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SEASON 01, EPISODE 05 – Billy Corben – Director of Cocaine Cowboys: Kings of Miami, Screwball, and ESPN 30 for 30s The U, and Broke

On this episode, Dan visits with the immensely talented director Billy Corben really talk shop of documentary filmmaking, while discussing Corben’s Netflix smash Cocaine Cowboys: Kings of Miami, the craziest re-enactment idea every for Screwball, why #becausemiami is a thing, and the glory of video toaster magic for 80s / 90s production kids.

Produced by Hurrdat Media.

Read the Full Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:00:05):

What makes a reel life movement or story interesting enough to become a documentary film? More importantly, how does someone even do that? Let’s find out. Dan Napoli is an award-winning documentary director and also the Head of Creative and Post-Production for Hurrdat Films.

Speaker 1 (00:00:22):

He sits down with other film directors and discusses the ins and outs of how their latest project went from real world events to the film reel in this Limited Series monthly podcast. It’s the Reel Life with Dan Napoli, Because Miami. It’s not just a hashtag. It’s at the core of filmmaker Billy Corben’s work.

Speaker 1 (00:00:38):

Since his debut at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, Corben has made a career telling stories of Miami with almost a dozen spectacular documentaries to his credit. The Cocaine Cowboys trilogy exploring the drug trade of Miami in the 70s and 80s to ESPNs 30 for 30 is dedicated to University of Miami Hurricanes, The U Part 1 and 2. And Screwball, exploring the Tony Bosch, Alex Rodriguez steroid scandal.

Speaker 1 (00:01:03):

Now, Corben and Rakontur Productions is back, this time with a multi-part true-crime docu-series for Netflix, Cocaine Cowboys, Kings of Miami focuses on the rise and fall of two of Miami’s most infamous drug kingpins, Sal and Willy. Get ready as Billy and Dan take a deep dive into Corben’s body of work, his process and their mutual affection of the graphics power of the Video Toaster as middle schoolers.

Dan (00:01:25):

What’s up everybody? Welcome to another episode of Reel Life podcast. I am super stoked folks to have our guests today. Honestly, one of my favorite directors with documentary directors, love the work The U Part 2 to 30 for 30, Screwball, the trifecta of Cocaine Cowboys as features. And then, now, Cocaine Cowboys as a docu-series. Billy Corben, dude, thanks for hanging out for a little bit, man.

Billy (00:02:00):

Thanks for that very nice introduction, Dan. And thank you for inviting me and for promoting the docuseries, I really appreciate it.

Dan (00:02:07):

Yeah, man. Absolutely. Apologies. I’ll try not to sit and talk too much at the same time.

Billy (00:02:16):

That’s right. Depends on what you’re sipping.

Dan (00:02:17):

Yeah, right dude. No, man, post COVID, it’s only tea and waters and stuff like that, and coffee, but no more fun.

Billy (00:02:27):

Oh, shit. You feeling all right?

Dan (00:02:29):

Oh, yeah, dude, I’m long like I had it last July, but I still have long hauler. Just like almost more asthma inflammation type stuff.

Billy (00:02:38):

I’m sorry to hear that.

Dan (00:02:41):

Oh, it’s all right. I mean, there’s folks here in far worse shape than me. So, little annoyance, I can put up with. I probably, needed to cut back on the Jameson, anyways. Don’t we all, right?

Dan (00:02:54):

So, dude, I want to start with Miami. And what I think is really interesting, and I want to get some… Your vibe on this. I think you’ll have a lot of at least I know we’re pretty close in age. I think I’m about two years older. So, at least of our generation of indie feature directors that where they’re from, is super stamped on everything they do, right?

Dan (00:03:24):

Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, and probably, Smith in New Jersey, Linklater in Austin when it comes to mind. I don’t know that there’s a lot of doc folks that come to mind. But beyond a backdrop and the character, it’s just Miami and you are so and so much of your work. I’m really, I want to hear about that.

Billy (00:03:47):

My muse, Miami. I’m a native Floridian and a lifelong Miami. And when my producing partners, Alfred Spellman, David Cypkin and I went to the Sundance Film Festival with our first ever documentary, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent back in 2001. At that time, we were the youngest filmmakers in Sundance history. We were the only ones from Miami back then.

Billy (00:04:14):

And the movie, the doc blew up there and got a lot of attention. And we did about, God, like 60 interviews in about five or six days with press from all over the world. And their last question was always the same which is, “Now that you’ve made it at Sundance, and you’ve had a Sundance hit, are you guys… What’s your next move? You go to New York or LA? What’s happening?”

Billy (00:04:39):

And as obvious as it was to them that we would move to New York or LA, our answer was just as obvious to us, which is that we’re going to go back home to Miami. There are several reasons. First, it’s home and home is where you go. When you’re done with other shit, you go back home. And second, to be perfectly candid, we had worked on that documentary for a year straight, and we didn’t really come to Sundance prepared to pitch the next thing or take meetings, or we didn’t really know.

Billy (00:05:13):

Back then, when you’re an indie filmmaker, you’re just like, you’re just I deep and whatever project you’re working on for that period of time. And the turnaround time was extraordinary. It was a year, from the date, we decided to make the doc to the Sundance premiere. So, it was like, that was crazy. Yeah, whirlwind.

Dan (00:05:29):

I heard of it for like, a first time or two normally, right? You hear much more than like, I’m in and out of it for three or four years…

Billy (00:05:35):

Yeah.

Dan (00:05:35):

We stop and started, and all that stuff.

Billy (00:05:37):

Spoiler alert, the Kings of Miami on Netflix took 12 years to make. So, we went from one year from conception to world premiere at Sundance to 12 years, but I digress. Everybody asked, New York, LA. So, we said, “Miami.”

Billy (00:05:57):

Third reason, best reason that we were going to come back to Miami was that we just felt it was an untapped resource of wonderful characters and stories, and had been tapped into other mediums, like in nonfiction, journalism and books in fiction books. Obviously, even in dramatic features, but no one had really tapped the nonfiction filmmaking side of it.

Billy (00:06:27):

And also, it was a marketing or branding, play as well, in that. We would have just been three more schmucks peddling our wares in New York or LA at that point, who the hell were we? We wanted a calling card to say like, “Oh, they’re the Miami storytellers, or the Miami filmmakers.”

Billy (00:06:47):

And so, that was the roll of the dice. Could it have been faster? Could it have been more successful or whatever, if we move to New York, or LA? Probably, even as I look back. But, it wouldn’t have been as much fun and we wouldn’t have been able to tell the stories we told a 1,000 of miles away from everybody. And just picking up on tapping into what normal people were interested in.

Billy (00:07:09):

And we went out and we pitched this idea for Cocaine Cowboys, the first documentary. The first Cocaine Cowboys documentary, which was our second documentary. We pitched it to everyone except for Sundance. We could get meetings with anyone and everyone because the people knew who we were from Sundance, but nobody was interested in this pitch. Nobody.

Billy (00:07:28):

We could get zero industry, interest or financing or distribution. And we just round up as indie filmmakers again in Miami pounding the pavement and trying to scrape the financing together just like we did on our first doc.

Dan (00:07:42):

Man, that’s so crazy to think. I guess, it’s in the way sometimes and it’s like you see it with bands where not only them in the genre they play, maybe got huge, but at that time, they started. They could get, like, catch a cold. They couldn’t get arrested for playing genre that they did, because it’s so weird in 2021 to hear you say, that you had to pitch the original, the Cocaine Cowboys feature doc. And there wasn’t… Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just so crazy as like true crime and all of this has come, yeah.

Billy (00:08:16):

If you remember back then, it was only like a gaggle of gatekeepers. We’re talking about the early zeros at this point. And so, there was only a handful of distributors who are really proactively putting docs out there. It’s not like, this golden era, not only of nonfiction films, but distributors and platforms that are just with voracious viewership for them. It wasn’t like that back then.

Billy (00:08:42):

And we just could not convince anybody until we got it financed, made it independently, brought it to the Tribeca Film Festival. And Tom Quinn, who was at Magnolia at that time, Mark Cuban’s company saw it and got it. He mean, we’re like, the only person who’s like, “Oh, there’s a market for this, for this genre, what we call pop docs.” And he said, “This is going to be a thing.” And he was right.

Dan (00:09:09):

Yeah. So, I think right about that time. I think, the first doc that I really connected with in a… Because it’s funny to point out at that time period was Dogtown and Z-Boys, Stacy Peralta’s and like…

Billy (00:09:23):

Yeah.

Dan (00:09:23):

Because before that, it was like docs like Jesus. That’s something… I come home, and my dad’s watching on PBS or like okay, “We watch Ken Burns together,” but that’s the only like, up until the early 2000s that you kind of had that… So, it’s cool to hear you make that that reference to pop docs.

Dan (00:09:41):

So, something else was Miami. We’re going to talk about this anyways, but your shirt is a wonderful entryway into this. And I think I’ve seen this hashtag online and maybe I’m making up with my head but the hashtag Because Miami or Because Florida. We’ll see.

Dan (00:10:03):

Dude, so many of the things in your docs and for those of you, hopefully, we’ll always cut this, if this is a spoiler. But, for those of you that are just listening and not watching, Billy is wearing a Seahawk racing team shirt, which they come to reveal in the first episode of the series is one of the ways that one of the main character drug dealers gets noticed that he is on. And there’s just so much bizarre, weird, like Screwball is just layers and layers of that weird stuff. Why is there so much of that? Like, I don’t know, those layers and those tones and things associated with Miami.

Billy (00:10:45):

And Miami is America’s Casablanca. It’s always had this very… It’s transient population, lack of institutional memory, constantly transforming and reinventing itself. And there is no indigenous industry here. We just sell the sunshine. We said we have tourism and construction and the Florida dream and fun and sun, right?

Billy (00:11:08):

And so, we subsist from hustle to hustle because it isn’t like a self-sustaining economy. We rely… Professor Gary Mormino at the University of South Florida in Tampa, calls Florida the Ponzi state because we rely almost entirely on growth. Meaning, we require new arrivals, new construction, new development, new money constantly coming in. And once that stops, the economy collapses like a Ponzi scheme. That’s his theory.

Billy (00:11:42):

And so, Miami is very much like that. I mean, we almost have to for a time permits some level of fuckery. And Florida Fuckery, let’s face it, it’s not only our genre at our company, but it is our state’s number one export to be perfectly candid.

Billy (00:11:58):

And so, this is just… There’s something about Miami where we have to kind of… We have a white market economy, right? We have a black-market economy a little bit larger, but mostly Miami is a gray market economy. That’s kind of how we exist and it’s almost how we have to. It’s almost impossible. I mean, the United Way says 60% of people in Miami-Dade County can afford to live in Miami-Dade County. I mean, the quality of life, the cost of living is such that… You almost have to be… I mean, you have to have three or four or five jobs just to make ends meet.

Billy (00:12:30):

And so, there’s just that vibe. There’s a saying I’m fond of, “That LA is where you go when you want to be somebody. New York is where you go, and you are somebody, and Miami’s where you go when you want to be somebody else.” It’s just always been a sunny place for shady people.

Dan (00:12:47):

That’s a great quote you got. And you can see that thread running through to some degree everything from The U to the new project. Let’s talk about the new project for a while. First thing is like, let people know who are like, “Oh, man, I saw the first three features, what’s going on with this? Do I really need to see this docuseries?” The short answer is, yes, you do. But, tell us a little bit more about where you went with it.

Billy (00:13:14):

The first three docs were all interconnected. They all more or less fall like Miami was the main character and it was kind of a mosaic of different interviews with different people from the community. Cops and lawyers and Cocaine Cowboys and a hitman. And there was different characters like Griselda Blanco, the Godmother, La Madrina.

Billy (00:13:35):

This is a little bit… Those three are kind of, like I said, they’re interconnected. They kind of follow the same threads and basic set of characters. This is entirely new from scratch. It doesn’t rely on any previous footage from any of the first three Cocaine Cowboys. And more importantly, I should say, that despite it being the fourth release in the franchise, it is the first story that we wanted to tell, back in the early zeroes, we had hoped growing up in Miami.

Billy (00:14:07):

The story of Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta, Willy and Sal. They were known by their first names here. Nobody in Miami will say, “Willy who? Sal who?” Everybody knew who you were talking about, Los Muchachos, the boys. That was the story that we wanted to tell, and we wanted to make the subject of the first Cocaine Cowboys documentary.

Billy (00:14:25):

But it was pretty fresh back then. The wounds were pretty fresh. The story hadn’t ripened yet, and people weren’t ready to sit down on camera and talk about it. And it wasn’t until some years had passed, and we had put out some of these other documentaries that we became known for in the community that as people started getting released from prison, and in fact, the witness protection program, they reached out to us.

Billy (00:14:46):

So, we reached out to them and began to get people on camera on the record and began to accumulate, let’s say a library, an archive of these interviews. And what was interesting about it is that, not a lot of people know this. But, when we did the first cut of Cocaine Cowboys, the original documentary, I’ll never forget this.

Billy (00:15:06):

We’re editing it in my apartment, me and my producing partner David Cypkin and we were sitting at Final Cut Pro units back-to-back. And we finished the first rough cut. We’re very excited. We called our third producing partner, Alfred Spellman, I said, “We finished our first rough cut.” He says, “I’ll be right over to watch, how long is it?” I said, “It’s about, almost four hours.” He said, “Fuck you, keep cutting.” And he slammed the phone, that was a landline. He slammed the phone. That you can’t really slam a cell phone down here. It takes some of the fun and the drama out of hanging up on somebody.

Dan (00:15:38):

It’s not nearly as cool, man.

Billy (00:15:40):

Yeah. And I’m like, “Listen, I want to tell you…” Ting. It’s not as… The dramatic, he’s slamming a phone down, right? The physical manifestation of your frustration, take it out on this inanimate object in it. So, anyway, Alfred hang and slams the phone down. “Fuck you, keep cutting.”

Billy (00:15:56):

So, Dave and I sat, and had a long talk because this was tough. And we were pretty confident about this edit, which was like over three hours and 45 minutes. And, I called up Rebecca, I said, “Listen, hear me out. Let me pick this. It’s not one feature documentary. It’s a four-hour documentary.” Now, whether that means it’s to feature docs, or it’s for one hours, I’m like, “That’s what it is.” The first half, the first two hours is about the cocaine trafficking industry, the logistics, and then the revenue generated, that I describe Miami in the cocaine boom as the only successful case study of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics ever.

Billy (00:16:38):

And then, the second half, the second two hours of Cocaine Cowboys, is going to be about the violence and the enforcement of this illicit trade, which if you give someone four kilos on consignment, and they’re going for about $40,000, $50,000 wholesale in Miami in that time, and they don’t come back with your money in two weeks, or whatever the agreed upon time is, it’s not like you file a claim in court, people enforced it with violence.

Billy (00:17:03):

And so, and that becomes the violence and the collateral damage, and the outrageous like, public violence, of like shootouts at high noon at busy shopping malls with women and children around. That’s really what killed the golden goose, so to speak, and brought the enforcement and put the kibosh on the whole cocaine trafficking industry at the time in Miami.

Billy (00:17:23):

So, honestly, Alfred love that idea. And for about the next two days or so, we worked on it under that model. This is what we’re going to do. Cocaine Cowboys is going to be four hours long. And then, Alfred called back. And he said, “Listen, it’s hard enough to go out into the world in 2004, 2005, and almost 2006, and sell one indie feature documentary.” He said, “We can’t go out and invent a business model that didn’t exist. You’re either making a one-off doc, or you were making like American Greed. It’d be a 1,000 episodes, a 1,000 hours.” Right?

Billy (00:18:00):

So, the only thing in between was Ken Burns, but he was a genre unto himself. None of us could go out and pitch 10 hours on anything like he could. So, I was like, “Listen, let’s just cut the best feature doc that we can. And if people see it, and they like it, and they’re interested in this, maybe we’ll have an opportunity to make more of them.”

Billy (00:18:21):

And so, we very begrudgingly went back in, cut out a lot of material that I felt was as good if not better than anything that made the final cut, and just had to make some hard decisions. And what’s interesting, of course, is that, if you… What’s interesting about that, is that when we were making the Kings of Miami and started work on it, and started doing these interviews, once again, we accumulated so much material that we could not contain it in a one-off feature documentary.

Billy (00:18:52):

And so, what the hell are we going to do? We know the business model doesn’t exist to do this as some sort of like documentary series who’s ever heard of such a stupid thing, right? And then, all of a sudden, we’d worked on this for so long, that the one-two punch of the Jinx on HBO, and making a murderer on Netflix, invented the business model essentially, that we needed to be able to tell the story and the vessel was there, and we’re able to go out finally, and pitch it as a six-part documentary series.

Dan (00:19:22):

Nice. So, dude, I want to get a little as deep in the weeds of storytelling and like the beats and stuff as you would like, but I think it’s interesting. I think for a lot of younger filmmakers, who are probably some of you guys listening to this. At first, obviously, this is an awesome opportunity, and it’s awesome that it changes, that it catches up.

Dan (00:19:45):

But at first, I think a lot of young folks would think that’s like, “Oh, that’s easy. I just take my four-hour or my six-hour movie, and I just chop it into six pieces.” But, you guys haven’t… And I want to hear a little bit. I mean, obviously, you guys are amazing, you have the chops for it, but you hadn’t done like, arching, like six episodes.

Dan (00:20:07):

I mean, I know it’s not really, I should say episodic in a way. I know it’s not the X-Files. We’re not getting to the Big Bad, or the Cliffhanger next week per se, but there’s some little bit difference. Can you talk about your approach of story, and then figuring out of like, “Wait, we have to have these beats within each episode to some degree?”

Billy (00:20:28):

Yeah, we’ve only done one documentary series prior to this, The Tanning of America, One Nation under Hip-Hop. It was one of the last we each one rock docs many years ago. And that’s the only experience we really had with crafting those buttons, and then those cliffhangers. And I think it is a lot like scripted television or narrative work where you have to create those moments. I mean, I never take for granted the audience’s time.

Billy (00:20:57):

They are choosing to spend some period of their lives with us. And when you’re doing true crime, it’s a work of investigative journalism. Absolutely, we have an obligation to transmit facts and vetted information to our audience. We’re also creating a piece of popular entertainment. And, something that if you’re going to take up six hours, because they’re about 45, 50 minutes these episodes. But you’re going to take up that much time of your audience’s life.

Billy (00:21:26):

You better bring it and you better make it engaging, and you better make it entertaining. And so, and you better ensure that you leave them wanting more, that at the end of an episode, you ensure that they’re going to come back and either binge or continue watching the episode.

Billy (00:21:44):

So, we edited this for a long time. And we had, for a while, the episodes were running closer to 60 minutes. And then, we started to scale them back because it was a little bit too long. You don’t want to try anyone’s patience, you want to… Like I said, leave them wanting more.

Billy (00:22:01):

So, we started to craft the episodes a little bit more efficiently. And what I wanted to do was, I wanted to create a bingeable experience, but I also wanted to create an opportunity for the audience. If they wanted to break it up, because a lot of people do, they just don’t have the time, you get tired, to be able to break it up in a reasonable way.

Billy (00:22:22):

So, we actually, had an arc within an episode, we had an arc every two episodes, we had an arc all six overall six episodes. Meaning, so I tell people, if I recommend that if you can’t binge it for whatever reason, or you don’t want to binge it, some people like savoring these things when they’re enjoying them. Because once they’re over, they’re done.

Billy (00:22:43):

So, people are watching them again, I’m hearing from people who already seen it, two, three, four, five times already. But basically, what I recommend is treating it as a trilogy of feature documentaries. So, watching episodes one and two, which have their own internal arc, three and four, and five and six, the classic beginning, middle and end. It’s a classic trilogy in that way.

Billy (00:23:04):

And so, we had to be cognizant of that when we were crafting this together. And listen, sometimes, it was a bit hit or miss with the cliffhangers or with the buttons, those last… When you’re making a documentary, you’re doing interviews, so I do long interviews. I do a lot of interviews.

Billy (00:23:20):

And so, you’re constantly looking for what I call the web y’all call, the last line. What is going to be that last line that just defines the piece or brings it in for a landing or is that last beat that you want to leave your audience with. So, I’m constantly in search of that.

Billy (00:23:39):

And you’ll be in an interview that goes on for hours. And you’ll get a sense of when you do this long enough, what’s going to make the cut, what’s not going to make the cut? You’re like, “Oh, shit, that was amazing, or that’s not going to… That’ll never be.” We’ll never take the time to go down that path. Unfortunately, maybe it’ll be a good deleted scene. But here, we needed six of those.

Billy (00:24:04):

So, we need six last lines. We need six buttons, six moments that are going to make the audience go, “Oh, shit.” And hopefully, allow them… Hopefully, let the next episode roll over. Skip the credits and move on. So, it makes it… I mean, it’s six times more challenging in that way.

Billy (00:24:25):

Fortunately, this story, I think, I say the job of a filmmaker or really any journalist or storytellers find a good story and don’t fuck it up. That’s the… Or the PG version would find it a good story, and then tell it well. And so, I think we found a really good story here. And so, we just had to not screw it up. We had to stay out of its way. We had to serve the story, aesthetically and in the edit. And fortunately, we have a lot of holy shit moments, I think. And people have noticed like, throughout the pacing.

Dan (00:24:53):

Your pacing is like [inaudible 00:24:56] can always be. Your pacing is fucking outstanding, man. It’s very… In this series, all of your stuff is, it has that sort of like, not frantic that you’re out of control, but you get going. It’s much more, like, I’m a big punk rock guy. And so, I would probably say, it’s much more… It’s Johnny Ramone, not Jimmy Page, or Jimmy Hendrix, or jazz. It’s not…

Dan (00:25:26):

Because this first episode, dude, I was waiting to see how long and I’m like, “Oh, we’re just going right into it. Okay.” There’s just no… It’s like a 10-second cold open and then it goes into like, “We’re into the boat race.” And it’s like, “Okay, cool, dude, we’re going.” But, is that is a bit of a Miami thing? Is that a bit of your creative team that you’re just kind of that?

Billy (00:25:53):

Sure. Please remind me, I want to tell you something about the boat race cold open.

Dan (00:25:57):

Okay.

Billy (00:25:57):

I’ll come back to that because I want to answer…

Dan (00:25:58):

Sure, sure.

Billy (00:25:59):

… this question, for these are all really good questions. I don’t get to talk… A lot of it when I do these… When I’m doing press and promoting the thing, we talk a lot about the story in the cabinet. I don’t get to talk a lot of behind-the-scenes, kind of filmmaking shit. Not a lot of shop talk. So, this is fun. Thank you for that.

Billy (00:26:16):

So, I’m pacing. Like I said, we serve the story. I want to come up with an aesthetic that makes sense in the world of the story, Miami, 1980s, cocaine. The first documentary, six. I think the average feature has about 1,500 cuts in it. The first Cocaine Cowboys documentary has about 5,000 in its two-hour running time, and everything’s just sort of a little bit off. And you’re kind of like, while you’re still processing sound bites, you’re already like four or five, six sound bites later in the show.

Billy (00:26:50):

So, it lends itself to repeated viewings or people rewinding. Someone said something very funny because it usually with these document miniseries, I’m fast forwarding through it with. With this one, I was rewinding because I thought I missed something, or I wanted to come back and make sure I heard something straight or it was so batshit, I needed to hear it again.

Billy (00:27:06):

And so, and then we fade to white, instead of fading to black. We had sort of, the color scheme is kind of pastels. And in this one, it’s glass bricks, and it’s just like, that’s the style. And so, we do the same thing with the music. So, here’s an interesting point that I always thinking about, our best work, our best documentaries are musicals, in my opinion, because it’s funny, you brought up the punk rock kind of comparison there.

Billy (00:27:39):

Because when they start to sing to me in production, while I’m sitting in an interview, and I’m humming the score in my head, a score that doesn’t exist, of course, but when it starts to sing for me, it gives you a sense of pace and style. And it all starts to gel in my head. And our best work are musicals

Billy (00:28:05):

One night, a friend of mine, one of my best friends in the world, he’s blind. And one night, I remember we were driving back to his place, and I was dropping him off. And I had my iPod plugged in. This is years ago. And the soundtrack or the score for our 30 for 30, The U, came on.

Billy (00:28:23):

And so, he’s like, “Oh.” I remember, he goes like, “I think, this is pretty cool.” And so, we wind up sitting in his driveway for over an hour, listening to the entire soundtrack in order in chronological order, while I described to him what happens scene for scene and pod for pod in the documentary. And we both look back on that very fondly, and it’s just a testament to kind of I think, like I said, when our shit works, it sings. When it works, it’s a musical.

Billy (00:28:52):

When I talked to Carlos Alvarez, our composer for the Kings of Miami, I said, “Listen.” I said, “I want all of this… A lot.” We definitely kind of throwback to Jan Hammer, and that synthy Miami like 80s noir style, but I said, “Every cue in this score, whether it’s an action que, a Ammoudi kind of dialogue, background cue, everything needs to be steeped in Afro-Cuban beats, and salsa music to just… It needs to all be the whole thing.”

Billy (00:29:26):

And even in our licensed music and our covers and our original theme. Everything had to be unapologetically Miami. And this was my goal. I said, “I want…” That’s what I told him. I want people sitting in bed, there’s their feet at the end of the bed. Sitting in bed, watching this documentary with their foot tapping throughout all six episodes, just kind of keeping the tempo keeping the rhythm. And that was the goal with this.

Dan (00:29:53):

Dude, there definitely were moments where I’m waiting I’m like, “Oh, Tubbs and Crockett are coming around the corner any minute from this time.” I mean, it modernized, but it had those sunsuit. I’m glad. I wanted to talk…

Billy (00:30:04):

Good segue there. Let me just tell you very quickly.

Dan (00:30:06):

Yeah.

Billy (00:30:06):

So, Michael Mann, Miami Vice feature 2007 with Jamie Foxx… Colin Farrell, I’m sorry, of course, Tubbs and Crockett. So, one of the guys actually, in Cocaine Cowboys, the Kings of Miami, who raced boats was a world champion offshore powerboat racer, was a pilot flew planes and smuggled. I mean, tons of cocaine literally, tons of cocaine in the United States.

Billy (00:30:38):

When he got out of prison, he worked on that movie, on that Miami Vice movie, helping with the boats and racing the boats, driving them building them, et cetera. So, what’s interesting about it is that, we didn’t discover this until a short time later that the movie, the original cut of the movie opened with this extended, elaborate, expensive, spectacular offshore powerboat race in Miami Beach.

Dan (00:31:02):

No way.

Billy (00:31:03):

And we didn’t know this until the Director’s Cut came out on home video later. And it was cut out for the theatrical release. I don’t know why… I don’t… I mean, it immediately sets the tone in the most Miami Vice possible way. And with this, for as long as… For as many permutations and edits and reedits through the years of this episode one, always opened with that, what I called an action scene, a boat race called open.

Billy (00:31:36):

It was a little longer at some point. We definitely crafted and honed it down, but I wanted to correct Michael Mann’s mistake in a way. I want it… I’m like, “He should have opened it with the boat race.” We were just like dropped right into Miami Vice with that. And then, somehow, we weren’t anymore with that cut. And so, that was always… The vision was to open with this boat race which immediately transported you back to the Florida Keys and South Florida of the mid 1980s.

Dan (00:32:07):

No, dude, that’s awesome. I had no idea about that Miami Vice cut. I want to go back to… I want to unpack some music stuff, and it’s interesting. So, The U is the first place that I found first piece of your work that I found. And I know at the time, it was like the highest rated most watched 30 for 30. I loved even though I grew up in Denver, I loved Miami growing up, like I love you…

Dan (00:32:35):

I don’t know if it’s because like, I’m a huge pro wrestling fan. I still to this day. And those classic hurricane teams of the mid 80s were so, so flamboyant, so much energy. And I don’t know if that’s where the connection was. But obviously, one of the first things that jumps out at you when you watch The U is, original music by Luther Campbell from Two Live Crew, who’s super iconic with Miami.

Dan (00:33:04):

This new piece, main title by put Pitbull, I believe, talk about your approach to not just going and getting. I mean, obviously, Two Live Crew would have some of its own issues, but not just going and get a catalogue music and licensing with that, but some custom scoring. I think, you did… He also, maybe, if I was reading right, work with Moby on one of your films.

Billy (00:33:32):

Moby was interviewed. He was interviewed in one of our films.

Dan (00:33:35):

Okay, okay.

Billy (00:33:35):

Yeah.

Dan (00:33:36):

Talk about your kind of approach because I do… I think that that’s really interesting, how you’re hitting up some of those artists.

Billy (00:33:45):

I mean, I just think it’s it… Like I said, we’re here to serve the story. That’s what we do. And I think, even though Netflix allows you to skip them, I think main titles are very important. There’ll be overture of the peace. And when they’re done well, I watched them every single time. I never skipped them. It’s part of the flow of a show. You get your cold open, you get your main titles, and you start into your story.

Billy (00:34:09):

It’s just, to me, we build it that way. We build it to flow that way. And so, I wanted to set a tone and I wanted to be honest, too, to not have it be the stereotypical kind of true crime main titles that I think we’ve all are all tired of and all kind of lulled into skip intro.

Dan (00:34:32):

Yeah.

Billy (00:34:34):

The kind of synth droning, acoustic guitar plucking, breathy, angsty vocals. I wanted something unapologetically Miami, and I wanted something that was going to bring you right into the world of the show and give you a sense of time in place. And I think that that’s part of… That’s very much a part of storytelling. And sometimes, with license…

Billy (00:34:58):

So, that was an original Pitbull song that we have for the opening credits. But, even with the licensed songs, you have the same… There’s the Bee Gees, lived in Miami for since the 70s. You have Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.

Dan (00:35:15):

Yeah.

Billy (00:35:15):

Of course, uniquely Miami. You have a Cuba by the Gibson Brothers. You have Somos Familia, a cover of Sister Sledge, We Are Family by Charanga 76 back from 1979. Before, I believe that band was deported to Colombia over drugs, if I’m not mistaken. All that cocaine disco era stuff, obviously, Because Miami.

Billy (00:35:35):

But, so I think, even with the license stuff… And we had some fun actually, with the license stuff. I’ll give you an example. We could not afford to license the Bee Gees track of You Should Be Sancing. We just couldn’t afford it. So, but, what we could afford, like the publishing of it.

Billy (00:35:53):

And so, we went out, and I commissioned a Spanish language cover, which had never been, like professionally recorded and released before a Spanish language cover of You Should Be Dancing by the Bee Gees that we use in the documentary.

Billy (00:36:09):

We did a Spanglish, not Spanish but Spanglish cover of Glenn Frey’s, The Heat Is On as well. My favorite lyric in that is, “Oh woo oh ho, idols mio,” which is just sort of like classic Miami kind of Spanglish.

Dan (00:36:28):

Dude, I think, yeah, music is such an underrated and I like that you said a couple times the concept about serving the story. And I know this sounds super obvious, but we’ve all kind of been in the trench at one point, especially when you’re young. It is to stop and think, unless you’re doing juxtaposition, you’re like, “Hey, I’m doing a Miami drug true-crime,” like Americana is maybe not how I want to open my show. Wilco probably, doesn’t fit here. Even though, I really liked those guys. That’s probably not a way to go.

Billy (00:37:01):

My composer’s on The U, I’ve said. I can’t use this an example was the first time I really got really mettlesome on the scoring. I said, what we need here is, we need to invent a new genre. We need a hybrid of kind of classic Americana. John Williams, Copeland, NFL films music, right?

Dan (00:37:24):

Yeah.

Billy (00:37:24):

But, all filtered through the 808, that synth drum beat box that defined Miami bass and music of that era, the 1980s when the Miami Hurricanes play. So, everything had to be filtered through… Even we had a full orchestra playing, everything was chopped up and remixed and a beat, the 808 Beat added to it.

Billy (00:37:48):

And it was very similar here. I think Carlos Alvarez, our composer on the Kings of Miami, in a way invented a genre of music, which is salsa dramatic film scoring. And I know there are precious few cues in that milieu because when we were editing and looking for temp track, like there wasn’t like…

Dan (00:38:04):

Right.

Billy (00:38:05):

The music didn’t exist that was appropriate for this. So, we really had to go out and invent it.

Dan (00:38:10):

Nice. Just curious, do you guys use… Do you do the formalized film show Bible type thing? Or is it just you’ve worked with a lot of your team, your collaborators now, you just do it verbally that you’re like, because that was a great thing that you just said. That you’re like, “Look, hey, man, everything on The U, sonically, everything has to go through this filter of X.”

Billy (00:38:34):

Yeah.

Dan (00:38:34):

I mean, just curious, is that just kind of the shorthand between everybody? Do you go as much to formalize and put it down on paper before you get going?

Billy (00:38:44):

Yeah, these days, we don’t kind of do. We don’t necessarily do the style book anymore. We don’t necessarily do the PDF. Sometimes, we do. I just try best to communicate the vision to everyone. So, there’s consistency. And we are literally and figuratively on the same page.

Billy (00:39:01):

And so, the cinematographer, the editor, the composer, everybody, and everybody in between and all around is in service of the same story and the same vision. And so, now, it’s a little bit more as you put it, a shorthand. We’ve been doing this for 20 years now.

Billy (00:39:23):

So, now, we understand going in, what it is that I want. And believe me, it’s extremely collaborative. I mean, very often, we don’t end up with necessarily the vision we started with, sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse. But we are all working together, ultimately, for the same goal. And I’m very collaborative that way.

Billy (00:39:45):

I know there’s some people who, if it’s not my idea, it’s a bad idea. I don’t work that way because as the director, I get credit for all the ideas. I get the blame if it’s bad, I get the credit if it’s good. So, if I get a good note from an executive or a good note from like an editor, I’m like, “What do I care?” I’m like, “If it’s good, and it’s going to make the project better, I’m the guy that gets the credit for that.”

Dan (00:40:09):

Right.

Billy (00:40:09):

So, I’m not too proud to take notes and to do whatever it takes to make the show better.

Dan (00:40:17):

So, you mentioned… I’m glad you made mention of a cinematographer, because I just wanted to kind of ask, it looks like you’ve worked with like a few different folks. I’m curious what you kind of look for in selecting or collab-ing with a cinematographer?

Billy (00:40:33):

This is funny, because of course, on Kings of Miami, we shot this like, over 12 years. So, and I was kind of married to the look I came up with back when I was like, in my 20s, and whenever the hell out. I obviously, would have shot it very differently if I started today. And you can probably also notice, with your eye, a variety of formats, shall we say, and quality because the technology obviously, was advancing in real time.

Billy (00:41:02):

We had a new camera on virtually, every interview that we shot. But I was very married to that 80s glass brick aesthetic. I thought that that was fun and I thought that it spoke to the story we’re trying to tell, and the era. But obviously, I would have done it differently. And as you work over the course of years, occasionally, your shooters are not going to be available, or they’re going to… Some of them moved to New York and working all the time there, not in Miami.

Billy (00:41:30):

And so, yeah, so I went through quite a few cinematographers and DPs. I work with… I mean, there’s overlap, of course, I work with a lot of the same people when available over and over again, or when I’m in New York, let’s say, or LA or Miami. So, what I look for is, I mean, listen, you want someone who’s on the same page as you, you want to look for someone who has the skill set that I don’t have.

Billy (00:41:58):

I went to [inaudible 00:42:01] School, which means, to borrow a line from Vincent Price in Otto Preminger’s Laura, “I know a little about everything, but not a lot about anything.” And so, and this is a weird business that we’re in the people who spend some time on a set, and they think they can do any job, “Oh, I could do that. I could do that.” But these are craftspeople. These are trades people. These are people who are professionals and who are artists, but who hone a craft and are experienced that.

Billy (00:42:28):

So, I look for someone who is not necessarily a jack or jill-of-all-trades, but someone who has focused on cinematography. Everybody does kind of everything now, right? Everybody directs, everybody does color, everybody does your edits. But I look for someone who… They might be able to do those other things. That’s cool, if they’re multifaceted or multitalented, but I look for someone who has studied, and honed and practice the craft of cinematography, so that I don’t have to worry about it constantly.

Billy (00:43:01):

I know the shot is going to be in focus. I know, it’s going to be well-composed. I’m looking at a monitor, of course, but I’m also interviewing. So, I need to know that I have someone that I can rely on, they’re a partner. They’re very much a partner.

Dan (00:43:14):

Yeah.

Billy (00:43:14):

They’re not a collaborator, they are a partner. And I need to know that they’re doing their job.

Dan (00:43:20):

So, this is a super in the weeds question. But I noticed that I thought was really cool and I think, within the first two or three episodes. So, you’ve got the classic which makes me feel like the 80s Mall is just what it makes me feel like the little glass bricks, which is awesome.

Dan (00:43:40):

You’ve got wides and tights of most of your folks. However, you’re law enforcement, and I can’t remember the character or your character, I can’t remember the guy’s name and in the first… So, he maybe has like a little bit of… Maybe, a little bit of a lip list or just like a little bit of an interesting delivery.

Dan (00:44:03):

The bricks behind him are red. It’s the same kind, but they’re red and black. And they’re almost always shot. He’s always shot like this, almost, like in almost in juxtapose of, just wondering of its like conscious, more necessity, like…

Billy (00:44:23):

Yeah, I mean, over the course of 12 years, things… Limitations breed creativity, so you have to get… When it started out, I’ll tell you what the vision was initially.

Dan (00:44:34):

Yeah, yeah.

Billy (00:44:35):

When it started out, the Cocaine Cowboys or Cowgirls, were going to have a white backdrop through the glass bricks. The law enforcement was going to have a black backdrop to the glass bricks. Attorneys, journalists, people who are neutral or in the middle, we’re going to have a more gray scales backdrop.

Billy (00:45:00):

The government was going to be framed left, the bad guy, so to speak, or the alleged criminals were going to be framed right. Neutral parties, like attorneys and journalists, or people who are sort of in between, we’re going to be a center punched. And some of them had dollies, but some of them I didn’t have focus pullers. So, we got rid of the dolly, and some of them, we just kind of did some fun pop zooms on.

Billy (00:45:29):

Again, over the course of that period of time, things evolve and to be fair, devolve on occasion. And so, sometimes, it’s two steps, one step forward, two steps back. We stayed creative. So, I don’t think that original vision is necessarily entirely consistent throughout, but we wanted the effect was really to place people who would have been on opposite sides of the case to be on opposite sides of the frame, so that when we intercut them, it would appear as though they were arguing with each other, so to speak. So, that was the conscious effort there. I think with some, mostly good but some mixed results.

Dan (00:46:09):

So, cool because we’ll use framing to transition to the next film I want to talk about a little bit. This film you went with like a lot of center frame, but I actually, really want to talk about like, dude, so you’ve literally ruined I think, reenactment for the rest of anybody making docs because I don’t know where you go from. I got to hear the origin. I’m sure you’ve done it on some other podcasts or article. But…

Billy (00:46:37):

Yeah.

Dan (00:46:37):

… you in Screwball, the documentary on just the madness on… I watched again last night for like the fourth time before jumping on here.

Billy (00:46:46):

Oh, thank you.

Dan (00:46:47):

The Mitchell Report and baseball and steroids and Arod and Manny, using child actors doing reenactment’s, I mean, where did that come from? How did that even get signed off? I’m just, I’m fascinated.

Billy (00:47:05):

It’s the upside of doing an indie doc on occasion is, nobody has to sign off on your crazy ideas like that. So, to be fair, I think the idea was… I think the seed of it was Spike Jonze’s music video for Biggie, Sky’s The Limit. Again, when I say limitations breed creativity, Biggie had been murdered, and Spike Jonzes was faced with the task of shooting a music video for his new single.

Billy (00:47:36):

And he did it in the classic Big Boy Records 90s idiom, with the hot tubs and the Mercedes and the Versace. But he did it with 8-year-old kids. There was a baby Biggie and a baby puffy and a baby Busta Rhymes and like a baby Little Kim and lip synching the vocals. But again, entirely blinged out and dressed in Versace and coming out of a Mercedes and just exactly as you would expect a video to be, except they were little kids. I always loved that.

Billy (00:48:10):

It had a lot of influence on me. Obviously, stuck in my head. And then, about 10-ish years ago, I wanted to make a Scientology documentary. This is before anybody had made a Scientology documentary, buyers were risk averse, because the church was quite litigious. This is before Alex give me an HBO, before A&E and Leah Remini.

Billy (00:48:39):

And so, nobody wanted to touch this. But I thought I had a clever workaround, so to speak in this gimmick. Because there was a musical off Broadway that I saw in New York. That was a parody of Scientology, but hadn’t been touched, hadn’t been sued, hadn’t gotten any legal letters or anything. The show was called A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant.

Billy (00:49:06):

And what it was, it was a show performed entirely by elementary school children in the style of a Christmas pageant, but instead of the story of Jesus, it was the story of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. It had a brilliant score, and it was done almost straight face with like, construction paper, costumes, and sets. And you’re kind of very makeshift.

Billy (00:49:34):

And when you can see like, why we’re sitting there laughing but you could also see envision Scientologists sitting there beaming proudly at it. It was just that kind of sincere, I guess, earnest. And so, I went to one of the creators in New York, this is a long time ago and I said, “Listen, I would love to… If you guys are interested in basically, optioned the rights to your musical and use it as the framing device for a documentary.”

Billy (00:50:00):

Meaning, we would do interviews, we would do the investigative journalism, we would do classic archive and all the doc tropes, but then we would have these interstitials of these performances by children doing these musical numbers from this show. And needless to say, nobody wanted to make that.

Dan (00:50:24):

I’m shocked. It’s shocking.

Billy (00:50:26):

It’s one that got away, Dan. So, I never got a chance to make that. But again, the idea kicking around in the back of my head. The problem is, this is not a gimmick you can employ for just any story. I don’t think Cocaine Cal babies would be a real hit.

Billy (00:50:41):

So, we are working on Screwball, which was always called Screwball. I think that’s important. We always wanted it tonally to be a farce, to be kind of like Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, Coen Brothers, and tale of Florida Fuckery. And so…

Dan (00:50:57):

I mean, it’s bananas, dude. And so, even again, watching it last night, and I grew up with baseball guy, I played a little baseball in college and just even I’m like, “Wait, MLB developed a shakedown division? What is happening?” This is so crazy.

Billy (00:51:15):

We had spoiler alert, sports docs, template wise, a formula wise are pretty easy. You interview the sports people, they talk about the sports and you put the sports footage on top of them and intercut, right?

Dan (00:51:31):

[inaudible 00:51:31] by them.

Billy (00:51:31):

Right. So, that’s what it is. So, easier said than done, but that’s basic. Those are the… That’s the basics. That’s the template. So, with Screwball, most of this crazy shit happened in the locker room, in a strip mall, in hotels, with this fake doctor administering these steroids to Arod and these various other major league baseball players.

Billy (00:51:52):

And so, there is no bureau for that. There is no archive footage for that. There’s no existing stuff. So, what are we going to see while these talking heads are telling us this story? And so, we did an interview with Tony Bosch, who was the fake doctor, fake steroid doctor or fake doctor administering these steroids. And then, Porter Fisher his mortal enemy, who was the whistleblower that turned over his records to the Miami New Times that blew this whole thing up, round up with Arod getting the longest and most expensive suspension in the history of the game.

Billy (00:52:20):

So, we interviewed both of these guys. We had access to both, to the adversaries here. Literally, just like, it’s the classic Chris Nolan, what is it? Unstoppable force and immovable object. So, these two guys, so good television. But, so we did a string out, a radio cut of these guys telling… Just jump cut our way through of these guys telling you straight. I feel like I only used an eight cam Center Punch with an Interrotron.

Billy (00:52:53):

So, eyes down the barrel for all of those. So, we had this string out, this radio type with them going back and forth. It’s hilarious, but it’s just jump cutting, cut, cut of these talking heads. So, what are we going to do? So, I’m watching this and I realized that both of them had the same storytelling style. It was like, reading a script actually.

Billy (00:53:16):

They told story in dialogue. I walked in to Tony’s office, interior, day, Tony’s office, interior Tony’s… I went up to his desk, and I said, “I want my money.” And Tony said, “I don’t have your money.” And I said, “You better get my money.” And he said, “Well, what the hell are you going to do about it?” And I said, “I’m going to jump across that desk…” And that Tony was exactly the same way. And I’m like, “Oh, we can drunk history this.” That was the light bulb that went off in my head.

Billy (00:53:50):

But, I additionally conflated that old seed germinating in the back of my mind, but we’ll do it with 8-year-old kids, and we’ll do it with facial hair and police uniforms and white lab coats and a pinstripe sprayer, and we’ll do it on location. In fact, many of the actual locations that the story takes place in live nightclub in the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. The sports of Bar and Grill in South Miami, the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne.

Billy (00:54:20):

And we just went out to… What’s funny about that is, here we are on location all over Miami with these kids with the 8-year-old kids with facial hair and police uniforms. And nobody looked twice at us in Miami. It just seemed like a normal, normal thing.

Dan (00:54:36):

It was a Tuesday in Miami. Yeah, I mean, dude, there are shit… I’m laughing that I shouldn’t be laughing at, but I’m like an 8-year-old with the syringe shooting like, Rack Focus, he’s out, the syringe is in, just hilarious.

Billy (00:54:49):

But you have to remember, though. All of the adults in this story acted like children which I think is an insult to children because all the kids I worked with on this show were unprofessionals and far more mature than any of these adults in the story, but, so there was that kind of subtext as well. And then, I think spoiler alert, it’s now streaming Screwball, by the way on Netflix.

Billy (00:55:08):

But if there was victims in this, it was at the risk of being trader or cheesy, the children. And it was the children who Tony Bosch was inappropriately treating. This unlicensed doctor filling them with God knows what. Mind you, their parents were bringing them there to get an edge in… But nonetheless, it was totally a crime for which he rightfully, served four years in federal prison.

Billy (00:55:37):

But, also the children who idolize these baseball players. And when we have scandal after scandal after scandal, I felt that this was… I had a Q&A actually, with Bryan Blanco, who was about 9 or 10 years old at that time, who plays Tony Bosch in it. And someone had asked about, like the takeaway, or the moral of the story. And I started talking about what I call the new American values, that I think we had a real dark shift over the last four years in terms of how we teach our children to behave and what fair play is, sort of gone was the golden rule of, “Do unto others as you’d have them done to you.”

Billy (00:56:16):

And in was this new idea of looking out for number one for me in mind. And Bryan chimed in and say, “The message I got was, you don’t get anywhere with honesty and integrity, but you lie, cheat and steal to get ahead. And that’s how you become successful.” That’s how you two kids can become the highest paid baseball player in history. That’s how you kids could become the commissioner of Major League Baseball. That’s how you too, could become the president of the United States.

Billy (00:56:50):

And it’s one thing coming from me, it’s another thing coming from this 9-year-old kid and there was just like, dark moment in that Q&A or the wind just kind of… The air got sucked out of the room where these kids like, “Oh, I know, I know. I’ll tell you the lesson I learned, lie, cheat and steal to get ahead.” And that’s what I call the new American values. I think the Wall Street Journal had a great headline about Screwball. It said something like, the baseball movie that explains America.

Dan (00:57:18):

Yeah, dude. I mean, I think about who you don’t hear about very much is… Wasn’t it the guy that was the FedEx worker that Ryan Braun just buried when he first got… And I’m probably, misremembering, I can’t remember if that guy lost his job, but there was like a regular Joe, just like doing his job that when Braun originally was like, this is, “Yes, this isn’t me. I didn’t do this.” And then, that got thrown way under the bus.

Billy (00:57:53):

And I feel like, maybe a lab worker. I think he accused him of antisemitism.

Dan (00:57:55):

Yeah.

Billy (00:57:56):

It was… Listen, everybody was throwing people under the bus rather than taking personal responsibility. Arod spent tens of millions of dollars buying stolen documents and trying to buy people’s loyalty, maybe even kind of subtly intimidating people. You seen things like Major League Baseball. I mean, there’s had this whole squad, this whole like Keystone Cup squad of guys running around town with looks like slush fund money, with like bags full of cash giving it to convicted felons in bags and diners.

Billy (00:58:32):

I don’t think they were 1099ing any of those people. I mean, we have a former law enforcement in the documentary who was working at the Florida Health Department at that time, who basically said that Major League Baseball was committing crimes down here in Florida, and nobody did the first thing about it.

Dan (00:58:48):

Dude, to the reenactment scenes involving that last line of stuff where they go and he’s drinking vodka Kool-Aid out of his plastic cup. And the kids got like the red circle around his mouth. And also, the Red Hulk on the cover, and then when they steal the documents out of his car while he’s in the tanning salon, those kids were amazing that you work with.

Billy (00:59:17):

Amazing.

Dan (00:59:18):

They were so…

Billy (00:59:19):

The kids were amazing as was The Art Department. I mean, The Art direction was… And I was like real picky about getting the details right, because we’re doing this like absurd thing. It’s so absurd. To me, it felt like we just had to be spotting or we need the goggles from the tanning salon and we need the raccoon eyes from…

Dan (00:59:40):

Eyes, yeah.

Billy (00:59:41):

And we needed… I mean, they even got like the safari wall covering for the… When we were [inaudible 00:59:47] the tanning salon. We were very, very specific. The only place I strayed was with the pinstripes. I put… The Yankees don’t have the player’s names on the backs and I did that for kind of like clarity and marketing.

Billy (01:00:03):

I didn’t know how well this was going to play or how. So, to a certain extent, I was confident, but I like, there I had a moment of doubt where I was like, “Ah, can we get away with it.” We knew all the kid looks exactly like Arod. It’s crazy.

Dan (01:00:16):

Unbelievable.

Billy (01:00:16):

And when he watched, we show up to do the baseball B roll of him batting at the baseball field. And the kid, I was really busy with a shoot. We had shot all this in like less than 10 days. And the kid had watched and studied Arod swing on YouTube.

Dan (01:00:34):

Wow.

Billy (01:00:34):

And he came in and he mimicked Arod swing. I didn’t even tell him to do that, I wish I’d had. But, the kid was just… These kids were just like pros. They were just like, on the ball. And it was amazing. And he looked… So, we audition two kids, ultimately, it came down to two kids for Arod.

Billy (01:00:50):

One of whom… And I’ll tell you, gave a better audition than the other kid. But, you just never know. And so, we’re like, it all came down to the eyes because one kid had dark eyes and one kid had light eyes.

Dan (01:01:02):

Okay.

Billy (01:01:03):

And Alfred Spellman, my producing partner who’s a degenerate baseball fan. He’s like, Arod, the light eyes, he’s like, “That’s what’s going to make the connection. That’s what’s going to…” And I was like, “You’re right.” And so, we knew all that. We cast them both in different roles. But, the kid who played Arod turnout… I mean, again, you can have a good audition, you have a bad day, whatever. But, like he was brilliant, brilliant.

Dan (01:01:25):

So, fun too also that I guess, Drunk History/old school a bit of the like, and you’re right, application. They’re almost delivering it too fast, like the performance like that in it. But it really adds to that farcical element of it.

Billy (01:01:43):

Yeah. We had to make this all a lot. So, we would have… My editor and producing partner, David Cypkin, who also edited and executive produced Cocaine Cowboys, the Kings of Miami, we spit out, we had a dropbox for every scene. And then, he had to output every line with a three with three pops, three beeps before it. Like just you would ADR, but like the beep, beep, beep. And then, wherever the fourth beep would go, that’s where the actors would start talking.

Billy (01:02:10):

And so, we had every line every scene with the… Because we knew we need pick up some time or we need… So, he had to output everything. And we just had this dropbox with each of the scene numbers, and then the pickups and the entire scene. And then, the kids, we would have to coordinate camera moves with starting the dropbox link with the Bluetooth speakers with the beeps, with the kids. I mean, there was a lot of trial and error.

Billy (01:02:38):

I’m sure there was a better way we could have done it. I probably, should have consulted with the sound department on Drunk History because they do it every day beautifully, flawlessly. But this was a fun kind of, because it’d be like playback, camera, action or camera, playback, action. And then, we wouldn’t say action. We just let the kids start with the fourth beeps. It was Bedlam at times. But, the kids were very patient with us.

Dan (01:03:05):

Did you shoot them all? Did you kind of block that on be like, I mean, did you knock them all out in four days? Did you break them up over the course of the production?

Billy (01:03:12):

Oh, no, we need… Listen, we couldn’t afford to shoot any more than we absolutely needed. I mean, I’d say we used almost every shot that we shot from those reenactments, with the exception of some coverage where obviously, we would intercut between a dialogue scene, for example. But we needed more than a rough cut. We needed practically a lot time cut minus the reenactments.

Billy (01:03:39):

So, we were pretty far along in that edit and knew exactly what we needed. And ultimately, cut out two scenes to reenactments that we never script it and shot them, but that we had started to go down the road of scripting and storyboarding. And then, once we got into the budget, and the schedule realized we just couldn’t handle it.

Billy (01:03:57):

And so, we cut those anecdotes out of the doc. One of them was an actual car chase that took place in South Miami between all these guys. Hilarious car chase, and one of the characters Pete Carbone, who was like this really big dude, for some reason, drove a smart car. And so, and someone described him as looking like a gorilla, almost wearing a car as a shirt, with his head out of the sunroof, and his arms coming out of the windows kind of thing.

Billy (01:04:25):

So, we couldn’t afford to do a car chase, which really happened this car chase. And the last thing was the epilogue. So, in the epilogue, Tony Bosch is in federal prison, in a minimum security like camp, what they call it. Up I think in the panhandle in Florida or I think, Alabama actually, it was in Alabama, just over the state line, I think. And he was… This is what I call the producers ending.

Billy (01:04:53):

So, he’s in prison with Jesse Jackson Jr. who was teaching a political science and civics class. He was in with Jeffrey Skilling, I think from Enron, who was teaching business to the prisoners, and Tony Bosch, who was teaching health and fitness to the prisoners. And in fact, was back up to his old tricks again, writing out protocols for prisoners and guards based on whatever they can get from the commissary, vitamins and minerals and legal supplements. But, you want a weight loss program, here’s your protocol. You want a build muscle, here’s a diet and protocol for that.

Billy (01:05:33):

So, it was kind of like I said that… It’s like, the producers ending like, congratulations, you’re now on 75% of prisoners of love, et cetera. So, if you can just imagine these little kids in like the jumpsuits right, the prison federal, BOP issued jumpsuits in a prison scene, I thought would have been the perfect ending to this. As it is, I think it ended up. All right.

Dan (01:05:58):

Yeah, it did all right. We’ll start to wrap this out and get you back about your day.

Billy (01:06:04):

Thanks.

Dan (01:06:04):

Let’s go back to… Sorry, Kings of Miami, Cocaine Cowboys the docuseries, potential for season two?

Billy (01:06:16):

Right.

Dan (01:06:17):

I mean, is there even creatively, are you… How much more is hidden in that mind, man?

Billy (01:06:26):

There’s plenty in Miami. There’s certainly, plenty characters in the narco genre, certainly. So, yeah, I mean, there’s a lot more where this came from. I think, we can turn it around a little faster than 12 years as well. I think, we’ve worked into a rhythm now.

Dan (01:06:48):

I appreciate and I’m sure.

Billy (01:06:50):

Yeah. Listen, I don’t know. Here’s what I say. I say the measure of a successful filmmaker is not money, or critical acclaim or awards. It’s that you get to work again, that’s a successful filmmaker, and we serve the pleasure of the audience. And, I’m very grateful to you for having me beyond to be able to talk about the work and to promote the work because that’s how it happens, right?

Billy (01:07:17):

People learn about it, they watch it, and hopefully, they like it. And eventually, Netflix in the algorithms will tell us whether or not we get to make more of them. To paraphrase Gloria Estefan, the algorithms are going to get you and that’s, yeah.

Dan (01:07:36):

That’s a closer, dude. That’s a closer line.

Billy (01:07:39):

Sativa is good for puns, and I’m all out of sativa, obviously. So…

Dan (01:07:43):

That was great, dude. I’ve always going to do. Last question is just, did you enjoy now that you’re on the other side of it? I know you guys had done one other, but and doing this for Netflix, did you enjoy working in that format of episodic docuseries or limited docuseries versus just a 90-minute, two hours singular piece?

Billy (01:08:14):

Yes, is the short answer. I’ll definitely say, it posed unique challenges that I enjoyed. You’re 20 years into your career, you want some curveballs. It keeps things interesting, keeps things fun. I think, fortunately, we’re working with a team at Netflix that had so much experience. The docs team had so much experience doing this.

Billy (01:08:34):

So, they were able to help guide and shape us with really good notes and really good guidance. So, having that institutional knowledge at Netflix was incredibly helpful. But, yeah, I mean, listen, I’m definitely excited to do… We got a few feature docs that we’re working on right now. Definitely, excited to be able to do a few one offs before we dive back into the serialized world or to the miniseries world.

Billy (01:09:03):

But I would love to do it again. I thought it was really interesting. And I like the challenge of keeping the audience interested. Obviously, now that it’s come out 12 years later, we’re very excited and actually, very relieved and even more so, that people are responding to it and who get it. Some people just don’t… You do something, you mean well, you have a vision and it doesn’t always turn out the way you hope and that it doesn’t necessarily connect with an audience.

Billy (01:09:27):

It seems that this is connecting with people. And so, it was a successful experimenter foray into this kind of storytelling. So, in that regard, I definitely, I hope to do it again, got some confidence in me as a result of the reaction that we’re getting to this. And definitely, oh my, God. Netflix, everything says like season one, like you turn on the series, and it’s like, S1 E1, S1 E2.

Billy (01:09:56):

So, people are asking me like, “When Season two?” And I’m like, “Season two? What the fuck” Season two, what are you talking about? And although, I guess, there wasn’t going to be a season two of Tiger King until there was a season two of Tiger King, right?

Dan (01:10:10):

Right.

Billy (01:10:10):

I mean…

Dan (01:10:11):

Also, let me just gave both the Larry David face and delivery where if you’ve ever seen him tell the story famously, I think Jerry tells it but where like, he kept getting so stressed out. He’d be like, “Dude, they picked this up for 12 episodes. Oh, my God, another season, 12 more episodes? How am I going to write this?”

Billy (01:10:32):

Yeah, I remember when we were working on Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded, which was a wholesale reedit of the first documentary from scratch. It turned out being like two and a half hours long with over 60% of all new material and interviews and archive and animation and everything.

Billy (01:10:47):

And so, our internal name for it, we’re working. The temporary working title was Cocaine Cowboys, Colin. We’ve got hours of this shit. And the truth of the matter is, we really do, and it’s all good. Like I said, Netflix, I think it’s going to put out some deleted scenes. I’ve delivered about 15 minutes of deleted scenes to them for their YouTube channel. And all of those scenes are as good if not better than what made the final cut, in my opinion.

Billy (01:11:15):

And I realized, I remember David Cypkin, my editor and co-producer, one day on the first Cocaine Cowboys, his dad who’s pretty nonchalant but also real short attention span likes this channel surf constantly, right? Dave took the footage home, the raw footage or interviews on the first Cocaine Cowboys home, and was sitting there with the deck watching and he was logging the footage for the edit and shorthand.

Billy (01:11:45):

And if somebody went up to like, go get some food or something and hit pause and the interview. And his dad who was sitting on the couch behind him said, “No, no, just keep it going. Keep it.” And Dave marveled from the doorway as his dad just sat there on the couch watching raw interview footage.

Billy (01:12:03):

So, it’s like I said, if you find a good story, and you don’t screw it up, there’s just… And even on this show, I mean, there was very much an episode seven, episode eight of the Kings of Miami, let alone the season two. I mean, we cut out a lot of material. So, again, the algorithm is going to get you as Gloria Estefan would say.

Dan (01:12:22):

All right. We’ll hope it gets us. Folks, we’re going to wrap it up here. Let Billy Corben go. This has been awesome. Dude, thanks a ton. This has been super fun to have you on. Cocaine Cowboys, Kings of Miami, it’s on Netflix right now. Binge it, so that you can get to Screwball, if you haven’t seen it, and then you can just go backwards. You can just work backwards, two episodes of The U, and the Cocaine Cowboys feature doc trilogy, if you will.

Billy (01:12:46):

If you will, and I hope you will. And thanks, Dan, so much for having me.

Dan (01:12:50):

Absolutely. Take care, everybody. We’ll talk to you next time. A Hurrdat Media Production.