By Bert Marcus | Indiewire July 3, 2013 at 12:23PM
In my early twenties, I experienced a disheartening, drug-related loss when a close family member was not lucky enough to beat a battle with addiction. As a result, I reached out to friends and family for support, leaning on those closest to me. I realized that I was in the majority, that most people I spoke with had a link. Almost every person in some way or another has personally, or through a relationship, experienced a drug-related episode that has drawn him or her into the industry to play some role in what has been called “the war on drugs.”
The more conversations and stories that were sparked by friends and family, the more I began to think that with numbers can come change. I studied, researched and began to try to understand how this was possible. In doing so, I learned about our drug laws and policies and the economic and racial impact that comes with them. The statistics are staggering. If this affects almost all Americans, there must be something that we can do to help.
After producing "Teenage Paparazzo," I realized that we were once again presented with the chance to take a topic that has been explored hundreds of times and engage the viewer in ways that previous films on the topic never have. Our focus was to find a unique voice and critical angle towards improving the discussion around drugs. And How to Make Money Selling Drugs was conceived in theory. Like the film, I am going to give you an easy guide to how this movie was made, although this one is only 5 steps.
1. The Mood, the Pace, the Feel
As a filmmaker, I knew that I had a unique opportunity to be heard and to impact people’s lives in a meaningful way. I was in my mid-to-late 20’s when we started the project and, as mentioned, I could not stand the idea of making just another film on the war on drugs. I watched film after film on the subject – what is the connecting factor besides the topic? The mood, the pace, the feel…in sum, the demographic.
Being the youngest filmmaker involved in the production, it was especially important to me to engage a younger generation who had not had the over-exposure with films on the drug war. Why, I thought, was there no film that speaks to the demographic where many of these problems begin in the first place, where many first time criminals enter prison and where many people make their most important life decisions? This wasn’t going to be a movie just for those that have already experienced their most challenging moments in life, it was going to be a film targeting those just beginning to experience them. The goal was now to engage a new viewer and, in doing so, bridge the gap between generations.
2. Channeling the Audience . . . The Target
Rather than lecture, to capture a younger demographic we felt that through entertainment and a tongue-in-cheek, if not risqué, approach, we would absolve the judgment and tension around the war on drugs. This, in turn, would deliver a broader message across that what the U.S. government and drug policy and enforcement agencies are doing from a policy and social standpoint clearly has not, and is not, working. A fast-pace and high-energy tone, especially through the use of music, where I began in entertainment as a teen, were the first steps in opening a young audience’s mind and making it easier to listen.
Next, as we immersed ourselves in research, interviews and discussion, the natural backbone and structure of the film presented itself: a video game. The drug war, like a video game, consists of various levels. As a street dealer you start at the bottom with very little and attempt to build an empire level by level. How different is that than my days of Super Mario Bros.?
The video game structure was also meant to educate, as many Americans don't appreciate the reality that the drug trade is truly a global powerhouse business, not just casual trading on a corner or at a party. Through an interactive game, the audience can appreciate the magnitude and intricacy of perpetuating this massive, intertwined industry while still being engaged. In this way, the form could mirror the function whereby the video game action, violence and entertainment value reflects the same inherent nature of the pervasive drug industry.