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NAB Preview: Producing Police Training Videos Under a Tight Budget

Part Two of Interview With Filmmakers Vance Kotrla And Michael Gonzales

In Part One of our interview with Vance Kotrla and Michael Gonzales, the importance of realistic active shooter police training videos was talked about, along with the range of subject matter shown in police training videos. Our two part interview series with the filmmakers are previews to their panel discussion, “Active Shooter Training: Producing a Realistic Video for Law Enforcement,” at this years Media Technologies for Military and Government Conference at the NAB Show April 18th-21st.

In this next part, Vance and Michael give us an insight into how they pull off script writing, directing, and production under both a small staff and budget.

Government Video:What’s the average length of your videos and who writes the scripts and directs the actors?

Michael Gonzales

Michael:Generally under 10 minutes. Vance Kotrla has been writing and directing the recent projects. I wrote a couple before he came on board. Vance is one of the directors as well as Eric King and Deputy Ralf Paddock. Gerardo Mendoza also writes and produces the videos.

Vance:Yeah, that’s the staff, pretty much. We sort of alternate based on our particular strengths. I have a background in independent film, for instance, so things that are more narrative-driven and require actors are more up my particular alley.

GV:Who do you consult with when developing the scripts and storylines?

Michael:Each script must go up the chain and get approvals from various units or department heads. Sometimes it takes weeks before changes made and all approvals get in for one project.

Vance Kotrla

Vance:We usually have a technical advisor assigned from inside the department that is a subject-matter expert, but there’s also a lot of independent research we do. If somebody is assigned to help us out–in addition to their regular duties–we don’t want to waste their time when a little legwork or Google-fu can get us in the ballpark. Then they can add nuance, specificity, and a real-world perspective.

GV: Can you explain how you work with local merchants, colleges, and volunteers to produce these videos? Who does the editing?

Michael: The Video Production Unit has their own editing staff. Each staff member is versatile and also helps with production sound and camera. Some volunteers assist as “B” camera or grip/electric.

Vance: Volunteers play an important role on our larger productions because we have a very small staff, and sometimes we literally don’t have enough bodies to run all the cameras, handle live streaming, live switching, lay the cable, the whole nine. Like Mike said, all post is handled in-house. Vendors and merchants helping out were absolutely essential on the Active Shooter project, as well. That’s not something we rely on every day, but for something like the mall and college locations, the willingness of community institutions to pitch in was invaluable.

GV:How are these funded?

Michael:Except for staff there is no real budget for these videos. We get as much volunteer help as possible. It is pretty amazing what can be done when the public helps with these productions.

Vance:That’s pretty much right. We have occasionally had official budgets that are outside of our day-to-day operations, but those are very rare.

GV:What kind of feedback have you received? Do you feel that these videos have saved lives in actual real-life situations?

Michael:From my perspective, the videos we produce have helped the department by being proactive in education, leadership training, and safety. In the past, when you heard the word “Sheriff” you might think Cowboys with guns blazing. Not anymore. Recruits are being trained to think smart, be safe, and develop better community relations with the public. These videos offered in academy classes and advanced training are making a difference and add to the nobility of policing.

Vance: Agreed. There were a lot of things I could’ve been doing right now, but I’m doing this work because I believe it has a tangible impact of the safety of officers and the public. I can’t think of an instance where we’ve gotten negative feedback from another agency or outside organization. Knock on wood.