Director-writer Moetivation (Moe for short) is giving the web series format a major dose of street reality with the rising popularity of his show Money & Violence. Debuting this past summer, the Brooklyn-based series chronicles the street life of drug hustler Rafe (played by Moe) and a host of underworld characters who entertain as well as shock viewers with a convincing glimmer of criminal realness. And for Moe, a first time director, it has paid off, garnering his small screen project (which has been compared to The Wire) two million viewers and the burgeoning success of his online network, Cloud9TV.
Moe sat down with BET.com to talk about his hit web series, why it resonates with viewers and where he plans to go from here.
How did you come up with the idea for the show?
Money & Violence started off as an idea I had for a novel. At first it was something loosely based on past experiences — and experiences of people that I’ve known in the past. I tweaked the stories to a degree for entertainment purposes. Shortly afterwards, I woke up with the idea to turn it into a feature film. I attempted to film, but after shooting for about two months, I only had 18 minutes of footage. So I decided — from a marketing standpoint — it would be better if I turned it into a web series. Being that I had no background in film, as I released episodes every week I would develop a following week to week. So, from there, I decided to make it a web series.
How did you put the show and the cast together?
Basically just friends of mine. People I reached out to, people around me. As the story grew, we extended to other friends, and friends of friends, when I couldn’t think of anyone. We didn’t audition anyone. Basically, your audition was the first day of shooting on the set.
There are tons of web series. Why do you think Money & Violence has taken off?
I think it’s the authenticity. When I created the series, one of my main goals was to be different because I believe that to be better you must be different. I never really saw anything realistic, as far as a depiction of what goes on in Brooklyn on screen. Although the story was tweaked for entertainment purposes, it was also very reality-based. I wasn’t trying to compromise the realistic aspect of the content.
What commentary does the show give the gentrified side of Brooklyn?
It doesn’t really touch on it. As far as the settings and locations, they’re set in these new bars and cafés. But we don’t really touch on the subject. Then again, it’s only the first season. This season was to set up to show the main characters and get viewers more familiar with them. As we go further and expand, we'll get into more aspects of Brooklyn.
How did you build the show’s following?
It’s been totally organic. Word of mouth and social media, which was mainly Instagram. Every time someone asked me what they could to do to help, I would just say, "Do me a favor and tell a friend to tell a friend."
Is there an ideal network you would like to pick up the show?
No. Not necessarily. Of course I’d like to put it on the biggest platform available to get the message out there. But I have no preference whether it’s network or Netflix. As long as it’s a platform for me to reach the masses.
It seems urban dramas from The Wire — with the Character Omar — to, now, Empire have featured gay characters. Would you include a gay character like an Omar in Money & Violence?
My priority for the series, when I started it, was the realness of the show over the entertainment. That’s not really something that I’ve really encountered in my time as far as a homosexual who was on the streets doing these things. If it was something I had encountered, then definitely, yes. But it wasn’t something I encountered in my lifetime.
What are your future plans for the show?
My future plans are to learn as much as I can about this process. Maybe take some acting classes. Bring who I have to bring in to tighten up production — even if I have to collaborate with writers. I want to learn the more formal parts of production.
What do you think the series can teach youth about, literally, money and violence?
First and foremost, I’d like to make it clear the series isn’t called Money & Violence because it’s about money and violence. I titled it that because money and violence are the only two things that people respect. If you want someone’s attention, you either show them the money or club them over the head. As far as what the series can teach children, well, let me put it this way: In the past 15 to 20 years, other than the streets, in the broader urban environment we’ve adapted a belief in money over everything. And due to that we put everything aside for money — principles, family, etc. — and we’ve now given these kids a perspective on things they give too much value to, be it money, clothing or sex. Kids aren’t even fascinated by cartoons anymore like I was when I grew up. Kids have become so entranced with the gangster life that if I came to them as a preacher they would reject it because it’s not what they respect. It’s not what’s familiar to them or what they look up to. So, in a way, the series is a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.
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(Photo: Courtesy of Money & Violence)