Late last night on The Super Channel, Reel One unleashed its new pitch black comedy, 24 Hour Rental upon an unsuspecting world. Described as a “no-holds-barred, deviant gangster satire” the series is produced and directed by George Mihalka, and stars Romano Orzari as Tracker, a gangster heavily in debt to the Russian Mob trying to make ends meet. He runs a seedy video store that serves as a front for petty crimes and soon gets caught up in a series of increasingly bizarre events involving drug addicts, surly video store clerks, mobsters, Satanists, rude customers and Black Magic murderers. 24 Hour Rental was written by former Sound on Sight contributor, Al Kratina, who just may have been inspired by his time working at the very same video store that gave birth to this website. I talked to Al recently and demanded that he explain himself.
For the benefit of some of our younger readers could you explain what a “video store” is and why you wanted to set a gangster story in one?
A “video store” is where movies used to live before they all moved to the Internet. I was working in one when I met the show’s creator, and I thought it would be a good place for the main character to hatch his schemes, as well as the perfect setting to throw in as many unusual characters as I could think of. It was also good place to make jokes about animal porn. There are a lot of jokes about animal porn.
I’ve been meaning to ask about that. What’s with all the animal porn?
It just started out as a gag in the first episode, but it ended up being a major plot point, and it got hard to stretch something like that out over thirteen episodes. After a while I was running out of animals to talk about, and had to get creative: I had to use termites, shrews and we actually had live squid for episode 10, so it was getting deliberately ridiculous near the end.
Where any of the characters inspired by your time as a video store clerk?
By now I guess I should be entirely clear there was nothing illegal going on where I worked, though some of the people working there did smell like they just came from Burning Man. None of the main characters in 24 Hour Rental really have anything to with the people I worked with or am, but there were definitely a few interactions from my time there that I felt needed to be immortalized. It was really the atmosphere of the place and the attitude of the people there that I liked and wanted to use for a little colour. It was a place where a lot of different types of people came into, a place where the conversation flipped easily from “High Art” to Blockbusters to our reactions to an unpleasantly comprehensive porn section, and I thought this tone really fit the kind of story I wanted to tell.
Tell me a bit about some of the characters in 24 Hour Rental.
In any given episode we’ve always got something going on with the clerks and something going on with the crooks; their stories don’t always intersect but they do always complement each other. The crooks are Tracker and his crew: an alcoholic ex cop, a cab driving pimp who has a PhD in Comparative Religions, and the resident idiot drug maker/dealer/user who looks up to Tracker as a role model. While these guys are in the back of the store fencing stolen goods and cutting angel dust with Drano, the surly jaded film snobs who work in the front of the store act as our guides on how this warped little universe operates, especially Sarah, a new employee who starts her first day early on in episode one. The stakes aren’t as high with the clerk’s stories at first, but their subplots help set the stage for a larger story and do end up bleeding into one another. Literally.
Who was your favourite character to write?
I really liked to write for Khvisto, the crime lord of indeterminate European origin. He is sort of like half Game of Thrones and half Godfather and half Dungeons and Dragons sex fetishist. I know that that is three halves, but he is that big of a character. Ace, the drug dealer and moron was a lot of fun too. I like the larger canvas that you get to work with on a TV series. Having thirteen episodes to work with really gives you enough time to develop the characters. There is a lot more lot more creative freedom in television, and I don’t just mean using a lot of cuss words, though I do like to use a lot cuss words. There is just a much better chance to tell stories the right way. You get a lot more time to explore and develop or even change your characters, especially during the opening monologues/recaps that are at the top of each episode. It was also great being on set working with the actors themselves, getting the feel for their understanding of the character and helping to merge it with mine.
What about Criminal Anti-Heroes interests you so much?
The whole phenomenon doesn’t piss me off anymore, but it used to. I just find it interesting now. Every other show seems to be about anti-heroes today, but its not exactly new. Look at Scarface, yeah its got a lot of boobs and coke and stuff, but its really more like a Greek Tragedy and there is a clear moral centre to the film. My problem is with the people who want to be Scarface, they identify with the main character while looking for slogans to text while they flash four $20 bills on their Instagram account. Look at The Sopranos or Sons of Anarchy or Breaking Bad; they are all filled with these terrible, terrible people who only do terrible things to everyone around them. What can you say when violet psychopaths become heroes? When regular people want to wear them on a t-shirt? People are just fascinated by them, and I’m fascinated by that fascination so I really try to explore that idea in a lot of my work, and challenge myself to write the worst character I can think of and try to make the audience like them. Then remind I remind you just how awful this person you’ve been watching and cheering for is. I always liked that David Chase never let you forget every once in a while what a monster Tony Soprano was. I guess a big difference for me though is that most of these shows are dramas, and 24 Hour Rental is mostly a comedy so I could take things to more absurd extremes.
What was the process of writing for 24 Hour Rental like?
I wrote it like it was never actually going to end up getting made. I just figured it started out way too graphic and violent so I just wrote whatever I felt like writing. I figured “lets have underground prostitute cage fights, no one will ever pick this up anyway”. Flash forward three years later and I‘m looking at naked people fighting in a cage with the guy from Terminator (Micheal Biehn) wondering what I’ve done with my life.
So there was no pressure to tone it down when it did get picked up?
Not really, but after Real One green lit the project, we all had to move very fast, we had only produced the first three scripts when they commissioned thirteen episodes. I ended up having to write the other ten at the rate of about one a week over the summer of 2012 to be ready when shooting started in October. I’ve got to hand it to The Super Channel for sticking with us on this project. By the time we had a rough cut for the studio to look at we had spent so much time immersed in the show that we were pretty sure we lost all perspective on “good taste” was. I was a bit worried that we ma have gone to far, but they really seemed to like it and only voiced a few concerns, mostly over the profanity. Not that I wanted to shock just for the sake of shocking people. The point was not to offend but to open eyes. There are really two types of jokes, there are racist jokes and there are jokes about racism. When you make fun of racist, sexist, homophobic sociopaths people you actually need to draw attention to what it is that they do, and what is it that they are.
What was it like to work with George Mihalka?
I was really glad when he came aboard, My Bloody Valentine is a favourite of mine and he brought a lot of experience and determination to the production. We worked well together to develop the story, we had the same sense of humour and we both wanted to push the envelope a bit. The thing I would say about George is he is one of the most determined people I have ever met, he’s a bulldog who knows what he wants and was very passionate about the material. He’s the kind of guy that will do everything he can to get it made at every stage of production. It really is a testament to George that we got this done. I mean we could only shot 6 ½ hours of television in a month, about 20 script pages a day because we had a personality like George pushing the crew and the cast. He knew what he wanted and was unwilling to compromise on the creativity. If there was something that was integral to any scene he would make it happen, against time and the budget people’s protestations. He brought that to the editing of the series as well; he made sure that everything that creatively defined us made the cut for everyone to see.
What about the future? Would you return to write for Season Two?
I know that 24 Hour Rental it is not was not going to be for everybody, but I think there is a good chance for the show to find a good cult following. I’d love to do another season if only to make these characters into even worse people than they already are by the end of episode thirteen. It’s pretty rare to get an opportunity like this to write an entire series, and I to put a lot into it. Right now I’m sort of curious to see how people will respond, but I’m mostly just anxious. For two years now I could say that I wrote a TV show and no one could honestly say they thought it was terrible.
24 Hour Rental airs Tuesday Nights at 11pm on The Super Chanel, check out the 24 Hour Rental trailer.