Put Your Old “Home Movies” to Good Use


Cheering in the dining hall at CSL

Camp Seneca Lake, located in upstate New York, has been around for over 80 years. All of my husband's closest friends are from this camp. I met him when I was accidentally placed on the CSL alumni volleyball team in DC many years ago. My 10-year-old son is there right now, along with many of my husband's friends' children, carrying on the tradition.

Needless to say, this camp is not only still going strong, but also has a devoted alumni contingent.

CSL came to me last summer with hours and hours of old camp videos. Most of the footage was shot by two former campers and counselors who were amateur shooters at best, and most of the video did not have any audio. Their idea? Make a video out of these old movies that could be exciting and memorable for alumni to watch, and that could also potentially be used as a fundraiser.

How did we make something interesting with 60 hours of unprofessional "home movie" footage?

The first step was culling down the amount of footage to the most useable clips, which an alumni committee did ahead of time and narrowed the amount in half. The footage was broken up by year, from 1968 through the 1980s, but we struggled at first with how to tell the story best.

After talking with the Development Team (who are also alumni campers and counselors), we realized that the best moments of the footage were the clips that showed how much camp had remained the same after all of these years. We also knew that the alumni viewing the film would be coming from a wide range of years. So rather than create a film with an historical timeline, we decided to organize the clips based on themes or related items, and interspersed it with short, funny scenes that happened to be recorded. We started with the lake - the centerpiece of camp - and then moved on to all camp activities, shows and plays, sports, and finally the buses and saying goodbye.

Because a good deal of the footage was lacking audio, we knew a critical piece we needed was music. Though it's always nice to use music from a specific period in time, we were concerned with rights issues and screening the film at a public venue. As luck would have it, one of the most beloved singers to visit the camp years ago - whose songs are still sung to this day - was Dean Friedman.

Many of the "home movie" clips included concerts where Dean had performed at camp. In order to have music that was both relevant to camp and legal to include, we contacted Dean Friedman and asked for permission to use those recordings we had of some of his songs from the camp footage. We then cut back and forth between him singing the songs and other footage of camp.The result not only makes for a great film, but also makes some of the shakier footage more forgiving to watch when alumni ears are getting to re-live hearing memorable music.

The reception from the camp alumni was overwhelmingly positive. We made the film short enough and entertaining enough to hold their attention, and now, after the initial debut in Rochester, many more alumni groups will be showing the film around the country.

As CSL realized, one of the most economic ways to create videos is by using what you already have. Old video footage can be converted and re-edited to make something new. The same can be done with piles of old photos. The video can be an historic look back or something thematic. This project was a great way to document history and allow alumni to reconnect to camp at a fairly low cost.

Does your organization have old video, 8mm footage or photos from long ago that could be made into something new again? Do you have a need to fundraise or bring people together? Consider what you have already within your reach, and know that you can get a lot out of old video and photos - more than you probably realize.