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Re: Lawsuit day in the life video work -ever done it?

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Mark Suszko
Re: Lawsuit day in the life video work -ever done it?
on Sep 24, 2018 at 3:21:35 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Sep 24, 2018 at 4:24:42 pm

I started my pro career doing these in Chicago for firms like Corboy & Demetrio. Some of the settlements were for record multi-million-dollar amounts. Of course, we only get our day rate for our little part in it. It was very interesting and sometimes personally rewarding work. Now, that was decades ago, but I think some of the "rules" are still the same. I think nowadays, the preferred term of art for "DIL" is "Prospectus Video". Often, the only people that see them are the opposing counsel, in pre-trial discovery. The videos tend to provoke a decision to settle out of court, when they really work well. The lawyers would rather settle than have a jury decide on an amount after seeing the video.

The first thing you gotta know, is that the opposing side's lawyers are going to scrutinize every aspect of the video, not just the master you hand over, but all the raw footage as well, in order to disqualify it from being shown. If you shoot it, you have to keep it, because if you erase it, they will claim there was something incriminating that you hid by destroying it. Treat every frame like you're handling evidence, as an Officer of The Court. The paper trail must be immaculate. You have to approach the job like it was a scientific experiment, crossed with a court deposition. Yes, you might get deposed at some point, to answer questions about the shooting or the editing. The stakes are very high. Millions of dollars and the quality of some person's entire life, rest on how you do your job.

You have to practice great discipline in the shooting. Do not roll one second, until everything is correct. No "bloopers". No re-takes. No wild audio getting comments off-camera. Silent as a ninja.

Also, the opposition are going to be looking to disqualify the video due to ANY kind of "artful" technique that might be interpreted as manipulating the look and content to generate sympathy or emotion or create an opinion not based in fact.

No trick angles, shoot everything at a normal person's eye level.

No jib, slider, etc. moves.

No fancy lighting, if you use supplemental lighting at all, just overall base light to make things visible, and practical lighting alone is preferred. The most exotic lighting thing we ever did on these was to ND gel the outside of a window, just to bring it down a few stops so it didn't blow out the indoor shoots.

No dramatic framing. No fancy steadicam moves.

No fraternization with the subjects beyond the most strictly necessary communications. But always being polite. You may have to witness very personal activities and moments, things that most people will find embarrassing, in the course of recording. Be detached, respectful, but clinical and professional and otherwise do not react.

Shots that play up some injury to garner sympathy are out. You have to shoot in a very dispassionate, detached, documentarian style that is clinical and aloof. No staging scenes, no talent directing allowed; you are to be a fly on the wall and just document what the patient is doing... or -not- doing, ...of their volition, in a clear and unambiguous fashion. I have over-emphasized this so much because it's the whole ballgame.

This is a very niche area to work in, with it's own rules. All the work comes by referral and word-of-mouth, so networking, professionalism in manner and appearance and everything you do... discretion, scrupulous honesty and building strong, trusting relationships with the customer is key. If you mess up one time, you're done. If you do well, the repeat business can be lucrative. I walked away from that biz at the time I was doing this, because it was not steady; it would be feast or famine - make a couple grand one week, starve for three or four... and I needed steadier work to save money and move out of my parent's home and get going with my life.

Track your hours with a timer app. Lawyers understand hourly billing. If you have not yet worked out a day and hourly rate, consult the archives of this forum for lengthy lessons and hints on how to do that. You need that number ready to provide. Avoid bidding a set price: these are bespoke gigs, and it's most likely you will under-or over-estimate the needed hours. Neither of those is good to do.

Bill the job in thirds: one third or so as an up-front deposit before you begin, and you use that to pay any subs or rentals up-front. The second third is paid upon shoot completion and handing over a time-coded window dub to the law firm. Final third is paid at the time of delivery of the finished edit, after they've seen your first cut window dub and ordered any changes to that.

You could, alternately, bill for the shoot and the edit as separate jobs.

You may decide to bill or not bill for further edits, if they come back from a screening with the judge and need additional changes. I think it's probably good customer relations to eat the cost of that last edit if it's not an outrageous amount of hours. Remember that there's always a chance you'll be deposed afterwards, and you can bill the client for that time away from work.

You may be asked to sign an NDA. Even if they don't ask you, know that being too blabby about the details of the gigs you do will lose you work. They like people who keep things confidential.

Still wanna do this? :-)


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