Keeping the dead alive, digitally

When Stan Crumley’s father passed away two and a half years ago, Crumley found himself facing one of life’s milestones—writing his father’s obituary.

OB-TV: Stan Crumley looks over a sample video created by his new Asheville-based venture OB-TV, which stands for Obituary Television. The business creates broadcast-quality video tributes to deceased loved ones for families. The videos are saved to DVDs for the families, and hosted on the Internet at www.ob-tv.com. Photo by Jason Sandford

Crumley went through the process of trying to sum up his father’s life for the standard newspaper death notice. Afterward, though, he felt unsatisfied. “I wanted more from it,” Crumley says. “You read it and you say, ‘I wonder what the rest of the story is of this guy’s life?’”

So Crumley decided to put his 35 years of experience in television-news broadcasting to a new purpose—creating lasting video tributes to the recently deceased. A former WLOS-TV advertising salesman, he created Stan Crumley Productions Inc. and started a new business, dubbed OB-TV, which stands for “Obituary Television.” Crumley has teamed up with two other former WLOS colleagues—former reporter Deborah Potter and former producer Ernie Sigmon—to produce broadcast-quality video segments out of offices on Hendersonville Road.

The goal, according to Crumley, is to “put together mini-stories that tell the story of what that person meant to you.”

Creating the video tribute starts with the family electronically sending OB-TV 15 to 20 photographs. There’s an online form that allows family members to provide a variety of background information. Writers then put together a script for a one-and-a-half, two-and-a-half or three-and-a-half minute video. A selection of graphics can be added, and Crumley says he can draw from a group of professional voice actors to read the script.

Once the video’s completed, the family receives three DVDs to save or share, and the video will be posted to the OB-TV Web site (www.ob-tv.com). The service costs between $400 and $500, and the company requires a copy of a death certificate before it will produce a video.

James T. “Tommy” Rice Jr. of Anders-Rice Funeral Homes in Asheville says he’s seen Crumley’s presentation and sample video, but declined comment because he says he hasn’t had enough experience with the service.

Using the Internet to memorialize the dead is becoming more common. Legacy.com, a Web site that hosts the obit sites of more than 500 newspapers, allows people to view photos, leave written or audio comments, and combine photos and music for a tribute.

“The Internet is such a terrific tool for presenting people who have left us,” says Alana Baranick, obituary writer for the The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, which uses Legacy.com. Combining the multimedia elements allows for richer storytelling, Baranick says.

“Many of the major newspapers are doing more justice to the folks who are dead. Rather than a resume of the life, obituaries are explaining what made them tick. It tells you more about us as human beings,” says Baranick, the chief author of the book Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers (Marion Street Press, 2005). Baranick also runs a blog about obituaries called the Obituary Forum and is part of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. Families who see the online obituaries “are thrilled,” she says.

Crumley says he doesn’t know of another company offering professionally produced video tributes, and he has high hopes for his business. The goal is to provide video tributes to anyone across the United States. Locally, Crumley says he’s reached out to a number of funeral homes to educate them about OB-TV and its services.

“We want to make it a celebration of life,” he says. “Something that represents the person they love and something that can be handed down for generations.”

 

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