Video Taping Then and Now
In Brief

Videotaping, Now And Then…

In Brief, March / April 2008


Neil Wilburn was an independent

video producer for several years

before he founded Limelight Video

Productions in 1982. A longtime supporter

of OCRA, he has volunteered

his services at many of our events

over the years. He’s currently

working on a video project with

OCRA’s “Making the Record”

committee. Now that his two

children are grown, Neil enjoys a

bit of traveling, all the while keeping

his finger on Limelight’s pulse.

Neil begins his article by recounting

his beginnings as a professional

in television technology, and his first

“side job” as a videographer.


“Come on, it’s an easy way to

make a few extra bucks.”

So said a friend of mine who was

retiring at age 19 from the deposition

videotaping business. We were both

graduates with degrees in Television

Production Technology and had returned

from our sojourn to Hollywood

after failing to crack the big time. I

got the closest: a job writing one-line

plot outlines for the TV section of a

free San Fernando Valley Shopper.

“Lucy dons a black wig to test

Ricky’s fidelity” was a one-liner that

got a smile out of my supervisor. My

favorite, however, was “Arnold Ziffel

writes a poison-pen letter to the

makers of a bacon documentary.”

The San Fernando Valley

Shopper was too cheap to provide

half-hours on its grid, so two sitcom

summaries were often squeezed into

one box. Just to see if I had any

readership at all, I would occasionally

combine characters from two

shows and make up my own plots.

For six weeks I got away with this,

sneaking them past the

“proofreader,” but this one cost me

my job: “Friday and Gannon are

sent to Queens when Archie stifles

Edith….for good.” The prospects

were growing dimmer for me, so I

headed back home.

My friend got an on-again,

off-again job for the court-reporting

firm of Michelet, Sowers, Johnson &

Kirk. He would be periodically called

in to wrangle Michelet’s gear

together and put a deposition on

this new thing called videotape. The

hours were mostly off-again, and he

took a full-time job elsewhere. The

lack of structured hours was the

downside, he explained; but while

you were working, you’d make big

bucks, $9 an hour! This sounded too

good to be true, so I did not immediately

give up my part-time job.

And lucky that I didn’t. Three

weeks went by before the folks at

Michelet called. My new side

business was already running a

deficit as I sunk my Hollywood writing

nest egg into buying a sport coat

and tie. Scrubbed and tucked,

made to look as presentable as

possible (this was the late 70’s;

scruffy was “in”), I was making my

way out the door when the phone

rang. “Canceled????” My career

as an independent video producer

had suffered its first setback. Surely

THIS would never happen again.

I was humbled, but was rescued

from insolvency when, the very next

day, another request came in. This

was before VHS tapes, even before

color was possible without prohibitively

expensive broadcast

equipment. Michelet had purchased

a video recording setup that

could be charitably described as

primitive: a black and white camera,

a tripod, and a reel-to-reel recorder

with spools of tape that required

threading like an old Bell & Howell

film projector. My grade school

years as the A-V geek were now

coming in handy. The camera

was the size of a piece of carry-on

luggage and produced a bleary,

grainy, black-and-white picture

that surely thrilled those who had

witnessed its first output, which I

ventured was the Lindbergh


At least I could lift the camera.

The name emblazoned on the video

tape-recording machine, as it was

called, did say “portable.” I have to

assume that the engineers who put

this together had a malicious sense

of humor. Either that or product laws

of the time were liberal enough that

anything could be labeled

“portable” if it had handles. My first

tug on this one yielded no movement

at all. I discovered that the

thing outweighed me by at least 30

pounds. My budget did not have

room for a sherpa, so I hoisted this

hernia-inducer onto the cart, shifted

the contents into the back of my

Ford Fiesta hatchback -- testing the

limits of its shocks -- and was on my

way. The transportation of this

portable studio would have taxed

the fortitude of an average-sized

production crew.

I was determined to let no one

down: not the Michelet firm, its

client, or myself. I was going to make

this work, to show them that I, a television-

production graduate, would

produce something that would

make them sit up and take notice. It

would be art. But it wasn’t going to

be easy. Once the camera was

anchored to the tripod, there was

no possibility of even the slightest

camera movement. Any attempt

at panning or zooming produced

a visual effect similar to an asteroid

striking the Enterprise, where Kirk and

the gang would stumble on cue to

one side of the stationary set as the

camera jostled. One microphone,

placed equal distance from all the

participants, recorded the audio.

The participants agreed to project

as if reciting Shakespeare to back

rows at Avon. I crossed my fingers

and pushed “record,” an action

that required both thumbs.

My reservations about the

equipment’s limitations and slight

embarrassment that I could not

give them something better was

offset by the kudos garnered by my

modest product. I was surprised

to learn that the attorney called

Michelet after the case settled, with

praise for my work, and said that

having the testimony on video

turned the tide in their case.

The lessons I learned from that

first job are ones that I’ve carried

throughout my career: Always do

your absolute best, no matter how

adverse the circumstances are. The

$6 (yes, $6) I netted for this job was

great, of course, but the real motivation

for turning this into a career

was the positive feedback and the

feeling that I could accomplish

something with this line of work.

Video technology, legal video, and

Limelight Video were evolving at the

same time. We had to write our

own rules, recognizing limitations,

and compensating for them one

at a time.

I realized very quickly that court

reporters are the engine of this machine.

This is the working philosophy

at Limelight Video Productions, as my

company would eventually be

called, to this very day. We strive to

cooperate, not compete; to help

and promote the court-reporting

industry wherever we can.

So, flash forward to the present,

which is what this article was

supposed to be about ( I got sidetracked….

sorry!) Here’s what’s

new at Limelight.

1. VHS has now all but given way

to DVDs. We’re always looking for

ways to promote our beloved court

reporters, and we came up with this

idea. DVDs must be brought back

to office for a ‘finalization’ process,

labeling, and packing. We reasoned,

Why not take this opportunity

for some court-reporter promotion?

We’ve been collecting reporter fonts

and logos and are now printing a

“reporting provided by” credit

(name, firm, phone number) on the

DVD and the DVD case.

2. Responding to input from

one of our valued court reporters,

Limelight has purchased a device

that puts the deposition audio onto a

flash drive, which the reporter can

download directly onto a laptop.

This is provided to the reporter in our

continuing effort to make your job

easier. We are not replacing the

time-honored audio cassettes just

yet. Another option is providing a

cable link from our audio to your

laptop. Please let us know what you

think of these options. As always, this

is provided at no charge.

3. We’ve been providing video/

transcript syncing for some time.

We’re now set up to do what’s

called “bundling,” a process where

scanned exhibits can now be linked

to the appropriate section of the


4. When you do something new,

one change affects another, and so

the process can be long and drawn

out. Such is the case with our

exciting, new work-in-progress

website. It will be less of a promo site

and more of an ever-changing

newsletter which will provide clients

with industry information. New

features of this website will be links to

court reporters’ sites and profiles of a

“court reporter of the month.” We’re

developing a database of your

e-mail addresses. Please call in or

e-mail your addresses to Our website

address is:

Michelet, Sowers, Johnson & Kirk

is no more. The pen has given way

to real time reporting. Age may

have withered some of us, but

custom will never stale my thanks to

the court-reporting industry. We’re

moving with the times, but won’t forget

that Limelight’s emergence from

its young beginnings to its present

state as the legal industry’s go-to

firm for all things video was made

possible with the generous

assistance of court reporters. As

always, we value and appreciate

your feedback.