We’ve all seen the image again and again: the lazy stoner mired in filth and devoid of ambition. It is the image Cinedopes opens with. But the show, an independently produced web comedy about an out-of-business weed dealer who inherits a rundown theatre and decides to turn that theatre into a pot-friendly cinema, quickly moves beyond that first visual. Though the show aims to be a broad comedy inspired by programs like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Cinedopes tackles not only the evolving image of a cannabis consumer, but also the business opportunities provided by the industry, the difficulty of legally obtaining a license to sell medical cannabis, and the desire for artistic integrity in a world that seems overly focused on ninjas and hot chicks.
Weekend Review Kit talked with co-creator and executive producer Scott Roughgarden about the challenges of making a high quality, independent, episodic show that takes its cannabis content seriously while still trying to reach a wide audience.
Personal Passion & Good Timing
Weekend Review Kit: One of things I appreciated about Cinedopes is that, for a broad comedy, it does touch on a lot of issues that are currently relevant in the cannabis industry (sexism, obtaining a license, trying to figure out if this cop is cool). But this has been a passion project for everyone involved for a long time. How long have you been working on this?
Scott Roughgarden: Four and a half years ago, Angeline (who plays Elizabeth on the show) came to me with this idea. I’ve known her since high school, and we’ve had an amazing relationship. She contacted me when she moved [to Los Angeles], and we ended up executive producing the show. The first project she brought to me was so different. It was about a movie theatre, but it was more about misfits and their crazy lives and less about cannabis. We wanted to try it as a feature film script. We wrote it as a feature…no. And we wrote it again as an hour episodic…no. The concept was great, but we couldn’t shoot it in those formats. It’s not a cheap undertaking.
So we decided if we really want to do this for TV, why not just post it online. We wanted to protect our property and I didn’t want to have to cold pitch to a network. We created Total Anarchy TV as a platform for scripted programs to get sold to major networks. When we do sell the show we think we can brand Anarchy TV as a place to produce television shows. Almost as a place to go to make a TV pilot. So you could get your show made but wouldn’t have to worry about your show being compromised or stolen.
WRK: You mentioned that the project wasn’t as cannabis-centric at first, but it clearly is now. Why the change?
SR: We chose cannabis because everyone involved is passionate about the movement. But before the inception of Cinedopes, the last time I smoked was early college. So I started doing major research on cannabis. The laws. They’re changing state by state and sometimes by the day, and if you weren’t informed you could get in trouble. And then I learned about all the research coming out of Israel, and I learned about cannabinoids and CBD, and how they basically cause cancer cells to commit suicide.
I love the history of pot, and even industrial hemp. I learned about how timber and cotton lobbied to get it put on the Schedule One list, which is ridiculous. I am a proponent of cannabis in every capacity. I love the financial benefit, and I think it should be treated like alcohol.
We scoured the Internet, reading articles and talking to people. It’s not like we only wanted to capitalize on making a cannabis show for the money. We get it. We did legit research. Everyone was committed to the project. We respect the industry and we like where it’s going. We did a lot of research on how to implement those themes into the story.
The ‘Typical Stoner Montage’
WRK: This isn’t a show with cannabis consumption from theme song to credits, but the one “typical stoner montage” (i.e. narrow-eyed idiots gorging on junk food and passing out, sometimes in said junk food) actually ends with one of the characters using cannabis as a means to focus, work hard, and save the day. How important was it for writers Brian Drolet and Ben Gleib (who play leads Tim and Blake, respectively) to represent a bigger picture of the cannabis consuming public?
SR: There is a theme that still works very well in producing cannabis content, which is comedy. But comedy is difficult to do because it does not always translate across different demographics and cultures. So it was important that we had a diverse cast. If you look in California, it’s massively diverse, and at the same time Cinedopes could take place in any town, USA. Many more people have used and tried pot than what you see typically represented. It’s not necessarily a show that pushes pot, but it does try to accurately portray the community.
Diversity is important, and more than just ethnicity. You have your stereotypical alpha male. You have the goons, the jocks with the high school mentality. We hit a lot of social stereotypes as well, so every knows someone in that cast.
Cinedopes and Cannabis in the Mainstream
WRK: It seems like that hard work is starting to pay off. The show’s audience has been rapidly expanding on YouTube and you’re now looking for a network to help take this to the next level. Who do you feel offers the best fit for this kind of content?
SR: Viacom would be an appropriate home because they have multiple networks under their umbrella that would be appropriate for Cinedopes. But in a perfect world, Netflix. Because one: their cannabis content does extremely well, and two: there’s no commercial interest, so you have total creative freedom.
WRK: Have you encountered any negative reactions from potential business partners or networks in regards to cannabis stereotypes?
SR: We honestly have not gotten any negative feedback about cannabis stereotypes. I believe we did a good job making the characters as authentic as possible and believable. When we get picked up by a network I believe we could have a lot of fun playing with some of the stereotypes that presently exist. However, we did not want to come across as shallow by making cheap jokes of stoner stereotypes that have existed in cannabis-based content for years. One of our goals is also to show marijuana in a different light that has the potential to empower someone on a business level. Using a lazy “dumb stoner” would be doing a disservice by tarnishing the perception of the high functioning individual who enjoys cannabis responsibly.
Images: courtesy of Total Anarchy TV