Wednesday, February 8, 2023

‘Grow Op’ Creator Matt Skerritt Talks Marijuana Going Legit

There isn’t a vertical the marijuana industry doesn’t touch. Any website includes some mention of marijuana coverage, whether it be tech, politics, entertainment, lifestyle, sports, you name it. All these issues come into play as we watch the marijuana industry grow up and become more a part of our daily lives.  But it doesn’t always happen so cleanly. Because as Matt Skerritt, a commercial filmmaker and the creator/director of IndieFlix’s original series Grow Op, tells me, “Anything that’s new goes through a period of adolescence.”

Of course, the difficulty of adolescence is that it’s messy and complicated. Grow Op, a mockumentary series following a once-illicit drug dealer Kevin trying to “live legit,” captures that sentiment. It dives into the problems the cannabis industry faces as more states legalize recreational use and our culture destigmatizes that usage. But how do you regulate such an unregulated product? How do dealers like Kevin make a living within the legalized marketplace? And is any of this still fun?

“It would be like if prostitution was suddenly legalized everywhere,” Skerritt jokes. “You’d have this fascinating series of questions.” But what makes this comedy series special is that as its story breaches outlandish territory, its characters remain grounded and real within that context. They, too, are trying to grow up and struggling to survive and all while making you laugh.

Grow Op calls IndieFlix home, but has become recently available on other platforms. Skerritt and I chatted to learn more about the series and what’s next for the cannabis industry in its current adolescence period.

How did this idea come about? Where’d the inspiration come from?
Well, me and a couple friends of mine had actually been approached to pursue developing a reality show about the cannabis industry a couple years ago. It was [a] new [thing] and it was going to be one of those kind of reality TV programs that were made inevitably. We were like, yeah it’s pretty cool. We know people. My best friend’s son was a pot dealer, like a real pot dealer. Let’s hook up with Jordan, get him involved, and he can set us up. We can find some people we can follow around. Let’s go shoot it, because I shoot for a living. I’m a commercial filmmaker, we have the bandwidth, we have the gear, we have the people.

As we got close, one day we were walking to meet this guy who wanted to fund it. We’re walking down the street, and laughing amongst ourselves. It occurred to us, we don’t even watch this shit, we don’t even watch reality programming. We don’t really like it. We don’t really like what it’s doing to society. We all work for a living, we don’t need that job. Maybe we were doing it for our egos, like, we’ll go be TV people or something. And we just thought that was hilarious. It seemed so silly.

One of us said, what we should be doing is making a show about us even considering doing a reality show about pot. Because it’s funny. And that was it. Of course as will happen with stoners, everybody else forgot about it, it’s that kind of idea, but I didn’t forget about it. So I started putting my own money in and making a show because it seemed like a fun thing to do. It was an opportunity for me as a commercial filmmaker—I’ve been doing other people’s work, making things for other people. For me, it was an opportunity to reconnect with the craft of it and have fun. We’re all a bunch of grownups who know what we’re doing and here’s an opportunity for us to act like children again.

What are some of the other projects you’ve worked on in the past?
When I came up in the industry, I came up through film and television production, just working as a crew member 25 years ago. Working as a truck driver, pulling focus, pulling cables for electric department, or doing set decorating for longform production. Seattle had a bustling business at the time, and it died because of Vancouver tax breaks and it moved up north.

My wife and I started our own production company doing anything we could. It was hard to make it work. So we moved back home to Los Angeles, where we had some contacts in the music business. Down there, I got into that, and it was a great fit for me. I was able to go do behind-the-scenes packages, EPKs, and concert videos, and things like that. I did some cool stuff. We did stuff with Madonna, Dixie Chicks….

So this project became a way to showcase what other content you can create?
What’s very fascinating is that, after we started making it, we realized a lot of people who said come shoot in our place, or said come over, I’ll show you my pot…it turns out that everybody in the industry is struggling mightily to find cool video opportunities for marketing. You can’t advertise through FCC regulated channels if you’re doing cannabis because the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t recognize that as a legal product.

That’s part of what I found fascinating about the web series. The characters match what the industry is facing writ large which is: how do we grow up?
Yes that’s exactly right. There’s an adolescence period that every person and everything in nature goes through. I remember my adolescence—vaguely. I remember my dad patting me on the back when I was about 20. I think I was in the Navy at the time. He patted me on the back and said, I’m just glad you survived your teens.

It’s kind of true for everyone in a way. I know all these kids who are friends with my kids—and my kids too—who, it’s amazing they make it through. Because they’re dumb. And they’re crazy. And they’re confused. I don’t think it’s any different for any new industry or any new economic policy or any new law or any new anything.

I think that’s true for this. And I thought it was a nice dovetail. It seems seamless into the story of human being going through their midlife crisis at the same time. Finding their own self during their extended adolescence. At the end of the day, that’s what the show ends up being. We put the little tagline, ‘learning to live legit.’ It’s really true. Be who you are, be what you are. Find yourself, land, put your feet on the ground, and be that. Don’t worry about how you look or what it sounds like. It’s okay.

Cannabis as an industry and as a subject is just creeping into narrative storytelling, visually speaking. HBO’s High Maintenance and you also have the Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg stories where it’s more of a present narrative device. Why do you think cannabis has become this backdrop for storytellers?
I think it’s the novelty of it. There’s a discovery underway. I’m a middle-aged man and I recently started smoking pot again because it’s legal. Not that I couldn’t get pot before it was legal, but knowing there was this—when electric cars came out, you’re kind of like, that’s cool, that’s a great idea, that will save the planet. I can put my money where my mouth is. I’m going to buy an electric car. There’s something new and novel about it, it becomes an instant story immediately.

How many states have legalized recreational pot now? Seven or 12, I don’t know what it is. [Ed. note: Eight states have legalized recreational use, while 12 have approved medicinal use.]

It’s still so brand new and there’s still all these questions if it’ll ever be re-classified by the federal government. There’s all these religious questions about it and there’s all these economic questions and the politics of state rights vs. the federal government vs. profit vs. morality. This is a huge, huge issue, actually.

A couple of miles into this new thing, there’s the obvious question: What happens to people who have been making their living in this industry or have been committed to this industry either as users or sellers or technical people or whatever and now it’s legal. What is the real implications for them as real human beings living their lives. As dads, as husbands, and wives. Are they entrepreneurs? Can they make the change? All cool, really fascinating questions about it, especially with the legality issue still in question. We don’t know, quite honestly, if Jeff Sessions and his monkeys are going to roll in here in three months and close everything down and arrest everyone. The way this administration behaves, it could happen. And that would be an episode, by the way.

Taking the character of Kevin, he is this drug dealer who has these almost mundane, human problems of how to support my kids and make a living.
Get by, yeah.

At the same time, he’s this drug dealer. It normalizes it to a degree, because everyone sort of thinks of a drug dealer, or everyone involved with cannabis, as this morally corrupt individual where you’re showcasing the opposite.
Exactly, but we’re also allowing it to be funny. Pot’s funny, people giggle when they’re stoned, stoned people do funny things. Things become stereotypes because they’re true, to some extent. And this is true for pot smokers and potheads and all that.

It’s just like you or me and you got a job and you chose this career path earlier on. He’s been doing it and at one point he’s probably made a pretty good living doing it. It’s always risky, it’s always illegal. And even in this economy, there are people selling pot illegally. A lot of people. There’s still pot dealers.

That’s one thing that’s kind of great about the show. It’s educational without being pedantic. The idea that there’s limitations within the legal marketplace, like with edibles. A lot of people, like serious stoners, are still going off into the black market. Because hey, I want my edible and 10 milligrams isn’t going to do too much to me so I need a 240 mg chocolate bar. That’s a reality that they’re facing, right?
Absolutely. That’s the other part of this that I find fascinating. The most important thing from my standpoint is that it’s this story of these men and women—there are women coming, by the way. It’s been a sausage fest so far. But they’re coming to save the day, let’s put it that way.

These are all people who are, to some extent, caricatures of themselves. We have to do that. We’re making a comedy. We’re letting those funny moments really rise to the top. To do that, you kind of let people make fun of themselves.

The story’s about what it means to be living this lifestyle, especially in a city like Seattle. Where there’s also this entrepreneurial spirit, and all this money, and all these people with money, and all this internet influence, and all this other tech stuff. It’s a different kind of psychology in a town like this. And all these dynamics are coming into play.

I think it’s been effective. I enjoy watching it, you know. When it’s all done I’m like, I dig this show. It’s funny, it makes me laugh. When I’m editing this stuff, I just have to stop and laugh for five minutes. Just can’t do anything but laugh, tears welling up in my eyes, whole nine yards, which is just fantastic.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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