I’ve been mentoring a fledgling funeral celebrant. The occasion of her first funeral was quite an event. She had formed a relationship of warmth and trust with the wife of the man who had died and she had written a good tribute, full of personal touches. She is nothing if not a hard worker, and hard work is our only sure insurance policy against failure. I don’t know which of us was more nervous, but the outcome was never in doubt.
Afterwards, she reflected ruefully that the deliciously funny story she told had elicited no laughter. I reminded her that a funeral audience is like no other. Rarely at a funeral does anyone hang on your every word, sit on the edge of their seat and begin to chuckle well before you get to the punchline. People at a funeral tend to gaze at you in a way people only gaze when they’re at funerals. You can’t read their minds any better than they can read their own minds. The funeral gaze is a gaze suffused with multiple thoughts, crowded emotions.
We meet that gaze with words — fine words, meticulously crafted sentences, high thoughts offered up in exactly the right verbal wrapping. But sometimes it feels like pouring words into a void, only their sonorities serving, in some way, to create a sense of occasion.
Words target the brain, an organ in which, at many funerals, bitrate is low. Words have their purpose and, for certain tasks, no substitute. But they have their perils, too. Words are what we use to exert reasonableness and they tend to be reductive. A funeral is no time to be wholly reasonable. The heart, the senses, must also have their day.
Words can tell life stories and so, too, can a montage of photos set to music. Put them alongside each other and you’ve got a marriage made in heaven. Over in the US the DVD tribute is well established. In the UK its use is hampered by lack of multimedia equipment in crematorium chapels and by the time and expense involved in preparing one.
Which is why I have been delighted, this week, to stumble upon Animoto. What they offer is a stylish, cheap and rapid. You simply feed your pics and music into its software and, minutes later, the result is back with you. Click on the YouTube clip at the top to see how it works.
The Animoto website is incredibly helpful and easy to use. And you won’t just want to use it for creating funeral tributes, either. It’s fun! You can make videos of anything you want — a holiday, a day out, a birthday party — and post them on YouTube or Facebook. It’s addictive! I made one about the Isle of Portland. See how the photos move to the beat of the music. Watch it here.
Is it as good as a video crafted by a human? I discussed that with craftsperson Louise Harris over at Sentiment. She reckons the process does a good, basic job but, because it does not know what are the most important parts of the photos, fails to focus and linger on them and, thus, loses emotional impact. She reckons to spend a good few hours perfecting the way a photo moves.
I don’t know if Animoto is the future of the multimedia funeral tribute. It’s unquestionably not as good as a human. But I’m glad I found it and I urgently want to share it with you.