If you haven’t caught up on Crackle‘s brash action comedy series The Hustler yet, you might want to take a break from what you’re doing and go do just that. Today marks the end of the 11-episode debut season of the original web series from creators Sam Friedlander and Mark Feuerstein, with the release of the plot-turning finale (above).
The basic premise is simple—a gritty con man, “The Hustler” Hussleberg, will stop at nothing to exact revenge against the family of Bernie Goldman, The Hustler’s old coach who cheated him of his middle school football record. That means hustling his way into birthday parties, bar mitzvah’s and other Goldman gatherings.
What began as a concept for a one-off sketch, found life as a series at Sony/Crackle after screening the pilot. By episode two, the shift from pilot to series is noticeable, bringing in a more polished intro and framing.
Friedlander and Feuerstein are a classic producing duo—one half filmmaker, one half veteran actor. The pair, along with partner Adam B. Stein make up LA-based Supdawg Productions, which has a handful of web, TV and film projects in development. Frielander and Stein both were finalists in 2007’s On the Lot reality series, where the two young filmmakers compete for a Dreamworks development deal.
Feuerstein brings level of professional cool to his title role in the series, clearly showing the weight of his 15 year career in TV with starring roles on The West Wing, Good Morning Miami and more recently in Edward Zwick’s 2008 film Defiance. His latest TV series, dramedy Royal Pains was just picked up for a full season order on USA Network that start shooting in April. The web, however, has piqued his interest and he and his partners have a few more web series in the works.
The trio’s first real taste of the web glory came with a follow-up rap to SNL’s 2006 viral hit “Lazy Sunday,” dubbed “Lazy Monday” a west coast response which itself snared several hundred thousand views. I caught up with Feuerstein and Friedlander to chat about The Hustler, how it came together and whether their dabbling on the web will be turning into something more regular.
Tubefilter: Where did this idea come from? Are you guys holding on to some grudges yourselves?
Mark Feuerstein: I was at a wedding in Vermont and Mike Sikowitz pitched me this idea about a guy who crashes a nine year old birthday party. I loved it and said let’s shoot it. So I got together with Sam and shot it and sent it to Sony and said hey would you guys like to make more?
Sam Friedlander: The initial show was a one-off joke video so we sat down and thought about how to make that joke as a series. So we had to explore why he is what he is. Why could someone possible end up like this? Exploring a guys who holds grudges and keeps and internal tally.
MF: And there’s the symbolic value of The Hustler—we are constantly hustling ourselves. It’s the perfect metaphor for our lives in Hollywood. The web is constantly changing TV and it’s constantly a day by day hustle to be in the hustle.
Tubefilter: So you had the greenlight from Sony, what happened next?
SF: We wrote the series all in two weeks and had two weeks of pre-production and casting. We then had two weeks to shoot the series planning for it to go live in July. A number of things happened that saw it eventually pushed back to a January release. We also brought on Jeff Prugh as a producer, who I went to USC with, and he helped us cast it.
MF: We’re sitting in the casting session and I guess it’s a factor of the climate that a guy like Al Brown from The Wire wanders in to the casting for a web series. I loved his character in The Wire – there was no question this was the guy that was going to play Bernie Goldman.
Tubefilter: Do you think it says something about the elevation of web television?
SF: Yes, having Sony behind it brings a higher level of talent – you get talent that comes out and wouldn’t normally audition for those kind of projects.
MF: When you do a short film you might travel to 15 or more festivals and do everything to promote your film and in all maybe 2000 people see your film—but you go to the web and bam, 2000 people can see your short right away.
Tubefilter: Did you feel you had a tight budget or did you feel you had enough to get what you wanted?
SF: You always want a bigger budget…we had a pretty ambitious budget in mind and we wanted it to look good. The decision became, did we want to pay ourselves more or put that money onscreen and make the project better? We put most of it on screen. You have to watch where every penny goes. When you actually get in there it can go really quickly.
MF: If you’re doing a talk show for the money we had for an episode you’re golden, but if you’re trying to do an action series with lots of extras and stunts, it’s a lot tougher. We can’t necessarily afford to it again on the same level for the budget we had. One one hand, it’s exciting because we’re all there at the beginning, but it’s also really hard because no one has the money for it.
Tubefilter: What’s next for The Hustler, can we can expect a second season? Were you given a certain threshold of success in terms of viewership?
MF: It’s unclear, we’ve been holding our own numbers wise (on Crackle). We can say we have an amazing collaboration with the team at Sony. We’re in discussions about another idea or two with them. It may be a second season of the The Hustler or one of our other projects.
SF: It’s tough to gauge our exact viewership because it’s on so many platforms. In terms of next projects, we’re in the process of selling two other web series, Google Freak and Cinema Literalté.
Tubefilter: What other web series do you guys like?
MF: I love The Writers Room. It’s a little inside-y but I love it.
SF: I thought Script Cops was very funny.
(Ed Note: We’ll pretend not to notice they both plugged Sony shows there. We’ll leave you with their 2006 video Lazy Monday:)