Guide To Legal Video - Chapter 2: The Gear
Now let’s take a look at some of the equipment you will need to accurately record a deposition.
The first thing you’ll need is a good quality camera that also records a date and time stamp on the video.
Most jurisdictions require a graphic displaying the month, day, and year, as well as hours, minutes, and seconds be present throughout the entirety of the recording. However, not all jurisdictions require it and a few won’t allow it on the video. You should always check with the court system that you are recording a deposition for to see what their video requirements are beforehand.
For those that do require it, the purpose of the date and time stamp is to prevent tampering with testimony. If a witness suddenly jumps on screen to a different point in time, it can show a judge or jury that a portion of testimony is missing. The exception to this is when an attorney has objections to particular questions. A judge can rule that portion of testimony can be stricken from the record.
The date and time stamp is a feature that was more common on video cameras in the late 80’s and early 90’s than it is today. However there still are a few manufacturers that add this functionality to their cameras. The camera that we use for demonstration purposes is a Panasonic AG-HMC-40. This camera records high-definition video to small SDHC cards. We recommend purchasing several 32GB class 6 or above SDHC cards for recording depositions. A 32GB card should give you about 3 hours and 15 minutes of recording time per card.
Even though this camera records in high-definition, HD footage is not currently required for legal depositions. A standard-definition camera capable of recording at a horizontal resolution of at least 350 lines is perfectly acceptable for legal video work. Fortunately, most consumer camcorders these days meet or exceed this requirement. As an example, the standard definition Panasonic AGDVC30, is still used widely to record witness testimony. This camera has been discontinued, but can be purchased preowned for around $300. These cameras are being mentioned as examples only and we do not personally recommend any brand over the other.
If you are unable to locate a camera that records the date and time stamp to the video, you can purchase an inexpensive date & time generator to use with the camera when you record a deposition. This is a great option for someone who already owns a camera that meets the resolution requirements, but does not record the date and time stamp.
Often, newer cameras record the date and time stamp as metadata and is contained inside the digital media file. With this method, the time stamp is not visible on the original recording, but can be brought out and added using an editing program. Obviously, this method is not ideal, because it requires more work on your end. However, this method can be used if your court system does not require the date and time stamp burned into the original recording.
A small monitor can also be helpful during the deposition, especially with helping to determine if the witness is in focus. Often an attorney will ask to see the composition of your shot. A small monitor that you can quickly turn around when requested, can be very helpful to have.
Next you will need at least 3 lavalier microphones. One for the witness, another for his attorney and a third is for opposing counsel. We recommend lavaliers with connections for shielded XLR cables. The shielded cables help to cut down on audio interference caused by cell phones, radio, wifi, and other frequencies in the immediate area. These are a little more expensive than lavaliers with standard jacks, but insuring that you have good audio is definitely worth the extra investment.
You will also need a PZM mic, or table microphone. This is used to pick up other attorneys present who may have objections, as well as your voice for when you have to make announcements about going on and off the record.
A quality mixer is also recommended. You should be able to mix at least four channels of audio. You can save a few hundred dollars, by purchasing microphones and a mixer that does not use XLR cables… however, we can’t stress enough that having quality audio is worth every penny of the extra investment.
The next piece of equipment we recommend purchasing is some type of device to do a back-up recording. Most videographers use a direct DVD burner that records a DVD in real time during the deposition. Another option is a back-up hard drive. Depending on its audio and video inputs, a simple consumer DVR or laptop can serve this purpose.
Every so often, the media that you are recording to can fail causing you to lose all of the testimony recorded to the card, DVD, or tape. A back-up can help protect you if something unexpected happens.
Finally, the last thing you should keep in your arsenal is a collapsible backdrop. Your backdrop should be neutral in tone and color. Attorneys want juries focused on the witness, not objects in the background. A light blue or grey backdrop is pretty standard throughout the industry.
Of course, this is just a list of the minimum amount of equipment you would need to successfully film a deposition. As you progress in your career, you may find other pieces of equipment that may enhance the quality of your depositions or just make your life easier in general.
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