Beginning with filming the life story of his own late mother, Peter Savigny has a knack for telling the stories of family members often hidden in old photo boxes and unspoken memories.
The Westchester resident, who was born in Shanghai to German parents, is a longtime television art director who’s won five Emmys for his special effects and creative work. Savigny has spent the past decade creating documentary-style biographies for subjects ranging from some of Greenwich’s first Italian-American immigrant families (as part of a long-term project for the Greenwich Historical Society) to real estate magnate Peter Malkin.
His company, TimeStories, specializes in documenting family history for posterity by artfully blending filmed personal interviews with archival family photos and cinematic elements, such as musical scores and lush cinematography into pieces he calls DocuMemories.
Peter notes his filmed biographies are not vanity projects. “It’s about honoring time, family history and memories,” he explains. “The value is in capturing memories before they’re gone. We’ve all opened a box of old family photographs and said, ‘Who are these people? Where was this taken?’ So, what I do is a little like family archaeology.”
Peter conducts detailed personal interviews that mine life histories that sometimes get lost over generations. “The number one secret to what I do is that I’m not family,” Peter explains. “People are a little more comfortable telling me things than they might be a close relative. Yet when they do tell me, it’s almost spiritual and even cathartic. I just finished interviewing a woman and I asked her a question and she said, “Well, I’ve never told anyone that before, but since you asked….” timestories.com
THE MAKING OF A DOCUMEMORY
Peter meets with all subjects one-on-one at least once before shooting begins. “You don’t want to be talking to a total stranger,” he explains.
DocuMemory subjects complete a detailed biographical questionnaire, which asks factual and philosophical questions, giving the filmmaker a framework for his interviews.
THE STAR OF THE SHOW
Group subjects featuring more than one family member can be accommodated.
Most still photography is contributed, but Peter often incorporates historically accurate stock images of important locations (such as
a city of origin) to evoke mood and period setting.
Fees vary as projects are customized and clients determine how simple or elaborate their TimeStory will be. Small projects start at around $5,000, but Peter has done some feature-length works with fees in excess of $25,000.
Portrait by Rob Lang; All other images courtesy of time stories