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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 Oct 2, 2018 at 4:58:28 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Oct 2, 2018 at 5:02:11 pm

It sounds more like you were recording a deposition. And I've done those too. In one way, it was some of the easiest money I ever made, at the time. Locked-off medium shot in a board room, just change the VHS tapes every 2 hours, make sure the audio is good and that there's an analog clock with a second hand somewhere in the shot... this was back in the very early 80's...

While I can tell your experience was tense, shooting DITL or prospectus videos on location is a bit different.

One malpractice case I worked on, at the time it was for a record amount. Case of a birth delivery gone wrong, and the kid got brain damage. Pretty severe. Only, not easy to figure out what the kid's level of awareness was, since they were paraplegic, nearly quadriplegic, very little motor function, and unable to verbalize. The issue was how much money the award was going to be, in terms of the costs of supporting this child for whatever their natural life span was going to be, and the costs of the very intense therapy involved in seeing to the kid's cognitive needs, as well as physical. The opposition's argument was that the kid had no higher brain function so there was no point in awarding extra money for tutoring, etc.

But how do you know? How do you know how much cognition is in a toddler's mind when he's locked into an unresponsive body?

This is the part of the story that really stays with me:

The family was working with the Rehab Institute of Chicago, one of the world's best. Their techs had come up with a communication system that used what the kid could still control, which was his eyes. And it was a real swords-into-plowshares moment, which grabbed me. They basically hacked a version of the helmet-based gun cuing system from the Apache attack helicopter, which was new tech at the time, and turned it into a communication device for the child.

It was built into a pair of eyeglass frames: an Infra-red laser LED bounced a beam off the eyeballs to track eye movement. In the Apache, this tech let a gunner aim a turret-mounted machine cannon by just -looking- at a target. The clear lenses on the kid's glasses had little icons in a circle around the periphery of each lens: the icons represented things like yes/no, hot/ cold/ hungry, thirsty, pain/no pain... numbers and letters. Even a little ghost (the kid liked stories about ghosts). It was cabled to an early Macintosh, running custom code, all strapped into his wheelchair. Reading the eye movements and blinks, the computer gave the kid a voice.

Yeah, same one as Stephen Hawking's.

So we're there to document the physical care the kid has to get every day, the changing, the washing, catheterization, urine bag change-out, the dressing, the feeding... that's pretty intense stuff, very private, you have to show it while trying to not be obtrusive or show an angle that's overly dramatic or embarrassing... then once the kid was set up in his chair, we documented the process of testing this coms rig, demonstrating that the kid was aware and able to communicate, and to what level. Watching him smile and tell his mom: "I love you, mom" using his eyes... well, I only made day rate on that job, but I'll never forget the job satisfaction I got from the assignment.

It was also a technical challenge, in that we had to observe the testing of the kid without being seen by him, which would have distracted him too much, and called the entire operation into question. Because the other side looks for any reason to disqualify the video, remember. Our rigs were primitive, big and clunky; Ikegami HL79's and u-matic portable decks. My boss was at wits' end on how to do it, wishing he had a camera blind of some sort, or a one-way mirror. I had an inspiration, and said we needed *two* mirrors... we rigged up a kind of periscope using gaff tape, two mirrors we found in the house, and some auto-poles, rigged in vertical mode, so we could shoot from behind the kid, out of his sight, while the lens could still see him from the front, by shooting telephoto and bouncing thru the mirrors. Worked better than expected. The boss was super-impressed by my improvisation. Yeah, I felt I earned my money that day.

More to the point of the case, thru the use of the eyeglass device, experts were then able to evaluate the kid's cognitive abilities and determine that yes, he was aware... he -could- be taught and educated, at least to a high school level, maybe more. And so the jury award or settlement money went up substantially, not just to pay for what had already been achieved, but to pay for the expensive tutoring and therapy that would improve the child's quality of life, allow them to interact with the family, and to help take the eyeglass system from lab prototype to something reliable and simple enough for their daily home use... and coincidentally, to help further develop the technology, so it could help others as well.

Another case I worked on was related to discrimination against the handicapped. It was a more straight-ahead DITL job to show all the little things that pop up to hinder a chair-bound individual in getting thru their day and going to work. She was the victim of a prom night car crash by a drunk driver. Left her paraplegic. Basically an ADA accommodation case, we were documenting all the bumps and barriers that the award money would go to eliminating or mitigating, from widening doors and adding motorized openers/closers, to re-doing the kitchen and bathroom to accommodate a chair-bound person's height and reach, and making modifications to the workplace, back when ADA was a new idea. Again, this was a case where once the other side's lawyers saw what a jury was going to see, they quickly settled, and the plaintiff got what they needed to live their life.

They're not all happy endings, though. On one case I worked, it was a unique combination of deposition and DITL/ professional evaluation, to try and show the level of residual mental function in a head injury victim (bike accident).
All I'll say about it is I will NEVER ride without a helmet.


So yeah the stakes are high. The money's OK. Not great, but OK. The sense of personal growth and job satisfaction is very high, though... this is not about using your craft to talk people into changing their brand of toothpaste. The job changes lives. And it changes you.

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