Tag Archives: Get Shorty

Back in the game

Get Shorty showrunner Davey Holmes and director Adam Arkin welcome DQ to the set of the second season of the drama, in which Chris O’Dowd’s mobster continues his assault on the Hollywood film business.

We’re often told that Hollywood appreciates a story about itself. The meta appeal of doing a film or a TV programme based on characters involved in an audiovisual production themselves would surely get the critics chattering.

Get Shorty, US premium cablenet Epix’s mob-movie caper that returns for a second season this Sunday, is designed to both embody and pastiche this.

Davey Holmes

Season one of the comedy-drama follows the story of Miles Daly (Chris O’Dowd), who serves as muscle for a ruthless Nevada crime syndicate led by the fearsome Amara De Escalones (Lidia Porto). To do right by his daughter and his estranged wife, Miles moves to LA to become a movie producer – with his friend and mob colleague Louis (Sean Bridgers) in tow – laundering money through a Hollywood film. But problems arise again when Amara and her associates take an active role in proceedings. Season two sees Miles battle to realise his ambitions as a filmmaker and responsible father despite his adroitness as a criminal.

Based on Elmore Leonard’s book of the same name, Get Shorty has been adapted for TV by Shameless US scribe Davey Holmes. The show is produced by MGM Television, which also distributes, and Holmes Quality Yarns.

Along with O’Dowd, Porto and Bridgers, the cast features Ray Romano, Sarah Stiles, Megan Stevenson, Goya Robles and Carolyn Dodd. Off the back of season one’s success, Felicity Huffman and Steven Weber have been added.

Filming is well into the second half of season two when DQ visits the set at Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood. Director Adam Arkin has just called ‘cut’ on an umpteenth take of Louis eating cereal while talking to Miles over the phone about a YouTube self-help beauty video.

“I thought about asking for Captain Crunch, but it fucks up the roof of your mouth,” Bridgers can be heard telling the crew.

The off-camera humour is a moment of light relief in proceedings, but Bridgers’ aside is an exemplar of the tone of Get Shorty and how it sets itself out as a drama. Though both seasons are peppered with witty lines, they are subtle, with the drama ensuring audiences are captivated as much as amused.

The massacre of a rival cartel in season one is brutal, bloody and shocking, while the scenes involving Hollywood studios, distributors, producers and on- and off-screen talent often seem funny but will likely have industry viewers shifting uncomfortably in their seats in recognition of the realistic depiction of the conversations and decision-making – which is as cutthroat as the violent actions of the gangsters on show.

Arkin says the show explores the “terrain that hovers between extreme comedy and drama” like that of FX’s hit crime drama Fargo – another series that was inspired by a film but, like Get Shorty, does not simply transplant the same characters and story to the small screen. This is doubly important for Get Shorty, given that a 1995 film version starring John Travolta was also based on Leonard’s original book.

Get Shorty stars The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd as mob enforcer Miles Daly

However, the Epix series is less a mob or crime caper and more a story of reinvention, told through the prism of a criminal father.

“Stories about people who are striving for art can be quite boring, but there’s something about the soul of an artist in the body of a thug that’s interesting to me,” creator, showrunner and exec producer Holmes tells DQ during a break in rehearsal. “I love being able to explore big, tough guys who aren’t necessarily well versed at looking at and processing their own emotions and yet have vulnerabilities, human foibles and weaknesses. Instead of playing tough guys who are just tough, you play tough guys who are frail inside. Elmore Leonard’s all about that.”

This is not exclusive to Miles either. Bridgers says his character, Louis – a trigger-happy Mormon mobster – is undergoing a metamorphosis. The series, too, either by design or coincidence, is a metaphor for today’s US, which is going through a cultural and political transition, often bearing the hallmarks of a Hollywood movie.

“Louis has been operating, like we all do a bit, on autopilot. He’s stuck in this very small world with a somewhat limited world view and Miles is the one who breaks out of it,” Bridgers says. “He’s a ball of contradictions. That is American culture in a nutshell. Louis is a very American character.

“He’s very religious but he picks and chooses which tenets of that faith he’s going to adhere to – very American, that – and he’s also prone to violence: he shoots first and asks questions later. I try not to think about it too much because that analytical part of my brain will try to make sense of certain things, and I can’t. But that frees it up; anything’s possible with Louis.”

The scenes Bridgers has been filming during DQ’s visit (the second of which involves a big spoiler) have typified the duality of characters and the series’ dramatic and comedic interplay. Arkin says the reason he kept coming back to the scene of Louis munching cereal was a desire to respect Holmes’ approach to the material, and not just because he wants to “see Sean Bridgers eat five bowls of Fruit Loops before the day is up.”

Everybody Loves Raymond star Ray Romano plays film producer Rick Moreweather

“There are countless processes that everybody goes through [to translate the vision on screen]. I try to stay very attuned to the material; that’s obviously the first clue as to what direction everything wants to be going in,” he says.

“The biggest problem was finding that sweet spot, stylistically, between the comedy and the drama, knowing that both of them have to live in a consistent atmosphere. You can’t go too far, too recklessly in one direction or another.”

Holmes picks up: “The look of the show is an interesting and complicated discussion. We try to find a combination of a cinematic approach and veering away from what we think of as network TV in as many ways as possible. And yet, not jazzing up a scene visually, not drawing attention to the camera work, not a whole lot of jiggly handheld or trick shots – just trying to find that line where it’s cinematic without detracting from the scene itself.”

While stylistic fine-tuning can be arduous, it is exacerbated by the physical demands placed on cast and crew. In season one, shooting was divided between Hollywood and Albuquerque, New Mexico. In a tragicomical example of art imitating life imitating art, the crew sometimes felt like their fictional counterparts – who intermittently struggle with sandstorms, fires and gunfire.

“We went back and forth about four or five times. Just handling that and the logistics of what we were shooting and where, it did at times lead to a certain amount of vertigo as to where we were in the process,” Arkin recalls.

“In episode five of season two, about 75% takes place in one location, which was very challenging to shoot in. We’re underground, we were pumping a lot of atmospheric smoke into the location; everyone was running around in coveralls and hard hats, respirator masks.

Lidia Porto is Amara De Escalones, the fearsome boss of a crime syndicate

“It was physically very demanding. It ended up being a wonderful episode, but it came at a cost. It put the crew and cast through their paces in terms of endurance.”

Sarah Stiles, who plays Gladys, the secretary to Romano’s film producer boss Rick Moreweather, illuminates the cast’s intensity.

“We’re all a little ‘method’ on this show. But nobody’s killed anybody yet… that I know of,” she jokes. “Ray Romano is a genius at that [intense] stuff – him orbiting around the steadiness of Gladys is just delicious to play against. He cares about the project, so he stays in Rick’s neurotic voice and asks, ‘Was that ok, did this work?’ Yeah, you’re fucking awesome, get it under control Ray Romano!”

Stevenson, who plays April Quinn, a film executive and professional antagonist to Moreweather, says it is “scary how much everyone enjoys each other.”

“We were in New Mexico for the majority of the time for the new season. That was like summer camp; we were just forced to get to know each other, because none of us are from there. On the weekends, we’d go hiking together, and every night after shooting we went in the jacuzzi together. That is so beneficial for a show. If you’re not forced to get to know each other, you just go home to your life.”

Both Stiles and Stevenson concur that what attracted them to the project was the writing, and that TV is going through its golden age in terms of attracting the best on- and off-camera talent to projects. Holmes also sees the benefits of working for a cablenet rather than a US broadcast network.

“When I first got into TV, there wasn’t a whole lot of TV that I was excited about. Now there’s a lot,” he says. “It’s also lovely because there’s a very good chance you’re going to get to do the whole season, if not two seasons, while they evaluate what the audience is.

“For networks, they really appraise you week by week. I’ve been on plenty of interesting shows that did four episodes or six episodes and then they’re gone, before you’ve really even started telling the story. This show seems to be catching on… that alone is a game-changer creatively.”

As the cast settles in for another take, it feels as though Get Shorty has only just begun.

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Hollywood hitman

Get Shorty showrunner Davey Holmes tackles Elmore Leonard’s novel in a drama far removed from the 1995 movie of the same name. He tells DQ how he created the Epix series, which stars Chris O’Dowd as an hitman who lands in Hollywood.

When US cable channel Epix entered the original-drama fray, it placed commissions for three scripted series: Berlin Station, Graves and Get Shorty.

CIA-focused spy drama Berlin Station and political dramedy Graves were first off the block last autumn, scoring decent reviews from critics already weighed down by the crush of new content on which viewers can now feast. Duly, they were each given second-season renewals and are set to return this October.

Now arriving on Epix, delayed by design rather than disaster, comes Get Shorty, a 10-part comedy drama set within the world of Elmore Leonard’s fêted novel, which was previously adapted as a 1995 feature film starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito.

Davey Holmes (left) on set with Chris O’Dowd

The television landscape in the US has shifted dramatically since the series was first announced. More than 500 original scripted series are due to air in 2017, up from 454 during the previous 12 months, though that number already looks set to fall next year after several cable networks announced they were pulling back on their scripted endeavours.

A&E (Bates Motel) is pulling out of the scripted business altogether, while WGN America (Underground, Manhattan) said in May it would only focus on “cost-effective originals and reruns.” This week it announced it would become the US partner on Canadian drama Bellevue, a probable sign of the deals to come.

MTV is also reasserting its focus on youth-skewing unscripted programming, though scripted series will not be abandoned entirely, with plans to reboot Scream and Teen Wolf as anthologies, among other projects.

Get Shorty, then, could be under pressure to help lift Epix’s fortunes above those of channels that ultimately decide the original-drama business is not worth it, either to their channel identity or their bottom line.

If he is under pressure to deliver, Davey Holmes isn’t showing it. The showrunner has previously worked on Law & Order, Pushing Daisies, Awake and Shameless, and was specifically brought in by producer MGM, which also owns Epix and will distribute the series internationally, with a view to adapting Leonard’s 1990 novel.

Epix’s Get Shorty sees a new set of characters, led by Chris O’Dowd as hitman Miles

He initially passed up the offer, with other projects in the pipeline, but quickly changed his mind when he realised this show was “the one.”

“It was the easiest, most fun project to adapt and write,” Holmes says. “I just spent the whole time I was plotting it laughing with my assistant, just having a ball – and I thought, ‘If this is a sign of some sort, if it’s as fun to watch as it is to make, we’re on to something.’”

Rather than script a literal remake of the novel, however, Holmes’s plan was to start again, jettisoning the characters and the plot that had already been introduced by Barry Sonnenfeld’s Golden Globe-winning feature film.

Instead, he used anthology series Fargo as a template, taking the tone and style created by Leonard but adding a new story and fresh characters, much in the same way the FX series transplanted the sensibilities of the Coen brothers’ movie source material.

“My feeling was that Barry Sonnenfeld brought his own thing to it and that movie works, it just stands on its own,” Holmes says. “But I didn’t want to do a series with that tone. I wanted to get back to something different, a little more Coen brothers, a little darker, a little grittier – still fun, but more grounded. Sonnenfeld’s take is more broad strokes, colourful and larger than life. I wanted to ground it.”

The final result is a series that finds humour in the insecurities of a bunch of tough guys out to prove themselves in a foreign environment.

John Travolta and Rene Russo in the 1995 movie version of Get Shorty

Irish actor Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd) stars as Miles, a hitman from Nevada who tries to become a movie producer in Hollywood as a means to leave his criminal past behind. But instead of abandoning his former life, he accidentally brings it with him to LA, where he meets Rick (Ray Romano), a washed-up producer who becomes Miles’s guide in the land of show business.

Filming took place in both LA and Albuquerque, New Mexico, which doubled for Nevada and meant the crew were constantly flying back and forth during production. “It was crazy on a logistical level but wonderful on a creative level because they look so different,” Holmes says. “We shot scenes in Albuquerque with just desert and big wide sky off to the horizon, and can then cut to a scene in Hollywood on a studio lot. It’s creatively wonderful but it was a pain in the ass.

“It’s actually a wonderful plus when you can cut between such contrasting landscapes, and if I could boil the whole show down to one device, it’s getting invested in very different characters from different worlds and then having them collide.”

One character in particular, Miles, ended up very different to how Holmes first envisioned him after O’Dowd was cast in the lead role. The showrunner says he wanted Miles to be very different from Travolta’s Chili Palmer, who would never lash out or get his hands dirty.

“Our guy is much more menacing than Travolta, but Chris isn’t who you think of to play that guy and he did a wonderful job,” Holmes explains. “You feel the thug in this character. But it’s an Irish thug, which I hadn’t thought of until he came on. I had to learn what that was with him. We were both teaching each other.”

During the writing process, Holmes assembled a writers room to help break down the story and flesh out the characters before locking down the episodes. “Then, probably stupidly, I let the writers all go and then started rewriting everything, including my own work,” he admits. “So there was a flurry of rewrites throughout production. The upside of that is it’s helpful to have one voice glue it all together. The downside is I had to reintroduce myself to my family.”

Holmes’s first pitch to Epix was to turn Get Shorty into an anthology, but says there was too much story to tell in just 10 episodes. “There’s a high body count in the show and not everybody survives,” he explains. “Some fairly large players don’t make it through. You never know if someone’s going to be around for five minutes or five episodes, or if they’ll survive the season.”

The showrunner warns, however, that fans of the film shouldn’t expect a rerun when the series begins in the US with a double episode on August 13. “I do worry [that fans will expect the film],” he admits. “Our show turned out wonderfully so I hope they’re willing to accept something different, but it is very different from the movie. There’s no question. They’re different, the tone is different, everything has been reimagined.”

Until the launch, viewers can get a taste of the series by streaming the first three episodes from the Epix website. With largely positive reviews on social media so far, it looks set to be the hit that keeps Epix fighting among the traditional drama networks.

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