The script never changes; the rhetoric remains the same. We parse through the blood-stained streets of the hood with vigilance, lest we become trapped in the game.
Flatbush, Brooklyn. Tourists, sights; Money & Violence. As a down-to-earth depiction of life in the gang-riddled streets – expect no less than somber realism as these characters play their part – and deliver in a very stunning fashion. ‘Money & Violence’ is a caricature of Brooklyn’s underground world. It’s violent, bloody – yet insightful in so many ways as it’s cast tries their hardest to survive from day-to-day.
And we have the creator, Moses Vernaeu, to take us through the initial creative process.
How do you manage the cinematography? I found the opening sequence to be most fascinating in that regard.
Vernaeu: Well, going back to season 1 – the process for season 1 was totally different from season 2. Season 1 was done with one camera; one microphone. When you watch that first scene or that first episode – you have to keep in mind that I’ve never stepped foot behind a camera a day in my life before this project. Like, this was something I literally woke up one morning and decided “you know, what’s the next thing that I haven’t done yet that I want to try” so, I got a couple of friends together, and we all just made it happen. But, as far as the cinemography – everything was pretty much handheld.
Yeah man, that’s the crazy thing. Like I said: I have no background in film. Not only did I shoot it, direct it, act in it – I also edited the entire thing. And I never edited a day in my life either; I just learned it all from Youtube tutorials. I edited on Adobe Premiere – and it was basically me on my desktop. I had my laptop there with the Youtube tutorials playing and I basically just learned as I went along. That’s why – as you watch – that’s one of the more fascinating things with this show itself – with the first season. As you watch from episode one, to two, to three, to four, to five – you can see the progression as far as the production is concerned. Like, I didn’t know anything about color correction until episode 12. You know, so you can definitely see the progression and see how I got better – and my eyes got better behind the camera; the angles, the editing – and as far as production just a lot tighter.
Still to this point – with me it’s like – there’s no destination. It’s just a constant pursuit to be better. Whereas, even with the second season – it’s totally different from season one because we got better as a production team. But every episode, I sit back and I look for flaws. Because I want to see the work improve.
What prompted you to choose the title of the series and setting you did?
Vernaeu: For one, being that this was my first project – I wanted it to be as easy as possible to write. And in order for it to be as easy as possible, I wrote about something that I’m familiar with. And, keep in mind that I didn’t have a huge budget. So, I had to use whatever was available to me. What was more available than Brooklyn? And also – I grew up in Flatbush. Being that I grew up there my entire life, I have relationships with people, you know? Bodegas; people at the different restaurants we shot at – so that helped make things a bit easier for me. And, cast – my friends – were available to me right in Brooklyn. The name ‘Money & Violence’ came about because it was something that I was saying my entire life – that the only things people want or expect is money, and violence – you know? If you want someone’s attention, you’re going to either club him over the head or you’re gonna show them the money. But at the same time, I also believed that that’s how America works. You know, I could’ve made a series about a Fortune 500 company; I could’ve made a series about the hospital industry – and called it ‘Money & Violence’. It’s all the same thing, you know? You think about how America works with other countries – either they come with money and aid – that makes them need America, or if they want it, they just go in there with military and take it. So, ‘Money & Violence’ – that was just something I thought was very universal. And, at the same time, it was breaking down everything that was going on in these neighborhoods down to the basic elements. In two words.
Tell us about your character on the show.
Vernaeu: Rafe is someone who – he’s a very wise guy. But at the same time, he’s lost. And the reason he’s lost is because of where he’s grown up; what he’s seen; what he’s been involved in. And he doesn’t know anything other than what he’s doing – you know? That’s what he does. The character Kane, who is the younger brother of a close-friend of his (Rafe) who died, and Rafe is actually trying to get him away from that life. But, you know, due to circumstance – he has a child; he lost his job and he keeps begging Rafe to give him an opportunity. But Rafe is just like, you know, “this isn’t for you”. It’s not anything that he’s proud of. But at the end of the day he lives by a very – by any means necessary – type of mentality.
What prompted the creative process behind your thoughts?
Vernaeu: I’ve seen us – and when I say “us” – the people who live in these urban areas. People have compared our series to “The Wire”- and there’s a huge difference between the two. In “The Wire”, you have a group of men in Baltimore that are fighting for power – you know? They wanted control of the drug trade in Baltimore. In Money and Violence, you have a group of guys that are just trying to survive. They’re not doing this because they think it’s “cool” – they’re doing this because at the end of the day, this is the only way they can feed themselves. And don’t get me wrong: there’s always other ways. They could’ve gotten jobs. But, due to where they grew up and how they grew up, they don’t know anything else. So, what prompted me to really want to do this – my creative process here was to give the world the opportunity to get to know a group of people who under the wrong circumstances they may cross the street to avoid. And to give a better understanding. Not to justify their actions, but just so people can be like “I don’t agree with it” but “I get it”.
These characters seem so vivid, three-dimensional and alive – from what I’ve seen, I thought it was a very astounding depiction of life in these low-income neighborhoods. How challenging was it to accurately illustrate this modern-day display of life?
Vernaeu: You know, it’s crazy – it was done very organically. For me, it was almost effortless. And it’s only because, once again, this is a world that I’m very familiar with. Growing up in the “hood”, these are people that I’ve known – maybe not exactly like – but there’s pieces of every one of those characters in everyone that I’ve known. I’ve just had to piece it together. And just put together the story line.
Is this how life is in Flatbush Brooklyn?
Vernaeu: Well, not for everyone. I always say that Money & Violence is not a true story but it’s based on reality. It’s funny because, our slogan is “Welcome to the old Brooklyn” – and it’s because, these characters. It’s set in 2016, but who these characters are is more like – principle based on moral – like those of years ago. And I feel that a lot of those values are now missing from the world. Because the show itself – there’s a lot of lessons that are implanted in the story line. And it’s only because we touch upon ourselves; we touch upon conscious issues as well – and it’s because this is my platform to speak to – not only the younger generation – but to speak to those who are in these urban areas going through all these things. And to give them a little bit of guidance to navigate through this maze.
So you could also call that a bit of where your inspiration came from, in a sense?
Vernaeu: Yes, definitely. Definitely, definitely, definitely. I’ve always wanted to have a voice to speak to those – especially because I’ve been through so many different experiences – and I’ve learned lessons from every single one and I’ve always felt that if I had a platform to share this with people, maybe I could save a life.
Tell us about the story here – what narrative are you trying to convey with Money and Violence?
Vernaeu: I would say that my narrative is that those who society labels as the bad guy – are just people trying to survive. Nobody gets enjoyment out of this – crime is done out of necessity.
Vernaeu: I mean, of course. You have to understand: we did this all gorilla-style. First season: no permits; nothing. Shooting with prop guns is very dangerous. But, I must say that surprisingly enough, I’ve never had problems with the police. For example: we’re shooting an action scene – and it was a shoot-out. And the detectives drove by; and I mean, we got these guns out – and they went around the corner. So, okay – I already saw that, so the first thing I do: I take the camera, put it around my neck with my business card and I wait for them to come back around. I believe respect will always get you more than disrespect – you know what I mean? And at the end of the day, these people are doing their jobs. So I wanted to make sure that I acknowledge their authority – you know, “hey officer, I just want to let you know that we’re shooting a weekly webseries. I know this is the first time you’re seeing us – and I know it definitely won’t be the last. We’re doing an action scene” – and they’re all like “yeah, we saw the guys with the guns, but we saw them squeezing the triggers but we didn’t hear any sounds.” I gave them my card. You know – “if you guys have any questions, you know – just giving you a heads up.” They’re like “we’ll be sure to let the other cops in the area know.” So the NYPD was actually very cooperative with us, and we’ve never had an issue with them. But, challenges – I mean, regular stuff: weather, shooting in 2, 3, 4, 5 degree weather in the winter; finding locations. You know, little things like that. Other than that, we didn’t have any issues.
Does Money & Violence have an overarching plot?
Vernaeu: There’s definitely continuity. There’s a lot of character development with these characters. You know, Kane is one of the main characters. Who Kane is, at the beginning of season one, compared to who he has transitioned to by the end of the second season are two totally different people. His transition is just an example of how the most innocent person placed in this environment can be changed due to circumstances – and can be changed into someone totally different.
Money and Violence has a strong emphasis on this city life – and you’ve found a very comfortable spot in Flatbush; but do you think there’s anywhere else in the country (or the world) you could’ve shot the series to the same effect? Why not other places in Brooklyn?
Vernaeu: I think anywhere could’ve been a setting. Money and Violence is set in Brooklyn – it’s Flatbush – and it’s been received so well all over the world. I mean – we’re big in Bermuda; we’re big in Australia; we’re big in London; we’re big in Toronto – and I think that’s because – I always say not arrogant enough to claim the struggle for our own in Brooklyn – it’s a story that’s worldwide. Everybody goes through the struggle. Whether it’s in Brooklyn; whether it’s in Little Rock, Arkansas; whether it’s in the slums of London – you understand what I mean? I just think it’s worldwide.
Vernaeu: First and foremost, August 16th we’ll be releasing seasons one and two in HD. Also as well: we have another production company that we created called Intellectual Property. We have a show that we’re working on now called “My Love Life According to Social Media” – it’s actually a comedy. Because I wanted something totally left from the urban-genre. Just so people know what I’m capable of. So we have that show that we’re working on – which is a half-hour sitcom. We’re also working on a book; the book is called “My Brother’s People” and President Obama is actually supposed to write the foreword to the book. And it’s a series of two page essays by everyone from Jessie Williams to Danzel Washington to also myself – just as a letter to the younger, black generation – essays of inspiration. We basically tell them our story and how we overcame the odds. After the book is done, we’re supposed to make a documentary out of it. Which I’m supposed to direct as well. So we have a few projects on the table.
Money & Violence Season 1 & 2 is now available on digital download.
The show will be available on Digital HD August 16