Friday, January 28, 2011

Producing Video from Across the County

Over the past 3 weeks I have been involved in a case that has required a large amount of video work. The goal of the video was to tell a story from the perspective of four victims that have been involved in similar accidents. The project took me to two cities in Massachusetts, up to Maine, and almost out to the west coast.

The style and setting of the three videos in Massachusetts and Maine were shot in a personal style, where the questioning attorney was in the room just having a conversation with the victim rather than hounding him with questions. The goal of these videos was to tell the story of the victims' lives and how they changed after the accident. We chose a narrative method where the questioning attorney would not be seen nor heard. Framing these subjects played a large role in the final video since we were putting together a compilation of all all four victims. We planned to shoot two victims framed left and the other two framed right. Many people don't necessarily pay attention to how subjects are framed in television, film, or news broadcasts, but the choices are very specific and intentional. I'll get into more details about framing in a later blog post, but the main point here is that I didn't want to have four subjects framed all on the same side in order to avoid monotony. I wanted left, right, left, right to keep the video visually diverse and appeal to the viewers the way they are used to seeing things professionally done on television and film.

The fourth video was out on the west coast, however, and with the fast approaching deadline obstructed by the not so promising New England weather dumping snow on us, it didn't seem like it was going to be in our favor to get out to Portland and back in a timely manner. Discussing this with our client, we came to the conclusion that hiring a local west coast video company while directing the work through a video conferencing session using Skype would be the easiest and most effective way to put our lawyer in the same room as the victim while retaining the same style as the previously shot videos. Our office manager narrowed the local video companies down based on their experience shooting legal video and passed the list on to me where I looked through my footage and production notes to guide me to make the right decision. After deciding, I gave one company a call to talk shop and discuss the logistics of how we were going to bring our lawyer from Massachusetts to Portland in a seamless and flawless way.

Production company, check! Videoconferencing, check! Sigh of relief on my end. Now I had to think about the setup of the cameras and figuring out how we on the east coast were going to see what the main camera on the west coast was seeing. When people think of Skype, they think of sitting in front of their computers with their shoddy built-in webcams that have poor frame rates resulting in a choppy visual conversation with someone. We decided that the traditional technique was not ideal for how we needed to communicate with the victim. Skype allows you to use an external camera if you decide not to use your built in camera or if you do not have a built in camera. I instructed the camera operator to use his main camera as the feed for the Skype camera, that way the camera we were viewing was the actual camera recording the subject, which gave us full communication and control if a framing issue occurred, or we needed to move the subject.

As far as the camera angles go, the first camera was a medium shot of our subject (head, shoulders, arms, and mid torso), and we also had a second camera that shot a close-up. Second camera angles are important for a few different reasons, such as using that second angle to cut to if an issue occurs with the first angle. A simple example is that the subject could be doing something distracting in the medium shot with his hands and we simply don't want the viewers seeing that, so we cut to a close up until he's done fidgeting. Additionally, deleted footage may cause awkward cuts that you don't want because it signals that something was clearly edited. By moving to a closeup briefly and then back to the medium shot you can somewhat solve that problem by creating smoother transitions that remain visually appealing. Lastly closeups are important when showing emotion. If someone begins to cry or is emotionally speaking about something, you want to see it in their eyes and bring your audience right into the pain and suffering of the victim. You never know when that second camera angle could either help you in the cutting room, or be the perfect shot you were looking for.

On the day of the shoot we performed a test to make sure our signals were smooth and I also spoke with the camera operator for a third time to review the game plan to make sure we were on the same page. We virtually brought our attorney 3,100 miles away into the same room as the victim and got unbelievable footage to complete the story of these four victims. The final step was to have the production company capture the footage on their end and send me the original tapes so I could capture them on mine. This was a smart thing to do because if anything happened to the tapes while in transit, the original footage was backed up. Luckily, we didn't need to rely on any safeguards because the tapes made it to us safely.

The videos came out great, and the final product was exactly what we wanted!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And in this corner... The Body!

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog entry about some of the legal questions raised by the implementation of airport backscatter x-ray scanners. In that entry (which you can read here), I considered the possibility of people suing over the use of the scanners. It hadn't occurred to me that the first significant (i.e. news worthy) law suit against airport security would be over the non-technological repercussions of the scanners.

I read an article about how former Minnesota governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura is currently suing over not only the scanners, but the invasive and aggressive body searches performed by the TSA staff. He names Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole as defendants as well. His general claim is that the scanners and body searches subject him (and other Americans) to an illegal search and seizure that violates the 4th Amendment, which requires probable cause before a search.

The ex-governor launched his law suit shortly after being subjected to a full-body pat down when his metal hip replacement set off the metal detector, which "exposed him to humiliation and degradation through unwanted touching, gripping and rubbing of the intimate areas of his body." Prior to this, security had always just used wands to detect his hip replacement.

Due to his hip replacement, the ex-governor would consistently have to either go through the scanners that can essentially see a person naked or subject himself to manhandling by a TSA officer. His hip, which should make his life easier, now potentially makes him have to sacrifice his right to privacy without cause. Potentially, all people with any kind of medical procedure involving metal implants will also have their 4th Amendment rights taken from them. As a result, the law suit could add physical discrimination to its list of claims against the TSA (also religious discrimination for those religions that frown upon nudity or physical touching).

Many suspect that the whole point behind the aggressive groping done by TSA agents is to make the experience as unpleasant as possible to encourage people to go through the possibly unsafe scanners (see health risks involved with backscatter x-rays - FDA and NY Times). People have the illusion that they can "opt-out" of the scan, but the alternative is just as humiliating. Until I read the article about the suit, it hadn't occurred to me that the anger over the physical "pat-down" search would cause the first really news worthy law suit. Granted, the scanner is part of the suit, but the TSA's jedi-mind-trick of letting passengers elect not to go through the scanners seems to have backfired by further angering passengers.

I'm personally interested to see how far this inevitable law suit gets.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Art in the Courtroom

We live in a society where media and technology is always available; however there is still a use for court artists. After reading an article online, I noticed that the accompanying video was a slide show of court drawn pictures of the defendant, judge, jury members and attorney. How ironic a video of pictures being taken. But because in some trials media is prohibited; we go back to the drawing board, literally.

For high profile trials where cameras are to be kept out of the courtroom. Television stations, newspapers and magazine publishers need court artists to sketch the characters and scenes of the trial. Cameras are kept out at times to avoid distractions and preserve the privacy of those in court; therefore news outlets rely on these drawings.

There are artists who solely work for the court system and have worked on some famous and memorable cases. I believe that the sketch- book and pencil will be around for a while, even though a camera can take the same image, there is a definite authenticity to a drawn picture. Artists use different drawing techniques to depict the scene in the courtroom. They use materials from pencils, charcoal, to pastels. These drawings can also pick up raw emotion more so than a picture at times, giving the public a true depiction of what’s going on in the courtroom.

So for those artists out there, there will always be in my mind a job for you in the criminal justice field whether it be drawing a witness’s account of a suspect or drawing individuals in court proceedings. Its an exciting job and very much needed for media uses. There is a blog I came across dedicated to showing people what a camera cannot while in Supreme Court trials Take a look at some of this artist’s work and how much detail is put into every drawing.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wii technology in the Courtroom

My family recently purchased the Wii gaming system, for a while I wanted to have the gaming system since it seems like everyone else had it. Not only is the system, fun, the games they have developed are unique and fun for all ages. My dad who is someone we call “computer illiterate” finds humor in jumping around or pretending the living room is a bowling alley. The technology has gotten better in my opinion over time. Similar to the Wii is the kinetic phenomenon that picks up sensors from the persons body without holding controllers. It’s amazing to me how one’s movements can translate from reality to a character that resembles them on the TV screen.

It would be interesting to use this same technology in the courtroom recreating movements and reenacting scenes from events throughout the case and trial process. Giving life to a story helps lawyers “tell the story” of what happened between the two parties. This also allows jurors to get a sense of what happened on that given day or to visually see the movement and interaction in question. The Wii and kinetic are systems of fun and games but the actual technology, sensor pick up and translation from human movement to the screen can be useful as a visual aid for attorneys or the trial team in a case. Having the defendant or plaintiff reenact what happened on the day of the event can be more useful than words or straight testimony if a picture can accompany their words.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, what if you take that idea a step further and provide actual re-creation of the movements and actions of the parties in question to provide a “accurate” and “representative” picture or continuous movements of the events that took place. Would this or could this be used in a courtroom, that’s the underlying question; but with the advances of technology we could see a courtroom version of the Wii or kinetic system in the future; as sensor pickup and translation from simple movement from a human can be transferred over to a resemble them on a TV could be the “new” way to tell a story in trial.

The attached link looks at animating evidence in the courtroom by using advances in gaming systems similar to the idea I mentioned using the Wii and kinetic senor pickup.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Great Example of Effective Data Visualization

By the very nature of our trial system, the presentation of evidence and testimony often suffers from a lack of context. The jury hears the evidence first from one witness, who can only recount events as relate to them, in the time period relevant to their experience. Opposing counsel then attempts to refute or distract from the narrative laid out in direct examination. Often these questions skip from time period to time period, further clouding the picture. Then it is on to the next witness, whose testimony may or may not relate in time or content to the previous witness. And on it goes.

The jury really has two opportunities to hear the whole story. First, during opening statements when they have no idea of who the witnesses are or what the evidence looks like. Then again at closing arguments, after all the evidence is presented and there is no opportunity to hear the testimony with the arguments in mind. (I liken the jury trial process to watching a game from a sport you've never seen, having the rules explained to you at the end, and then having to decide who won). Again, what is often missing from the process is context.

Visual communication, when done right, can fill this void by providing the context that is sorely needed. Maps, diagrams, timelines, and process graphics can all bring together the disparate strands of information spread over multiple witnesses and documents into one cohesive whole.

However, even when using visuals lawyers often miss an opportunity to contextualize the evidence and tell their story. Instead, they present graphics that illustrate only one piece of data. This can still be a very effective way of presenting that data and, depending on the significance of that data, critical to the case. Opportunities exist, though, to bring together multiple sets of data to tell your story in the most effective way possible.

Below is a video of a very effective graphic. Take a look.

The graphic is effective for a variety of reasons, some of which will be the subject of later blog posts. I'd like to focus on one aspect of the graphic - the concept of showing multivariate data and its importance to providing context.

Simply put, show as many relevant types of data as you can, as long as it is clear and your story is being told effectively. In the above video, the graphic showed six types of data:
  1. Time (by year)
  2. Life Expectancy
  3. Income
  4. Countries
  5. Continents
  6. Population
As the narrator notes at the end, there are 120,000 points of data used to create the graph. The power of good multivariate design is that all the data is clear and easy to see. Each type of data is shown not only on its own terms, but in relation to every other piece of data. The viewer can explore the content of the graphic and make many more connections than on a graphic with one or two typess of data. For example, the viewer can compare the progress of continents, for example, or in terms of population.

In addition, a graphic that contextualizes lots of data has a massive amount of credibility with the viewer. Sparse graphics with incomplete data sets make it seem that the presenter is hiding something. A graphic like the above video, with all countries over a large time period, makes it clear to the viewer that they are getting the whole story. The value of a credible graphic in a jury trial is obvious.

Lastly, the context and the credibility enhances the graphic's ability to tell a story. The narrator does a great job verbally explaining human progress, but with the graphic his conclusions are next to impossible to dismiss.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Respect for the Law

Respect for the law is more than simply not violating the law, but rather having a reverence for it. Abraham Lincoln recognized the duty of every single American citizen to revere the law . In a speech given at the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois
on January 27, 1838, Lincoln proclaimed:

Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity swear by the blood of the Revolution never to violate in the least particular the laws of the country, and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and laws let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor — let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own and his children's liberty. Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in primers, spelling-books, and in almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the lively of all sexes and tongues and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

Finally, for a real laugh, check out this 1950’s public domain film on Why We Respect The Law (see WhyWeRespect).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Order from Disorder

Growing up, I loved watching the Three Stooges. While every adventure basically was a rehash of the same old gimmicks that they repeated episode after episode, no matter how many times I watched their antics, it always seemed to me to be new, unexpected, and hilarious. In addition to entertaining me, however, the Three Stooges were preparing me to become a better trial lawyer.

one of their best episodes, Disorder in the Court, they unwittingly are able to teach several lessons in how to and how not to try a case. Here are eight steps to becoming a better trial lawyer -- from the unique perspective of Moe, Larry, and Curly:

1. Show up on time - to court, mediations, arbitrations and meetings. In fact, show up early (see Three Stooges 1). You would be surprised how often we see very good trial lawyers, late for a mediation and sometimes even for trial.

2. Take your job seriously because people's lives are at stake ( not to mention their property and freedoms) (see Three Stooges 2). As a trial lawyer, with a full caseload, there is always something more important and unexpected waiting in the wings. It can be a challenge sometimes to keep perspective on the fact that every case, no matter how big or small in comparison to our other cases, is very important to each of our clients. However, the work that lawyers do is work that significantly impacts peoples lives – whether it is a fight over the faulty restoration of a brick chimney or the accurate determination of damages for the loss of patents in an intellectual property dispute.

3. Sometimes the simplest things to do in a courtroom are the most challenging for witnesses standing before a jury. For example, witnesses under the pressure of their imminent testimony will get flabbergasted over precisely where to stand when getting sworn in, how to navigate one’s way from the public seating area to the witness stand, or, as in Curly's case, what to do with one's hat and cane (see Three Stooges 3).

4. Repetition helps to punctuate a point (or in the case of the Three Stooges, a gimmick -- see Three Stooges 4). Repetition helps to keep the jury, judge, mediator, arbitrator, or your opponent focused on what you believe is important and what you want them to remember.

5. Make sure your witnesses (especially your experts) speak in words that the jury can understand (see Three Stooges 5). Don't let your witnesses use specialized lingo or haughty words. The goal is to speak at the jury's level without speaking down to them.

6. Visual communication and courtroom technology is not about bells and whistles (see Three Stooges 6). Whenever you present visual information, it should be substantively helpful to the jury. Just because you have access to use a particular type of technology doesn't mean that you should use it. You should deliberately choose the type, amount, and length of a visual presentation based on whether it will help the jury, judge, arbitrator, mediator, or opponent understand your evidence better.

7. Live, in-court demonstrations or experiments can backfire (see Three Stooges 7). I am always amazed to see experienced trial lawyers who wing it. Preparation will ensure your demonstration goes well. Preparation will enhance your credibility before an opponent, mediator, judge, or jury. Preparation, likewise, will prevent your witnesses from embarrassment. Be careful not to do something in court that you have not successfully attempted beforehand (out of the presence of the jury) or that simply could blow up in your face due to its uncontrollable nature. The infamous example of this mistake is the OJ Simpson “glove doesn’t fit” fiasco.

8. Finally, show respect for the law. Law keeps order in a society. The disorder and irreverence that the Three Stooges display in court is entertaining (see Three Stooges 8), but the truth is there are a lot of errors that lawyers make everyday in court that could easily be avoided.