October 2003  Volume 29, Issue 7
October 2003 Issue
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Personal Technology: Lights, Camera, Action!
by Stephen J. Harhai
With a camcorder and Pinnacle Studio video editing software, you can do amazing things--for grandma and your law practice.

I somehow managed to live through the 1990s without acquiring a camcorder. It was probably owing, at least in part, to a fear of having a permanent record of things I would rather forget.

Matters changed when our son John, age 9, finally wore down our resistance to his ambition to join a roller hockey team. Once again, a development in my personal life led me to discover a nifty technology tool that can be used in the practice of law.
Our New Goalie Leads to New Software

John was born six weeks premature and had motor development issues that required years of occupational therapy. The idea of having him deal with sticks and flying pucks on roller skates had seemed so improbable that we expected the idea would fade away. Not in Colorado Avalanche country, where kids are as likely to aspire to be the next Joe Sakic as to be John Elway.

So when my wife, Kathy, and I heard Bladium (a hockey institution on the site of the former Stapleton airport) was having tryouts, we reluctantly decided the options were to give John a chance or hear about it for the rest of our lives. To our surprise, John got on a team (Go, Mile High Moose!) and played reasonably well. The real surprise came when the team needed a goalie.

John has long been a Patrick Roy wannabe (for the uninitiated, the best goalie ever to play the game and recently retired from the Avalanche). John has spent long hours in front of the mirror practicing St. Patrick’s thousand-yard goalie stare, and he has ripped countless pairs of jeans to shreds making saves in the street. Nothing was going to stop him from trying his hand at playing net in league play.

Although he started out tentatively, John progressed rapidly and soon became quite a force in goal. When I congratulated him after his best game yet, he said, “Dad, I really need a few things.” Soon we had a gear bag the size of a Volkswagen, a Darth Vader-style goalie helmet and a Canon ZR-70 MiniDV camcorder. John specifically requested the latter so that he could review his game performance and learn how to improve.

Watching the games by playing back the tape through the TV is simple and fun--and John really has improved. As I was watching his last game for the 14th or 15th time, I thought, “Wow, Grandma in Pennsylvania would really enjoy seeing him play, too bad she doesn’t have anything to play MiniDV tapes.” I briefly toyed with the idea of simply copying the tape to a standard videotape, but then it struck me: This is a job crying out for a Personal Technology solution. I needed video editing software!

It’s Practically Hollywood
I had 42 minutes to spare before the kids’ next play date, plenty of time to research the editing genre on the Web and download something. Whoops, turns out you need a thing called firewire to get the MiniDV digits to the computer—and to my amazement, none of our 17 computers was so equipped. With 39 minutes left, I squeezed in a trip to Best Buy to pick up the PC Magazine Editors’ Choice Pinnacle Studio DV package, which includes a firewire card and the cable needed to connect it to the camera.

The package had to languish for a couple of hours of chauffeur duty, but I managed to get the install started before dinner and to sneak off a few times during dinner to click buttons. By the time the dishes were done, we had a video editing setup on our system that would have been the envy of a Hollywood studio five years ago. I hooked up the camera and told the software to capture the footage and … nothing happened. Then I turned on the camera and Studio took control and started automatically capturing all the footage to disk, separating each scene into its own clip. This took a while, but I found it so fascinating I just sat and watched.

Now it was time to edit out the dead time (when the puck was at the other end of the rink). Without so much as glancing at the manual, it was obvious that the Razor tool would split a scene in two. I sliced and diced until I had only the good parts, each in its own clip. Then I simply dragged and dropped them onto the program’s Edit Timeline in the appropriate order. The footage was essentially complete at that point, but too many cool features remained to stop.

Next I clicked on the Transitions page to select a movie-style fade to black between the scenes. Then I grabbed a frame of John with stick high in the air in triumph for a beginning title and slapped some text on it. To complete the magnum opus, I had to try my hand at a score for the film.

Studio gives you a large selection of songs appropriate for background music, with interpretive variations to suit the content. I picked a suitably stirring piece, eerily similar to the tracks on many sports videos, and told Studio to apply it to the entire film. The clever software genies created a score exactly the length of the film and mixed it with the crowd noise from the hockey game.

When I played the entire concoction back, it had a rough but identifiable similarity to something you might see on ESPN.
Now, how to get it to Grandma? At about 150 megabytes for the seven-minute film, it was way too big to squeeze through Grandma’s 56k Internet connection by e-mail. I thought about compressing it enough to put it on the Web so she could look at it through a browser. But I abandoned the idea as time-consuming on my end and likely to be unsatisfying over a narrowband connection.

In the end, the reliable old CD-R was a perfect fit: easy to make and readable anywhere. I burned it onto a mini-CD for easy mailing and sent it off the day I wrote this column. She’s gonna’ love it.

Oh, and in making the disc, I realized there are about a million applications for this simple, inexpensive technology in a law practice:

  • Make your own videos for trial. It won’t touch a $100,000 professionally filmed and edited job, but for those few of your cases that don’t warrant the $100 K, you can go the Pinnacle Studio DV route for peanuts.
  • Add video to your Web site. Highly compressible formats will work great, especially on broadband connections.
  • Videotape your next CLE presentation, edit it, and burn it to CD for your colleagues and clients to see.
  • Create training videos for your clients on, for example, how to handle depositions, custody evaluations and trial. Sure, you can buy those types of videos, but what kind of impression does it make to see your own lawyer on the CD? Oh, and give clients extra copies to pass on to their friends. After all, you own the copyright.
  • Tape your trial or deposition preparation session, and play it back for constructive review. If it can make John a better goalie, it can make your client a better witness.

The latest release of Pinnacle Studio DV, version 8, costs $99.99. Fun, simple and affordable. Now that’s Personal Technology.

Stephen J. Harhai ( steve@harhai.com) practices family law in Denver, CO. He is the author of the Colorado Divorce Handbook site, www.COdivorce.com.

• Canon’s 2003 ZR Series MiniDV Camcorders: www.videodirectstore_.com/canon_zr_series_camcorders.html
• Pinnacle Systems Studio Version 8 Products: www.pinna clesys.com/ListProducts_n.asp?Langue_ID=7