George S. Pearl
A "Day in the Life” video with no preparation, shot by some person who per-haps does video depositions with no training in proper cinematography techniques, lighting, sound, continuity or post production, will be very weak in adding strength and purpose to your case. Self-produced videos done by attorneys are sometimes used but seldom do they accomplish their objective. An amateurish production of this type, from whatever the source, usually does not do the case or the client justice.
With the ”Day in the Life” video production, there are many things to think about before proceeding down this demonstrative evidence trail. The effective ”Day in the Life” video production, properly produced, places the viewer in the shoes of your client for his or her full waking day and sometimes during their night as well. It is wise to have a production of this nature done if a juror meeting your client in court would not be able to fully be aware of that client’s total limitations, struggles, disparity, confinement, loss of enjoyment of life, family burden, economic needs, mental state, loss of self worth and outlook on life.
Many trial lawyers think a ”Day in the Life” production is to show how wrecked the client’s life is as a consequence of the defendant’s negligence. Others think this important demonstrative tool is to show the extent of the client’s injury in order to evoke sympathy from the jury. There may be secondary influence in these directions, but when I shoot a ”Day in the Life” production, I believe the most important objective is to portray an overall theme of Hope. The production should show that the client is not a quitter and is trying his or her best to overcome all insurmountable odds to recover! No matter how bleak the client’s situation may be, if the video production reveals the client’s drive to try and rehabilitate himself, then the jury will be motivated to award him sufficient damages to make it possible to accomplish his goals.
Everyone has goals. I’ve heard people say that if ever something like that happened to me I would just want to kill myself. However, such a defeatist attitude is very rarely seen in reality. I’ve never met any quadriplegics who wanted to die. Even they had goals. Their life’s plans had been altered, but they still had
goals to accomplish. The ”Day in the Life” video will help to make this clear.
Even if a particular client is a vegetable, there can still be hope. We have all heard of the coma case snapping out of it after a ten-year sleep. In the complete brain dead case, we show the family’s hope, their love, and the hardships placed upon them to care for the client. In reality, the victim is already dead. That person’s meaningful life ended when their brain died. Consequently now, the idea of the video is to show the loss of that meaningful life. The cameras can show a situation of family torture and total economic disaster due to negligence. The jury sees that not only was the victim’s life destroyed, but also that of his or her family. A just award is needed to provide the compensation for all of this complete devastation to the victim and his family. The production should also show the economic needs to pay for special equipment, nurses, medicines, transportation, housing daily care and so forth.
A video production of this nature should normally be under an hour in length if at all possible, and shortened to 30 or 40 minutes is best. The reasoning behind this is that if the video is correctly produced and edited a viewer will be impacted with more information in a shorter time span. This tends to lessen the boredom and makes the production easier to comprehend. The video should be no longer than any other live witness testifying in the courtroom.
Upon completion of the viewing of a ”Day in the Life” not only should the jury understand the injury and the impact of that injury, but also the jury members should feel closer to that individual after the viewing. A frequent mistake that Attorney make is not showing the ”Day in the Life” early in the trial. A professionally produced ”Day in the Life” will instill a permanent image into the minds of the jurors so that they will fully understand the importance of what they are deciding. Also, they become more sensitive to the plight of the victim and become more aware of the insensitivity of the Defense and their witnesses. It is human nature to care more about someone that we feel like we know, than we do about a stranger.
A professional civil evidence videographer should be bound by several codes of ethics from professional organizations plus their own ethical standards to shoot evidence productions and evidence photography fairly and truthfully. What our fum produces is totally unstaged and is documented as the event takes place. A good legal videographer who has produced many of these ”Day in the Life” productions will be aware of almost everything that might happen next and how to photograph it when it does happen. Quite a bit of pre-production consultation with the client and family prior to the actual day’s video taping session will greatly enhance the result. The job of a professional ”Day in the Life” videographer is so much more demanding than any other video producer or videographer because we are using correct cinematography techniques, lighting, sound production, camera angles and movements to record something that we ethically can’t stage. One never knows exactly what will happen or will be said during a session, but it’s imperative to not only have the ”Day in the Life” videotaped technically correct. It must be done impartially. We have found that the productions often go smoother without lawyers present. Have faith in your production company to do the job right without you being there. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, then you should find another video producer. Too much is at stake to allow such an important production to be made by anyone less than a true professional. Ask to see some past productions similar to your client’s situation if you are not totally knowledgeable of your video producer’s abilities. If the sound is poor, lighting dark and grainy, scenes look chopped up or there are other major problems, find another video producer with training and experience. Ask for a C.V. and references. While shooting, one should keep in mind the legal aspects of what is being recorded to avoid admissibility problem.
When showing the ”Day in the Life” video in court, don’t ever have someone stopping it and trying to explain what’s going on at the same time. If the production is done professionally, there should be little need for this, but a ”voice over” should be used directly on the tape if any explanations are needed. The constant interruptions of an interpreter at trial cause the Ping-Pong effect with the jury viewer. Right when there is something important for them to be paying attention to on the television screen, their head turns to see what the person explaining is saying. This causes more loss of continuity and educational value of your “Day in the Life”
Make a special tape for any rehabilitation specialist to demonstrate from. NEVER, NEVER let them use your ”Day in the Life” production to try to explain the needs of your client during their testimony. They should always be directed to work with your video producers to prepare a special edited and titled tape solely for their purpose. ”The Day in the Life” video production should always be shown in its entirety with no tampering during its playback.
Also, never agree to play a ”Day in the Life” video production without the sound! Would you ever agree to ”show” a ”Day in the Life” video without the picture part? The sound is an integral part of that production just like the visual part. If there is a statement made on the tape that is somehow objectionable, simply have your production people edit that statement out or they can even take out a single word, but never omit all of the production’s sound! When professionally produced, there shouldn’t be any talking to the camera or testimony recorded on the tape in the first place.
Always turn to your professional for changes or any editing of the tape. Never attempt to copy or edit the production your- self. Not only do you risk not doing it correctly, but you will always wind up with an inferior product by not copying from the master. Also, if the producer’s work is copyrighted, then you would be breaking the law to copy the video work without the copy right holder’s permission.
One can never stress more the need to plan ahead with this type of production. Planning is the key to a successful portrayal of your client’s day. The attempt to speed up the day by staging events in order to save shooting time and money never gives the same reality as that event actually taking place and recorded live. In order to produce a more professional production that will be admissible in evidence, the true professional should refuse to stage and speed up any production.
In contrast to the ”Day in the Life” video, the video settlement brochure is completely staged and scripted to bring forth a forceful message for use as a settlement tool. These productions require precise planning, shooting and editing. The use of music and a narrator is common to add drama and stir the emotions. If the ”Day in the Life” is produced first, there will be quite a bit of footage to draw from showing the injury to your client. Add a few experts giving statements and some economics of a video settlement brochure.
One should carefully consider showing the “Day in the Life” first as a settlement tool, if settlement negotiations are being pursued. It can be quite forceful in its own right if it professionally produced. Also, with a few expert statements, some economics, and a few still photos are tacked onto the production you have hit two target areas at once. Of course, at trial only the day in the life portion will be shown, if the case does not settle.
It is strongly recommended that the professionally produced ”Day in the Life” video be shown at a trial on a big seven-foot screen by the use of projection. The images are larger and more real to life. As a result, the viewer gets wrapped into the production more so than by watching a smaller twenty-inch monitor.
In this inflation oriented economy, through advances in technology, not only have we seen an advance in the quality of the video product, but a surprising drop in its production cost! Because of new light weight, high resolution, portable acquisition equipment being implemented, now the two or three person production crew for a broadcast quality production is a thing of the past. This should reflect a price drop of more than half for those who have invested in this new technology and modern production methods.
Aside from the technical filming and production expertise, the keys to production and presentation of a successful ”Day in the Life” video are adequate and through preparation with the lawyer, victim, and victim’s family; shooting events spontaneously as they naturally occur; and proper exhibition for viewing the maximum effect.
George Pearl, President of Atlanta based ALPS Evidence & Photo, is a certified evidence photographer and a fellow of the Evidence Photographers International Council and Certified Professional Photographer of the Professional Photographer of America. He is a Certified Questioned Document Examiner and Handwriting Expert with the Association of Forensic Document Examiners. He also serves as a board member of the Demonstrative Evidence Specialist Association dedicated to maintaining the highest standards in the production of demonstrative evidence.
* This article was first published in THE VERDICT of July / August of 1992.
© Atlanta Legal Photo Services, Inc.