By Colleen Sparks GSN Staff Writer
Figuring out what to do with boxes full of aging photos, videos and films can be time-consuming and difficult.
That’s where a Chandler-based company with technical savvy and strong storytelling skills steps in to help.
Reel Life helps clients preserve and share memories by transferring reel-to-reel films and videotapes into digital files, as well as shooting and editing professional-quality videos.
Co-owners and longtime friends Julia Palazzi of Chandler and Lisa Clayton of Gilbert transfer 16-millimeter and 8-millimeter reel-to-reel films, Hi-8, VHS videotapes, Mini DV tapes and VHS-C videotapes onto a format of the clients’ choice.
They can create “This Is My Story” – short biographies showing people recounting important moments and loved ones’ accomplishments, merging photos, videos and music. Memoirs also can be put on DVDs or CDs.
The company has made historical biography videos so clients can save aging loved ones’ stories and share their legacies with younger generations.
“One of the biggest obstacles to preserving history are these closets full of photos and slides that are extremely overwhelming to deal with,” Palazzi said.
“We come to the client’s house and sit with them and help them weed through what they’re doing. The best part is to see this history come out and, I think, to make them feel like their stories are going to live on.”
Reel Life also has created videos for milestone birthdays, as well as weddings, funerals and school activities for end-of-year celebrations.
Those who want to safeguard and celebrate family heirloom recipes in a special way can pay Reel Life to create a bound book with still photos and personal anecdotes. Reel Life also sells custom-designed aprons, for which customers can provide photos and the company will put them on the aprons.
Palazzi and Clayton, who are both originally from Pittsburgh, started the company in 2001. Personal projects inspired the two ladies to launch their business.
Palazzi had produced a DVD with her family’s history on it with help from her mother, who is now 90 years old. She captured her parents’ stories from “two generations back,” she said. Meanwhile, Clayton was editing videos of her daughters growing up.
“My mom was the only one left to tell these stories,” Palazzi said. “I found it fascinating to capture these stories. We sat down, and the joy on this woman’s face choked me up. This is why I did this because we have these memories now.”
Palazzi and Clayton stopped running their company in 2009 as they discovered many people were buying computers with editing software on it and making their own videos. But they started up again in March as consumers had been requesting video services, as well as transfer, over the last few years.
“We had a lot of people come up to us saying, ‘I’ve got these old 8-millimeter reels and VHS tapes,’” Clayton said. “It’s the time. Even like with pictures and slides and the old 8-millimeter reels, you have to have the storage on your computer and ability to store all that stuff. It’s sorting out the pictures, putting everything in order. There’s a lot that goes into (it). There’s a lot of personal touch that goes with it.”
Palazzi said the point of transferring old analog videotapes and films into digital formats is so they will last a long time.
Tammy Rosenhagen of Mesa was thrilled with a Reel Life video using still photos and video clips of her father’s life that she and her family showed on a screen at his 80th birthday party in Kansas.
A fire marshal with the City of Scottsdale, Rosenhagen said the video had music playing in it and “it was pretty artistic what they did.” Palazzi and Clayton provided the videos on Vimeo and a DVD.
“It turned out great,” Rosenhagen said. “It was a big hit because there was older photos of stuff in there. They actually slowed down a couple of videos and stopped the music playing and put the real audio on it so it was like a moment. It was pretty cool because he was playing a game of cornhole.
“He hit the hole so the music stopped and they slowed down his movement hitting the hole. You could hear him. Me and my brother, when we first saw it we were emotional about it. My dad saw photos he didn’t remember. He got a kick out of it. It was well worth it.”
Jill Wagner of Mesa hired Reel Life to create a video collection showing her three children over the years. The Reel Life business owners took her VHS tapes and created a video they put on Vimeo and a thumb drive.
“It was fun because my kids are in college, so I was able to share it with them, then they gave me a thumb drive with it so I could put it on my laptop as well,” Wagner said. “They were just wonderful. We had grandparents who had passed away already so it was just so touching for the kids to see that.”
She said the video also shows her children’s great-grandmother, who has since died, singing to them when they were babies. The video reveals old houses where Wagner and her husband and children used to live in Houston.
Working with Palazzi and Clayton was a great experience, Wagner said.
“They’re so easy to work with and they’re very inspired and they have a ton of passion for what they do, and I really admire that,” she said. “It makes you excited about things you can bring to life. They really spark your imagination to do wonderful things with pictures.”
Gina Vasquez of Phoenix also liked working with Palazzi and Clayton. The business owners interviewed Vasquez’s mother, Hortencia, at her home in Blythe, California. They also traveled to Midland, California, where Hortencia grew up to get “the feel and atmosphere of Midland and how it would be to grow up there,” Gina said.
Clayton and Palazzi visited a museum in Blythe to research Midland, which is now a “ghost town,” and read old newspaper clips and pictures from the relevant time period, Gina said. The two business owners even took pictures of Midland and met with Hortencia at a dinner Gina’s sister hosted before they did the interviews with Hortencia.
“Both gals are very amiable and easy to converse with and very trustworthy and comfortable to be around,” Gina said. “You immediately feel they are part of the family with their interest in the subject matter and natural conversation and curious questions.
“They gave great directions on what they needed and provided guidance on how to gather information. They were very professional in conducting the interviews of my mom, setting the background stage, checking for light and sound and used professional equipment.”
The travel and time spent creating the videos took about a month, but it was “well worth the money, effort and time put into it,” Gina said.
“The quality of the visual and audio sound was marvelous,” she said. “The recordings are a treasure for our family that we hope to share with everyone.” Clayton said she and Palazzi enjoyed visiting Blythe and Midland, which had been a town known for its military maneuvers in World War II. In that town, Hortencia’s mother had fed many soldiers in General Patton’s troops.
Hortencia also told her she was in a box outside when she was an infant and her mother was hanging laundry when a horse from the ranch got loose and jumped over the box, nearly giving her mother a heart attack. Palazzi and Clayton found footage of a horse and added sound effects to it to enhance the video.
While Palazzi works for Reel Life full-time, Clayton also is a special education teacher at Frye Elementary in Chandler.
Prior to working as a teacher for more than 10 years, Clayton worked for a man who did public speaking organizing his seminars while she juggled raising her daughters Jessica, 19, and Samantha, 17.
“I always liked to do video stuff,” Clayton said. “That always fascinated me. Years and years ago, I was like, ‘I wish I could take these pictures and create a montage.’”
When her daughters were little, she liked to shoot videos of them at their birthday parties and put them on DVDs. She recently made a video revealing games and activities that children at Frye Elementary participated in this year to help support a grant-funded program.
Palazzi’s first job was as a production assistant for “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in Pittsburgh before attending grad school and earning a master’s degree in education and media several years later.
Palazzi taught video production at the East Valley Institute of Technology and taught technology and media at Hartford Elementary School, as well as in the Creighton School District.
Palazzi, 56, said many of her and Clayton’s clients are baby boomers.
“We are kind of the ones that are wanting to preserve these stories,” she said.
“So many of my friends are watching our parents age. My father-in-law is gone now and he had some great stories. I regret I didn’t sit down and do this for him.”
Clayton and Palazzi like seeing clients happy with the products they create.
“That’s the biggest delight is just watching their faces and watching the comments after,” Clayton said.
Another perk for her and Palazzi is working with each other.
“It’s fun getting together and just shooting ideas off of one another,” Clayton said. “I like running things by her because she’s very particular. It’s nice to get a different perspective.”
Palazzi said she has known Clayton for nearly 30 years.
“She’s really kind of family to me and like a sister,” Palazzi said. “We discovered we work very well together.”