Collider Goes to the Set of SQUAD 85, Justin Lin’s Web Series About Time-Traveling Cops from the 1980s

     November 17, 2012

squad 85 logo

When I got to the set of Squad 85, the new Justin Lin produced web series, a half-naked man was hanging out the side of a van screaming as it raced between sound stages at high speeds. About 20 feet back, another car – also with a man hanging out the window – filmed the whole thing. I had no idea what was happening, but it was pretty damn funny.

And this is pretty much the ethos of the six-part series, premiering November 13th on YOMYOMF’s youtube channel as one of the first co-productions between Google/YouTube and the Hollywood elite.  Hit the Jump for the full set visit and video interviews.

Before going any further, here’s the trailer for Squad 85:

For the last decade, YouTube and its DIY aesthetic has been reformatting the media landscape and humor tastes of an entire generation. Some social media stars have made the jump to network and cable with shows like Annoying Orange, Shit My Dad Says and the Fred franchise, but Google/YouTube’s new initiative is blurring the lines further by bringing some of Hollywood’s most successful voices to the web, giving larger production budgets and marketing pushes to edgy, strange and action-packed material.

squad 85 castOne of the most high profile of these youtube channels is YOMYOMF – taken from the famous Bruce Lee quote, “You offend me, you offend my family” – curated by Lin, who found acclaim with Better Luck Tomorrow before moving into the A-list with Fast And the Furious 3-6. The channel focuses on action and comedy for a broad audience that also functions to showcase Asian-American performers, a historically underrepresented group in Hollywood.

Squad 85 is an action comedy series about a team of time traveling 1980s cops who find themselves in the modern day where they must learn about changing social mores while chasing after a nefarious villain who has developed a deadly new drug, the Nine Ball.

“I remember, we were working on a show where the characters could not do any wrong,” said series co-creator and director Gregory Bonsignore. “[The network] wanted them to be so lovable. But if you can’t do anything wrong, you can’t grow, you can’t have messed up. It was just colossally boring. So I think it’s a lot more fun to have clumsy people ambling through the world.”

“We don’t have a technical advisor saying, ‘Oh they wouldn’t do that,’ said Bonsignore. “We say, ‘Oh, they wouldn’t do that; make sure Squad 85 does that!”

squad-85Though this is a fairly high budget production with a seven-day shoot and locations in New York and Los Angeles as well as access to the Gower Studios back lot in Hollywood, there is a fun and endearing film school mentality to the shoot. Everyone involved is a friend-of-a-friend called in at the last minute and sometimes recast on set. Improvisation and boundary-pushing humor rule the day.

“You have literally five minutes to shoot this scene,” said Rizwan Manji. “It lets you be a little bit more on all the time.”

Most of the cast is made up of ‘That guy!” and “That girl!” minority actors from sitcoms and movies. Manji and several of the other cast members, including Parvesh Cheena and Diedrich Bader, worked together previously on the short-lived sitcom Outsourced. In some ways the show and YOMYOMF as a whole are a reaction to these types of roles, but it’s more of a Harold and Kumar approach than latter day Spike Lee.

squad-85-cast-director“It’s not about being Asian, except that we are, you know, Asian,” said Cheena.

But, even if a show where the police commissioner is a white man who went under cover as an Asian woman twenty years ago and never came back isn’t your cup of tea, Squad 85 is still noteworthy in that it is one of the first web series to boast a union cast and crew.

“It’s SAG-AFTRA, it’s DGA,” explains Cheena, who is a member of the Los Angeles local board for SAG-AFTRA. “I don’t think we could draw in our friends who have been making a successful career for themselves if it wasn’t a union production. The great thing about SAG-AFTRA is that they do want these new media contracts. They’re so easy to work with.”

New episodes will premiere every week for the next month and a half. If things go well, you can expect to see more of the off-color shenanigans including a possible television version made up of this first run.

Gregory Bonsignore:

  • Origin of the series
  • 0:45 – How did it change when it became a web series?
  • 2:00 – Everyone is a fish out of water in this story. How do they all fit together?
  • 4:00 – Favorite tropes from the 1980s and favorite tropes of modern TV.