PRACTICAL makes films and videos that are the culmination of cameras, research, travel, sketchbooks, sleep, screen time, and running wild. Based out of Traverse City and Grand Rapids Michigan, we love sharing our work and process with those around the world.

The SAVES Film




There is a certain uneasiness that accompanies taking someone's story and attempting to retell it, in a sense accepting the responsibility to make assertions on what did or did not take place.  We wanted be as literal and accurate with the film as resources would allow us, feeling that Deputy Josh Caulkins story didn't need embellishment, simply accuracy and a high level of detail.  We were allowed one full day of shooting but naturally faced many challenges with this type of production. However, the product of the collaboration of everyone involved has been extremely exciting for us to watch and we're pleased to be able to now share the finished film.


       Based on the way Deputy Josh Caulkin's story appeared on paper, we had envisioned this film as a fast paced action piece with pounding cinematic drums and thrilling music.  But after talking to Josh and getting a feel for the fact that we wasn't some hyped-up macho-man determined to kick butt, but a very kind spoken, young man who was recently married, it became clear that Josh's story wasn't about being awesome, it was just about just trying to do the right thing and hoping to still make it home afterward.  The direction of the project took a turn after recording the interview with Josh, and it was a direction we were all much more excited about.

       The film was produced for Armor Express, who had a hand in not only making the film but is the company that made the vest that saved Josh's life.  Armor Express is developing a program to care for their "saves" as well as to provide training and resources for law enforcement and equip officers in the field both with both equipment and knowledge.  Armor Express has a strong relationship with law enforcement and that created the opportunity for a lot of accountability and assistance in making the film.

       Telling a true story requires a high level of realism and accuracy so being able to work with our local Sheriff's department and SWAT team was incredibly valuable.  Nearly every piece we've done with Armor Express has allowed us to collaborate with law enforcement, but it's never been as important or shaping as it was for this project.  The SWAT officers provided equipment, gear, uniforms, weapons, and vehicles for the production.  A majority of the people appearing in the film were officers who showed up in uniform for the production, and those who were not officers, our actors, were trained and given direction from the officers on set.  I think it's fair to say that Connor Sweeney, once a regular civilian, is now well acquainted with how to properly approach and handcuff a suspect.  He was not taught how to use the taser.


       The events in the film took place in Tyler, Texas in March.  SAVES was shot in Elk Rapids, Michigan in October.  And while this meant pointing the camera away from many bright orange trees and serene lakes, we found an apartment with a floor plan very similar to the original, which was fortunate because it's what happened INSIDE the apartment that matters.  

       Josh Caulkins was not able to fly up for the shoot in October, though he did come to Michigan in August to record his interview and hang out on Lake Michigan and meet some of the Practical Team and the team at Armor Express that made the vest that saved his life.


Connor Sweeney  (as Deputy Josh Caulkins)

 Veronica Faller  (as Caulkin's Rookie)

Ryan Tiderington  (as Gunman)

Joe Shoup  (as Gunman's Friend)

Stephanie Snook  (as Female at the Door)

Grand Traverse SWAT Team  (as Law Officers)

       'Saves' was produced with an intentional effort to be artistically competitive and to challenge the look, feel, and emotion of the standard police re-enactment.  Some of this effort involves equipment-- not most of it-- but equipment definitely helps.  And while we believe it's entirely possible to get very high quality imagery from very affordable (cheap) gear, that's an effort that takes much attention and time.  

       Time is not something we had, so having our FS700 production camera and an external recorder allowed us to shoot RAW 4K footage that was extremely clear, crisp, and flexible.  Being able to shoot quickly with just natural lighting and then be able to adjust the exposure and contrast of each image perfectly using the RAW data of the footage later after the time crunch was over (especially within the safety of a wider dynamic range) was a huge part of why the visuals of 'Saves' were able to be refined as well as they were.  This setup worked really well for us, so we'll lay out the stats.





Camera:     Sony FS700


Format:      4K and 2K Raw, Sony Slog2



Recorder:   Odyssey 7Q



Lighting:     Natural Light, Practical Fixture



Editing:       Final Cut Pro 7,  Davinci Resolve Lite



Color:         Adobe Photoshop CS4 + CS6



Other:         Metabones Speedbooster EF Mount



Glass:         Nikon 50mm 1.2

                   Nikon 35mm 1.4

                   Nikon 85mm 1.4


       Because of the athletic filming schedule, the camera rig had to be built so that it could be easily set down, handed off, carried, shouldered, handled, and adjusted.  As a norm, the more powerful the camera and the more pieces are added for performance, the more unwieldy the camera rig becomes and the more time is required to adjust it between shots for the needs of the next setup.  We managed to assemble a rig that functioned the entire day in a single build that could be operated from the shoulder - from the tripod  - from the top handle - and from the floor, with just seconds between.  It's remarkable how much the decision to build the camera this way benefitted the production and the energy on set.  There may be a tutorial coming on this topic soon as we found it so important to the success of this shoot.

       It's definitely not the equipment that makes a project, but nevertheless it's exciting to be able to approach a project like this and know that more effort can be put into caring for the story because of the fact that the camera is pulling it's weight in the visual department.  So for that, we're extremely grateful.  Going into a project with as much potential to really do it the right way and be able to make something meaningful is exciting and we're thankful for those involved and for those who made it possible-- and we're especially thankful that this not a story about death, but a story about life.  So thanks to all our viewers for watching, for Josh Caulkins allowing us to make this film about his experiences, for Armor Express pushing to make the project happen, and to you for reading!

JohnPaul Morris

Director of Photography