Filming your loved ones will change your life

Oscar Jacques, 26 from Edinburgh is currently best known for having portrayed Tom Tupper on CBBC’s fan favourite series MI5, but since making the life changing decision to set up a camera and film an interview with his family, he hopes to change that. 

In around 2015 Oscar came across a film by Phillip Bloom called ‘a man named Arnie’.  

Arnie, Philip’s Dad, was a pharmacist for most of his life. Despite living what people would call a ‘normal’ life, the film captured Arnie taking us through his life story, touching on his experience becoming a father, struggles with alcoholism- the good, the bad and the messy. 

By the end of this 25 minute film, Oscar was captivated. He says this was the first time that he wanted to know more about a stranger’s life, and felt as though he knew Arnie very well.

Oscar realized that everyone could be as compelling as Arnie if they were asked the right questions. 

He said, “you don’t need to have climbed Everest or done something ‘important’. If you listen to someone enough and if you can find the right way to tell a story- everyone has probably got one worth listening to. 

The film inspired Oscar to think of a way he could draw on inspiration from the film- and unintentionally, it was the start of a life’s work. 

“I had been thinking about my Grandma. She was the only grandparent I ever knew, and she had a series of stories she would tell us in rotation when we would see her once or twice a year. I got the idea to film her telling them.”

Oscar filmed his chat with his Grandma over Christmas break of 2014.

She spoke about growing up in Liverpool during the second world war. She recalled her house getting bombed and getting evacuated and leaving school early because her father passed away. 

She spoke about getting her first job at the age of 14, and tap dancing in the street with her neighbors because she couldn’t afford lessons. 

He said: “When it was over I thanked her and then I didn’t think much more of it. I just sort of left that interview. And sitting on a hard drive somewhere for the next six years.”

I went to University here in Edinburgh. I did some filmmaking. I did a degree in television. I’ve been working for a couple of years. During covid, it became clear that my grandma was having difficulties looking after herself. So we moved her into a sheltered accommodation place around the corner.

“ I think I saw my grandma in that sort of last year of her life more than I’d seen her in my whole life. Immediately it was clear that she was losing her memory. She didn’t really know who I was, that was a bit heartbreaking.

“I thought maybe I will take this interview that I hadn’t watched in a very long time and find a way to play it back to her so she could experience the past a bit more. I wanted to see what she remembered.”

Oscar spent the next few months digitizing all the home movies he could find on VHS and scanning in photos from his Grandma’s childhood. He overlaid the interview with his Grandma with footage, until eventually, he had a 30 minute film about her life.

“I showed it to her on her 90th birthday. We all sat around and  watched it in her place. I videotaped the whole thing of us watching it together, her reaction was amazing.

“She kept saying ‘that’s everything I’m thinking!’ while pointing at the screen, which is lovely. I’m so glad we got that footage.” 

A few months later, Oscar’s grandmother passed away, and Jacques realized for the first time how important this project had been to him. 

“There aren’t really many positives to Alzheimer’s but one of the things I really liked was that she watched that life reel so many times between the first time she saw it and when she passed. Every time, it was like watching it for the first time. She was always excited.

“Knowing that I could always go back and listen to my grandma telling me all of her stories is such a powerful thing. As long as I live and for as long as my children live, they can meet somebody that they’d have never got the chance to.”

After realizing the impact of this project, Oscar decided to interview his own parents. 

“I’d been thinking about interviewing anyway, because she had been ill since she was diagnosed with lymphoma when I was 19. There was always the possibility that she might not live to meet my children. 

“I realized how profound it is to do this for somebody. It took a bit of convincing because she was a bit embarrassed to be in front of the camera, but I sat her down with some nice light. 

“We talked for five hours on that day. To take nothing away from my Grandma’s interview, my Mum’s interview really is the best decision I ever made.

“She passed away a year later.  That’s what lit the fire under me to get other people to do this.”

Oscar created an online course to teach other people how to interview their loved ones, and his brother named the project “Life Reel”.

Now, Oscar is setting his sights higher, with hopes to expand the project and get people to understand how the decision to film their loved ones will be one of the “greatest things they will ever do”. 

“Ideally I would love to interview some relatives of people in the public eye, I’d love to get to know them. I’m passionate about doing this for people and ultimately it could promote the idea even further”

“I’m also trying to set up a company called the life reel company so I’m able to create these short films for clients. I’m gonna devote a significant portion of the rest of my life trying to get other people to do this because I know how important it is. I know what it would mean to other people if they took the time to do it. 

“One of my other goals is to get this word into the dictionary by the 2030s. I would love to see that.”

For more articles about relationships and all their complexities, visit our ‘friends, family and flings’ page.