Nearly a decade ago, Adrian Grenier—the Entourage actor and occasional documentary producer/director—walked into the office of his friend and collaborator Matthew Cooke and saw something on the wall: a board full of ideas, one of which popped out in front of the rest.
It was just six words: How to make money selling drugs.
“This title just popped out at me like, ‘What is this?'” Grenier recalls.
The documentary How to Make Money Selling Drugs is now available on video-on-demand and due in select theaters June 26. Directed by Cooke, it’s a look at the international drug trade and, while the title is grabby (and rather self-explanatory)—Grenier says it was important that the movie actually match the appellation. And it does, using a video game-level-structure to take viewers from street-corner salesmen on the bottom to the cartel bosses at the top. Along the way, it addresses the reasons people get into the
narcotics trade and the problems caused by prison systems and drug-enforcement policies. It’s a serious movie with an unusual name, and a case study in how a title can help a documentary do its job.
“Our goal is to show people that we can laugh at ourselves so that we might be able to actually sit down and go deeper,” explains the actor, who served as executive producer on the movie. “The drug war has done such a great job at making this topic taboo that people can’t talk about it without fear.”
Because of that fear, many of those who ended up going on camera to discuss their experiences with drugs and the war on drugs—from celebrities like 50 Cent and Woody Harrelson to people like the former law-enforcement official who now makes a living helping those in the drug business avoid apprehension—had to be convinced to go on the record with their experiences. “Even I have had trouble wrapping my head around it,” Grenier says, speaking of the choice to associate his name with a movie that doesn’t treat drugs as a good-vs.-evil proposition. “The most shocking thing was how much I’d been conditioned to live in fear.”
Most people (including the movie’s crew) know people who have been affected by the war on drugs, says producer Bert Marcus, but are reluctant to get into the topic. For him, that makes the educational value of a movie like How to Make Money more important—and the title, meant to draw in audiences who might shy away from a movie called The Problems Caused By Your Fear of Talking About the War on Drugs, even more necessary.
“Matthew had come up with the title but we weren’t quite sure what kind of film we wanted to make. We didn’t want to cheapen it and we definitely didn’t want to undermine the subject,” says Marcus. “The whole idea is trying to instigate action and discussion. The title is to get the audience’s attention, of course, but understanding the reality of those affected by selling drugs is key for us.”
In Grenier’s case, it worked. Once the title drew him in, eventually it wasn’t as scary to talk about drugs. “I’ll go on the record and say, the more you look at these policies, you throw your hands up like, ‘This is crazy!'”
And maybe, he jokes, that openness to talk about the topic will carry over to his next project, the Entourage movie. “If we can just bail Vince out of jail—he got busted for a joint—then we might be able to make the movie,” he says, laughing. “No, I think there’s a script. I’m very excited. After this call I’m going to call my agent and bug him to get me a copy.”