Film Lesson: Tell Me a Story

Create a video of a friend/family member telling a story from their life.

Any video camera: smartphone, DSLR camera, tablet with a camera.

Video editing software
Free software: iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, SpliceVideoleap
Paid Software: Adobe Premiere



  1. Find a friend or relative with a story to tell, and interview them. 
  2. Make sure you’re in a quiet location when filming. Background sounds can get in the way.
  3. Ask your subject questions to guide their memory or to clarify. You can always edit your voice out, or, you might even decide to keep your voice in the video.
  4. Interview can be any length, but remember that the longer your interview is, the longer the editing process will be.

Editing, Rough Cut

  1. Upload footage into your editing software of choice.
  2. Create a rough cut. Eliminate any footage that you can’t use.
  3. Use audio fades to make smooth transitions between audio clips.
  4. Don’t underestimate the editing process: a 15 minute interview can easily take 3-4 hours to edit. 
  5. Save your work regularly!

Structuring the Film

  1. Listen to the rough cut.
  2. Write down key images, themes and emotions. For instance, in the example video, a key theme is the struggle to have a child, and some of the emotions are patience & nostalgia.
  3. Come up with images that correspond with the themes & emotions. For example, a sad mood might pair well with footage of rain.

Literal vs. Abstract Footage

Literal: footage of a family teaching a young child to walk. This could be staged with actors, or something you filmed documentary style at the local park with relatives and their new child. 

Abstract:  footage of your grandmother working in the garden, placing seeds and new plants in the ground.

Finishing the Film

  1. Shoot video/stills of the images you listed.
  2. You can stage or find the images.
  3. Import your new video/stills and edit it together with your rough cut.
  4. Add a title and credits to the beginning and end of your film
  5. Export!

I decided to interview my mom, as she is a perennial source of inspiration for me. I never imagined my mom to miss curfew and wear a rebellious attitude round her collar. I wanted people to realize that parents were kids too; they probably did numerous things that were dangerous, immature, or both.

Cecilia Kao

“My grandmother, in typical Chinese fashion, does not often open up about her personal and past life. I chose to add video clips of her college scrapbook. As for the puzzles that my grandmother is so fond of, it almost symbolizes how I’m putting the pieces together as to how she became the woman she is today.

Alexia Towle

“I’ve always been humbled by the hardship, struggle and sacrifice my older family members–especially my grandparents–have lived through. Taking the emotion and impact of her words and translating it into a visual demonstration allowed me to both see and imagine what she was communicating in an entirely new way.”

Ruth Lee