September, 27, 2018

How To Truly Connect with “The Kids” (aka Rising Gen)

This article was originally published in FOXConnects. You can download a PDF version of this article here: Advice From A Filmmaker.

I spend much of my professional time working out of my right brain – aka the artistic side of our craniums. When I walk into wealth advisory forums, I immediately notice something: I stick out like a sore thumb. Most of the advisors deal in the realm of numbers, investments, strategy, and business. All good stuff and all fairly foreign to me. At first, I wondered if I should I read up on annuities. After dozens of conversations with family members and advisors, I have surmised that it is best that I leave annuities to the experts and instead provide hard-hitting advice garnered from the world of filmmaking.

My profession provides me with the opportunity to creatively collaborate with some of the most thoughtful and financially successful families in the world. As a legacy filmmaker floating in a sea of tax attorneys, wealth consultants, and risk strategists, I’ve learned that the techniques I use in my work can be applied to a whole host of settings.This is my attempt to translate some right-brain know-how on the art of multi-generational connection for application in a left-brain playing field.

Tip #1: Forget the Questions and Listen

When I first begin working with a family on a film project, someone invariably asks me about my interview questions. How do you come up with your questions? Could you send them to me? In your role, whatever it may be, you probably feel it’s pretty smart to arrive at meetings prepared. You likely bring specific questions to guide a conversation. I’m here to urge you to do just the opposite. Come with a blank mind. Lose your list of questions.

The point of a conversation is to share ideas. Through sharing ideas, we open the door to connection. Connection builds trust and can be revealing – offering the opportunity for progress of thought. If you come to a conversation  with strong opinions and a rigid list of questions,  you’ve cut things off at the pass. Instead: listen. As much as you can bear it, come to family meetings, especially ones that include multiple generations of your family, with a beginner’s mind. Bring your full, undivided attention to the doorstep of others in the room. This is a new approach that will, no doubt, catch everyone off guard. At least two things will happen when you do this:

1. Critical information may come to the fore that your questions would never have elicited.

2. The person you are listening to will feel respected. 

If you are the “wealth builder,” you might be looking down the barrel of succession planning. You need at least one or two of your rising gen to step up to the plate.  If you are an advisor facilitating a meeting around a succession plan, you need a clear and powerful consensus to build that strategy. All of this requires trust and connection. There will be plenty of time for your lists of ideas. Your invaluable experience will be sought out. But first, you must be present and be quiet. See what reveals itself. Nothing could be more important than hearing the deepest underpinnings of familial concerns before making a business move.

I won’t lie to you, the whole “waiting quietly” business can be awkward at times. And furthermore, it can feel like you aren’t doing much. That’s hard for a Type A person. But take a deep breath and give it a go. In my work of documenting family stories,  I frequently depend on this technique to extract the best material from whomever I am recording.

If you have established trust with your kids, take out your “be quiet / open mind” tool. And, if you don’t have much trust established with your kids, I would urge you to sharpen that tool like your legacy depends on it.

Tip #2: Have Fun

Mitzi Perdue approached me during a conference focused on family enterprise and we eventually built a substantial connection around one important question: “What makes a family stick together?” Mitzi is the widow of the late Frank Perdue (the poultry magnate) and the daughter of Ernest Henderson, co-founder of the Sheraton Hotel Chain. Mitzi has a deep understanding of how to create and sustain a successful family business. How I interpret it, Mitzi recognizes the power of facilitating parallel play.

“Family vacations are time apart from day-to-day business and normal family affairs. It’s a special time,” Mitzi said during a session I attended where she spoke on the topic of How To Make Your Family Business Last. When we are enmeshed with our loved ones in financial affairs and spend substantial time in serious discussions that make us want to tear our hair out, we need opportunities to connect over fun experiences. The younger people in your family need to be integrated and appreciated for their tremendous potential. For some reason, it can be difficult to see that in a boardroom.

When I first meet with a family, they ask me, How long do book projects usually take? and What’s a reasonable timeline to expect for this film? Great questions. I have answers to these questions. The more important issue, however, is one that many people miss.  The time spent collaborating on a family project is parallel play, the same vacation concept Mitzi campaigns for in her books. If family members enjoy being around one another, if they can bear to be in the same room with each other, they are better set up to attack the nitty-gritty details of shared assets, governance, and tax options. So, maybe a film about the family’s history or a multi-generational family vacation to the Dolomites seems like a luxury, but if it gets your Paul talking to your Paulette, we’ve solved a big problem, haven’t we?

This concept of parallel play – where people vacation/creatively collaborate adjacent to one  another – is a human skill mastered as early as our first birthday. We humans inherently know how to do parallel play. What’s missing is the invite. I’ve seen 30-year-olds to 90-year-olds work on family legacy projects with me and find new interest in one another and their shared identities.

If you want your kids to care about financial education or what it means to take over the reigns, try my advice: intentionally start with fun experiences that connect you.

Tip #3: Have a Great Opening Sequence

In creating a book or a film about a person’s life story or a broad family history, it is critical to invest considerable thought into the book’s cover or a film’s opening sequence. The first pages of a book or first 15 seconds of a film should communicate to the audience this is going to be interesting. The opening sequence should intrigue the audience. It should create a question that must be answered.

Engaging children is not so different. You likely imbue fun into your day-to-day interactions with your family, but many of us drop the ball when we move into the affairs of a family office. It becomes all business. “We must accomplish x, y, z.” Approaching the younger generation with this sober tone might suit the central work at hand, but it is a terrible opening sequence.

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When working with families, I am charged with creating a compelling narrative that delivers a meaty message. The creative problem is how to draw the audience to that message. Mystery, color, emotion, humor. These are openers than get  my viewers to the first act. Invest considerable time reflecting on an opening sequence that makes your loved ones wonder: what’s the bigger story here? There are consultants aplenty who can teach your kids about investments. Your job is to set things up like the master film director that you are.

The importance of connecting with your children, whether they are ten years old or sixty years old, never diminishes. The investment you make in them comes back ten fold in the family office setting and in innumerable, intangible ways  in your life with them. Start with a beginner’s mind. Leave your old opinions at the door. Create opportunities for connection. Send out the invites. Concern yourself with how to craft a great opener to the story of their success.

This article was originally published in FOXConnects. You can download the article here: Advice From A Filmmaker.

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August, 21, 2018

Mitzi Perdue Highlights StoryKeep on her Blog

It turns out that the stories we tell ourselves are what bind us together. Stories make us stronger and more resilient. – Mitzi Perdue

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mitzi Perdue to discuss StoryKeep’s role in the art of leaving a family legacy. It’s a topic on which Mitzi often writes and speaks. The widow of the late Frank Perdue and the daughter of Ernest Henderson, co-founder of the Sheraton Hotel Chain, Mitzi has a deep understanding of how to create and sustain a successful family business. Or in her case, two.

For Mitzi, at the heart of a business like Sheraton Hotels or Perdue Farms is embedding the family’s values into the corporate culture. But how does a family communicate their values? In her book, How To Strengthen Your Family Legacy With Newsletters, Mitzi writes, “Family stories tell us who we are and how we should act. Our family stories are the bedrock of the family culture. But how do you tell the stories that bind a family together if there are several generations and they live far apart?”

It was this question that led Mitzi and Frank to create a Family Newsletter, where Frank would share his views on a variety of topics. Over time, this newsletter evolved to include the stories of many Perdue family members. Mitzi’s focus on preserving her family’s legacy is a tradition in itself. In 1890, the Henderson family endowed an annual family dinner, ensuring that the generations come together each year.

In a recent blog post, Mitzi writes about our conversation and the importance of recording lasting memories. Mitzi believes that the stories of a family are its greatest heirloom. At StoryKeep, we couldn’t agree more and we admire how Mitzi takes every opportunity to document the stories that make up her family’s remarkable legacy.

Read Mitzi’s full post, “Your Family’s Greatest Heirloom” here. To learn more about what we do at StoryKeep, contact us here.

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July, 19, 2018

This Woman Used Her iPhone To Record Her Mom

Audio Recording Using iPhone | Tips On Preserving Family Memories | StoryKeep

If you could ask your mother anything, what would it be?

Cari Shane recently took the opportunity to record her mother’s stories in her own voice – using just her iPhone. In preparation for the audio recording and subsequent article for Covey Club titled, “Saving My Mother’s Voice” she called the StoryKeep office and asked me for a consultation. Cari wanted my advice, not just on the technicality of recording, but also the emotional aspect.

Addressing technicalities is pretty easy.  Near the end of her article, you’ll find my some of my top tips for readers who want to capture an oral history of those most important to them. Cari goes into great detail for readers who are interested in knowing how to create similar “audio scrapbooks” using just their mobile phones.

Addressing the emotional complexities of such recording isn’t as cut and dry. My biggest suggestion? Go into it with a good heart and real curiosity and the other person will forget after about five minutes that their life is being recorded.

It was fascinating to hear some of the questions Cari was planning on asking her mom. Some of my favorites included, “What was it like working at your parent’s chicken store in Harlem?” and “How old were you when you went on your first date?”

Cari explained that for years she had put off this project, unsure of the exact reason for her procrastination. But as she listened to the memories she collected using just her iPhone, (seated at the kitchen table in the house where she grew up) she learned new things. She heard details in the audio recording she had missed in those stories she thought she knew by heart. Her mother’s history was best told by the woman who lived it. And Cari has preserved this through recording.

What started with Cari’s simple desire to capture her mother’s voice, became exactly what we at StoryKeep hope to bring to the people we serve: a greater, deeper understanding of their stories and the power of sharing them.

Read Cari’s full article, “Saving My Mother’s Voice” on Covey Club here. To learn more about what we do at StoryKeep, contact us here.

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January, 8, 2018

The Art of Family Secrets

We don’t usually think of “secrets” as bringing families together. But in my experience at StoryKeep, the hardest stuff to talk about is often the most important to share. It comes down to context and trust. I’m so excited to share an article I recently published in Legacy Arts magazine on this very subject:

I never expected to become a confessor. When I founded StoryKeep in 2010, I was focused on the craft of storytelling itself—on pacing, narrative arcs, and the like. After all, my dream was to make documentary films and legacy books for families that were studio-quality. But having worked with over 80 families, I’ve come to appreciate that my work goes beyond mere documentation. It’s about turning secrets into stories that strengthen family bonds and promote healing.

At first, I was struck by how many storytellers of all stripes volunteered secrets to me. Often the secrets come out in preliminary, off-the-record conversations. “I’ve never told anyone this …” a client will say, or, “Only very, very few people know this … .” Stories of divorces, family drama, wartime scars, private thoughts and feelings— every family has them, and it’s my job to bear witness and keep confidentiality.

It’s also my obligation to avoid topics that clients want to keep out of their projects. But the thing is—and this truly surprised me at first—storytellers often end up bringing these exact subjects up “on the record.” They pause and take a deep breath; I can feel them deciding whether they can trust me. And then they exhale, and the previously un-sharable comes out, often with a smile of relief. In that moment of opening, transformation happens. A new possibility is made available. Like all of us, they want to be heard, to unburden themselves, and discuss the most important moments and challenges in their life.

I have seen a patriarch share a secret on the record, one he specifically planned not to reveal, only to open the door for his children to finally share their true feelings. This hidden-away piece of their family identity was peeled back like the rind of an orange. In the breaking of skin, zest and fragrant oil hit the senses and woke everyone to a beauty within. This former secret became the most valuable part of their film. The dry disconnection that had existed alchemized through discussion into sweetness. Seeing this transformation occur on screen could not be more compelling.

Secrets don’t come out by accident. I’ve learned that when a storyteller shares something highly personal on camera, what they really want is to incorporate that secret into their family’s identity. The art of family stories, as I call it, involves turning those secrets into legacy projects – life-affirming narratives that bind family members together in love, forgiveness, and understanding.

I’ve come to see that my work must go far beyond mere documentation. StoryKeep has to create art that captures the heart and mind, art that’s personal and powerful enough to carry stories across generations. The revelation of secrets is certainly not the only way to compel viewers or readers to pay attention, but when the time and place is right, the art of family secrets can bind people in a love that’s unbreakable.

Visit StoryKeep.com to learn more about our books and films.

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October, 25, 2017

Watch the trailer for our latest film!

https://vimeo.com/225005782

Ann Birks is a Montreal style icon. She’s literally one of the most colorful people you’ll ever meet (just ask Canada’s top newspaper!). And yet, when we first discussed doing a film about her life as a collector and patron of the arts, her response was, “I’m not sure there’s a story here.”

In this regard, Ann is like a lot of StoryKeep clients. Most have the glimmer of an idea but aren’t sure how their film will take shape or whether it will be worth sharing. Good news—turning “glimmers” into beautiful, compelling films is what we do. If you can think of somebody you’d love to capture on film, you have more than enough to get the ball rolling.

Click here to learn more about what’s possible.

Once Ann realized that, she was able to relax and enjoy the process of making “A Sun for the Flowers.” Click the video up top to watch a 3-minute trailer of the feature-length film.

Ann’s film is unlike anything we’ve ever done before, and we couldn’t be more proud of it. Whereas many StoryKeep films focus on a family elder’s life story, “A Sun for the Flowers” is the story of a woman in her prime. We explore how Ann became the colorful collector she is today and meet the artisans that have enriched her life and wardrobe.

And to think that Ann’s film all began with the question, ‘What’s the story?’! So as we roll into the holiday season, think about the colorful people in your life. They’re worth documenting. And there’s a story there—trust us on that one!

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September, 26, 2017

Are You A Visionary?

Eastern State B&W

Last weekend, my husband and I went to prison—that is to say, we took a walking tour of Eastern State Penitentiary in downtown Philadelphia.

Once home to mobster Al Capone and other notorious criminals, Eastern State is now a museum containing defunct barbershops, inmate escape tunnels, stories of prison births, art installations, and more. In the 1970s, a visionary group of Philadelphians invested time and money to establish Eastern State as a historical site.

Al Capone's Cell

A recreation of Al Capone’s cell

Despite their efforts, I truthfully wasn’t expecting much—a dry, quick tour at best. I couldn’t have been more surprised. Within the prison’s cold, concrete walls, I had one of the most moving immersive experiences in recent memory.

Jesse Krimes sheet mural

Apokaluptein:16389067, a mural by artist and inmate Jesse Krimes

Apokaluptein:16389067, a mural by artist and inmate Jesse Krimes, stood out. Over the course of several years, Krimes created a surreal landscape on prison-issued sheets. Using hair gel as a transfer agent, he screen printed images from the New York Times on 39 panels (see top right image). Krimes’ dream-like collage made me ponder how the human spirit responds to challenging circumstances.

The tour raised issues for me that go far beyond prison walls. All of us are shaped by moments we’ve endured. Hardship is often a disguised opportunity to transform ourselves.

Those visionary Philadelphians saw what many others could not. Today, their work stands apart, shedding light on the human condition for the benefit of future generations. But what about your stories of endurance and transformation? I wonder, how could we help you pass on your hard-won lessons?

StoryKeep exists to work with visionaries like you.

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July, 17, 2017

Yours truly, StoryKeep

letters

Dear Readers,

We must tell you about Abby Shachat. When Abby was a kid at summer camp, her mom used to write letters to her. Abby loved her mom’s letters. Reading them made it feel like her mom was sitting right beside her. “She was a pretty ‘no nonsense’ kind of person,” Abby told me recently. “Her letters were great because she wrote as if she were talking to me. When I read them—as a kid and now as an adult—I get to hear her voice, which is really amazing.”

No matter how many emails fill your inbox, or how often your phone beeps with an incoming text message, chances are none of them compares to the magic of a handwritten letter. There’s just something special about them—how they capture the essence of the writer and convey a simple, profound message: “I’m thinking of you.”

Abby has come to appreciate her collection of summer-camp letters even more in the decades since her mother’s passing. “They’re one of the most precious things I have,” Abby said. Simply knowing that her mom touched the same paper gives them soul and depth. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have letters and journals in our family archives know that they’re among our most treasured heirlooms. That’s why it’s so important that they be shared in meaningful ways.

We work with handwritten documents all the time. Our book and film projects place a family’s handwritten pieces in the context of life stories, making them more poignant and accessible. After all, it’s much easier to open a book or watch a film than to sort through boxes of documents in the attic. Which means that someone like Abby can return to her loved one’s words—drawing strength, wisdom, and inspiration—whenever she likes.

We’re currently working with a woman named Susan in Manhattan to bring her dad’s World War II letters to life. The final product will be a coffee table book with scans of the original letters alongside easy-to-read transcriptions, as well as beautiful photographs from her dad’s time in the service. Soon, Susan will be able to hear her dad’s voice again and share the book with friends and family.

Late last year, the Connecticut Post wrote an article about our work with another storyteller, Phoebe Ford. We integrated Phoebe’s parents’ World War I diaries into a 30-minute film that features footage of Phoebe reading from her parents’ diaries, including the incredible story of how they first met. Click here to watch a clip from Phoebe’s film.

We hope you’re having a swell summer, be it at summer camp or somewhere else that pleases your soul!

Yours truly,

StoryKeep

P.S. Thanks to Abby for speaking with us about letter-writing! Abby is a friend of StoryKeep’s and the principal at AJS design/s, a wonderful architecture and design firm.

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June, 15, 2017

A Summer Book Recommendation for You

Touch by Maum

My magazine-editor friend occasionally sends me advanced copies of books she likes. Her latest offering was Touch by Courtney Maum, which has since been released. It’s been over a month since I finished it, and I’m still thinking about the main question it raises—whether in-person interaction will cease to be important.

The main character, Sloane, is a powerful, well-respected trend forecaster for fashion, lifestyle and tech companies. At the beginning of the book, she declares that “The world is overpopulated, and with unemployment, college costs, and food prices all on the rise, having children is an extravagant indulgence.” A major tech company hires her to lead their annual conference, a celebration of “the voluntarily childless” as a new target market.

Maum impressed me with her ability to imagine a future, 10 years from now, that’s just two or three steps ahead of our current reality, teetering between now and almost-now.

Not far into her contract, Sloane begins to sense indisputable signs of a movement against the hyper–use of technology. She predicts people will instead embrace compassion, empathy, and ‘in-personism’ again. Her newly realized predictions are now hopelessly out of sync with her employer’s mission. And to push things even further out of whack, she admits that her closest personal relationship is with her self-driving car…

(Sloan’s car is pretty cool! It has a sense of humor and asks her some rather heartfelt questions. Reading it, I thought about how cars fulfill our deepest desire to explore; they’re technology and humanness riveted together by steel.)

For the remainder of the book, we watch Sloane follow her instinct and blow up her life.

The books speaks to something the world needs and StoryKeep aims to offer: in-personism. We’re about affirming a person’s value, clarifying a person’s purpose, sharing a person’s impact, listening in-person, documenting in-person.

In person. We ache for it. And it’s not too late to create a future that values it, too.

(You can buy Touch at your local bookseller or order it on Amazon here.)

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May, 16, 2017

Got a Minute?

Jack Kornfield quote

The StoryKeep team was in Montreal earlier this month working on a film about an incredible woman named Ann. The film is about Ann’s most important relationships, as well as her amazing collections of paintings and clothing. We’re nearly done with the film, and coming to the end of the project feels a bit like the end of summer camp—bittersweet and sentimental.

On the day of the May shoot, which was devoted to Ann’s brother (such a fine fella, I tell ya!), Ann came to us with a quote from a book she was reading:

“The trouble is that you think you have time.”

Nearly a year ago, we were working with Ann on a different project, documenting the stories of a man named Angus. For decades, Angus took care of Ann’s family lodge in rural Canada, which had been passed down through five generations. His memories of her family and his own life stories were invaluable to her.

When Ann conceived of the project, we debated about when to film. We could shoot in January, when it would likely be snowy and cold, or in July, when it would be sunny. After considering the pros and cons, we went with the bolder choice: January.

Angus was admitted to the hospital before summer came and passed away some months later. Our film played on loop at his funeral. When it came time for the priest to speak, he said simply, “I didn’t know Angus, but after watching the film, I wished I would have met him. I can clearly see what a special man he was.”

After Ann read the quote, we all looked at each other. “Yep. The trouble is that you think you have time.”

Carpe Diem.

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April, 18, 2017

StoryKeep Invites You to Lunch

StoryKeep Lunch

Lunch is paramount at StoryKeep. Lunch, you say? Yes, lunch.

To me, lunch is a critical component to producing good work. Sharing a meal with the person or family we’re interviewing restores our energies. Perhaps more importantly, it gives us all a moment to reflect. We discuss what has been documented so far and what we want to capture after lunch. We often find ourselves swapping stories “off the record” over lunch, and in so doing, we build something bigger: trust.

I’m an avid cook, so maybe that’s why, in addition to lunches “on set,” I host quarterly dinners for the StoryKeep team. In the same way that families invite us into their homes to share their stories, I invite my cadre of film and book artists into my home to share a meal. We talk about what Storykeep projects we’ve been working on, why they matter to us, how we can improve, and what’s next. We raise a toast to the fact that we are immensely fortunate to do what we do – work that matters deeply and for so many reasons.

We look forward to sharing lunch with you sometime this year. Happy spring!

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