PLEASANTON -- Ed Dantzig has a few good stories to tell and lots of great family history to pass along to his kids and grandkids. But his busy family -- while clearly adoring him -- is not quite knocking at his door for fireside chats.
Dantzig is taking matters into his own hands by having Pleasanton-based Storylight Films record a few story gems and family history lessons that will be woven together into a compelling tale that will last forever.
"I'm not looking for a vanity piece," Dantzig said from his Pleasanton home. "I'm looking to leave for them some family history that they might now otherwise have ever known. Clearly, it will be through my eyes. I'm trying to leave a record or a legacy of their ancestors. I just think that's kind of cool."
The Brooklyn native and former Marine studied business at St. John's University in New York before ending up as a commercial insurance broker. He and his wife Bernadette have three grown children and six grandchildren.
"Over the past couple of years as I've gotten older, I'm a little bit more reflective of the life that I've had," the spry 74-year-old said. "This will be a mini-documentary that will give my grandkids and their kids some point of reference in the future. When they get older and are curious and I'm no longer around, they'll have something to use as a reference."
Dantzig turned to Pleasanton-based Storylight Films to capture his stories and history to share with his family. The company started last June with the goal of capturing video tales of older people, those with life-threatening illnesses and anyone with a story to share.
Co-founder Mary Lipscomb got the idea for her business six years ago after making a video biography of her grandfather, a native of England who fought in World War II.
"I filmed his whole life story, and I thought, 'This is such a great idea,' " Lipscomb recalled. "This is something I should do for a business."
The former business leader turned stay-at-home mom tucked her idea away until she learned that her friend Bryan White had a similar notion. He had lost a favorite aunt to cancer about six years ago and worried her stories would be lost forever.
"I realized all of these stories she had were quickly starting to fade," he said. Similarly, his Russian immigrant grandparents had "amazing stories. My grandfather wrote some of them down, but it's nothing like hearing from that person firsthand."
White had started a baby products company, Orbit Baby, in 2003, and later sold it. He was eager to jump back into being an entrepreneur.
"My forte is looking at interesting new markets that may be a little old and stodgy and trying to come up with new technology and innovative ways to approach the market and serve the customer," he said.
The idea for video biographies is nothing new, White admitted, but the price at which Storylight Films can make a biography is different. Most video biography firms charge tens of thousands of dollars for extensive biographies. Storylight has dropped the entry-level price to $3,500, and has maintained high video quality.
"We're bringing new technology to this market, so we can do it for a much more cost-effective price for people," White said. "The issue up until this point is that you need a film crew. What I've developed is our mobile studio. It's a van-based system that is fully self-contained. We come out to your house."
White is the cameraman, while Lipscomb conducts interviews, gently teasing out stories that will look and sound great on film.
"I really love people's stories," Lipscomb said. "People think they're not interesting, but they start telling their stories, and it's amazing."
The duo will also photograph or scan all types of memorabilia, such as diplomas, photos, trophies or uniforms, to be part of the video history. All items have descriptions so that people understand what they're seeing.
White admitted that even $3,500 is a significant amount of money for some people, but ultimately is worth the investment.
"When these people are gone, this becomes priceless," he noted. "It only takes a few people in the chain of family history to be gone to lose a huge amount of family history. We're documenting not just them, but the people who came before them as well. Once this information is gone, it's almost impossible to recreate."
People who buy the service get a video copy, but the biographies are also posted online to share with friends and family through a password-protected website.
More expensive video biographies can take months to complete, but Storylight can turn around a video in just a few weeks, White noted.
"If you have an anniversary coming up or a birthday party, time is an issue," he said. "If people are looking for a major event, we can work within their timelines."
While most Storylight customers are elderly or have a terminal illness, the service is good for anyone, regardless of their stage in life. The company has even done a retrospective video for a company celebrating its 25th anniversary.
"There are different times that cause you to evaluate your life and your life story," Lipscomb said.
"The number one reason (for video biographies) is to look back at your life and your challenges and what has made you who you are now. It's really a reflection of your life. Number two is to share your legacy. Your life stories are your legacy to your family."
Dantzig, who's in the process of creating his own video, regrets not knowing his relatives on a deeper level and losing their history after they died. He hopes to leave a better legacy for his family.
"I'm going through a period of reflection," he admitted. "I was motivated to leave behind a record of some of the things I knew and had experienced so that my kids and grandkids could have a history. There's a natural curiosity at some point in people's lives to know where they came from and what their ancestors were like. Maybe I can leave some of that behind. Storylight has made it so much easier for me to actually accomplish something in a documentary sense."
For more info about Storylight Films, go to storylight.com.