Film, Television, and Trials

Jun 14, 2017

Film and television can teach us about the trial process

Ava-Marie London, Pepperdine student

The Cold hard truth is that no one really wants to be called in for jury duty. Days can be long and the "thanks" is pretty much non-existent. Most people don't understand half of the legal terms being spewed during the course of a trial. And that leads to disinterest.

When I went to the Van Nuys courthouse to sit in on a criminal trial, I heard potential jurors talking to each other about how much they hoped to be dismissed. Although the attorneys in the case I sat in on reiterated to the jury multiple times that the trial that they were going to hear was not going to play out as dramatically as an episode of Law & Order, they failed to realize that the drama in a television show like that is exactly what catches peoples' interest.

The reason most people aren't interested in jury duty aside from the lack of compensation is lack of interest. There is a power that film and television have. That power stems from the fact that they reach millions of people. Films get people to sit down and pay attention for hours. Television shows get people to rush home to catch them on time, stop what they are doing to stream episodes, or sit on the couch all day and binge watch a season.  

With humans' ever-decreasing attention spans, to get someone to dedicate chunks of their time to something is quite powerful. This is why, I believe, that surprisingly enough, film and television can contribute to the trial process through the content created.

The more projects that are created that portray accurate facts about the trial process, the more people are educated by how it runs. I don't mean documentary like films or shows that feature monotone fact-tellers, but rather, shows more like American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson that portray a real-life event with the added drama of production sound design and cinematography that make it so interesting to watch.

I am aware of the fact that one can't gain a truly comprehensive knowledge of the entire trial process simply from watching a television show based off of a true story, but it can get people interested. I didn't know much about the OJ Simpson trial before watching the Netflix series about it. While watching it, I found myself pausing to look up facts about the trial process after hearing them mention certain things in the show so that I could completely understand what was going on. Now, I even find myself choosing to watch things such as the such as the "Investigation Discovery' channel to learn more about other cases that have happened. I didn't realize how much about the court system I had no knowledge of before I found myself watching these things, and before I actually went to sit in on that criminal case at the Van Nuys courthouse and felt completely lost.

Film and television can use the influence that they have to tell stories in a way that captures interest and that inspires people to want to continue to learn more about subjects they didn't know about before. The trial process could very well be one of those subjects for many people.


Ava-Marie Londonis a junior at Pepperdine University majoring in Media Production.

Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. The class covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.

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