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Old December 30th, 2008, 05:21 PM   #1
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Say... do you do depositions?

'I've never done one before but I'd love to do one,' I said.
'Great... be at (location) at 9am tomorrow.'

That's pretty much how the phone call went. I can shoot TV news and a wedding here & there, but I've never done a deposition.

And I made that part VERY clear! I also said that all I have are two wireless mics... and was assured that wouldn't be a problem. Just pin the witness & use your camera mic for everybody else.

Famous last words!

So last night I spent a good hour reading about video depositions on here and soaking it all up like a sponge.

Come Tuesday morning... 3 attorneys... one witness and the court reporter. And apparently my one mic on the witness and my camera mic setup wasn't going to cut it.

Thank God for the court reporter who ALSO videos depositions! She saved my butt! In her car she had 4 more lavalier microphones, a shure mixer and a backdrop. If not for her, I'm sure the depo. would have been cancelled & the attorneys would fly back to Phoenix and LA.

WHEW!

And she didn't stop there (because I hadn't a CLUE as what to do)! I also had to read some opening statement and state when we were going on & off the record. She wrote it all down for me.

But I finally got my feet wet!

Thank goodness for her and the fact that the attorneys were all friends with each other and a lively bunch. They even bought lunch!

Mmm... shrimp scampi...
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Old December 30th, 2008, 05:39 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blake Cavett View Post
'I've never done one before but I'd love to do one,' I said.
'Great... be at (location) at 9am tomorrow.'

That's pretty much how the phone call went. I can shoot TV news and a wedding here & there, but I've never done a deposition.

And I made that part VERY clear! I also said that all I have are two wireless mics... and was assured that wouldn't be a problem. Just pin the witness & use your camera mic for everybody else.

Famous last words!

So last night I spent a good hour reading about video depositions on here and soaking it all up like a sponge.

Come Tuesday morning... 3 attorneys... one witness and the court reporter. And apparently my one mic on the witness and my camera mic setup wasn't going to cut it.

Thank God for the court reporter who ALSO videos depositions! She saved my butt! In her car she had 4 more lavalier microphones, a shure mixer and a backdrop. If not for her, I'm sure the depo. would have been cancelled & the attorneys would fly back to Phoenix and LA.

WHEW!

And she didn't stop there (because I hadn't a CLUE as what to do)! I also had to read some opening statement and state when we were going on & off the record. She wrote it all down for me.

But I finally got my feet wet!

Thank goodness for her and the fact that the attorneys were all friends with each other and a lively bunch. They even bought lunch!

Mmm... shrimp scampi...
Blake I wouldn't mind getting into that. Something to generate money between weddings.
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Old December 30th, 2008, 07:25 PM   #3
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I live in an area of low population density, something like a little over 200,000 people in 200 square miles. It can barely support a half dozen freelance court reporters annually, which for me may mean a half dozen video depositions a year. Depositions are not a significant portion of my revenue, but from an equipment standpoint they have to be approached from the point of view of quick and easy set-up as well as accuracy.

A few things to note seriously:
1. A video deposition becomes a legal document belonging to the court if it ever makes it to trial.
2. Any "on-record" commentary can not be edited. I can safely fade to black AFTER I have announced a deposition as "off-record" and fade from black BEFORE I announce the deposition as "on record, but any editing during "on-record" commentary may force the video deposition to lose it value as evidence or testimony, which could place you as the videographer in a position of liability. A video deposition can cost the "announcing" attorney thousands of dollars. If it becomes useless if you made a mistake in the eyes of the court, you can be made financially liable for the costs incurred by the announcing attorney.
3. Because the video deposition may become a legal court document you must 1) keep a master copy forever on file or 2) release the master to the attorney who contracted you.

There are a host of more complications which can make legal video an attractive full time venture if one is located in a densely populated community. A search on line to the phrase of "legal videography" should yield a wide choice of options. There is some very good information available.

Beware of corporate court reporting firms! There are many sleazy firms that will offer to make you their "exclusive" representative within a specific geographical area if you will do "just this one deposition for us". They pay peanuts, and will never contact you again. Establish your rates. Demand an advance deposit. Do not accept any "net 30" billing terms unless you have a credit guarantee.

Making a finished disc: Make it professional. Label it professionally. Do every thing possible to make the disc unique to you. Legal firms that may become "allied" to other firms on a particular case will share evidence. I once got a call from a legal firm completely unknown to me. Their copy of a deposition I had made would not play, and they wanted a replacement. I asked for a description of the labeling, which was "magic marker". Sorry, my discs are printed with a specific design unique to video depositions. Want a legitimate copy? Buy one from me.

Here is the equipment set-up I use:
1. A SD (4:3 aspect ratio) video camera using mini DV tape, capable of receiving audio signals via XLR cable.
2. A four channel audio mixer capable of receiving signals via XLR cables.
3. One omni-directional lapel microphone for the deponet(s).
4. Two directional microphones (dynamic or phantom powered condenser) on padded table mic stands. Examining attorneys furiously scribble notes on legal pads. I've seen them burn through a single legal pad in an hour. The scribbling and the page turning makes for an incredible amount of annoying noise, which a lapel mic WILL record! A directional microphone on a table stand, positioned to a foam pad like a mouse pad, significantly isolates those annoying scribbling sounds. It will also force a platoon of examining attorneys (often the case in corporate lawsuits) to wait their turn. Surprisingly, most attorneys who experience my "unorthodox" set-up really like it. Additionally, my mixer has mute buttons on each channel. If, as often the case, one attorney's examination of the witness becomes ponderous and sleep inducing, I can at least turn off the opposition's mics until they return to consciousness.
5. The fourth channel on the audio mixer is for me to make the necessary obligatory announcements relating to when the deposition is "on" or "off" record. That mic is a dynamic hand mic with a switch.
6. Evidence: Most of the time evidence does not need to be visually recorded on video tape. It merely has to be recorded on the audio track. Should it be required to be recorded visually, make the necessary announcements with your mic, and take the time to note how the video will be recorded, record it, and then announce a shift back to the normal flow of the deposition.
7. Finally, the court reporter may need an audio backup. I use the mixer's "REC OUT" RCA connector to feed either the court reporter's voice recorder or, preferably, my own recording device.

As complicated as this list may sound, with a bit of planning, it all fits into a standard travel suitcase on wheels.


I sincerely hope this diatribe has been of value.
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Old December 30th, 2008, 11:10 PM   #4
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The first one I did went really, really well I thought .. until I got a call a week later. Apparently the client was unhappy that the letters "REC" appeared onscreen. I had seen this during my "test run" a few days before the multi-day depo, but it didn't strike me as a problem since I was recording a legal video and not something aesthetic. According to the client they wanted ONLY the time and date appearing onscreen and NOTHING else.

Now, I had been very clear and up front with them that I had never shot a depo video, and that I needed specific and clear instructions. So be careful that you know EXACTLY what needs to be done, and have their instructions for you documented somewhere.
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Old December 31st, 2008, 03:28 AM   #5
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I've shot 3, with two of them being 0 notice gigs (as in got a call "be at this building in 5 minutes ago"). By and large, they use a different set of audio than weddings. I use ambient table mics, instead of lapels because I don't want to buy another set of mired mics and try to run all that through a mixer I have yet to buy (I still use only the Beachtek).

Asside from the intense pressure of setting up for a legal procedure with 3 attorneys and a witness waiting for you and watching your every move, it wasn't bad. :-)
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Old December 31st, 2008, 09:30 AM   #6
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Very insightful Mr. Winkler, thanks!

A follow up for this morning... the lady who contacted me set me up with this court reporter on purpose because she knew she could help me get through it. Very smart!

The good news is that they were impressed with me (dress, manners, etc). They'd like to use me again in the future and work with me so I can do it without assistance.

Oh boy! (I hope!)
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Old December 31st, 2008, 10:20 AM   #7
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See also:

The Ultimate Video Deposition Skinny, Part One by Paul Tauger

and

The Ultimate Video Deposition Skinny, Part Two by Paul Tauger

Perhaps a bit dated now that these articles are five years old, but there's some good nuggets in 'em still.
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Old December 31st, 2008, 10:28 AM   #8
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Hi Blake,

I've also done a few video depositions.

I second the comments and equipment that Waldemar gives you.

In addition to Waldemar's set up, I also used:

a set of cue cards showing 5 min., and 3 min., time to "Tape Change" to cue everyone - as you need to shut down for tape changes;

a simple audio tape recorder to give the Court Reporter a set of audio tapes;

a DVR/HDD unit to record on DVD disks, This was a backup to the Mini DVD Tapes in Cam;

an 8" to 10" Monitor to view, to allow the Cam to be where it needed to be, while I could steer it as necessary;

a set of headphones to monitor the sound coming in - so you can adjust as necessary;

a very good seat pad, as you may not get the best chair - and you may be there for hours;

enough Video & Audio tapes and DVD's, for up to 10 hrs of recording. More if you know for sure;

a backup Cam.


You can also use a Lap Top Computer as a Monitor and as a back up recorder unit, if you have a unit with such capability and the right programs.

Harold
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Old December 31st, 2008, 11:19 AM   #9
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Amen on the tapes... the first attorney was almost 5 hours in with his questioning and the attorneys had to stop the whole thing so they could catch their plane! I remember thinking, if this goes 5 more hours, I'm cool. If not... I'm screwed!

Plus I gotta pick up the dog, my son, groceries...
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 08:56 AM   #10
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Probably posted elsewhere, but since the dialog is running, what is the average rate charged?
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 09:01 AM   #11
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$200 for the first two hours... $50 an hour afterwards.
No editing... just mail the tapes off.
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 12:36 PM   #12
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Other considerations:

While video depositions don't offer creative opportunities, (in fact they should have none whatsoever), they can be lucrative in a heavily populated area.

Some of these may seem "picky", but other considerations I didn't see mentioned include:
- a background for the deponent, preferably light-to-medium blue or light-to-medium gray. This cuts out distracting backgrounds.
- an objection log. i.e. paper upon which you note which of the attorneys objected, and the time-of-day. There can be many objections, so have a few copies of a pre-printed form with room for lots of objections.
- wired mics only. Yes, it can be a pain, and yes, you need a mixer, but if interference from a wireless unit, cell phone, whatever, obscures audio during a deposition and a jury may not hear or understand it clearly, it may not be usable in court. No attorney would be happy with that.
- a mixer to handle multiple microphones, minimum 4...more is better. (Mine has 6 inputs). I know legal guys who have done deps with as many as 7 attorneys in the room, plus the deponent. Sharing mics among attorneys doesn't always allow optimum audio, though it may be unavoidable.
- because of the ease of changing footage in the digital world, some firms demand that a 3-chip camera be used, but the image be recorded to both digital media and analog to VHS. (Artifacts of changes are harder to hide/easier to identify with VHS, helping to ensure the footage has not been tampered with).
- some firms even look for captioning, particularly when a deponent has a speech impediment, heavy accent, or is otherwise difficult to understand.
While it's the videographer's job, and not the attorney's, to know the peculiarities of the set-up and the requirements under the law, it's arguable that any attorney who doesn't ask for some of these things is not looking out for his client's best interests.

Last item: many cases settle before trial. You may find yourself arriving early, setting up, only to have the dep canceled due to pre-trial settlement, a deponent/attorney not showing up, whatever. Your rate should include a minimum/unique charge for such occurrences.

Depositions are simply another venue for witness testimony, but with no less legal weight than live testimony given in a courtroom. They require constant attention to both audio and image; if either is deemed unusable by an attorney, (including the opposing party), and a judge sustains an objection to its' use, future jobs for you might be few. Neither an attorney nor his/her client wants to pay for services they can't use.

Good luck.
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