We’re all familiar with them outside the courtroom — recording depositions, filming an interview with an expert witness who lives clear across the country, or documenting testimony from a witness who can’t attend a hearing. Not only must they be specialists in film and audio recording, they must be able to work comfortably with people of all ages and backgrounds under sometimes-stressful situations. Yes, videographers are the kings of cool. Cool heads, that is.
Often in demand because videos can save time and money on airfare or hotel when witnesses cannot appear in person, video can also provide personal insights into a witness’s response to questioning since viewers can see their facial responses and body posture, which can be telling. Videos can be reviewed and scrutinized long after an in-person witness has stepped down from the stand.
Most videopgraphers are independent contractors, and those in demand hold a Certified Legal Video Specialist certification. They victoriously passed written and hands-on tests in a three-day program that sets and enforces standards for competency in the filming, use and retention of legal video.
The equipment used is fairly standard: a camera, mixer, a 5” monitor or small television so they can see what they’re shooting, a DVD player to make several copies of a taped session for attorneys and archives, and lavaliere microphones for all people participating in the video, including attorneys.
Videographers generally set up an hour early to check equipment and microphones. When all are present, they add a “read on” to the videotape, which is a brief introduction to introduce attorneys and witnesses present.
Then the videographer sits back to watch his work, which often involves shifting the camera since people shift their positions when seated. No reading the newspaper or checking game scores for these sessions.
Videos can be accomplished anywhere, from an attorney’s, doctor’s or court reporter’s office, to hospitals settings or a witness’s home. It can be a challenge to record in a teeny space where the videographer ends up sitting in the hallway, but most sessions offer more space and freedom. Eric Goldberg, president and partner of Benchmark Reporting Agency and once a videographer himself, taped a session on the tarmac of the Newark, NJ airport for Federal Express.
Besides depositions, videography taping involves medical malpractice suits; site inspections, such as a fall in a supermarket; and ‘day in the life’ recordings, where a videographer, for a jury’s judgment, might follow a person who suffered a bad accident to realistically document the daily struggles involved in getting dressed, washing dishes or getting into a car.
Some of the stories are sad and some are juicy. Though Eric would admit to being “no Cecil B. DeMille,” he has had his share of unusual sessions in his early videography career, including recording the living will of an elderly man who wanted proof of his sound mind if his will was contested, since he chose to leave the bulk of his estate to Wife #2 and her children, rather than his children from his first marriage. The reason? The second wife’s children included him in holiday meals and activities.
Eric also recounts the story of videotaping a deposition at 7am and the husband of a defendant who was being deposed was asked if he knew that his wife was sleeping with his son’s friend who was on the little league team with his son. The husband turned bright red and then the attorney proceeded to go through the whole little league team and asked each time if he knew his wife was sleeping with that person. It certainly woke up everyone in the room!
Says Eric: You never know what you are walking into, but the videographer’s work is very important because the court is relying on clear and proper testimony.
Statistics seem to back that up too, as jobs for certified legal video specialists are expected to rise 10% over the next six years, with an average annual earnings of $52,000.
Equipment has changed over the years too. Where once the court viewed a deposition on a VCR connected to a TV, with transcript in hand, now a high definition video file is synchronized to the transcript, line-by-line, similar to closed captions on a television show. And it can be sent to laptops and desktops all over the world instantaneously.
Benchmark provides the most current innovations in videotaping. Give us a call before your next session and we’ll show you how cool and effective videography can be for your case.
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