Video depositions are a powerful, persuasive tool available to every litigant. There are countless benefits, and most will agree that presenting testimony by video is a much better option than simply reading the transcript into the record.
But not all videographers are great videographers, and not all video is stellar video. If you go to the expense of scheduling a video deposition, you want the end product to be usable for something other than tossing in a red well and burying in the case file. Even though you’re not a videographer, you should still have a voice in the process and logistical arrangements. By all means, consider the videographer’s input, but there are some basics that will help ensure that you’re getting what you need (and what you’re paying for).
- What kind of camera?
When retaining a videographer, insist that they use a high definition camera. “HD” for short.
- How many cameras?
There are a handful of folks in the industry who suggest using a multi-camera shoot so that both the questioning attorney and the witness are on the screen. In my 18 years of consulting, I have never seen a multi-camera deposition shoot and quite frankly, I believe your dollars can be better spent elsewhere. There is no need to make the video deposition Hollywood-style, or to draw attention away from the deponent by adding additional faces to the mix. One camera is all you need.
- Where should the camera be positioned?
The camera should be strategically placed so the deponent’s body is facing the camera straight-on or at a very slight angle. The witness may not have his eyes laser-focused on the camera lens, but so long as his body, shoulders and head are faced directly towards the camera lens, it will produce a better video. It is suggested that the camera be placed behind or slightly to the left/right of the questioning attorney. This will also help the witness seem as though he is speaking to the camera without coming across as unnatural of rehearsed.
- What about a backdrop?
The videographer should always use a backdrop behind the deponent. When scheduling, if the videographer does not have one, does not think it’s necessary or asks you “what color”… we’d strongly suggest calling someone else.
- Where should the deponent sit?
Since most depositions are taken in a conference room of some sort, let’s talk about windows and seating location. Do not seat the witness in front of a large conference room window, doorway or area with a loud or visually busy background. This clutters the message delivery. (A backdrop should solve the clutter problem.) In addition, be sure to keep window blinds closed throughout the entire day… even with a backdrop. This will help ensure consistent lighting and minimize shadows on the deponent’s face. It will also help edited video look more consistent and less “choppy”.
- Who needs a microphone?
The witness and each speaking attorney should be wired with their own lapel microphone. No ifs, ands or buts.
- What should I ask for at the end of the deposition?
Some videographers (including ours) make copies of the video and hand it to you before they leave. If you have any desire to use the video for a future use or to view it on your computer, you will want MPEG-1 video. People tend to use the term “DVD” to indicate a disc with video, but DVDs are typically stored with MPEG-2 video, which means you can only view it on a DVD player (not necessarily your computer). You want MPEG-1 video, not MPEG-2. And just say no to VHS. It’s completely useless in today’s tech-savvy world, and means your videographer is not using an HD camera (see Tip #1).
- What about synchronized transcripts?
This issue is a little trickier. While many videographers offer a DVD with “synchronized transcripts,” our practice is to use our own folks. Our courtroom technicians synchronize the transcripts in TrialDirector when we are preparing for trial (or jury research). This has a few benefits, but the most important? Quality control. When we sync ourselves, the words match the moving lips and there are no timing issues. Nothing irritates a judge more than a synchronized transcript that isn’t truly synchronized. Some of the “automatic programs” used by videographers do not take the finer nuances into consideration. We don’t take shortcuts because there is no room for error. Our recommendation is to leave the synchronizing to the experts.
- Should we use a document camera to show exhibits?
Some videographers offer to embed the exhibits into the actual deposition video using picture-in-a-picture technology. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Save your money, because it comes with great risk. What if the exhibit is not admitted? What if the exhibit is redacted? The most important role of the videographer is to capture the deponent’s testimony, both verbal and non-verbal. Leave the exhibits out. As the need arises down the road, the actual exhibits can be added into the edited video designations. And because they’re added after-the-fact, you can be rest assured the exhibit has been admitted, properly redacted, and will remain on the screen only as long as necessary. As with Tip #8, we recommend that you delegate this task to your courtroom operator / trial tech.
By applying these tips to your next video deposition, you’ll not only maximize the quality of the video, but you’ll increase the odds that any edited excerpts you play back during settlement negotiations, mock jury research, arbitration or trial will be visually and audibly sound. And that? Is money well spent.
If you have any questions, please give us a call or shoot us an email. We’re here to help with all of your presentation needs.