Basketball-player-turned-filmmaker Nick Berardini delves into the dramatic history of the infamous taser gun in “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.” The film explores the grey areas of human behavior, outside the black-and-white definitions of “good guys” and “bad guys,” especially when dealing with myriad reports of taser-related deaths at the hands of police officers. Should we blame the technology, or the person who is allowed to wield it?
What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?
TASER International, founded by brothers Rick and Tom Smith, and its controversial corporate history since perfecting “TASER” guns in 1999.
Now what’s it REALLY about?
Tom Swift is a deep-dive into the world of corporate culture, rhetoric, self-interest, naivety, and what happens when powerful people are forced to confront the weight of their decisions that lead to devastating consequences, even when their intentions may have been noble. Tom Swift is about the way in which we all create an image for ourselves, and the way we must reconcile how we see ourselves with who we really are. Most importantly, the film questions our societal fascination with magic bullets, and why we fall in love with solutions that oversimplify complicated issues.
Tell us briefly about yourself.
I’m a 2009 graduate of the University of Missouri and a reformed bro. I spent most of my childhood preparing for the glory of college basketball. When my four years on the team mainly consisted of waving a towel from the bench, I was confronted with athletic mortality and the realization that I was born into a mushy filmmaker’s body. I’ve spent the last six years atoning for my past life, chasing insight into humanity’s unlimited intricacies (while definitely still watching too much sports). Interesting trivia: I did make an appearance in EA Sports’ NCAA Basketball 2007 and 2008 video games. I think my overall rating was 53; not good.
Biggest challenge in completing this film?
The biggest challenge was sorting through an enormous amount of material while dealing with an excessive amount of sub-plots. There were so many fascinating perspectives, and the story itself was such a blank canvas. Narrowing down all of that archive footage and zeroing in on the human moments that helped us structure a compelling narrative while being true to the broad points we wanted to get across was a significant challenge.
What do you want the Tribeca audience to take away from your film?
I really want the audience to embrace the grey areas that make human behavior so fascinating. We tend to oversimplify decisions using the benefit of hindsight, especially when dealing with newsworthy issues that command our attention. Instead of viewing the characters through the constraints of “good guys” and “bad guys,” I want the audience to critically think about what motivates all of the characters to participate in the film. How do you perceive a particular character when you first meet them? How are the same set of facts perceived differently depending on a particular characters’ bias? Why do we collectively not act on our skepticism until the hypothetical damage has become all too real?
Any films inspire you?
I love films that treat audiences with sophistication, are full of depth and complication, and don’t patronize. I’m all in on the “Cinematic Non-Fiction” movement. I believe Josh Oppenheimer is doing some of the most fascinating and profound work we’ve ever seen. I loved two recent Tribeca hits, Dan Krauss’ Kill Team and Jason Osder’s Let the Fire Burn. One of my editor’s, Robert Greene, floored me with his fourth film, Actress, and I trust his voice implicitly. Films are human expressions, and deserve to be treated with all the nuance that comes with being a unique individual.
I have a few good ideas. I’m interested in co-directing something with one of my producers, Jamie Goncalves. However, I don’t have anything ready to discuss publicly yet. That’s my official statement. Don’t tell anyone, but I spend most of my days in the fetal position hoping someone is crazy enough to give me money for a new film.
What cameras did you shoot on?
Panasonic HVX and Sony EX-1.
Did you crowdfund?
If so, via what platform. If not, why?
No, we didn’t use a crowdfunding source. There was too much sensitive material to try to garner such mass support. We did try several bake sales, but I ate way too much of the product. Coincidentally, my fiancé says I can’t have sugar anymore…
Did you go to film school? If so, which one?
Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.