'Officer Involved' director on his four-year journey to capture stories of LEOs who used deadly force
Officer Patrick Shaver and his wife interviewed nearly 100 police officers involved in shootings for the documentary
I recently had the privilege to watch “Officer Involved,” a documentary by Patrick Shaver.
Shaver is not a filmmaker by trade. He is a police officer for an agency in Georgia. In 2013, Shaver sold his house, bought a trailer and took a series of leaves of absence to travel tens of thousands of miles with his wife to interview nearly 100 police officers involved in shootings, asking them probing questions about their incidents and the aftermaths of those events. It took nearly four years to complete the project and, in spring 2016, Shaver and his wife hit the road to screen it.
I am no film critic, but I’ve seen my share of documentaries. “Officer Involved” is one of the most gripping films I’ve seen.
After viewing the documentary, I connected with Shaver for a Q&A session. The following is the result of our conversation. Some responses have been edited for brevity.
Tell me how you went about creating “Officer Involved.”
In order to create the movie, I first needed to know what information was out there in the literature. As the director, I needed to learn as much as I could. It took about three months, but I was able to find great books by authors like Alexis Artwohl, David Klinger, Lance LoRusso, Dave Grossman, Larry Blum and many others.
I went to a friend who was a big inspiration for the film and asked him if he’d be involved. When he learned all I had done so far, he agreed to be the first person I interviewed. He took a big chance.
After my first friend interviewed, I began reaching out to the experts. Most of those who had written books about this subject agreed to take part in the film. I was clear that the film was to be about the aftermath of the shooting and that I was an officer myself. A few months in, we were sharing snippets from our interviews and more and more officers found out about our project. Eventually, officers were reaching out to us, sometimes three to four per day.
We did everything independently. We raised about $10,000 through private contributions during the filming, which helped with gas and lodging. My wife and I would take days off work and plan the stops, then take anywhere from a five to a 15-day road trip where the goal was to get as many voices on film as possible. We interviewed far more officers than appeared on film. Our final film is 96 minutes. We had single interviews that lasted twice that. A little less than half of our officers appear on film.
When it came time to edit, that was a difficult part. We knew from speaking with our officers what really stuck out to us. But writing a documentary isn’t like writing a screenplay. The story has already been told by the officers and you have to find the words.
My wife and I typed out every interview word for word. Then we went through them and found common themes. When it came time to put the film together, you try to line up as many parts as you can, while also trying to bring in some pieces that might be out in left field, but are important. It was really an odyssey, from finding the officers, to the travel, to scripting together the final film.
What things surprised you along the way?
I was surprised at just how willing the officers were to tell us their stories. They knew I was a police officer and they knew I was making this film, but there was a trust there when it came time to speak.
Early on, I was surprised the media wasn’t really interested in covering our efforts to make the film. We started this pre-Ferguson and had well-developed and public goals. It wasn’t until we started screening the film that various media outlets began paying attention to our work. In that aspect, I was surprised how genuine many of the media outlets were who covered our screenings. Those who sat through our film had great conversations with us and asked great questions.
Another thing that surprised me was that I thought our film would do well in film festivals. We had tried to take a human approach and kept most of the discussion in the movie to what happens in the aftermath of an OIS. Considering the times we lived in, we thought we would make an impact on the film festival scene.
Out of 38 film festivals we applied to, we received 37 denials. We were honored to be an ‘Official Selection’ of the 2016 Knoxville Film Festival. As for the rest, it was rare that we would get feedback. I’m not sure why.
Tell me about where it’s been screened. How many cities? How can departments host a screening?
In May 2016, after departments around the country had reached out to us about bringing the film in for a screening, we saw that there was a demand – at least enough to support our potential screening tour. So I asked for a leave of absence from my department and they approved it. My wife and I – along with our son and our dog – moved into a travel trailer and pulled it across the country with a truck.
Between the cities, colleges, associations, conferences and the museum that hosted us, we are hovering at about 90 screenings coast to coast. We’ll be writing a book about our time on this project and all that happened along the way. The story of our work is the story of 100 lifetimes.
Departments interested in screening the film can reach out to us through our website. We’ll then work with the department or association to travel there, introduce our work, show the film and engage the audience in a discussion on challenges and lessons learned, and a briefing on contemporary American policing. Our number one goal is to educate the officer, the family, the department and the community about what happens after the shooting. The aftermath goes far deeper than most realize. We saw early on that we had the potential to bridge a knowledge gap and we hope to keep doing it.
How can readers purchase a copy of the movie?
“Officer Involved” can be purchased from our website. The DVD comes with Spanish subtitles and closed captions. There is also a 30-minute segment called “Making Officer Involved” where my wife and I discuss what it took to make the film and share stories we found notable. We are hopeful that one day it will play on network television, but that’s a bit down the road. Considering the topic, word of mouth from those who have seen it has been our biggest asset.
If an organization, school or academy is interested in making the film part of their curriculum or holding any sort of group screening, we offer that option at www.OfficerInvolvedProject.com/order/group. So far we’ve had a great response from departments who have decided to bring the film into their curriculum. All sales are slated to help us with future film projects and a percentage will be donated to charity.
The film is amazing. Thank you so much for creating it.