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I’m a court reporter, and I play one on TV

More television shows are including court reporters in courtroom and other scenes, but working reporters know the chagrin of seeing an inaccurate portrayal. Several shows have been using real court reporters as extras to bring in some authenticity. Recently, NCRA members Sarah Linder and Cindy Sebo, RMR, CRR, have made their small-screen debut playing the court reporter on television.

Cindy Sebo portrays a court reporter on House of Cards
Cindy Sebo portrays a court reporter on House of Cards (in blue on right). Photo credit: Tracey Bolyston

“For me, the best part of this experience was just art imitating life,” said Sebo, a freelance reporter from Bowie, Md., who appeared on House of Cards. “I was a court reporter for the House of Representatives, and here I am playing one on TV.”

The two members had slightly different paths getting the part. Linder’s appearance on Nashville was prompted by the show calling Elite Reporting Services, located in Franklin, Tenn., where she works, “looking for a real stenographer.” One of Sebo’s friends went to a casting call for House of Cards where she heard the show was looking for a court reporter. The friend encouraged Sebo to submit a profile, which included her credentials and photos of her steno machine. “A few months later, I got a call from the casting agency telling me I was hired and what I would be doing,” said Sebo, who played the court reporter writing character President Frank Underwood’s State of the Union. The agency was particularly interested in her experience working at the House of Representatives.

Linder was given instructions on her wardrobe and when to show up for Nashville. House of Cards was using footage from a previous State of the Union, so Sebo had to match the court reporter from the footage, including wearing a wig. “They were very particular about matching me as closely as possible to the court reporter,” she said. “They showed me zoomed-in pictures of the real court reporter [including] her hair, her jewelry, her suit color, her steno machine.” Sebo added that it was particularly surreal that she recognized the court reporter from the photos.

Sarah Linder’s view on the set of Nashville

“The set is a crazy moving puzzle that never stops,” noted Linder. “The crew is the hardest working set of people I have ever seen. It was almost like synchronized chaos.” Linder was on set for about 23 hours over the course of two days, but out of that time, “I was probably in the courtroom for a total of an hour tops while they were taping,” she said. “It is unreal how many times they shoot one scene.” Each shot was done at different angles with lighting and camera adjustments. “After watching what they were filming, I realized that this courtroom scene is probably not going to last very long when it comes to final edit on the TV show,” said Linder.

Sebo had a similar experience. “I was on set pretty much the entire time. If you’ve seen a State of the Union address, you may have noticed that the court reporter sits prominently in the front, so I was in every take,” she said. When Kevin Spacey, who plays Frank Underwood, came in, Sebo explained, “We did the first take, and he was spot-on perfection. I was thinking, Wow, we are already done in one take? Boy, that goes to show you how little I knew about filming. We ended up doing about 35 takes.” Sebo also noted that because the House floor on set had only six to eight rows with extras standing in for the audience, so it took several takes to replicate the 435 seats on the floor. She added, however, that the set was a striking resemblance to the real thing. “I felt like I was back at the House of Representatives going to work every day,” she said. And, there was a familiar face among the extras. “Turns out [my friend] got called to be an extra, too, on the same day I was there shooting. She played a congresswoman in the audience,” said Sebo.

Linder saw similarities to her regular work day as well. “I set up [my equipment] normally like I would any other day in court with my machine and laptop doing realtime for myself,” she said. “I am not too sure if they actually got a shot of me writing on my machine, but I guess we shall see on May 4 when the show airs.”

For both members, the overall experience was enjoyable. “I met so many wonderful people during this process and, of course, became Facebook friends with them so I can keep up with their journeys of doing this day after day,” said Linder.

“You know, sometimes court reporting can be very challenging,” said Sebo. “Some days can be really tough, but this was a truly amazing day and something I’ll never forget.”