Guide To Legal Video - Chapter 3: The Set-Up

Setting up and testing the equipment before a deposition can be crucial to your success for the day. We recommend arriving to the location at least one hour early. This should give you plenty time to assess the room, set up, and run a proper test before everyone else arrives. It is a lot harder to run cables and do a test recording around attorneys who are prepping for a deposition. Plus, arriving early should give you time to correct any problems you may have with equipment settings without delaying the start of a deposition.

Before you set up, it’s a good idea to assess where everyone will be positioned in the room. A typical set-up for a deposition is in a conference room with a long conference table. Most videographers set up their equipment at the far end of the table. You would then place your witness at the opposite end of the table across from your camera.

You want to make sure the witness will be clearly seen and in front of a neutral background. Use a backdrop if necessary. Do not place the witness in a location where they will be backlit. Never position the witness in front of a window unless the blinds or curtains are closed.

The witness’s attorney will usually be seated on one side next to them and opposing counsel will be seated next to the witness on the other side. A court reporter will sit near the witness and the questioning attorney.

Since the court reporter types a live transcript during the deposition, it’s a courtesy to make sure they are placed in very close range to those talking. They need to be able to hear everyone well and create an accurate record. There may be other attorneys or legal assistants in the room and they will sit on the same side of the table as the counsel for the party they represent.

You can run your cables on top of or below the table. Running cables under the table creates a more attractive appearance. Just be careful not create a safety hazard when doing so. An inexpensive roll of gaffer’s tape can help you secure your cables to the underside of the table or floor.

Often to save on travel expenses, attorneys may attend the deposition by phone or videoconference. If that happens, simply place one of your lavalier microphones near the speaker of the phone or tv and adjust your incoming audio level accordingly.

Once you determine where everyone will be situated, go ahead and start setting up your gear. Place your three lavalier microphones on the table in front of the chairs where you expect your witness and two key attorneys to sit. We recommend having audio cables at least 25 feet in length to accommodate longer conference tables.

When filming depositions you may frequently find yourself in a doctor’s office or other location with limited space. You should always be prepared to work in those locations with minimal equipment if necessary. Also, keep safety considerations in mind when running audio cables in cramped spaces

When setting up your camera, you want to make sure that at least 3/4ths of the witness’s face is in the shot at all times. Avoid complete profile views of the deponent. When framing your shot, you want to make sure that the witness is centered on screen and both arms and hands are visible at all times. A lot of witnesses tend to gesture as they talk and it is important to capture that as part of the visual record.

When framing your shot, you should start at the top of the table and stop just above your witness’s head, leaving what looks to be about an inch or so of space between the top of the frame and the top of the deponent’s head.

Different types of lights emit different color tones. Incandescent lights have a red hue, fluorescent lights tend to have a green hue, and sunlight has a blue hue.

Be sure to do a proper white balance in the room with your camera before each deposition. This is done by focusing in on a blank sheet of white paper. Place the paper where the witness will be sitting and pressing the white balance button on your camera. The camera knows what color white should be, and this process allows the camera to make adjustments to the color hue in the room so it can record colors accurately. Be sure to check your camera’s instruction manual for instructions on how to properly set the white balance on your model of camera.

Once you have your camera and audio set up, it’s important to record a quick test of your equipment. With the camera running, perform an audio check of each microphone. Also sit in the witness’s chair to check for proper framing and color balance. Once your test is finished, play it back and look for any problems with picture or audio quality.

After everyone enters the room and is seated, double-check the shot of the witness and make adjustments if necessary. Make sure that the frame is free of any foreground objects that may be considered a distraction. Attorneys’ laptops are notorious for creeping into the frame. If there are any visible soda cans, water bottles or other objects, politely ask for them to be moved off to the side and out of the frame.

Right before the deposition begins, ask everyone to clip their microphones on. You may need to assist each person with proper placement of the mic. A good rule to follow is to place the mic below their chin at a distance of approximately the length between their thumb and pinky.

Once everyone has been mic’d, double-check the audio for any interference or other audio noises. Microphones can produce a lot of excess noise if they rub against clothing or a person’s hair. If they are too close to the subject’s mouth, they can also pick up a lot of heavy breathing. If any audio noise is detected, reposition the mics as needed. Also be sure to double check the audio levels that are about to be recorded. You want each mic to be recorded at the same audio level.

Finally before you begin, ask everyone in the room to turn off their cellphones. Cellphones can cause unwanted audio interference. Not all attorneys will accommodate you on this request, but you should request they keep their phones off the table and as far away from the microphones and audio cables as possible.

Other videos in this series: