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Film Editing and Trial Practice

On Behalf of | Jul 9, 2014 | Trial Practice

Tonight’s insightful post on Film Editing and Trial Practice was written by our Savannah Family Law attorney, David Purvis.

A few months back, my wife and I joined Michael and Shelia Manely to view a great documentary entitled “AKA Doc Pomus” at the Savannah Jewish Film Festival. (I highly recommend the film!) The documentary was edited by a friend of the Manelys, Amy Linton, and afterwards a group of us went to dinner where the editor shared with us some back story to her work.

Most documentaries run about 90 minutes in length. What we, the viewers, sometimes do not realize is that there is generally a hundred or more hours of raw film that the editors must go through and piece together to tell the intended story in about an hour and a half. When I thought about this on a grand scale, it almost seemed an impossible task. But the reality is that the editors live with this project for a year or more. They know what’s on each roll of film, they know the intended end story of the project, and they work through each piece as the project unfolds. They must make difficult decisions to keep interesting interviews or clips out of the film so as to provide a streamlined story that can be digested by the end viewer. Small steps daily yield a grand, finished product.

I was rather struck by the similarities of the work of a film editor and the lawyer’s work in trial practice. Typically, by the time we get to a trial, we have spent months with the case. We have poured over hundreds of pages of documents gleaned through the discovery process. We have deposed witnesses and have their stories. We have the many conversations with our clients. By the time the trial arrives, we know a month’s worth of facts. We, the lawyers, the storytellers of the courtroom, must put our “editors” hats on during trial prep and decide the important facts and evidence that the listener (judge or jury) needs to hear and the order in which to present those facts.

Typically, our work as editors takes place well in advance of the trial date. Other times, we must “edit” our case in real time. Case in point, I recently had a temporary hearing which was delayed by several hours because the case before ours ran late. I had already prepared the case, my story, to present to the judge. Because the issues had already been narrowed down, I expected my presentation to last just under an hour. I suspect opposing counsel expected the same. However, just before we were to begin, the judge informed us that we were to be limited to 30 minutes each because the previous case had ran so late? Fair? Not at all. But because I had already spent the time “editing” my client’s story down to an hour, I was able to, on the fly, make some last minute edits to that rendition of the story while still leaving the main story intact and the important facts placed into evidence. Because of the work done weeks in advance by our trial team, I was able to make the necessary edits and still put my client in a position to prevail, which she did. I like to think our friend Amy could have done the same with her documentary, though I am quite glad she did not have to – it was a wonderful film!

The moral of the story is this: Trial preparation cannot be accomplished effectively moments before the hearing begins. In family law cases, you deal with individual stories that can go back for years. Understanding how each individual tale fits into your story as a whole is crucial in determining those parts that must make it into the final product and those parts that can be left on the cutting room floor when your time gets cut in half by a judge.

Let your story be told.

David Purvis