What do you do if you dream of making an amazing television show, but only have a few thousand dollars to do it? Do what you can and upload it to YouTube.
Moise Verneau, born and bred in Brooklyn, NY, wanted to capture the streets he grew up on and how they’ve changed. So with little more than a $2,500 camera, he started the YouTube channel Cloud9TV and began filming Money and Violence. People quickly tuned in. Since its debut in August 2014, the show has been viewed more than 13 million times on YouTube, and its popularity grows by the day. It’s been so successful in fact that there is talk of a future on network or cable, or a subscription service like Netflix. The show was even featured in a Fox News special.
“I didn’t want Money and Violence to be another hood project.”
Money and Violence is set mostly in the borough’s Flatbush section; it follows an ensemble cast of real New Yorkers with little to no acting experience trying to survive the street life. A central story connects the diverse cast of characters in an on-going war between Rafe’s righthand man Miz and a gang of Jamaican gunmen — after Miz murders one of their associates.
With its intricate, interconnecting plot lines, Money and Violence’s closest relative may be David Simon’s epochal The Wire series. Speaking with Digital Trends, Verneau acknowledges the comparison but said his series has a different goal.
“I didn’t want Money and Violence to be another hood project. Didn’t want it to be another State Property, another Belly. I wanted it to be something different,” he told us. “In The Wire, the characters were basically fighting for power. They wanted to gain control of the blocks. They wanted to gain control of Baltimore. Whereas with Money and Violence the characters are just fighting for survival. If these guys didn’t have to do this they wouldn’t.”
“The original plan with Money and Violence was to fight the long trek. To go the long haul with it. We prepared ourselves to do it on our own. Money and Violence was created for more than entertainment. It was a message we were trying to put out there. If you watch Money and Violence, you see the underlying message. The realities of the street.”
Bringing “old Brooklyn” to a new generation
The main character, Rafe, played by Verneau, is the embodiment of the show’s moral duality. Rafe is a well-spoken thief who will go through anyone to leave a heist with his freedom, but will inform someone attempting to contract him to rob their cousin of the grave consequences. Verneau says the show is meant to educate the viewing audience on “old Brooklyn,” a time before Lena Dunham pretended it was all Bushwick and Williamsburg brownstones — a time when people broke up teenage brawls in McDonald’s instead of globally broadcasting them from cell phone videos.
Verneau calls this generation the “Generation of Facade.” Millions of people artificially creating a life through carefully chosen Instagram pictures and Facebook posts. People who value perception over principle. In one episode, Rafe and Miz confront the younger member of their heist team, Kane after they catch him taking Instagram pictures with money they stole.
“It’s not about survival anymore. Now it’s about being seen,” said Verneau. “My generation grew up just trying to put food on the table. Just trying to eat. Like, bruh, I really didn’t have an option, so I’m going to sell drugs. But now selling drugs has become cool …. You got a lot of dudes who ain’t been through nothing and the second they get some money they buy the lifestyle. You never carried a gun in your life but as soon as you get some money you want to carry a gun. What is that? Your life is no longer in danger so why are you doing that? ”
Verneau had never filmed or edited anything before, so the “old Brooklyn” native learned the new-fashioned way: YouTube tutorials and studying his favorite films. As a result, the heavy focus on dialogue and conveying emotion through tight camera shots was a product of the experimentation necessary for first time filmmakers. He shot all 24 episodes of Money and Violence on one $2,500 Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-105mm lens and edited with Adobe Premier Pro CS6.
“That lens helps them look more cinematic than with wider shots, unless you’re using depth of field,” Verneau explained. “Wide shots with this lens…you’re basically shooting with a camcorder.”