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Reel reminiscing

Image by Daniel Von Appen on Unsplash

I've been a freelance video editor and producer for the last ten years and have been lucky enough to work on some fantastic video projects and met some lovely people. However, it dawned on me today that I hardly ever mention one of my lesser known services, home movie tape transfers.

I've transferred literally hundreds of video tapes over the last decade or so. Whether it be old VHS or camcorder tapes, there isn't a month that goes by that I'm not doing a transfer to DVD or digital file. I started off advertising in post offices and newsagents, but luckily now people seem to find me online. There are many large companies that provide this service, but I think local clients like seeing a person and placing the tapes in my hands rather than popping them in the post.

I think the reason I haven't shouted about it much, if I'm honest, is that I thought, "Well, there isn't much creativity involved and it's pocket money, really, I'm not going to pay the bills doing this full time." Believe me, I've nearly removed it from my services many times, as it is quite time-consuming. However, it dawned on me today: why am I not shouting about this? It's probably my most important service!

The majority of tapes I receive are from the 1980s and 90s – footage of weddings, holidays, Christmas plays, birthday present openings, and there always seems to be children dancing in their lounge! I actually remember doing this with my sister as a child too: I have a vivid memory of us choreographing a dance to 'Always On My Mind' by the Pet Shop Boys.

Unfortunately, tapes can deteriorate over time, particularly if they have been stored in the loft and experience very hot and cold temperatures. Some, unfortunately, I can't save, but I always try and do my best to stabilise the more timeworn tapes for people. I think clients appreciate that they won't be expecting BBC HD quality!

I only spot-check the footage, but I love watching parts, mainly just to see happy families, but it is also great looking back at the fashions and hearing the music of the time (usually at wedding receptions!). One client had footage of my home town, St Ives, in the 1980s. That was incredible to see and brought back so many memories for me, remembering what my town centre looked like when I was a child.

There have been some really memorable moments over the years. Once I even had to transfer a tape from the 1990s for evidence in a court case!

My favourite special moment of many was when a young woman, who was probably about 21, brought me a VHS tape that had been discovered by her grandmother in her loft. She dropped it off to me and said, "My Grandma found this old tape, but I doubt there is anything on it. I lost my dad when I was 12 and she thought there may be some home movies on it but I doubt it. Anyway, you may as well have a look."

I must admit I wasn't hopeful, as many people bring me wedding and holiday VHS tapes only to find they have been taped over by episodes of Blind Date and Inspector Morse! However, I was in for a surprise.

There was around an hour's worth of family footage featuring her father, and not only just that but footage of her father teaching her how to ride a bike! Over and over again he ran up and down their street holding onto the bike seat with her screaming and laughing. There was also footage of them having fun in a small outdoor pool as he was teaching her how to swim. Honestly, I had tears in my eyes watching it and had to hold it together and keep it professional when she came to collect the DVD and memory stick. I'm an emotional person and really wanted to give her a hug!

I think the reason why I have kept this service going is because I know how important it is for people to be able to see this footage again of their loved ones and to reminisce. This year, more than ever, we focus on what is important in life: our health, family and friends.

We can no longer buy VHS players, so these tapes are redundant. I sometimes like to imagine the client going home and watching the footage with their families as I know what special moments they are about to see, moments they haven't seen in possibly 20 to 30 years. "Happy reminiscing!" is usually what I shout as they walk back down my garden path.

We are lucky to live in an age where we can easily record loved ones on our phones. Taking video footage years ago, back in the 1980s, 90s or 00s, I don't think we could ever foresee what it would be like to see that footage now, how we would feel, what emotions we would experience.

I found some videos of my children taken only eight years ago last weekend and it still made me well up. I'm also grateful for video I took of my late father with his grandchildren. Dad dressing up as Father Christmas and surprising my daughter when she was two is probably the best footage I have.

Please back up any digital footage to at least two different places – it is so precious!

I'll close by sharing what inspired me to write these few thoughts down. I've just finished transferring a wedding VHS for a woman who lost her husband a few years ago. The wedding was from the early 90s and she hasn't seen the video for years – and her children have never seen it. I actually feel privileged to be able to do this for her and for her to trust me with her precious memories.

The service is really so much bigger than a simple tape transfer.


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