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Down memory lane

Capturing memories through video and making an impact.

 

BY: Eleanor Yap

 

Alvin Wong, seen here with his father, Richard.

Alvin Wong could have given his father, Richard, just about anything during Father’s Day this year – a wallet, a book or an iPad case but he chose something a lot more meaningful and one that his father won’t forget anytime soon. Said the 39-year-old, “I was thinking for a long time of what new thing he might need, and then I thought about getting him something he wouldn’t quite expect instead! So when I heard about it, I signed up straight away. I knew it was the perfect present!”

 

Telling bites of information

What Alvin gave was a customised video (http://vimeo.com/yourchapters/fathers-day) titled “Growing up with Richard” where his father’s siblings talked about him during his younger days and shared old photos of him. Richard is the eldest son in a family of four brothers and four sisters.

Everyone was more than happy to share bites of information. His eldest sister Lorna shared in the video that during schooltime, “quite a lot of school students respected him because he looks tall. He made sure we were not bullied.” His younger brother, James, called him a “role model” because he was a teacher and a Scout master. Richard’s third brother, Ivan, shared that during those days there was not so much money to spend, so Richard had to work at a young age.

Laura, Richard’s third sister, also shared about her brother’s love for catching insects and keeping them inside jars. When they dried up, he would put them in photo frames. Another brother Larry told of an incident when he used a catapult to shoot a pigeon but missed and ended up hitting a lorry’s side mirror. The lorry driver went to report the incident to their father and “Richard knew it was done by me and he just kept quiet”. Ivan called him “a good brother”.

A photo of Richard that was used in the video.

Alvin presented this four-minute video to Richard during a Father’s Day dinner in June –  “I whipped out an iPad, put my headphones on him, and pressed play. It was brilliant!” Added 69-year-old Richard, who was a teacher for over 30 years, “It was unexpected. I was greatly surprised by the presentation and was very touched by the thought, effort and time put into the project.”

He added: “For me, there were moments of revelation [in the video] – comments and thoughts of my brothers and sisters. I had no inkling of what they thought of me as their brother before.” Shared Alvin: “There were so many new things said. I guess everyone assumes they know everything, but every family member brought out a different side that was precious to them, and that added new dimensions to that portrait of my dad. Very moving really to see how much he meant to everyone as well.”

 

The most meaningful gift

A photo of Richard with his brother.

Alvin had heard of a company called Chapters which offers digital family biography service to preserve legacies and precious memories. Together with the team at the company run by Melissa Siew and family members gathering photos, the video was pieced together in a little over two weeks. Alvin shared that it wasn’t hard getting the old photos either – “Everyone had something in their secret stash of old pictures, and it was worth a laugh or two pulling them out to share!”

He called the video the most meaningful gift that he has ever given. “Well, could any other present bring about as much feeling as something like this? A practical gift cannot compare. These are memories that would have otherwise been lost. Nothing could take away the treasure trove this represents.” And he is all to happy to do it again – “Surely! You should see how it made my old man smile. I was happy he was happy!”

 

SIDEBOX: Interview with Chapters’ Melissa Siew

What made you start Chapters in July? Why memories and storytelling?

I quit my previous job at Zuji to go travelling. In those few months of discovery, there was also a lot of self-discovery. I knew I wanted a meaningful job next; I realised I didn’t know much about my family history and wished I knew more. That journey of realisation planted the seed for Chapters, where we focus on capturing and bringing life to precious memories for posterity.

 

From being a general manager of Zuji to this, what a jump?

Indeed! A very happy jump.

 

How many clients have you served and for what occasions are the videos mainly for?

Over 20 clients since we fully launched in September. Birthday tributes are the most common so far although a meaningful gift like this is suitable for all special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, Father/Mother’s Day, and Christmas.

 

What has been some feedback on the videos?
Tears and hugs are usually involved. Family members got to know their own story better.

 

It doesn’t have to be a video right? What other ways can people bring life to memories?
We aim to bring old photos out of shoeboxes, digital photos out of someone’s folder and creatively tell a story in a format that can be shared with loved ones. It can be a video of existing photos, a customised video production or a framed poster with details of a person, old home, family recipe etc.

 

How much would something like a video or even a Chapters Times cost?
Chapters Times (a front page of a newspaper) starts at S$299, price increases with premium framing options. A photo weaving (of existing photos/video which is set against music and a theme) starts from S$350 and a bespoke production (which is a video biography service that is customised from scratch) starts from S$3,500, both depending on the scope.

 

Do you do all the work by yourself or do you hire other third parties to assist?
Depending on the project requirements, I then work with the most suitable team from my network of videographers and editors.

 

Any interesting stories that have come out as a result of your work?
Oh yes! In one of our productions, we found out there was a Chinese tradition where a woman had to be married to a rooster in her prospective husband’s absence! And for one of our Chapters Times’ posters, we wrote about a guy who was scared of bananas.

 

Do you feel that we in Singapore are not capturing enough of the old days and once lost, they are gone?
I feel that is changing now with technology and more focus on the Singapore identity and forging our next chapter.

It’s not something we think about but it is so important to understand our roots and preserve our stories for the future, handing down legacies that would otherwise be lost.

 

What satisfaction does this work give you?
Meaning. Lots of meaning.

 

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Recording more videos.

 

In doing this work, how has it affected your own life?
I stop procrastinating. I don’t put off asking questions about my family nor documenting my mum’s recipes. I started taking more photos and regularly ask myself if I’m taking anything for granted.

 

Anything to add?
I’d like to share one of my favourite quotes by Louisa May Alcott – “Preserve your memories, keep them well. What you forget, you can never retell.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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