The streets is talking and word is that Money & Violence needs to be on your radar. After premiering in August 2014, the hit web series quickly built a cult-like following, all without the assistance of big budgets or even trained professionals. The show — which began as a side project amongst friends before it blossomed into an internet sensation — eventually went on to amass over 13 million views. “For a minute there, it wasn’t work. It was just us getting together, having a good time and putting together a project that we believed in,” says Money & Violence’s creator, Moe, who serves as director, writer and one of the show’s main characters, Rafe.
Filmed in Brooklyn, Money & Violence looks to offer viewers a realistic glimpse at what’s really going on in, not only the streets of New York, but also crime-stricken and impoverished inner-city neighborhoods throughout America. The show also attempts to humanize “people who society looks at as being taboo,” according to Moe. “Money & Violence is just a more intimate view into the lives of people who society has labeled as the bad guy. With Money & Violence you can come to realize that these people are just trying to survive. It’s not that they are bad people or that they take pride in doing what it is that they do. They are just trying to survive from today to tomorrow,” he says.
Here, Life + Times checks in with Money & Violence cast members Moe, Ray (Miz) and Ace (Kane) to talk about the show’s success, keeping it authentic, and what’s next.
Life + Times: How would you describe Money & Violence?
Moe: The show is an authentic depiction of life in the urban jungle. It’s told from a very intimate perspective. The camera actually serves as a fly on the wall in certain places and situations where people probably would never get the opportunity to be.
L+T: Are you surprised by Money & Violence’s success?
Moe: If we’re surprised it’s because we didn’t expect it to happen this fast. We were confident in the project. One of the main things that we had strived for was to actually make it different. We knew that it would be something that would most likely be received by the public as long as it stood out. We just didn’t know that it would happen this fast.
L+T: What kind of research went into making Money & Violence seem as authentic as possible?
Moe: Well, I write everything as far as the script is concerned. I draw from a lot of my past experiences, but there are also many situations that do occur in the series that may not be experiences that I’ve lived through. Those experiences may have been things that people that I know have been through. I get a lot of inspiration just through conversations and just being a part of their lives.
L+T: Moe, you write, direct and act on Money & Violence. As it continues to grow, do you see yourself getting less involved in certain aspects of the show to focus more so on other aspects?
Moe: The crazy thing about having vision is that truly it’s in your head and no one is ever going to be able to fully understand that vision. You may be able to describe it to people and you may be able to help them see it, but they’re never going to be able to understand it to the full degree that you do. I may not always be as fully hands on, but I’ll always want to be involved in every aspect. I’m new to this and I want to learn as much as possible. I’m always opened to more experienced people coming in, so I can learn from them, but at the end of the day, as far as creatively, I do always want to play a part.
L+T: The acting found in the first season isn’t the greatest. Will things like the cast taking acting lessons or bringing in some more established actors be considered for the second season?
Moe: For one, with us being grateful with the attention and the love we’ve received from the viewing public, we feel that we owe it to them to a degree to give them the best product possible. Therefore, as long as we’re keeping the original essence of the project together, we’re always entertaining new ideas for how to step it up, whether it’s production or whether it’s the acting. I’ve said before that we’re always opened to bringing in more experienced actors to not necessarily tell us what to do, but to collaborate with our efforts and to show us how we can be more effective and how we could do things a little better.
L+T: Do you think that the current aesthetic of Money & Violence is a part of why the show has appealed to such a larger audience?
Ray: It works perfectly. If you’re watching Money & Violence you can’t picture somebody else playing those characters. It works, because of the simple fact that it’s new faces in the storyline.
Ace: I think they fell in love with the realness and the fact that the show is so raw.
Moe: I think that some of the things that would necessarily work against another project worked for us. With the attention that we’ve garnered we’re looked at as amateurs that kind of have performed on a professional level. We are being compared to shows like Empire and The Wire and that’s flattering. I think that’s a huge compliment. For us to be a few people that have no background in film, no background as far as production whatsoever and to have never had acted, and yet we’re compared to a major HBO production is amazing.
L+T: Moe’s initial vision for Money & Violence may have seemed crazy to some people, but you guys have all decided to still take this journey with him. What was it about his vision that made you guys want to take a chance on it?
Ray: We had been doing business before Money & Violence. We own a company together. Money & Violence is something Moe been speaking about for years. It’s just now that he decided to do it. We believe in him. His intentions are all good, so we ride it out.
Ace: We never second-guessed his decision. It was just another objective to complete. He came up with it and we attacked it. It’s been working out pretty well.
L+T: Without a big marketing budget Money & Violence has been able to garner over 13 millions views. What has been the most effective tool in spreading the word about the show?
Ace: Word of mouth.
Ray: We say word of mouth, because not once did we pay anybody to do promotion for us or to put up any ads. People have just been watching and telling their family and friends. Whenever somebody asks how can they help, we tell them to tell a friend to tell a friend. That’s how we got over 13 million views right now.
Moe: Let me ask you a question, Kai. How did you hear about Money & Violence?
L+T: Word of mouth, actually. My cousin put me on [laughs].
Moe: It’s been a lot of that from the start. You’ll see people on Instagram posting things like, “Thank you so and so for putting me on.” A lot of people may call it social network, but that’s just the technological word the mouth nowadays.
L+T: What has been the biggest challenge in bringing Money & Violence to life?
Ace: Ambient noise [laughs].
Moe: [Laughs] I guess you can say the elements were a challenge, especially when shooting in the winter and it’s blistering cold outside. It’s very difficult in those conditions, but you know, we toughed it out. Thank god for the cast.
Ace: Not being able to tell the bus to go this way instead of that way, because we’re filming. Or everybody making noise. Those are the hard parts. That’s it.
L+T: Communities similar to the one in which Money & Violence takes place in are often misunderstood and misrepresented, because similar shows have focused mostly on the negative aspects found in those communities like the violence, drug dealing, check fraud, etc. Since not everyone from these environments are involved in the street-life or illegal dealings, will Money & Violence’s second season shed some light on that reality?
Ace: We have a character named Joe. He is the nine to five guy who doesn’t want anything to do with the streets.
Moe: It’s similar to how it was with The Wire — who the series focused on in the first season, wasn’t necessarily the focus in the following seasons. There’s a lot of room for growth with all of these characters. If you look at the characters from the beginning of the first season to where they are at the end, they aren’t necessarily the same people. The storyline has the possibility to go any and everywhere to show all of the elements of the neighborhood. Also, the basketball player and the kid going to school have had a voice. We’re trying to give a voice to a bunch of people who have never really had a voice and have never really been heard before.
L+T: How do you think the upcoming second season of Money & Violence will differ from season one?
Ace: Probably the production.
Moe: We didn’t have to worry about crowds with the first season. Now it’s like, “Oh my god. It’s the crew from Money & Violence!” So one of the biggest challenges for the second season will be us being able to shoot uninterrupted [laughs].
Catch up on season one of Money & Violence here.