The memory collector
By Michelle Newman
When Michele Healy’s mother Patricia Dononue died of Alzheimer’s Disease in February 2017, she and her family were devastated that they didn’t have a chance to document her life on camera before her passing.
“That’s where the idea [to set up The Memory Collectors] came from. My mother was the one in the family who always remembered all about her parents, all the stories she spent her life telling me.
As a child and as an adult I’d say, ‘Oh mammy, not that story again’ but I just cannot remember any of it,” Michele says.
“I knew Darcie was well able to film and I don’t know why it never occurred to us earlier. We set up all the lights and everything but my mother didn’t actually speak at all that day and that was the beginning of her not saying anything. Darcie and I were looking at each other and we knew we’d missed a huge opportunity. I knew we were thinking the same thing, that we wouldn’t let this happen again.”
Darcie, who has a background in communications, worked for a number of years with non-profit charities in Dublin as part of their videography.
“I videoed people that they helped and then used that [footage] to let the public know what they did,” she says.
“It was the best training, interviewing people on camera, so by the end I was an old hand at it. We’ve always been very close so it’s worked out very well for us.”
This experience combined with their ambition to create lasting memories for other families, led Michele and Darcie - who are both from Dublin and live in Howth - to set up The Memory Collectors; a film-biography business.
Feeling cheated out of more time with loved ones when they are no longer with us is not uncommon and for Michele and her daughter their message is a simple one.
“It’s doing what we want people to know: to hurry up and get it on film. It’s just getting it through to people that you’re not going to be here forever,” Michele says, adding that they get requests to film people of all ages and of varying circumstances.
“One of men that we were dealing with had a young family so he really knew what he wanted to say and what he wanted to leave behind. Every now and then we get someone who has had bad news, but it’s usually a very positive thing; like a big birthday or a wedding anniversary or something like that and they decided they should do this to celebrate [the occasion].”
The filming process takes place over a few days and making sure those in front of the camera are comfortable is always a priority for the Michele and Darcie.
“We will meet up with the client and go through not only their life plan, but a timeline of all the things that they’ve gone through; where they’ve lived, married, kids, everything, “ says Darcie.
“We talk to the family about why they’ve hired us, if there’s anything they want to know that they haven’t been able to ask. Then we make out a question plan and that’s everything we might ask on film.”
Darcie goes onto say that ahead of filming, their clients have seen all of these question to make sure they are happy answering them. Then, on a separate day, Darcie and her mum will film their clients with their family and doing something they enjoy; such as a hobby or visiting one of their favourite places.
“In the beginning we felt we needed a bigger team but we have sort of honed it now,” Michele says.
“We usually only need one extra person per client, say a camera person or, sometimes they’ll bring in someone for audio if anyone has a bit of a problem with speaking or anything like that,” Darcie adds.
Michele says that after viewing the footage of their loved ones, family and friends are often surprised to learn things about them that they had never heard before.
“There has been a few times where the family have said I didn’t actually know that or the person will say, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t spoken about that in years.’
It’s lovely to capture the essence of the family because the family can’t actually do that.”
“I’m still amazed by how much they enjoy it. You know when you’re coming into this twilight time, it’s nice to know that all of your memories are treasured,” says Darcie.
Due to the intimate nature of their job, Michele says that being a part of this time with clients and their families is a privilege and becoming very fond of the people they work with is a natural extension of their work.
“It is a very personal type of business; it’s not cutthroat and that suits the both of us so it’s great. It’s a bit extreme to say we fall in love with every one of our clients, but we adore them.”
For more information on The Memory Collectors, visit www.thememorycollectors.com