Interview with Machinima’s CHOP SHOP Star Rene Moran
We had the great pleasure to chat with several members of the team behind Bandito Brother’s recent collaboration with Paramount Pictures, the web series Machinima‘s Chop Shop, premiering online later this week – star Rene Moran (Shameless), director Elliott Lester (Blitz), writer Marshall Johnson (Mortal Combat: Legacy), and executive producer Suzanne Hargrove.
Paramount’s Insurge label partnered with online network Machinima to create Chop Shop, a show that follows the life of a former Los Angeles car thief as he reassesses his priorities after a five-year stint in prison. Along the way, his loyalties are tested as he tries to put distance between himself and his best friend, played by Moran, who runs the local Dogwood gang, in order to protect his family.
It’s essentially Sons of Anarchy meets Fast & the Furious, except to a lesser degree. More realistic, less fanatical.
Chop Shop is available on Machinima Prime starting July 18, but before that you check out our roundtable interview below for some behind-the-scenes perspective.
How do you approach the challenge of differentiating this particular experience from all the other car and car-intensive properties that are out there now?
Elliott: Because it’s not about cars. This show’s not about cars, it’s about L.A. life. It’s what these guys do for a living. You actually don’t see them stealing a lot of cars, persay. This is just their life. In that regards, “Fast & Furious” is a franchise. They’re like an anti-terrorist organization. It’s just so different. And then, “Need For Speed,” it’s fantastical and wonderful. Marshall, who wrote the show, will tell you it’s a grounded story.
Marshall: We definitely had those things in mind when we were thinking about it, but we wanted to take it in a different direction and really embrace the gritty texture of L.A. and present characters that were realistic. The guys that actually do these things, the car thieves are often involved with gangs, so we wanted to represent that in a realistic way such that the head hanchos of the Mexican mafia, they’re all in prison, so there’s a total sub-plot that deals with the prison population here. Those things are kinda skirted around and winked at in other stories, but we really wanted to take that on and represent that realistically.
Was there any concern with saying that you’re glorifying this particular culture? How do you respect it and celebrate this production without saying, ‘hey kids, this is what you should do?’
Marshall: There are consequences in our story.
The difficulty of bringing in something so realistic like that, as a director, as an actor, as production and such, what consequences were there? What difficulties did you find bringing in people who just came out of prison, who don’t like to be told what to do?
Elliott: I’ve worked with actors that are harder than people who have murdered people. I would say that the difference is that if you get in an actors face, the consequences aren’t going to be as dire as somebody who just got out of jail. I mean, if you step to someone who just got out of prison they’re probably going to hit you [laughs]. There weren’t any. In terms of cast, and dealing with cast, people knew what they were getting into. They showed up ready to work. We didn’t have problems.
Suzanne: No, we didn’t have any problems. The actors were amazing. I think that anybody who had just got out of prison were definitely not our leads. But, the actors that we had were all incredibly signed on for this project, and were excited to dig in and try to create something that was pretty spectacular.
You [Bandito Brothers] do a lot of these films, from the fringe, was there something in particular that drew you to that particular type of filmmaking?
Suzanne: Elliott and I worked together in the commercial space and we’ve worked together with Josh [Baizer] and Marshall, Marshall being here, Josh elsewhere, on different digital projects and really this just fits in our wheelhouse. It’s dramatic, it’s pushing the envelope with respect to this new realm of digital storytelling, and it was really a no brainer. When we were able to package it all together and go to Paramount, and Paramount was excited about it, it just really kinda fell into place very quickly. Even though it’s a digital kind of project, it’s kind of mainstream in a way, even though it’s digital. It’s interesting; it really just fits into the fabric of Bandito Bros.
It’s a new medium. It goes right to the net. It’s digital like you were saying. What are some of the challenges compared to normal filmmaking? Is there anything that’s different or do you basically just approach it the same way – acting, production?
Rene: For me, as an actor, I looked at it as another job, as another character to create. Whatever medium, really doesn’t matter. Whatever the production side decides to do with it, that’s their thing. For me, I have the job of creating the character and I did my best with that and finding my character arc, making choices, bringing a lot of myself into the character. Just going through my whole process of creating. That’s the only concern I’m concerned with. Everyone else is super talented in their departments. You do your part and I’ll bring my A game, and hopefully we all do.
Elliott: There is no difference. It’s camera, action, hit your mark, know your lines, don’t get drunk the night before. If you start sleeping with your lead actress halfway through the shoot, don’t stop till the end. It’s the same problems.
Suzanne: You still need more money. You still need more time. Which is across the board. It’s the same way for whichever [medium].
Elliott: It’s about being ahead of the curve. Double shifting. From network to cable, cable to digital. If you want to survive as an artist, or a production company, or studio, in this environment, you have to be embracing this. Bandito Bros are forward thinkers, and this show speaks to that.
When you’re [Marshall] writing, when you’re doing your action scenes and things like that, what do you pull from?
Marshall: When we first started this project, we started a dialogue with Elliott and kept it ongoing, so we would talk about other cinematic references like “Drive” or “Live and Die in L.A.” or other things like that, that weren’t necessarily things we wanted to borrow from directly, but were more inspiration, either about tone or environment, or certain character arcs, or ways to handle things or not handle things. It was something from the beginning, we just had open dialogue from the very get go.
What was your research process like?
Marshall: Josh and I have been writing partners for many years now, like 12 years, so a lot of the research we had actually already done for other projects. So, we knew a lot about how gangs worked from talking to various people who had been in gangs, or reading books. We definitely had kinda an idea of this world in part. So, we came to it with a little of a head start, not from scratch, because once we sold this project we were writing and almost in pre-production immediately. It was very helpful to sorta have the grounding knowledge in the way that gangs operated on a certain level.
What made you want to do this as a TV show as opposed to a feature?
Marshall: Part of it is this sort of new medium, which is quickly becoming the standard. You have a much better chance of things happening period. We worked in the feature space for years now, and they just move glacially, to be honest, whereas, we sold this project last spring, were in production last fall, and it’s coming out this Friday. That cycle is very attractive. To not have things languish in development hell, as the phrase goes, that’s probably the biggest upside. The chance to not just write something, but to have it made, and made at a quality of this level.
Elliott: And to get it seen. The studios are making eleven movies a year. They’ve cut their quota down to like a tenth, so you know that it’s shifting over there.
The future for this, in your eyes, expanded into a feature, do some more series like this, or is it a one-shot deal?
Elliott: That would be in the hand of the gods. [laughs] The goal is to do good work, and if something only has one season and it’s still good, it’s good. If something has ten seasons, it’s great. I think you have to be more pragmatic about it. Did we have fun doing this? Yeah, we had fun doing it. Did we like it and are proud of it? Absolutely. Is there going to be “Chop Shop 58?” I’ll tell you, there’ll be “Fast & the Furious 58.”