Heroes are meant to inspire and encourage people into fearlessly committing brave acts, but some of television and film’s most noteworthy protagonists instead garner attention for their most illogical ideas on how to improve their worlds. While some audiences balk at the cruelty, cynicism and amorality that these anti-heroes bestow on their supporting characters, the new crime comedy television series, ’24 Hour Rental,’ is actually encouraging its viewers to laugh at life’s most challenging situations that those very unethical protagonists continuously face. The show’s showrunner, George Mihalka, who also directed and executive produced the season, is enthusiastically urging the public to welcome the series’ black comedy take that not all leaders admirably support those they’re meant to protect.
Independent film distribution company XLrator Media has acquired the U.S. distribution rights to the Canadian series from it production company, Reel One Entertainment. The distribution company’s first episodic show will premiere its initial 13 half-hour episodes tomorrow exclusively on XLrator Media’s MACABRE Collection on Hulu, before it’s released on other digital platforms next year.
’24 Hour Rental’ follows former Mafia boss Tracker (Romano Orzari), who having barely avoided early retirement in a shallow grave, now operates a seedy video store. Struggling to stay afloat in the Internet age, Tracker runs his shop as a front for a host of petty crimes, from fencing jewelry to peddling drugs and renting illegal videos to his loyal customers for 24 hours, all in hopes of returning to power.
With the help of his associates and employees, including Ace (Adam Kenneth Wilson), Floyd (Aaron Berg), Buzz (Michael Biehn), J.R. (Gavin Crawford), Sam (Marc Senior) and new hire Sarah (Kate Ross), Tracker hopes he can combine his profits from the store and his illegal enterprises to pay off his debt to his previous colleague, ruthless Mafia mastermind, Khvisto (Vlasta Vrana). With little time left to pay the relentless Khvisto back, Tracker must determine what he’s willing to sacrifice, in order save his life.
Mihalka took the time recently to talk about serving as the showrunner, co-writer, director and executive producer of all 13 episodes of ’24 Hour Rental’ over the phone. Among other things, the helmer discussed how he became involved in launching the Hulu crime comedy, as he originally crafted a dark gangster film that told the same story, but ultimately decided to turn it into a lighter satire that would be shot independently, so that he could have complete creative freedom of what he could include in each episode; and how he relished the fact that he was able to cast the performers he did in ’24 Hour Rental,’ especially Orzari and Biehn, as finding the right actors who could best portray the characters in his projects is the most rewarding part of being a director.
ShockYa (SY): You had several roles on creating the first season of the new comedy crime show, ’24 Hour Rental,’ including directing all 13 episodes, working on the story with writer Al Kratina and being the showrunner. How did you become involved in working on the show?
George Mihalka (GM): It’s a bit of a convoluted story. (laughs) I’ve always loved gangster shows and movies. I was the showrunner on, and directed, Quebec’s biggest gangster series, which was a precursor to ‘The Sopranos.’ I’ve always had a fascination with Martin Scorsese’s films, as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather.’
We had a feature film script that was going to be the darkest gangster movie ever made. It had a lot of black humor, but it was so dark, it was impossible to finance at the time. So we decided to do a lighter, satirical version of gangsters, and turn it as a television show.
So the show’s writer, Al Kratina, and I decided to make a pilot show out of the script. The material was dark, but we knew that we could make people laugh with us. If you read the material on the page, you will be shocked. But if you see it (on screen, we knew) it would be different.
The material then caught the attention of producer Tom Berry, who I have previously worked with, and went to film school with. I knew Tom liked those crazy shows back when we were in film school. Tom liked the script for this show, and said, “I think we can make it happen.” After Al and I then sat down and wrote the outline for the 13 episodes, he wrote the screenplays with my supervision and collaboration.
Since the material is obviously so risky, we had a choice with the network. We could either film the series on a lower budget, and have creative freedom, or (shoot on a larger budget, and) not have as much creative freedom. Obviously, we chose to have the creative freedom.
So to do that, we needed to save some money. So we shot all of the series’ 13 shows together, like one long independent film, as opposed to a regular television series, which shoots each episode separately. So instead of having a 100-page script, we had a 180-page script.
But we shot the episodes out of sequence, so that we could have some really great actors come in when it best fit their schedule. For instance, we had Michael Biehn, one of the four leads, come in to shoot his scenes when it fit his schedule.
The only way to film that way was to have one director (film all 13 episodes). I have directed episodes of bigger television series in Canada before, so it wasn’t difficult for me to do (this show). We obviously had to have a lot of preparation and rehearsals for it, but we were able to pull it off.
SY: ’24 Hour Rental’ features a diverse cast, including Romano Orzari, Adam Kenneth Wilson, Aaron Berg, Vlasta Vrana, Mike Smith, Gavin Crawford and Michael Biehn, who you just mentioned. What was the casting process like for the ensemble cast for such diverse characters? Once they were cast, what was your experience of working with the actors on the show?
GM: Finding the right voices and the people who can best portray the characters is probably the most rewarding part of being a director. I met Michael a few years ago, and casting him in this show was quite easy. I showed him the script for the pilot, and he said, “This is the funniest thing I’ve ever read. If you ever make it, let me know-I’d love to do a cameo.”
But it just so happened that I thought Michael should be one of the leads. So I called him and asked if he would like to be one of the leads, and he said, “George, I’d work with you anytime. But I can’t give you six months for a television show-I’m a busy feature film actor.” So I said, “How about we give you the same amount of time that you would normally have on a feature film? Give us 20-25 days of your time.” He said, “In that case, I’m yours.”
The lead actor, Romano Orzari, who plays the washed up gangster Tracker, is a big television star in Canada. So it was very easy to sign him onto this series.
Then we spent about two months looking for the other two leads, as we needed actors who would have the same chemistry and fast reactions (as Biehn and Orzari) to improvisation. They also needed the comic skills necessary to pull these roles off. While the show is a satire, it still is a comedy. But it’s more deadpan comedy, not slapstick; it’s more in the British style of Monty Python comedy.
The screenplays were so well-written, and Al did a great job on the dialogue. So once it went public that we were making the show, it became very easy to cast the roles. Some of the biggest Canadian actors were saying, “I’d love to do this show. It’s crazy and wild, and nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
SY: ’24 Hour Rental,’ which has been described as being tailor-made for binge-watching, is set to be released exclusively on Hulu on Friday, and will be released on other digital platforms next year. How has making television series exclusively for digital platforms like Hulu changed the way shows can be made?
GM: Well, the beauty of airing television series on digital platforms is that we don’t have to worry about any corporate interference. What we wanted to do here is take the gangster genre and infuse it with a lot of comedy of outrage, like the work of Daniel Tosh, Dave Chappelle and Louie C.K., and not have a lot of interference.
I think this is the future of television, and will be the way most series will be aired in the future. We thought of this platform when we first created the pilot years ago, so it’s ironic and rewarding that we’re back to where we started. We’re very excited about the VOD release.
SY: Throughout your career, you have directed multiple films, most notably the original ‘My Bloody Valentine,’ and television series, including ‘Da Vinci’s Inquest’ and ‘Transporter: The Series.’ How does helming movies compare and contrast to directing television shows?
GM: I think that television is now offering more creative freedom. At one time, you could say and do things in features that you couldn’t on television. But features have now become so corporate, that unless you’re making a low-budget independent film, you’re required to follow a certain set of corporate rules.
But now with television, especially with platforms like Hulu, we can now pick and choose what we want to show. You can now say, “I want to show adult content and mature subject matter. I want to have dark comedy that makes me almost gag before I chuckle.”
The current production value between television and feature films is disappearing by the minute. Television is now as visually exciting as most feature films. In terms of visual aesthetics, I think television is now right up there with films. I don’t really have much of a preference (as to which medium I work in); I just like to make stuff that’s interesting and visually shocking.
I appreciate being able to expand what I can show in my projects, as I got censored on my cult horror film, ‘My Bloody Valentine.’ It took almost almost 20 years for it to come out the way I had shot it. I’m still a bit of a rebel in that way.
SY: Besides directing and serving as the showrunner, you were also one of ’24 Hour Rental’s executive producers for Reel One Entertainment. What interested you in also working on that aspect of the series?
GM: Well, I have previously executive produced other television shows, but I just wasn’t credited. I was also showrunning other television series before (I signed on to make ’24 Hour Rental’); for instance, I showran the first 19 episodes of the Canadian television series, ‘Scoop.’ So it wasn’t really a new experience.
The beauty of being an executive producer on (’24 Hour Rental’) was that we could stay loyal and on point to our message, which was to be as wild, crazy and unexpectedly funny as we possibly could. That’s what I hope the viewers will see in these 13 episodes, and will want to continue seeing in the adventures of these washed-up gangsters.
Written by: Karen Benardello