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Despite your best intentions, you've probably got tons of family photos and video footage just sitting on your camera or hard drive. Why not use the holiday season as an excuse to put together a movie that your crew will love? Whether you go with new footage from an upcoming holiday gathering, a montage of old photos, or a mix of each, there are plenty of ways to capture your family's memories and create a lasting keepsake.Gather Your Gear
You don't need to buy tons of expensive equipment to make a video -- even a camcorder isn't essential. Most digital cameras and even some cell phones let you take video clips; just make sure you have a memory card big enough to hold your shots (2 to 4 gigabytes is usually plenty). If you want to invest in a camera, try a super-portable Flip Ultra, which starts at $150. Before you buy movie-making software, check to see if any is included with your camera or computer (both iMovie for Macs and Windows Movie Maker for PCs are popular). If you're shopping around, check out easy-to-use software like Adobe Premiere Elements 8 or Muvee Reveal. Not ready to invest? Try VideoSpin or VideoThang, which you can download online for free.Plan It Out
Decide on a theme and figure out whether you'll use live-action shots, a family-photo digital slide show, or a mix. One fun option is to have your kids ask family members to share a favorite story on camera, then include pictures or shots of mementos from that occasion. Or start with old photos (easily inserted into your movie using most software) and ask your relatives to talk on camera about those memories. If you're going to shoot at a special event, try asking each family member to answer the same funny questions. For a surprise, get friends and loved ones to share good wishes for Grandpa's birthday before his celebration, then play the footage during the party. Feel like getting a little more creative? Film your kids acting out favorite scenes from movies or books or have them write and direct a short script.Learn Some Tricks
Getting better-quality shots is easy with a few of these tips. For starters, practice recording ahead of time, so you don't miss great moments because you were stuck figuring out camera options. Try setting the camera on a flat surface (a tripod's great but not necessary) to reduce shakiness. Experiment with different angles and shots to make a more dynamic movie. Taking a close-up of your kids' art projects on the fridge or getting down to film at your dog's level will really help mix it up. You can also let your older kids shoot their own footage. They'll have a fun perspective and they're bound to get great stories out of camera-shy relatives. Finally, keep your camera handy: Spontaneous moments (especially when filming children) are often the most memorable.Save Time to Edit
Usually you'll end up with a lot more footage than anyone except Grandma would want to sit through, so take time to organize. Younger children can help you pick out the best moments, and tech-savvy older kids can do some editing themselves. You can also add extras like captions and background music in most programs, but use special effects sparingly -- they're fun, but a simpler DVD will stand the test of time. If you'd rather not spend time editing, just try to capture a few key moments on video, which will make the editing process a lot easier or eliminate it altogether.Show It Off
Once you're done, it's time to share your masterpiece. Hold an official screening at your next gathering or, for a gift that everyone will cherish, surprise your family with their own copies of the DVD during the holidays. Another easy option is to upload your movie online and share the link. Use YouTube, Vimeo, or Blip.tv. Most movie-sharing sites have options to keep videos private if you'd prefer, or you can use smaller, family-friendly Web sites like DropShots or Phanfare.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December/January 2010.