It’s tempting to read “Killing them Safely,” which looks at those who run Taser International, as a mere issue doc. Director Nick Berardini doesn’t see it that way. He looks at the company that has fitted police forces around the world with Tasers, allegedly (and, admittedly, most often) non-lethal weapons intended to replace dangerous guns, and finds that they’re not as on top of their product’s safety as they claim. “My intention is to tell the whole story to an audience so they understand the complete version of events, and not just the one TASER has been telling for 15 years,” Berardini told us back during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, where the film played under the title “Tom Swift and the Electric Rifle.”
More than all the facts it unearths about the alleged safety of Tasers, what really comes across in this film is its portrayal of businessmen who won’t admit failure, perhaps even to themselves. It’s almost a black comedy.
That’s the brilliant thing about filming reality. That’s where you find characters who just genuinely think that no matter what they’ve done it’s been for the betterment of the world. Then you get into the deep dive of what that psychology is. My editor, Robert Greene, made a joke that in comic book movies the supervillains think they’re the superheroes. It’s an interesting way to look at how they see themselves. As an outsider I had this perspective that I wanted to show them as they seem to be.
I’d argue this isn’t really an activist doc at all, even though it has a lot of damning intel. Can you talk about finding a shape for this story that works as a movie, not just an article or book?
We had this great paper story 2 ½ years ago. A lot of this information was out there. It’s there to read and obviously there to see. But we had this great paper story, but now it had to be a great film. And to be a great film it has to be about these characters as humans. And it has to be visual. You have to have cinematic moments. Otherwise it’s going to be a power point presentation film, as opposed to something that can stand on its own. Truthfully, there are people who have already proven they don’t care about this issue from the power point perspective. The reason I hope they care about this issue is not just so the Smith brothers [two of the heads of Taser International] reconcile their success with the journey it took to get there, but so the audience will reconcile that success. Hopefully they’ll say ask themselves, whatever they think about Tasers, are they comfortable with how they got there? Because this is, broadly, how the system works.
One thing that’s unusual is that the archive footage sometimes plays out longer than it usually would. The footage of the deposition with the heads of Taser International sometimes runs for a minute, or minutes, at a time.
Sometimes as filmmakers, as storytellers working visually, we tend to cut the humanity out of certain scenes. You’re working on a scene that’s maybe a minute and a half in the context of a 90-minute film, and you just want to punch, punch, punch. Then you look at the whole film and it’s all punches. It’s not based in reality anymore. It’s based on sound bytes and big climaxes, as opposed to getting messy and understanding how behavior works and trying to understand your characters as three-dimensional and not just roles they’re playing in a film.