The documentary begins with sepia- toned family photos fading in and out with the passage of time until you see a baby picture, but hear the voice of an elderly gentleman explaining that he was born at exactly the right time. The video is the family biography of Elmer Wavering, who was fascinated by the radio as a child and grew up to invent the car radio.
The video was made for the Wavering family as a memorial to Elmer and his legacy.
It is one of about 30 biographical documentaries Robert H. Jordan Jr. and his company, Video Family Biographies, has produced for ultra-high-net-worth families, who look upon the movies as a way to preserve forever the family's philosophies, ideals and origins. The stories are sometimes about building a family business into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. Others are meant as a memorial to be passed on to future generations. Sometimes the project is prompted by a family tragedy or transitional event.
"Foremost among the concerns is the awesome task of preserving the wealth for future generations," Jordan says. "The heirs face the complex task of preserving the wealth-passing on to succeeding generations the important values which guided and enabled the benefactors to reach the pinnacle in the first place."
Jordan, who is a news anchor for WGN-TV in Chicago, has a small production crew that helps him put together the documentaries, which are generally 90 minutes to two hours long and can take months or up to a year and a half to produce. He does it on his days off and on vacation time from his anchor job. The projects generally cost between $80,000 and $100,000 to produce, not including travel expenses, but costs can go higher on some projects, he says. Those who have decided to preserve their family histories in this manner feel it is well worth the cost, he adds.
"Doing the biographies seemed to be a natural offshoot for me of telling stories as a television journalist," he says.
Jordan's business grew out of his own personal tragedy. He had his own production company and was producing television shows for several years when, nine years ago, a friend of his died unexpectedly while he was out of town.
He called each of his friend's five children and gathered some family pictures, put music to them, and produced a four-minute profile to give to the family.
"The family went crazy. They loved it," Jordan recalls. He then started talking to fellow members of the board of Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and asked if any of them, all high-net-worth individuals, had ever had a biography done. Only one had.
He put together a business plan and got funding. Through word of mouth, and later referrals, the business grew. Video Family Biographies, at www.videofamilybiographies.com, now caters to families, family businesses and family foundations with assets ranging from $5 million to $10 million and up. The business joined Family Office Exchange and other organizations catering to high-net-worth families to get more exposure.
Jordan also is head of Jordan & Jordan Communications, which is a full-service video production company that has done videos for the Tribune Company, which owns more than two dozen small television stations, and for Odyssey, a religiously affiliated cable station. He also has done television productions for foundations and for private companies. However, Jordan says, most of that work has taken a back seat to the family biographies business in recent years.
"I learn who the big family offices are and tell them what I do. Many are not aware this kind of service even exists," Jordan says. His nearest competition is based in Canada, he adds. Most other services provide a collage of video clips, without narration or a coherent story, he says.
The Brumley family in Atlanta is among Jordan's satisfied clients. The family had been a huge, but quiet, contributor to the Atlanta community for years when Dr. George Brumley Jr., his wife, three of their five children, seven other family members and two pilots were killed when their plane crashed into Mount Kenya in 2003. The remaining twin daughters, Nancy Robitaille and Marie Brumley Foster, decided to make a video so their children and future generations would know about the pediatrician and his wife, Jean, who created the Zeist Foundation to help children.