history and a little bit of prophecy mixed in.”

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