Ben Rodriguez is a young filmmaker and comedian, who resides in Los Angeles, and like many who live in the City of Angels, is pursuing a career in entertainment and wants to tell stories that have a unique voice. He has already created two digital series with a Latino bent (MARIconBEN and Strictly Vers, premiering later this year) and is a graduate of the USC School of Dramatic Arts. He’s also grown tired of the lack of diverse voices in the industry and has taken matters into his own hands. If they don’t build it, then build it yourself is the motto he follows.
He, along with friends Jasmine Elist and Katey Zouck, are the co-creators of a new digital series called PUSHY RIOT (episodes 1-3 are available now on YouTube). The series is a buddy comedy chronicling the misadventures of two post-college friends, Jasmine and Katey (played by Elist and Zouck), who are forced to move in with Jasmine’s Persian parents in Beverly Hills. I chatted with Ben and found out what his experience was in the digital realm and how digital has created a platform for those being unheard in the mainstream.
What’s the history of Pushy Riot?
Jasmine Elist, Katey Zouck and I all met freshman year at USC and became friends. When I was show-running one of Trojan Vision’s nightly live shows, I cast both of them. And working with them was magic. We lost touch after college, but then in 2014, I ran into Jasmine walking her dog at Runyon, we set a coffee date, and then I confessed to her this secret fantasy I had of being able to work with her and Katey again. A week later the three of us were outlining the first digital season of Pushy Riot and…voila! It’s here! (Should note that “voila” encapsulates our intense 9 months of filming 12 episodes, while working a full-time industry job, nixing 4 episodes, writing a TV pilot for Pushy Riot, getting into the Fox Writers Intensive with said pilot, and having to postpone our initial release date by a year because Fox enacted their first look over the TV and digital property).
Why do you think digital is the new norm for creators?
It’s the new norm because creators are writing the rules for it, as opposed to trying to fit into an already established framework. And because the barriers to entry — the permissions and approvals you need — are much smaller. For us, digital has been that way to “get it done by any means necessary.” It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s exciting and, to a large extent, it’s still the Wild Wild West. And we’d like to be the sheriffs. The cool ones, though.
What were some difficulties/challenges you faced?
Budget, always budget! We called in a tremendous amount of favors from friends, and also cold called the hell out of places when we needed locations and, well… we may or may not have borrowed some shots occasionally. Honestly, the challenges we faced are probably one of the funnest parts, in a mildly masochistic-type way. It reminds you how much you love your project and how excited you are to share it with the world. And how important to you representation is. Our leads are two females, one of whom is Persian. It’s not a Persian or a “women only!” project, but it is a POV and voice we don’t see enough of on TV… Also scheduling and maintaining tenacity can be challenging, but the three of us always have each other’s backs. We’re the checks and balances our government used to have (too soon?), always keeping one another and the project on track, and pushing forward.
Can you give us specific budget numbers?
We worked with a brilliant, incredibly talented cast and crew that have legitimate rates, so probably not. However, I can say we shot under a SAG AFTRA New Media Agreement, and that however big or small you think our budget is, it’s probably half of that.
Do you have any advice for digital series creators out there?
Do it. Just do it. If it scares you, do it even more. And do it as constantly and consistently as possible. Surround yourself only with people that are better and more talented than you, and work with them and learn from them. Also, I’m paraphrasing, but Ira Sachs has a quote like “When you’re starting out, for the first several years, your taste is more developed than your skill level,” so the only way for your skill to catch up is to get in more reps.
Whatever challenges Ben and his friends faced while making Pushy Riot, the reward is in the process and end result. Digital has become the new frontier in championing new talent and fresh perspectives, which continues the evolution of where the film and television industry is headed. Ben and his collaborators are part of this revolution. Their tenacity and creativity will continue to push past the boundaries in entertainment.
You can watch the first two episodes of Pushy Riot here.
In the crowded TV jungle, Cristian searches through the dense vines to find quality programming for all to enjoy.
Cristian Barros | Contributor