Better Deposition Videos in Court: Getting the Best Results from Trial Presentation Software

Posted on April 6, 2010 | by Bryan

INTRODUCTION (to a Four-Part Trilogy)

ANYONE WHO WORKS WITH videotaped deposition testimony has seen the infinite variations in image and sound quality in such video. When you’re dealing with video collected from different sources, shot by different videographers on different dates and in different cities, it’s inevitable: the pictures and the sound will vary from witness to witness.  When you’re presenting video testimony in the courtroom — often as a series of short clips from various witnesses — the differences may be striking, if not downright distracting.

Under normal circumstances, and within a normal quality range, this variation isn’t a major problem. Modern computer-based trial presentation software (OnCue, Sanction, Trial Director, etc.) can handle a broad range of file types and formats and still give the jury a good show. Yet, occasionally we still see those painful-to-watch, simply BAD video clips at trial.

If the picture or sound aren’t very good, the jury may not understand what’s being said, and/or may not get the point. And if the video is REALLY bad, it won’t matter how wonderful the testimony is (or would have been) for your case … the jury will tend to tune it out. In which case you’ve wasted your time (and theirs).  Not good.

Where do these problems come from?

As with everything we do with computers, the rule with video depositions is “garbage in, garbage out.”  If the video isn’t good to begin with — if either the sound or picture is substandard — there’s very little that any other software product can do to rescue the presentation. A skilled video technician can boost sound levels a little, maybe improve the contrast … but no amount of tweaking or enhancing can create good, clear picture and/or sound if the information isn’t on the recording to begin with.

Not every deposition videographer is as well-trained and/or technically proficient as you might expect.  Most are highly-skilled professionals who understand their equipment, and take great pride in the quality of the finished video.  But some are not: Some are skilled and conscientious, but lack quality equipment; others may have terrific gear, but lack the training or experience necessary to spot and avoid problems before and during the shoot.

And sometimes, even if the individual and the equipment are top-notch, onsite factors can ruin the video. Loud ventilation, uneven or noisy electrical power that creates pops and crackles in the sound, a witness who mumbles … can frustrate even the best efforts of the best-equipped video crew.

So what can you do? Stay tuned.

The quality of the final video presentation begins with the original video itself, on the day of the deposition. There are a number of steps — best practices, really — that you can take to avoid the dreaded Bad Video Problem. These range from careful selection of witness wardrobe and shooting location, to details about video encoding and file types.  These things (and more) are the focus of this four-part trilogy of posts.  Still to come,  in the next few weeks:

  1. SOUND ADVICE (“What do you mean, ‘good sound is more important
    than a good picture’?  You’re kidding, right?”)
  2. VIDEO BASICS (“What is ‘white balance,’ and why should I care?”)
  3. FROM CAMERA TO COMPUTER (“USB, USC, whatever it takes.”)

These posts won’t address such issues as witness appearance (why to avoid horizontal stripes, vivid colors, solid white jackets) or witness demeanor (no shouting, don’t throw things at the other lawyer) at the deposition. Both are important topics, to be addressed another time.

More to come …

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