January 27, 2020

Montage madness: How to make the perfect bar/bat mitzvah video

The video begins with an image of me when I was just a blip on an ultrasound, my name scribed in big bold letters across the screen. The whole production lasts no longer than eight minutes, but boasts a rich repertoire of photos and songs, including “What a Wonderful World,” “Over the Rainbow” and, yes, even some R. Kelly. 

I remember the exact moment when my bat mitzvah montage was unveiled — the room was pitch-black except for my video’s projection onto the white screen, all my friends sitting cross-legged on the dance floor. 

It was 2001 and I was finally a woman — and here was my montage to prove it. I was convinced I had the best bat mitzvah video ever created. Thanks to my mother (a television producer) and her editor, it was funny in all the right places, sappy when necessary. 

But then I started doing my homework. For one week, recently, I binge-watched every bar and bat mitzvah video montage I could find online, spoke to a professional on the matter and rewatched my own video two handfuls of times. 

I’m now proud to say I’ve seen them all: entrance videos, concept videos, montage videos, sizzle videos — the full monty of bar and bat mitzvah multimedia content available on the World Wide Web. (Not to mention, I’ve got numerous years of attending b’nai mitzvah secured underneath my studded belt.) I got so sucked in I even started dreaming in montages, with plenty of dissolve transitions set to alternative rock soundtracks.

Now, barely recovering, I’m deeply humbled and prepared to write this insider’s guide to creating your own bar or bat mitzvah video for real. 

There doesn’t appear to be a clear history of the genre — which has become as much about sharing memories as creating a feeling of celebrity for the young person being honored — but videographer Gary Freedline, creator of Video Keepsakes, which operates in Los Angeles, claims to be one of the pioneers in the field. Now living in Costa Mesa, Calif., Freedline originally started his business in Florida circa 1978. 

He remembers the first concept video he ever produced, dating back to 1982. That’s when a bar mitzvah boy named Andy starred in his own cinematic feature titled “Indiana Andy,” a parody on “Indiana Jones.” 

Freedline considers himself an artist with montages as his art form. “There’s a whole psychology behind them,” he said during our phone conversation. 

Freedline said the videos started to become a fad in the early to mid-1990s. “And nowadays,” he said with gusto, “every bar mitzvah has a montage.” 

Coming of age in the digital era can be an expensive and elaborate affair. A montage by Freedline’s Video Keepsakes, for example, starts at a base price of $650 for the simplest package, and creeps up to a whopping $10,000 for all the bells and whistles, including bringing photos to life through 3-D animation. 

However, thanks to an evolution in the power of easy-to-find and low budget editing software, such as iMovie or Final Cut Pro, modern DIY montages have become popular options for families.

1. Timing

Keep the video between eight and 12 minutes long. You can’t sum up a 12-year-old’s life in 12 minutes — don’t even try. There’s too much terrain to cover, even if you designate one year to each minute. Short and sweet’s the answer, with constant movement from one picture to the next. You can linger a little longer over a sentimental image if slower music is playing, but otherwise, keep things moving. 

2. Photos

When selecting images, pick what Freedline calls “the goofy ones.” Don’t linger on a certain age. “All kids are cute at 3, but you can’t only have pictures from that age,” he said. Show the toddler growing up. 

And don’t be afraid to mix it up, throwing home movies and alternative content into the montage blender as well. One great homemade video included a voicemail left by the bat mitzvah girl at age 5 after a tantrum in which she apologized to her father, saying she wanted to “turn my life over … and live a clean, straight life.”

3. Music

If I hear Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” one more time, I swear … 

According to Freedline, choosing music is the most difficult part. He suggests going to the “meat” of a song, selecting sound bytes rather than sampling the entirety of the song (unless you’re doing a mock music video).

Pick ballads for pictures with family — they’re familiar and assist in conjuring up nostalgia — but try something more current when it comes to pictures with friends (something fun and fast-paced to build up excitement).