In the Fox action-drama Gang Related, Detective Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez) is struggling with his loyalty to the powerful Latino gang Los Angelicos, who raised him as if he were one of their own, and his cop family that makes up Los Angeles’ elite Gang Task Force. In the war between law enforcement and gangs, Ryan’s increasing sense of loyalty to his profession will help him finally determine which side of the law he is really on.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, show creator/writer/executive producer Chris Morgan and pilot director Allen Hughes talked about how the idea for this show came about, wanting to push the envelope and make a cinematic show, establishing the look and tone, and the challenges in pulling of a show like this on a weekly basis. Allen Hughes also talked about his desire to find a home, as a director, on television, and Chris Morgan talked about the tragic death of Paul Walker and trying to live up to his legacy in the rewriting of Fast & Furious 7. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
CHRIS MORGAN: I had a meeting over at Fox, probably a couple years ago. While we were there, we were talking about ideas and I happened to mention this video that I had seen that was really interesting. I said, “I think there’s a show here.” They loved it and said, “Would you write it, this season?,” and I said, “I would love to.” But then, Fast & Furious heated up and they needed a bunch of stuff, so I got pulled away. And then, a year went by and I got a phone call from there saying, “Hey, remember that idea that you were talking about, a year ago? Would you come work on that, this year?” So, they actually had remember it and reached out. I just looked at the timeline and cleared it out. I thought, “If I’m ever going to make the jump to TV, now is really the time.” So, I did it, and thankfully we got great partners with Imagine and Scott Rosenbaum, the showrunner, and Allen Hughes’ amazing vision and direction. It all just came together.
Allen, how did you come to direct this pilot?
ALLEN HUGHES: I had just come off of my first solo feature project. I was literally just off of a press tour, and I knew that they always say, “Stay working.” I was reading pilots that year, and there were a couple out there that were interesting. And then, this one came and I was like, “Oh, my god, I was born to do this!” I don’t even say stuff like that, but I was born to do this and I had to have it. It was a very competitive gig to get because all the top directors wanted it. I never, in my career, had so many corporate meetings and creative meetings to sell myself, just to beg to be a part of this show. I got lucky or blessed, or whatever. A lot of people had to agree.
MORGAN: We got lucky. The first thing he said when he came in was, “I know how to do this!”
HUGHES: I was late to the game on this, and everyone involved had already said, “We want to push the envelope. We want cinema on network television. It’s gotta feel and sound different.” They were very specific about their feelings about that. And it was on the page. As they say, if it ain’t on the page, it doesn’t work. And Chris had it there on the page, in spades. We had to cut shit out of there!
MORGAN: That’s totally true, actually.
HUGHES: It was just too much. But it was inspiring, as a team. When you know what it is you want, it’s simple to achieve it when everyone is on the same page. We all challenged one another, in fun ways, to make it better.
Allen, was it fun for you to set up this show and establish the look and tone of the show, and then leave it for other directors to live up to?
HUGHES: You hit it right on the head. I was like, “You guys have got big challenges ahead of you. I can go home!” Chris wrote such an ambitious network show, and we talked about that a lot. He even said, “We had champagne wishes with beer money.” We actually didn’t have beer money. We had cooler money. But we really, really worked hard to make that money look good. Fox is not cheap, but we were grinding. I had never done that many set-ups in a day, or that much action in a day. I’m not saying this just to blow smoke, because I don’t blow smoke, but Chris has this thing that allows him to always be in touch with his inner child and his passion is always there and he’s always bright-eyed about it. I would look at him, and he’d always be smiling and always have an idea. It affected us all.
MORGAN: It’s been a really good learning lesson for me, coming from features, where money is always a concern. But, it’s not even that. It’s more time and set-ups. TV is a different muscle. It’s a great muscle because it’s a fast-twitch muscle. You need to be able to shoot fast, make decisions fast, and adjust fast. What that ultimately means is that, when you’re writing to that, you really have to write so that you have really incredible stuff, but you have to figure out what the portion is going to be and where it’s going to go. You’re not going to have four big action sequences, but you can have one or two great ones. It’s knowing how to balance that out and how to be as effective as possible. The truth of the matter is that you can accomplish great things with no money.
I used to watch all of the old Jackie Chan movies because the feeling that I would get when Jackie Chan would do a small move and almost fall off the cliff, or he’d throw a strange punch, I would get that feeling in my gut of, “Oh, my god, that’s great!,” that is the exact same feeling that I get when a giant spaceship crashes into a planet and almost blows up. The fact that you can do one with no money and the other takes millions and millions of dollars to do, but it gives you the same affect, means that we can do it.
[Executive Producer] Scott Rosenbaum also has this great story that he told me about his time on The Shield. When he first started on the show, he had this one episode to write. He knew what the first three acts were, and he roughly knew what the six act was, but he wasn’t quite sure what acts four and five were gonna be, so he wrote a car chase. He was really proud of it, and it was really good. So, he went back in to Shawn Ryan and Shawn Ryan said, “I’m gonna do you the biggest favor that anyone is gonna do you. I’m gonna give you your script back.” Scott said, “What do you mean?” And Shawn said, “Do you have a million dollars? Because to do that chase that you wrote in there is going to take a million dollars, and I don’t have that. What I want you to do now is take those three characters, and put them in an interrogation room and make it equally as compelling as that car chase. That’s the job. That’s the drama of it.” And frankly, that’s what we get to do, too. Not only do we get to have the benefit of having the money, the action and the time, but we also have the drama to really sink into, for this show.
HUGHES: I think the biggest challenge, on the page, is Ramon Rodriguez’s character, Ryan. It’s a schizophrenic existence. He’s gotta be one thing to his family, and he’s starting to have strong emotions, connections and bonds with his cop family. And then, you have the audience and you have to be cognizant about what they’re seeing in that character. For me, it was the most challenging, ever in my career, working with a performer. I’ve done everything from ads to shorts to documentaries to music videos and movies, but this was the toughest thing because I’ve never been faced with that dilemma that he was in. I’d never thought about the audience having to see things that the crime family doesn’t see, when he’s with him. When he’s with his cop family, they’ve gotta see one thing, and the audience has gotta see another. That was a minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day challenge, and all hands needed to be on deck to monitor that. It was tough. My hat’s off to Ramon because that is such a tough tightrope.
MORGAN: Ramon is playing a guy who is playing a guy who has to reveal things to the audience. It’s a three-level acting job. It’s very difficult, but he’s incredible. The fact that Allen helped him get there and that Ramon had the ability to do that blows me away. When you watch it, it’s a really subtle acting job.
Allen, how has this experience affected you, as far as your career? Have you thought about doing another pilot, or directing more episodes, if there’s a Season 2?
HUGHES: I’m in a place right now where I want to live in television. I’m a feature guy, whatever that means, but the business has changed so much. If the right feature comes along and the right people believe in it, I’ll do it. But for now, for my life, for my family, for my creative spirit and even financially, all of the problems are addressed in great television.
MORGAN: I’m going to rope him into something else. I’m going to draw him in.
HUGHES: Not to name drop one of the biggest 800-pound gorillas, but I was at HBO, two days in a row for two different things. I’m thirsty and hungry and excited about finding a home in television. I like what Chris is able to do with this. He’s telling not just one two-hour story. These are novels now. They’ve become modern-day novels. You get to see life unfold, every week.
Chris, having a hand in shaping the Fast & Furious franchise must help with something like Gang Related, as far as the blending of family and character stories with intense action, but it must have been so hard for you to have to go back to rewrite Fast & Furious 7, after the death of Paul Walker. How challenging was it to go through that and have to live up to someone’s legacy, along with just telling a good story?
MORGAN: I don’t know of anybody else that, when they pass away, only good stories come out, and that’s because they’re all true. He was an incredibly gracious, great guy. So, to have to jump back in on the movie was tough. I got the news and I thought it was a joke, at first. Someone texted me and said, “Oh, my god, I heard what happened to Paul.” Immediately I was like, “Yeah, sure.” And then, 30 seconds later, I started hearing it from other people and was like, “Oh, no!” Universal did the absolute right thing, which was to immediately shut everything down. They didn’t talk about business, they didn’t talk about how we were going to fix it, they didn’t talk about it as a problem. They just said, “How can we help the family? How can we help everybody?” That, to me, is amazing. Especially in a world that is so very corporate, to put everything on pause for one of their biggest tentpole franchises to do the right thing for someone who was a member of their family for so long was very inspiring.
After people had a chance to start their mourning and time had passed and they were looking back at the business side of it, a really beautiful thing happened, which was that everyone came back together for the right reasons. It was about, what would Paul want to do? And how do we do this in a way that is worthy of what he would want? So for me, even though it was a ton of work on everyone’s part, everybody pulled together and everybody dug in. It was a lot of work and a lot of hands, but everybody did it. To single anybody out is not accurate. Everybody dug in, and everybody cared.
For me, personally, it felt good to be able to do the right thing at the right time. I just really wanted to make sure it was the right thing for him, and I feel really proud of it, to be honest with you. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to deal with, but it was also one of the finest things I’ve ever had to deal with, too. It really showed off the greatness in the people who cared about him. To me, that’s Paul’s legacy. The fact that so many people really were affected by him was beautiful. He was a great guy. The end result is that it’s gonna be a great movie, and I think something positive can be brought out of it.
Gang Related airs on Thursday nights on Fox.