What to Look for in a Video Deposition

This article is an attempt to illuminate both the rudimentary and nuanced strategies required to consistently produce high-quality video depositions. I often worry that attorneys who order them are unaware that the footage for which they have paid dearly, is of exceedingly poor production value. The bottom line: all video depositions should look nearly identical (except for the witness, of course); it is the means by which that end is achieved that separates excellence from inferiority.

When you schedule a videographer for your deposition, a high-quality product seems like a reasonable enough request, and it is! The only problem is that most people don’t know one when they see one, and they shouldn’t! Let me explain. When everything is perfect in a video; the lighting, the contrast, the white balance, the framing, the audio… it looks how a video is “supposed” to look and sound. The difference between a first-rate video and one that barely meets expectations is nothing.

It’s kind of like a GPA. To maintain a 4.0, you can ace every test and do all the extra credit in the world but there’s a numeric ceiling. Another student who averages 89.51% in every class will end up with the same GPA (assuming no minuses). The same thing applies to a video deposition. It is possible for two videographers of vastly disparate experience and skill to turn in similar quality products. What you don’t know is what went on behind the scenes. Did everything fall into place or was the videographer putting out fires the entire time? Did the lighting just so happen to be perfect or did they have to rearrange the room to avoid side/back lighting and call building maintenance to replace light bulbs?

As a videographer, consider yourself lucky if the room has great lighting, the witness sits absolutely still and everyone remembers to put on their mics. Only when the witness has a plant growing out of his head, the questioning attorney sounds like he’s under water and there are so many soda cans in front of the witness that it looks like a paid advertisement, does it become apparent what the videographer is really doing (or in this case, not doing). The real magic happens when things go wrong; bad mics and cables, soda cans, laptop screens, errant lighting, un-mic’ed attorneys, restless witnesses… A quality videographer is always thinking two steps ahead and will have anticipated all of the aforementioned errors and distractions. When you playback his/her video you should be none the wiser. The witness is centered and unobstructed, the audio is clear with uniform volume and distractions are kept to a minimum.

In a Nutshell

-Witness is centered in the frame (left to right), their head is close to, but not cut off by the top edge of the frame, and the bottom of the frame falls at about navel level (usually table’s edge). Somewhere between a medium shot and a medium closeup.
-A neutral-color backdrop, i.e. medium gray. Eliminates distractions, provides uniformity and removes potentially persuasive elements such as wall hangings, decorations and emotive colors.
-Uniform audio levels. The videographer should continually monitor the audio and make constant adjustments according changes in volume.
-Re-centering the shot. The videographer should continually monitor the video monitor. When a witness moves to one side or the other, so should the videographer, to ensure the witness is generally centered in the frame.
-Documents should be visible while in use. The videographer should try to keep at least some small portion of the document in the shot. If not, the witness may appear to be sulking while speaking when, in reality, they are reading.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Knieser, Media Specialist
Brian Knieser is a Legal Videographer with Olender Reporting, Inc. in Washington, D.C. He began filming depositions in 2006 and has subsequently videotaped hundreds of witnesses including heads of industry, heads of state, experts and even inmates.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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