My father was so overcome with emotion that he locked himself in the bedroom for close to two hours. Some Vietnam veterans wear their anger and emotions on their sleeve. Others, like my father, bottle it up and don’t talk about it.

DadThat is… until the day I gave him a documentary on his life. I found unseen pictures of my father and his buddies in Vietnam during the war and used them in the video.

I started making documentaries for loved ones when I was a television news reporter fifteen years ago. At the time, you had to a have access to that kind of equipment, or pay a big chunk of cash.

These days it’s simple and everyone can do it. Trust me here. I’ll walk you through each step.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably already have the techie skills needed. For those a little more challenged, I’m here to break down exactly how I do it.

Normally I interview and expert. In this post I step into that role because of my experience in television and radio news writing and editing stories daily.

Click HERE to listen to a techie describe how he created an audio documentary on his best friend who recently passed away.

I’ll share what I’ve used, but there is more, much more. Please feel free to add advice in the comment section at the bottom of this post.


I want to start with writing because it seems like the most intimidating part for so many people.

Don’t worry about sounding brilliant.

This isn’t about you. It’s not your show.

Your family member or friend is the superstar.

  • Use pictures and music and you don’t have to write anything
  • Add titles to pictures and music
  • Keep it simple and just connect the dots between interviews
  • Start at a shining lifetime moment, then backtrack to the beginning
  • Start at the day they were born and write chronologically
  • Simplify by narrowing down to a single event like Christmas memories
  • Include funny memories
  • Describe how they led to who you are
  • What kind of mother, grandmother or friend
  • What makes them different from everyone else
  • What are they good at… like hobbies or athletics
  • Include their personality
  • The day they got married, had a baby or lost a significant other
  • A day they were there when you were in need


  • Ask family members for old pictures (I took a pic of their pics with my iPhone)
  • Search Facebook and other social media
  • Each house where they lived
  • Parks, swimming pools or any other spot spent together
  • Old yearbooks, high school trophies, awards and letter jackets
  • Towns and cities where they lived
  • Written family recipes
  • Family pets 042
  • Wedding pictures
  • Inherited furniture and other items
  • Find photos of news events during the time period
  • Their favorite food, flowers or candy
  • Records, CDs, tapes…

Click HERE for the best photo editing Apps.


  • Friends and family
  • Coworkers
  • Former coaches or teachers
  • Record in person on WavePad iPhone App or Garage Band
  • Record phone interviews on TapeACall App
  • Don’t forget to add bloopers at the end

BeFunky_Car.jpgClick HERE for best recording Apps for iPhones.

Click HERE for best recording App for Androids.


The quality may not end up a good as you like. That’s OK, as long as it’s clear and easy to understand.

Remember… it’s about the message. Make sure to check the audio level. Too high is worse than too low.

  • Garage Band
  • Wavepad App on iPhone/iPad or Mac
  • Notepad mic
  • Use your own voice to tell the story
  • Use a child’s voice from the family
  • Use music from the time period or that brings back memories of time together


There are so many creative and unique ways to put a project like this together.

Just do it and don’t stress out on the minor details. Would your mother really care about that bad edit? No! She’ll be so delighted that you took the time to learn about her and create an amazing gift that she can watch whenever she is missing you.

Plus, you’re not trying to compete with Steven Spielberg here.

  • Windows Movie Maker (for simple projects)
  • YouTube has added some editing and music
  • iMovie, iMovie, iMovie on Apple products
  • Use footage from championship games, weddings, births….
  • Take videos from any of the items on the picture gathering portion on this post

Click HERE for the best video editing Apps.

Click HERE for instructions on editing in iMovie.

Click HERE to find out how to edit video on YouTube.


By the way, you’ll need to be prepared for their reaction. My grandmother watched without showing a single emotion, then stood up and said, “I need to use the bathroom.”

On the other end of the spectrum, my father closed himself off in his bedroom for close to two hours. He was overwhelmed after seeing pictures I found of him and his buddies in Vietnam that he had never seen.

Still not sure?

Here’s the documentary I made for my grandmother. Use it for your template and inspiration.

If this all seems like too much to get done before Christmas, an anniversary, birthday, graduation, really any important moment would do. I did a documentary one year just taking pictures and videos of our family shopping for a Christmas tree. It was a huge hit that year and will get better every year we watch it.

If you don’t want to edit the documentary yourself, ask a niece or nephew to do it for you. They could probably whip it up in minutes.

If you don’t have someone like that in your life, Brittany Harlow can do it for you at a really reasonable price (her Christmas video greetings are only $20). Brittany is just beginning a career as a radio news reporter and could use the extra cash. She also owns a video shooting and editing business. I know her well and trust her. She can even voice it for you.

Think about how you want to give the gift too. I always make sure it’s the last gift they open… when the entire family is there and can share in the experience of watching the documentary together.

I shared the idea of making your own documentary with fellow blogger Margo Blue and she said it best. Margo said usually people don’t take the time to create something like that for someone until they’re gone. It’s kind of morbid, but don’t wait until a funeral to honor a loved one’s life.