Alan and Susan Raymond shot The Police Tapes in 1976 with one of the first video cameras:
Alan: We used these early video recorders that started coming to America from Japan. The earliest was the PortaPak. I believe Nam June Paik brought over the original deck from Japan that we used for the film. It was held together with gaffer tape. When we started testing it, we realized it didn’t even work in the daytime. We got this really weird image where the green foliage of the trees turned white. So, we had to figure out something we could do at night. Something like a film noir, nighttime show.
Susan: Alan decided that we would make a police film because it was a genre staple of television, and the only representation of police on television was Barney Miller, which was a really stupid sitcom.
After hitting the Blue Wall of Silence, they got their break:
Alan: No one wanted to be in the film. So, we just stood around for two weeks. Even my high school friend didn’t want to go on camera.
Susan: There was an officer who was trying out a one-man car. It was something nobody in the precinct would do because it was way too dangerous. We knew there would be room for us, so the sergeant asked if he’d take us out and he did. We went out for a whole evening with this officer and nothing happened until the very last minute. He saw a guy stealing a car. He arrested the guy and threw him in the back of the car with us. The guy started getting violent and we got kicked in the head.
Alan: The officer had to knock him out with his flashlight. That was our baptism of fire.
Susan: When the officers found out, we had to fill out a report and naturally we said that the heroic officer saved our lives.
The movie influenced Hill Street Blues, which copied the morning roll call scene’s style, using handheld cameras.