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Jim Deeks


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By Jim Deeks

If you’re a relatively active visitor to Facebook, chances are by now you’ve seen the remarkable series of photographs taken of the Brown sisters… essentially the same shot of four women, taken annually since 1975.  (Just google “the Brown sisters” if you haven’t.)

Viewing these photos, a number of different and even conflicting adjectives may come to your mind: striking, moving, happy, depressing, courageous, beautiful.  To these, I’d add “important”.  In my opinion, I think it’s important for these women to have recorded their changing faces and bodies, if only – initially — for themselves, each other, and whatever families they all have.

The fact that they have allowed this series of photos to be shared with the world is not so much important, as generous.  But keep in mind that sharing with the world was probably never the original motivation for the series – it almost certainly would’ve been intended just for family at the outset.   My assumption is that, as the series was progressing, the sisters realized they were leaving an important legacy for their children, and their descendants, and ultimately, something the world should see.  And bravo to that!

Legacy is important.

Whether we know it or not, or care about it or not, we all create something when we’re here, and we all leave something behind when we’re gone.  It may only be others’ memories of us, or it may be a hospital wing we’ve endowed, or a garden we cultivated, or the travels we made, or the hole-in-one we shot.   Or all of those things.

We also leave our DNA, especially if we’ve created children of our own.  Our DNA helps to form and mould the looks and the characters and the actions of those we helped create.  The blue eyes that are now in my granddaughter may well have come from my great grandmother, or an ancestor who was a shopkeeper north of London 250 years ago.

But perhaps most importantly, we all leave a story of ourselves that is truly unique.  We ourselves may not think our story is particularly different, or interesting, but I don’t believe that’s true.  Everybody has lived an interesting life, if only because no one else has lived the same life.

If I could tell you that I had uncovered film of your great great grandfather talking about his life as a farmer in Ohio in the 1860s, would you be interested in seeing it?  Of course you would… but I’d bet you dollars to donuts that HE would’ve said his life was about as interesting as a broken plough share.

The point here is: everyone should make a personal obligation to tell their story before they die, or before they become incapacitated by age.  You can do it, like the Brown sisters have, simply through photos (although having seen these photos, I’d be eager to meet these women and find out what’s put the lines in their faces and the peace in their spirits).  You can write it down, or have a professional biographer do it for you.  You can record it in a video, either with your own home camera, or have a much more robust narrative put together by a professional video producer like me.

Or you can just leave a scrapbook of photos, ticket stubs, letters and mementoes… but try, at least, to put some context to them, or else they’ll just be pointless objects.  (How many of us have family photo albums, handed down over decades, and we don’t have a clue who most of the people in the photos are?)

Maybe, as science is predicting, future generations will live much longer.  But at some point, we all do die… but when we die, we can be sure that our lives will have had some value, if we make an effort to leave behind the details of who we were, what we did, and what we learned along the way.

It’s like visual DNA.

Jim Deeks is a Toronto-based communications consultant, broadcaster, and President of Primary Counsel Productions, a company focused exclusively on producing Personal Video Biographies.


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By Jim Deeks

This is not an actual transcript. But it could be. Maybe it could be you…


My name is Arthur, and I’m recording this video in 2015 for my great great granddaughter.   I don’t know what your name is, of course, and I don’t even know if I’ll have a great great granddaughter. Maybe I’ll have a great great grandson… or both… or many… but for now, I’m just going to pretend I have you. And I’m going to pretend that your name is Melanie, because that’s the name of my granddaughter today… and maybe your Mom and Dad will name you after her… she’d be your grandmother.

Melanie, I’m 81 years old. If you’re 15 years old and watching this, I figure it’s probably about the turn of the century… about the year 2100. If I was alive in 2100, I’d be 166 years old. I’m sure nobody’ll be that old then.

I’m putting this video together, Melanie, because I want to tell you a little bit about me, and our family, and where we came from, and where you’ve come from. I hope you’ll watch this video a few times in your life, because I think each time you do, you’ll like it even more than the last time. Because as you get older, these things – family, and history, and heritage — just seem to get more and more important.   Trust me, you’ll see.

Now I’m not for a minute suggesting that I’m important. No, I’m just one more carrier of the genes that came from my father and my mother, that came from their fathers and mothers, and that your great great grandmother Dorothy and I passed along to our two daughters – Sara and Frances – and our son Paul.   One of those three is one of your great grandparents, Melanie.

Gosh I hope I’m not boring you already… I know it’s hard to figure out who all these people are that you don’t know… But I tell you what… let me show you a picture… 

This is the house that I grew up in as a kid… Number 31 McAllister Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio. I don’t live in Cincinnati now. I’m here in Santa Monica, California, where I’ve lived for over 40 years. But I lived in Cincinnati from the day I was born in May, 1934, until after I fought in the Korean War.

Have you ever heard of the Korean War, Melanie? It’s probably forgotten by most people in your world, as it has by many people in mine. But I was a U.S. Army soldier for three years and I fought in that war, in the early 1950’s, and I can tell you, it was no fun at all.

But let me tell you about growing up in Cincinnati. This is a picture of me and my Mom and Dad and my brother and two older sisters, taken in about 1946. That’s Carole, my sister on the left, and Bill who was two years older than me, my Mom Gertrude – but everyone knew her as Trudy – my Dad, whose real first name was Horst but everyone knew him as Harry – and my oldest sister Bettina better known as Betty. And me in front of Dad.

I could fill a whole video telling you about my family, but I’ll just tell you this…

My Dad was born in New York City, on the lower east side, in 1895. He had two older brothers, who were born in a small town in southern Germany called Füssen. Those boys and their parents sailed to America in 1892… over 200 years before you’re watching this video, Melanie! There were no airplanes then, they had to sail from France and it took about two weeks. This is a photo of a typical ship carrying immigrants from Europe around that time.

My Dad’s name, Horst, is very German, but growing up in Ohio, as he did, he wanted to be American. In fact, our family’s real last name was Rossdeutscher, but my grandfather shortened it to Ross when he moved the family to Cincinnati in about 1900. I’ll bet you never knew THAT, Melanie…

You get the picture. And maybe Melanie will, too.

The point of this piece is: everyone has a life story to tell. And everyone who tells their story will have an audience… in their children, and their children’s children, and in generations to come… from here to eternity.

But if you don’t put your life story down… in print, or on video… your life, your memories, your heritage, your character, your photos and film…what you know about your history… it’ll be gone forever when you go. You owe it to your family – past, present, and future – to tell your story, and to preserve, protect and perpetuate your unique database.

Jim Deeks is a Toronto-based consultant, broadcaster, and President of Primary Counsel Productions, a company focused exclusively on producing Personal Video Biographies.


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Our Generation Should Be Recording Our Lives for Our Descendants

By Jim Deeks

At 65 years of age, I find myself, more and more, curious about things that happened in my parents’ lifetime, or even my own when I was too young to notice.

Like, what did they do at night, before television?   Did my grandparents ever play golf? How much pre-marital sex went on back in the 30s?   Why was everyone so secretive about cancer when I was a kid?   How scary was life in the middle of World War II, when you didn’t know what the outcome was? Why did Aunt Marion divorce Uncle Bill?

These and a million other things I’d love to know. But then I’m frustrated by the fact that I wasn’t more curious when my Mom was still alive, and I’m sad to realize that, since she died, I’ll never know the answer to any them.

If my brothers and I had thought about it, 21 years ago when Mom was still around (she died then, when she was only 74), we could have, should have, and would have sat her down with a video camera running, and asked her all kinds of questions about her life, her experiences, her family and her friends.

As it is, now, about all I know about her parents and their lives is… well, their names.   And the fact that both of them died, five years apart from each other, before either had reached their 41st birthday. All that’s left of Mom’s parents, Arthur and Ruth, are some tiny little photos in partially-damaged album, and a trace of DNA in me and about 18 other descendants. And when I die, those tiny little photos will no doubt end up in a dumpster when my kids do the Big Purge of Dad’s Stuff.

This kind of melancholy contemplation, along with the sober realization that I cannot afford – mentally or financially – to retire for some time, was the catalyst behind a new venture that I’ve just started. I’ve decided, if I can’t do much about my own family history, maybe I can help other families to preserve theirs.

I’ve started a company to produce Personal Video Biographies. And since this is an article, not a commercial, I’ll dispense with the name of the company and the direct sale message here in the text. But here’s the gist of why I’m writing this piece…

I seriously believe that everyone, once they’re fully retired, should sit down and record their lives, either on paper, on audio tape, or on video. I’m personally biased toward video, because you can capture a person’s appearance, manner, and voice on video, along with all the accompanying photos, film, and other archive materials they own. In my view, it should become a moral obligation to do so, if not a legal one. That way, future generations will have a much better understanding of where and who they came from.

Imagine, for so many North Americans today, if they could see a film or video of their great great grandfather describing the hardship of crossing the Atlantic and emigrating to America in the 1880’s… or their grandfather getting wounded in Italy in 1944, or Guadalcanal in ’42… or their Mom’s experience at Woodstock in the Summer of ’69.

Now imagine the thrill that your great great grandchildren will get when they hear you describe the experience of watching Neil Armstrong step on the moon… or how you learned to use a computer at your office in the early 1990’s… or where you were on 9-11.

If you put these memories on video, before you die or, God forbid, before you get Alzheimer’s… your great great grandchildren will be able to see you, and hear you, sometime in the 22nd Century. And your distant descendants every Century after that.   You’ll be survived by more than a trace of your DNA.

The technology to record your life has existed for a long time, but until the last few years, and unless you were famous enough to have someone write your biography, the interest in personal histories just never caught on. The internet, however, has spurred a huge new focus on genealogy, because it’s made personal research and fact-finding so much easier, affordable and fun. And with that has come the realization that finding out about your forebears is actually interesting, instructive, and very revealing about who you are and why you are.

For someone like me, a former journalist and video producer, I’m just thrilled that I’m going to be able to apply what I am, to help future generations know who we were.

Jim Deeks is a television host and communications consultant in Toronto, Canada and President of the newly-launched Primary Counsel Productions, producers of Personal Video Biographies.


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For Immediate Release: March, 2015

New Toronto-based production company to produce living biographies for family generations to come

TORONTO, ON — Getting elderly people to talk about their lives, and recording their stories for the benefit of future generations, is the sole objective of Primary Counsel Productions, a new video company headed by veteran Toronto broadcaster Jim Deeks. Packaging their on-camera narratives with photos, family and archive film, music and other effects, will result in compelling programs that family members, and perhaps historians, will watch with pleasure and interest hundreds of years from now, Deeks says.

“The technology to record people talking about themselves is hardly new,” he says, “but thanks to the internet, the interest in genealogy and family history has exploded. And more and more people are realizing the value of passing on the details of their lives… not just the family tree.”

For so many families, knowledge of the lives of more than one or two previous generations had been almost non-existent, until the internet made family research infinitely more accessible.   So people now can, at a minimum, find out where and from whom they came, going back hundreds of years. But that hardly scratches the surface of detail, and understanding, that such knowledge further begs.

“You may have discovered, in the last dozen years or so, that your great great grandfather came to North America in, say, 1872, and later settled in Toronto, or Toledo, or Tacoma. But do you know anything about the experiences he had getting there? Not unless someone wrote it down,” says Jim Deeks.

“Now think about your great great great grandchildren… 150 years from now. They may know your name, and when you were born and died. But unless you tell them, they won’t know what house you grew up in… that your house was damaged in an earthquake in 1986… that you became head of a company that grew to over 300 employees… that you were a breeder of champion cocker spaniels… that your mother was a concert pianist… These things are important to preserve!”

Sharing details of a life well spent will also help generations ahead have a greater understanding of why they are what they are, and perhaps, how they got there. A love of music, for example, could be traced back to that distant relative who was a concert pianist. An above-average ability at tennis could have descended down through several generations. Green eyes may have been common in the family for centuries.

These are the special, perhaps unique details that Primary Counsel Productions wants to record on videotape.   Unlike other companies that produce video for corporations, or weddings and bar mitzvahs, Deeks’s company will focus only on “personal video biographies” as he calls them. As such, his company is rare if not unique in itself.

“I’ve long been interested in personal histories, but this concept of doing them exclusively, on video, came to me as we were doing Toronto Boomers,” he says, referring to an interview program he originated and co-hosted on RogersTV in Toronto in 2014. “Our show covered topics of interest to the over-50 set, and we had a number of guests with great stories to tell. It occurred to me that, once these people were gone, so were their stories, and what a shame that was… and how unnecessary it is.”

Deeks and colleague Helen Burstyn currently co-host Toronto Files on RogersTV. But his television experience dates back to the 1970s when he was a reporter on CITY-TV and later, a reporter and anchor on CTV Toronto.

As overall producer, and interviewer for the personal video biographies, Deeks is backed up by a team of broadcast production specialists. These include a former CTV video cameraman, a network producer, and two broadcast editors, including one who won a Yorkton Festival award for documentary editing. The biography programs, says Deeks, will be comparable in style and quality to programs one would see on the Biography Channel.

While based in Toronto, Primary Counsel Productions can travel anywhere to interview a willing subject. But the word “willing” is probably the most critical component of all.

“Sometimes the hardest part is getting the subjects to overcome their natural reticence to talk about themselves,” says Jim Deeks. “An experienced interviewer, like me, can help draw out the details, but the subjects need to understand this isn’t just for for them or their children… it’s part of the passing on of their DNA.”



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James Deeks