Making the most of realtime transcription

Law Technology Today posted an article on July 22 that was authored by NCRA member Rosalie Kramm, RPR, CRR, San Diego, Calif., who offered attorneys tips for making the most of realtime transcriptions.

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NCRA member gets investor for online system for court reporters

NCRA member Lauren Lawrence welcomed her first outside investor to her tech startup, Stenovate, according to the July 5 Startland, a news site that reports on Kansas City innovators. Stenovate is billed to be an online platform for court reporters, scopists, and proofreaders that simplifies organization and collaboration.

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A first for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival: Captioning

Anissa Nierenberger

Katharine and Petruchio’s story was available in a different way for the first time at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival recently. NCRA member Anissa Nierenberger, RPR, CRR, CRC, Boise, Idaho, provided captions for the first captioned performance in the history of the festival. The June 18 show was Taming of the Shrew. Nierenberger owns a captioning company in Boise called Captionique.  

The audience could access the captions on mobile devices through a captioning streaming program called 1CapApp.

We asked Nierenberger a few questions about the experience.

JCR | Where was the performance?

AN |The Idaho Shakespeare Festival takes place in Boise, Idaho, from Memorial Day weekend in May through the end of September and features five different plays. The festival takes place in a 770-seat, outdoor state-of-the-art facility. It operates under an agreement with the Idaho Foundation for Parks & Lands and the Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation. Boise has more than 100 parks.

JCR | How did you get the job?

AN | Idaho is gradually implementing captioning in venues where it’s been commonplace for many years in other parts of the country. I’m happy that I moved here from Michigan two years ago and have been able to introduce captioning to deaf and hard-of-hearing Idahoans who need services.

JCR | What are the challenges in captioning Shakespeare?

 AN |There’s no inside space for me to set up to caption so my captioning nest was outside in the tower on the third floor. It’s an interesting journey up very narrow stairways and a top-opening door.  

 JCR |Would you like to do it again?

AN |Yes, I would caption at ISF again and will! Their patrons loved the first night of captioning. And the view of the foothills is breathtaking.

 JCR | Do you have any advice for other captioners?

AN | Reporters and captioners, the world is your oyster. If you dedicate time to your realtime skills, dictionary building, and passing certification tests, opportunities will present themselves. If you build it, it will come.  This year marks my 27th year as a captioner. I’m thankful for this amazing job that has brought opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed up.  

A most unique situation to report

Photo by the Hon. Melba Marsh

Earlier this month, NCRA member Taleesa Smith, RPR, an official court reporter from Hamilton County, Ohio, found herself reporting a sentencing proceeding from outside of an ambulance.

“This was the most unique situation for me as a court reporter,” said Smith, who has been an official court reporter since 1997.

“When I went to court that morning, the bailiff told me we were taking a plea outside in the ambulance because the defendant was not able to come up to the courtroom in the elevator because he was a very large man and very ill with oxygen and had trouble breathing,” she said.

Turns out, Smith was the official court reporter for a case that made national news. The case was that of a 600-pound drug dealer who was being sentenced after pleading guilty to cocaine trafficking and being a felon in possession of a gun. Because of his size and health-related condition, the proceeding took place in an ambulance since he could not be moved into the courthouse.

Because of the defendant’s size, there was no room in the ambulance for Smith to set up her machine, she said.

“It was raining that day. I extended the tripod as far as I could, and I stood at the back of the ambulance. The judge was halfway in and halfway out of the ambulance. The bailiff and EMT personnel held umbrellas over me so my steno machine would not get wet,” Smith explained.

“It was very noisy because of the rain and because the engine was still running on the ambulance. It was just a simple plea and sentencing,” she added.

Smith said she was very pleased at how the presiding judge took his time with the defendant, asking him if there was anything he needed or if he needed water.

“The defendant, when asked if he had anything he wanted to say, just muttered, ‘my throat.’ He was able to answer all the questions with a yes or no, but that was all,” Smith added.  

Careers in court reporting: From Grandma’s diner to Rick Springfield

Aaron, Adam, and Kenneth Alweis

By Heidi Renner

Brothers Adam and Aaron Alweis recently each reached career milestones. They were both named the chief reporter for their respective courts in the New York State Unified Court System this year. Aaron, RPR, CRR, CRC, is chief in the 6th District and Adam, RPR, in the 5th District, but their careers as court reporters started well before 2019.

Their father, Edward, was a court reporter who retired in 1989, and they also had two uncles and an aunt who worked in the profession. It can all be traced back to their grandmother who owned a diner in Miami Beach in the 1940s. One day a court reporter came in, sat down, and ended up telling her all about his job. She decided it sounded like a great opportunity and told her children that’s what they should do. Their father had just started in court reporting when he went in the Army and worked in the Judge Advocate General Corps. They say it probably saved him from going overseas to Korea.

“We grew up in the profession,” Adam said. “We had some involvement most of our lives. It sort of just happened that way.”

Aaron said their father thought it was very important for them to have a marketable skill. They also say credit must go to the tremendous support their mother, Mary, has given to their father and how encouraging and supportive she has always been to her three boys.

“I was typing transcripts for my father since I was 12 years old,” Aaron said.

“I got out of school and within 12 hours, I was doing my first deposition,” Adam said.

At one time the family owned a freelance reporting agency and all three brothers worked for it. The third brother, Ken, is now a lawyer and partner in the firm of Goldberg Segalla.

Both brothers remember their father saying: “Thank God I found this profession; otherwise, I don’t know what I’d end up doing.”

Aaron went to graduate school for business, which he said has worked very well with being a court reporter. He was looking for a marketing position after college but didn’t find one, so he went back to court reporting and has stayed there.

Both Adam and Aaron started official court reporter positions and have been working in the courts for years.

They talk to each other often about their jobs.

“We bounce ideas off each other all the time,” Adam said.

Aaron has taught his children to scope, but he said none of them have wanted to start a career in court reporting. They both say they are in a profession where you are never bored.

“You’ll never find another profession where you are continually challenged by the material in front of you,” Adam said.

“It’s fascinating, it’s better than TV, it’s a front-row seat to history,” Aaron said. It’s a tremendous field. You can come into the field from any background. Whatever you bring into it adds to your knowledge base.”

Aaron said he remembers the first time he offered realtime in 1992 in a case involving a defendant who was deaf. Back then, offering realtime involved carrying a 50-pound computer into the courtroom. They also set up a viewing area for people from the community who were deaf and wanted to watch the proceedings.

“The advantages today are just tremendous,” Aaron said. “I recently did a CART assignment (outside court) where I sat with a hearing-impaired person at a conference. They were so appreciative to have access to what was going on. It’s because of the court reporting profession that people can do this. You make a difference in people’s lives.” Aaron also said he has been “incredibly fortunate to have the support and love and understanding from my wife, Miriam, through all of the very long hours involved in being a court reporter.”

“The advantages are far more than when we started,” Adam said. “We didn’t have realtime or captioning. Now with the technology, there is so much people can do with us. We are dying to have new blood come into the profession. This is a great field to get into; people should really think about it.”

While every day brings something new in their careers, both brothers have some cases that stick in their minds more than others.

Aaron remembers a case involving the death of the former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin and through that meeting some very interesting people.

Adam Alweis taking the testimony of Rick Springfield

Adam remembers an unusual case involving singer Rick Springfield being sued.

Adam said when Springfield got up to testify, he was fascinated at what Adam was doing and asked how he did it. Adam told Springfield it was like writing music, and the keys are like putting notes together.

“If it helps, you can think of me as the rock-and-roll court reporter,” Adam told him.

The benefits of pro bono work

Lisa Migliore Black

By Lisa Migliore Black

The call from the out-of-state attorney seemed much like any other. “We’ll need a court reporter and videographer to cover a deposition. Are you available?” But this call turned unusual.

After obtaining the scheduling information, the next question was, “Do you do pro bono work?”

Now, I’ve done pro bono work before for select parties who couldn’t afford our services, for the Veterans History Project, even offering our services on immigration cases for which our existing clients were providing their legal services free of charge. My only hesitancy here was the lack of knowledge of this particular firm, the case at hand, or any of their history with pro bono work. This left me wondering if I would be agreeing to help promote a noble cause, aid someone truly indigent in seeking justice, or just stupidly discounting our services. Hesitantly, I said, “Yes.”

I provided the caller with a summary of our state association’s guidelines for pro bono work. In part, the pro bono guidelines state, “A volunteer reporter will provide 50 pages of transcript at no charge. All subsequent pages will be billed at the reporter’s regular page rate unless the reporter waives this fee or negotiates a discounted page rate.” The client happily agreed, and the first deposition date was set.

On the eve of the deposition, the reporter assigned to cover the case did a bit of research to prepare for the following day’s proceedings. The search of the case style, “State of Florida v. Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin,” resulted interesting details about the case. Aguirre was serving a sentence on Florida’s death row for the murder of his neighbors Cheryl Williams and Carole Bareis, and his team of lawyers was seeking to have his conviction overturned.

“On the morning of June 17, 2004, Aguirre found the bodies of Cheryl Williams and her mother, Carol Bareis, in their trailer home. They had been stabbed dozens of times. Distressed by the violent scene, Aguirre checked the victims to see if they were still breathing, at which point he got the victims’ blood on his clothing. Realizing they were dead, Aguirre picked up a knife that was near Williams’ body, fearful that the perpetrator was still present, but then panicked, throwing the knife into the yard and returning to his neighboring trailer.

“When questioned by the police, Aguirre initially reported that he knew nothing about the murders; at that time, Aguirre was an immigrant from Honduras with no criminal history but feared deportation from the United States. Later that same day, however, he asked to speak to police again and voluntarily disclosed that he’d been in the trailer earlier that morning and discovered the bodies. The officers arrested him that day and charged him with evidence tampering. He remained a person of interest and was held without bond until he was charged 10 days later with the double murders. Aguirre had no previous criminal history.”

Our witness was to be Samantha Williams, the daughter and granddaughter of the victims. Williams did not appear for the first date scheduled, but ultimately the deposition did proceed. The attorney who hired us represented Aguirre through the Innocence Project, a volunteer organization whose mission is to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and seek justice reform, a mission near and dear to my heart.

Because I am a videographer, court reporter, and firm owner, I was able to pay the reporter in full, donate my time as the videographer, and heavily discount the remaining charges to about one-fourth of the usual cost. The payoff for me, other than the gratification of doing the right thing? Approximately nine months later, our office learned of Mr. Aguirre’s exoneration.

The pro bono work I’ve done has proven to be some of the most interesting and personally rewarding work of my career. This case was no exception. We applaud the efforts of the Innocence Project and take great pride in the role we were able to play in our justice system.

Lisa Migliore Black is a freelance reporter and owner of Migliore & Associates, based in Louisville, Ky. She can be reached at Lisacr99@hotmail.com.

Mixing business with pleasure: Working in an RV

NCRA member Lisa Johnston, RMR, CRR, CRC, casts off ties in Melbourne, Fla., every year to travel across the United States with her husband. Rather than forgo her usual work
as a broadcast and CART captioner, she set herself up to caption from wherever she and her husband parked the RV. Mixing business with pleasure was just right for the two of them.

Johnston spoke to JCR Contributing Editor Deanna Baker, FAPR, RMR, about the journey and all the stops in between.

BAKER | How long was the planning process to make sure you had all the work equipment you needed, as well as possible back-ups?

JOHNSTON | I packed all my equipment as if I were going to an event to work onsite. I have two laptops, two writers, two realtime cables, headphones, etc. Over the years, I have developed a checklist to make sure I have everything before I leave. I also bring the huge notebook of prep I have accumulated over the years. I travel a lot with work, and so, by now, I know what I need.

BAKER | Did you forget anything or wish you had brought something?

JOHNSTON | No, I haven’t forgotten anything yet — hopefully, I won’t ever forget something! I’m not too proud to admit that I now and will always use a checklist to make sure I have everything I need.

BAKER | Was all of your work strictly through the internet, sending data as well as audio?

JOHNSTON | I do remote CART captioning while traveling in our RV using the internet. I have two wireless routers that act as mobile WiFi hotspots, one with Verizon and one with AT&T; and both work really well. In certain parts of the country, one wireless provider may give me a stronger signal than the other, so I use what I feel gives me the most internet strength at that location.

I get my audio by dialing in using my cell phone. I have also used Skype for audio in the past as well. That can be iffy at times, so I always do some testing before an event starts.

BAKER | Any glitches along the way?

JOHNSTON | When I first started this journey of traveling on the road and CART captioning, before there were cell towers everywhere, I had to take my wireless hotspot and check the strength where the RV was “docked,” and if I had bad reception, I would get in my car and drive and see where the strongest service was. Many times, I’ve had to write on my machine, with the laptop on the seat next to me in the back seat of my car (we have a car we bring on our trips, which we tow behind our RV). I’ve been in Nowhere, U.S.A., in some unique locations sitting in my car taking down an assignment! Fun times!

Cell towers are the norm nowadays, so I don’t have to necessarily always be in a “big city” like I used to be to find a strong internet signal strength. I now can get good internet service most anywhere, thank goodness!

BAKER | Are your clients aware of your traveling, or has it been that they haven’t noticed a difference at all?

JOHNSTON | I strive to provide my clients with seamless captioning services and have been able to do so successfully for many years. As long as they are receiving the product they need, they are happy. I provide only CART captioning while on the road; no broadcast captioning which may use a landline and encoders.

I hope my reputation speaks for itself. If I am requested to support someone who needs communication access, I will go out of my way to accommodate. I have been in this profession for 34 years now, I love what I do every single day, and I hope that shows. If I can leave a person or situation and they have a smile on their face, then I’m happy and I’ve done my job successfully!

BAKER | I’m “assuming” your husband was not driving at the time you were working?

JOHNSTON | No way do I work while my husband is driving down the road. First off, it’s not very comfortable doing it that way for me, as not all roads in the U.S. are nice terrain and can get very bouncy and unstable. So, if we’re driving to a destination and I need to stop to take a job, we will pull into a rest area or at a truck stop/gas station and that works well for me. My husband is my fabulous support staff!

BAKER | Was there a particular goal for your travels?

JOHNSTON | We have no goals in our yearly travels. One year we head northeast to Maine, with many stops along the way, and the next year we head somewhere west (last year was Washington state; most years to California) with many stops along the way. We’ve been from one end of Canada to the other. We’ve been to all 50 states, and 49 traveling in our RV. Maine is one of our favorite states, so every other year we enjoy traveling up Maine’s coast and enjoying some lobster!

BAKER | Anything unexpected pop up that you didn’t plan on?

JOHNSTON | Nothing unexpected comes to mind right now. Pre-planning pays off!

BAKER | How many other colleagues were you able to visit on your travels?

JOHNSTON | In our travels across the beautiful United States, I try to reach out to some dear friends and colleagues when I know I will be nearby. In Flagstaff, Ariz., I had dinner with you and Lori Yeager Stavropoulos, RPR, CRR, CRC, and their spouses; in Mobile, Ala., spending time with Alan Peacock, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Elliot Carter was such a treat and highlight; in Seattle, I just missed seeing Darlene Pickard, RDR, CRR, CRC, as she was out of state the week I was there. And I keep promising Toni Christy, RPR, CRR, CRC, that we will make a trip to the San Diego area soon! Such good friends that I love seeing!

BAKER | Would you recommend this as a way to travel and work at the same time?

JOHNSTON | For me, this is the best of both worlds. I work a lot with clients who have meetings throughout the week. That is all I want to cover while I’m traveling, so while traveling on the road, I choose to work 2-3 days a week, which is perfect, because I can cover their meetings and yet still “play” and explore the areas my husband and I visit.

I choose to keep my workload light and not be constantly working, because I enjoy my time off sightseeing where we are traveling. We usually stay in a location a few days, so in that timeframe, we like to play tourists and see what the area has to show us, so I don’t want to always be inside working. But I love the flexibility to do what I want and work when I want!

BAKER | What have you seen on your travels that really stuck out for you?

JOHNSTON | We’d both always wanted to see Mount Rushmore, and the first time was such a treat. We love going to the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Living an hour from Walt Disney World, I’d always wanted to see Disneyland in California, and that was fun to go to. Growing up in Florida with no seasons really, it’s been a treat for us to see the beauty of the United States. Fall is our favorite time to travel; seeing the leaves change their colors is breathtaking!

BAKER | Anything else you’d like to pass along to the readers?

JOHNSTON | My husband and I have been RV travelers for 15 years now and love every single minute of our adventures. Come join me! The United States is a great place to call your office!

Bringing captions to Coachella

Stan Sakai and Isaiah Roberts

By Heidi Renner

When Isaiah Roberts, RPR, Magnolia, Ill., thought he wrote the word lemon while captioning Ariana Grande’s performance at Coachella, he was a little concerned. Did she really say lemon? It turns out he was captioning the moment when someone in the crowd threw a lemon and hit Grande, which became a well-known moment at the music festival.

“I remembered writing lemon during Ariana’s performance and definitely thinking I misheard something,” he posted on Facebook. “Then my cab driver in LA today asked if I saw her get hit by the lemon, and instantly I felt a relief knowing why I did, in fact, write lemon followed by a bunch of expletives.”

Roberts and Stan Sakai, CRC, New York, N.Y., had the unique experience of captioning Coachella, an annual music festival in Indio, Calif. It is one of the biggest music festivals in the world. Then the next weekend they captioned Stagecoach, another music festival held in the same location. Roberts posted a video from Coachella that has been widely shared.

Roberts had looked at the ADA section of Coachella’s website and noticed it told people to reach out if they needed ASL or closed captioning. He sent an email asking if they offered captioning and who provided it? Coachella responded on a Monday saying they wanted to have a meeting to talk about it on Friday. Roberts called his friend Sakai, and they prepared for the meeting. Sakai had already built a website that allowed captioning to be accessed through an app. Sakai worked on making changes to his program to make it work with Coachella. Roberts said the two worked late into the night every night that week. They gave a demonstration Friday to the Coachella representatives over a video call.

“They were blown away,” Roberts said. The representatives recorded what they were seeing on the screen and then showed it to the festival directors. “We were on cloud nine,” Roberts said.

Sakai described it this way on Facebook: “After hundreds of hours of work, the Coachella and Stagecoach captioning systems are online and (nearly) ready to go! A five-server monstrosity spread across New York and California able to serve at peak 29,000 connections per minute, averaging 2,000 connections served per minute at saturation. This will be woven into their existing web and mobile platforms available to their 130,000 attendees, who will all be able to access the live captioning of mainstage performances right from their phones. As a team, Isaiah and I will be tag-teaming, between feeding out pre-scripted lyrics and live stenoing, handing off the baton depending on what’s thrown at us. And when people ask if technology will replace us, my answer to that is: no, we harness technology to keep us going!”

Because the captions were available through the festival app, they were available to everyone. All audience members were required to download the app to activate their wrist bands.

Isaiah Roberts

Roberts saw it as an opportunity to spread the word about court reporting and captioning.

“This is the thing I’m most excited about,” he said. “In trying to grow the profession, I speak to students, but does it really make the profession look appealing? Being at the major music festival really meant something.”

Rachel Meireis from Placentia, Calif., appreciated the captions. She had requested captioning at Stagecoach.

“I am late deafened,” Meireis said. “I lost my hearing in my 20s and wear bilateral cochlear implants to help me hear. But it can be iffy and makes it quite hard to know what’s going on at times. That situation gets complicated because I can sign but I am not fluent in ASL at all. Having access at the concert was amazing. I could keep up with what the performer said between songs and understand lyrics I have been hearing wrong on the radio. Having the captions stream to my phone was great too. It made me able to leave the ADA riser freely and move about the concert but still follow along. Stanley and Isaiah were so helpful and friendly though the whole process. I am very grateful they were able to make this work.”

Roberts said he had wondered who would be benefiting, and he was happy to meet Meireis. During Coachella there were 500 unique visitors viewing the captions. At Stagecoach, there were 400 on the first day. By the end of the weekend they had reached about 1,000 people.

“Hands down the best part was meeting Rachel and getting to meet a consumer of [the captioning],” Roberts said.

For the actual captioning, Roberts and Sakai would usually get a set list so they would look up lyrics ahead of time when possible. They had headphones directly hooked to the singer’s microphone. Sometimes the performer would start talking about other performers or the other people on stage with them, so Roberts and Sakai tried to prepare ahead of time for those things as much as they could. They worked together, captioning on both of their machines at the same time. Sometimes one person would write and the other would look up lyrics.

“It was as cool as I wanted it to be,” Roberts said. “I don’t know what could have gone better.”

Roberts urges other court reporters and captioners to make more of these opportunities happen. Coachella didn’t offer captioning until Roberts reached out to them.

“My takeaway is whatever event you are into, realize that under the ADA they need to offer this service,” Roberts said. “Advocate for yourself.”

Sakai and Roberts are hoping this is a beginning, and there will be more music festival work for them.

Sakai summarized the experience on Facebook: “COACHELLA RECAP: Between shoddy internet connections, knocked-over equipment from dudes getting tackled backstage, my laptop getting nailed by a flying rogue water bottle, or minor software issues, providing live captioning at Coachella was a resounding SUCCESS. Isaiah and I powered through and got the app online on all the monitors at the ADA platforms and on the official Coachella mobile app, captioned Spanish-language performers, and even spared a few moments to visit our friends. I’m still gobsmacked and star-struck by the weekend but can’t help to think that this is the beginning of something huge. We all worked hard but we’re both forever grateful for having had the opportunity to pioneer live-event captioning on this scale. A HUGE thank you to Isaiah for making this all possible, and as I’ve said before, I remain humbled and excited for what’s to come.”

Serving as the honorary bailiff for the Kansas Supreme Court

By Mary Kay Howe

Mary Kay Howe

It was a great honor to be chosen to be the honorary bailiff for the Kansas Supreme Court for a special session it was having in Lawrence, Kan. 

Since 2011, the Kansas Supreme Court has conducted 16 special sessions throughout the state where court representatives have traveled to all areas of the state to argue some Supreme Court cases, which allowed members of that community to come see them in action. Since 2015, those have been evening events, which brought a bigger attendance. Prior to our event in Lawrence, the largest crowd was 700 people. The attendance in Lawrence was more than 800 community members.

Whenever the Supreme Court has one of these special sessions, they reach out to the chief judge in that city and ask that the chief judge pick a person who would be a great example of the judicial system, someone who has long-standing employment with the state and would be willing and able to take on the role of “honorary bailiff.” Consequently, having worked for the Kansas judicial system as a court reporter for over 43 years and my love of the court system and all it stands for, I was asked by the chief judge if I would be willing to do the job.  Well, I am always about promoting court reporting, and I thought this would be another great opportunity for just that. Our Office of Judicial Administration contacted me and asked if they could do an interview of me that they would then do a media blast on. I, of course, obliged, once again to get the career of court reporting promoted. 

Following the interview and my approval of the same, the published article went on the state judicial website, and it also was sent to our local newspaper that was published online and in print. It was then put on my own Facebook page, as well as our KCRA Facebook page and the NCRA Facebook page. So based on all of that, hopefully, a few or a lot more people saw “court reporting” in a positive light.

As far as the event itself, my job was to pronounce the entry of the Supreme Court justices: “All rise.”  (Then a rapping of the gavel three times.) Then I said: “Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye, the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas.” There was further text they had me say, but it was in front of me, and I don’t remember it all. At that point, the chief justice took over and then honored me as a loyal Kansas employee and a court reporter for our state since 1975. I’m sure there was some gasping when people heard that, because they probably think I should be dead by now. At the adjournment, they had me further say, “All rise” to the crowd as they exited. 

Following the session, there was a reception for all of the justices to meet and greet the community members. There were many from the legal community especially that came up to me to congratulate me for my service.

This was the first time I’ve ever been invited to do such a thing, and I felt honored to be chosen. Following that, I received a very nice thank-you letter from the Kansas Supreme Court chief justice for being the honorary bailiff and for my state service.

If any opportunity like this ever presents itself to any of you, please take it. There is no better way to present ourselves publicly and what we do. The only regret I have is that they didn’t ask me to bring my machine because we all know how that always intrigues people and they want to know how it works.

I love court reporting!

Mary Kay Howe, RMR, is an official court reporter based in Lawrence, Kan. She can be reached at mhowe@douglas-county.com.

NCRA members find working as extras helps promote the profession

Working as an extra on a TV show or movie is a great way for NCRA members to promote the wonderful work being done by court reporters and captioners every day. It can also be a lot of fun. Two NCRA members recently told the JCR Weekly about their experiences being extras.

Helga Lavan

Helga Lavan

Helga Lavan, RPR, is a freelancer in Woodbury, Conn.

JCR | What show were you an extra in and when?

HL | The Code, premiering April 9 on CBS. It was filmed in November of 2018.

JCR | How long were you part of filming?

HL | The courtroom scene was filmed for 13 hours on one sitting. One of the leading actors (Anna Wood) had to walk past me as she cross-examined a witness in a courtroom scene.

JCR | Can you give us a description of the scene?

HL | It was a courtroom scene at Judge Advocate General Headquarters in Quantico. Everyone was in Marine uniforms. A star witness is being examined and cross-examined, and the jury is given closing arguments. I kept writing everything I heard, and new words and names of places would come up that weren’t in my dictionary. Of course, I wasn’t plugged in and by the tenth hour my battery died. But it was the same lines over and over again. It brought me back to my school years practicing the same tapes to get it perfect!

JCR | Did you provide your own equipment?

HL | Yes, I provided my own equipment. I get a “bump” of extra compensation by bringing my own equipment. After being in holding for quite some time, I was called down and directed to set up behind a huge square desk, far, far away from the witness stand! I already was dismayed at that. The scene director pointed me to my place, the far end of the room near to where the bailiff was stationed. Clearly not a good setup in the real world but this was TV land, and so I began setting up. He asked me to set up the machine on top of the table. This may sound funny, but I told him it’s not done that way. I have a tripod. And so I set up, and the table I was at totally blocked everything from my chest down. If I would’ve set the machine up on the table (without the tripod), it would’ve been at neck height. Set director came back around and said, “Oh, is that how it’s done? It’s on a tripod?” I said yes. So the whole scene was shot and my machine was under and behind a huge desk the whole time!

JCR | Can you give us more details about how filming went, if you interacted with the actors, would you do it again, and anything else you would like to share?

HL | I would totally do this again. I had to be fitted and wore a Marine uniform complete with medals. I haven’t been able to accept other casting calls, one of them Billions, because of the busy lifestyle I have of owning a business. I’m still freelancing as well as training for marathons. But if another opportunity presents itself, I surely would do it again. Some of the cast members, especially Wayne Duvall, were so intrigued when they realized I was a true court stenographer. Many of the cast members saw me, a new person, on set and went out of their way to introduce themselves and welcome me. They had so many questions and couldn’t believe a real court reporter was on set. What I noticed most was how energetic, gracious, and professional cast members were, filming into the wee hours of the night, and yet they kept a positive attitude, had fun between takes by making each other laugh, and never complained. They had perseverance. I got to see the not-so-glamorous side of filming, and at the same time everyone cooperated and did their jobs. A truly wonderful yet exhausting experience!

Kate Cochran

Kate Cochran

Kate Cochran, RPR, is a freelancer and CART captioner in Decatur, Ga.

JCR | What show were you an extra in and when?

KC | The show is Insatiable, a Netflix series still on today. It was March 22, 2017. A friend and colleague of mine shared on social media that a casting agency was looking for a court reporter. Heck, why not?

JCR | How long were you part of filming?

KC | I was lumped with all the extras. We were there all day. Super early for the hair, wardrobe, and makeup people to assess you. However, you bring your own clothes and makeup for them to decide on. It was at least 12 hours, most of which was waiting in the wings. Similar to how it can happen at work, there was a lot of downtime. I was prepared with transcripts and proofreading that kept me busy the whole day.

JCR | Can you give us a description of the scene?

KC | It was a court scene in a rather large courtroom. I was to sit in an old wooden chair in front of the judge, witness stand, etc., which was a real place of prominence over all the other extras, who merely filled a row or two in the room. Ironically, I’ve never worked in court, but this was just pretend, of course.

JCR | Did you provide your own equipment?

KC | Yes, I brought my own equipment, for which I was compensated a very small amount. I was told they had a writer that was probably older than myself. But, honestly, the whole point of my signing on to do this was to promote an accurate image of our profession and show that we don’t all look like old librarians.

JCR | Can you give us more details about how filming went?

KC | I was actively on set for about two hours, during which they filmed the same two-minute scene over and over again. In this instance, every time you get a new camera angle in a given scene, it was another shoot with another lens. It makes for a very tedious process. My biggest surprise: The actors’ microphones are so sophisticated that they barely spoke above a whisper. I couldn’t hear half of the lines! My solution was to create my own dialogue in my head and just keep typing away. Again, pretend.

While on set, nearly the whole production team (first director, second director, etc.) came up and said hey to me. They all said, “You really do this for a living? That’s amazing!” Everyone was impressed despite not seeing me actively doing anything but typing on my keys. If only I could have given them a realtime feed! 

We were fed really well on set. Morning meant breakfast and coffee. Lunch and dinner were nice catered events (extras go through last). And midday meant snack time of hot quesadillas. Oh, and there’s a candy stand too!

Spending all day with full-time extras was entertaining. It was a funny collection of 20-somethings and retirees. They loved sharing stories about their experiences, rattling off lists of what shows or movies they’ve participated in. Us newbies were cautioned to not expect to get in the frame. No matter how close you get to the actors, it just never happens. Atlanta has a huge movie/TV industry, so you can really fill your schedule being an extra. The casting company said they’d love for me to register at their office, as there is steady work being a court reporter extra. However, I felt like I paid my dues for now. I really give the production company credit for making the effort of filling the spot with someone authentic.

Did I get on the show? The show didn’t drop on Netflix for at least a year. I haven’t watched it because it looks kind of silly. My husband found my episode and discovered that I did earn a brief shot on screen.