“It’s a Northern California crime story based on the rise of designer weed and the South’s role in the marijuana business,” says cannabis entrepreneur, Cookies CEO and musician Gilbert Anthony Milam Jr., better known as Berner. He’s talking about an upcoming series he’ll be releasing with Gashouse’s Felix Murry, Snowfall co-creator Eric Amadio and Den of Thieves director Christian Gudegast.
Details of this untitled project are being revealed for the first time ever, exclusively.
The Bay’s True Story
For Berner, no one’s ever told the Bay Area story properly. He can think of countless examples of great characterizations of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York in crime films. But the Bay Area, he argues, has been poorly depicted.
“This is my chance and my responsibility, and I wear the weight on my shoulders to tell the Bay Area’s story,” he voices.
And he goes on to talk about crime shows in general. “I feel like if you look at shows on TV right now, they’re too pretty. They’re overproduced. Even the last season of Narcos, I was kind of disappointed, because that’s one of my favorite shows in the world. I got out of surgery for cancer, and the day I got to go home from the hospital, it was when Narcos came out, and I was like, ‘Oh, perfect timing.’ Actually, it wasn’t that ma. It was is overproduced. We’re about to bring that gritty sh*t back to TV. That’s what we need.”
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He’s not wrong. If you if you listen to the kind of music that’s really killing it right now, both in English and in Spanish, it’s grittier. We’re at this era where authenticity pays off. Where YouTubers and Twitch streams with zero production get more views and mainstream television.
“Facts. It’s like Blair Witch. People want to see that real, edgy, trippy sh*t. That was the request I made it my partners, and they’re all with it.”
Casting will be key to this mission. The show creators don’t want the biggest star in the world: They want to create credible characters, people from the Bay Area with authentic lingo and personality to play these roles. “Same with Atlanta, where part of this story takes place.
“Who I find to play my sh*t, I don’t really know. I’ll probably make him skinny and buff because I always wanted to be skinny and buff. But it’s going to be tough,” Berner jokes. “We want to find the right people and especially because it’s so heavily based in San Francisco Bay Area.”
Keep in mind the story being told takes place during the pre-gentrification period in the Bay, so what you’ll get to see is the grittier side of the area. Reminiscing, the rapper shares an example of the kinds of storylines you’ll find in this series:
Growing up, I would walk down a very popular street where there’s restaurants and businesses, and there’d be a Laundromat that was closed… and there’d be spray paint on the floor saying, “We know you’re growing weed in here.”
A major train and bus would go by it. And you know, my partners used to run that spot back in the days. There would be grows on the main streets of San Francisco. You’d smell it, the neighbors complain, but everyone was paid off. That’s the city I come from: It’s Mafia, bro, these businesses running on plain sight, broad daylight.
Why a Laundromat? Because when the state looks up electricity bills, a Laundromat usually has high electricity consumption. It was just really cool to see how forward thinking the underground drug business was back in the days.
Years In The Making
Beyond the story itself, the project is very dear to Berner. And not new at all: He’s always been obsessed with filmmaking.
In fact, Berner landed his first job at a dispensary at age 18, while filming a documentary. “I’ve been into this sh*t forever but I’ve never been in a position where I could do it my way.”
Over time, audiovisual storytelling really became a passion; and this has been reflected in all of Berner’s brands and products.
“When I moved to Arizona in sixth grade and I left San Francisco, people just thought of San Francisco as a gay city. No one knew that it’s crazy out here that you wouldn’t ride the 14 Mission or certain bus to 22 Fillmore by yourself. There you go: Hop on that bus and ride that sh*t,” he challenges disbelievers. “So I always told myself I wanted to tell the story of where I’m from because people don’t really know about it. They think Rice-A-Roni and cable car, not that is one of the most violent places right now. So I always felt like I wanted to tell the story of the Bay Area, not just the crime side of things, but the culture. You know, the diversity: you got Asians, Blacks and Mexicans all working together and getting all the money together. That is dope to me. It’s a very diverse, unique cultural place. So my passion for film comes from wanting to tell the story of my area, really.”
This particular series has been years in the making as well. Berner actually started talking about it in his records more than a decade ago.
“I knew it was going to happen, and that’s why I like to speak things into existence,” he voices. “But this project came together at the right time… No one’s ever told the story about packs shipping and trafficking in the marijuana space that really made sense. It’s always been like a cheesy comedy or overproduced, dramatic movie, like John Travolta’s Savages. It was just too cheesy. At the end of day, I think there’s room for drama based on true events.”
Assembling The Right Team
To attain the desired outcome, Berner knew he needed not just the right cast, but also the right production and direction team. This is where Eric Amadio and Christian Gudegast come in.
Berner had seen Gudegast in action on the set of Den of Thieves. “When it came out, I was like, ‘Wow, this mother*cker put this sh*t together quick. And exactly what I saw on set is what you saw on film; that was the first time I really saw live action shots like that being filmed and directed and then executed that quickly, that good.”
Of Amadio, Berner was always a fan, admiring the success of Snowfall.
“When I looked at this, it was a full package. We had someone who’d bring that raw, edgy talent to the table. And someone who knows how to actually put together a real show and execute it properly… They both understood the story and the need for the story.”
Finally, there’s Felix Murry, Berner’s long-time best friend, investor and partner. He was the one who introduced Berner to the whole African-American and Latinx, music and weed scenes in the American South – especially in Atlanta, Georgia.
“He took me to a club there. That was the first time I saw what I like to call ‘Black Hollywood.’ That sh*t was crazy. You saw people popping up in all kinds of jewelry, fancy cars… They were all smoking weed in the club. As soon as you’d leave the club, you could get arrested for a little bit of weed. But not in the club.”
Deep On The Deep South
Berner’s new series is about a lot more than just weed. It’s about the rise of a counterculture movement into the mainstream and the creation of a disruptive industry. “In the South, they were selling that Mexican brick weed for a while. And there was a point in time when in California we started to get much better weed, great genetics, no seeds… And that changed whole markets; margins where as good as cocaine’s.”
According to the rapper, this will be the first real, accurate portrayal of the whole cannabis smuggling scene as California weed blew up. “Once people see it, they’re going to know exactly what time period we’re talking about.”
Berner is clearly referencing the early 2000s. He’s talking about that “indoor hydroponic, like just like green weed. No seeds.”
He ruminates: “Back then it was like Mango and Pineapple and Super Skunk, and then it evolves into the mid 2000s to OG Kush, Bubble Kush Granddaddy Purple… So it is actually real, because in a regular series, a regular movie, they’d just call it hydroponic. That’s it. No, no, no, no. I started off with certain flavors, right? And then the menus evolve and they meet market demand, certain things for certain prices. And when it gets played out, they want the new thing. So it’s really cool because I feel like no one could tell this story better than me and Felix. We’ve seen it firsthand.”
It was a seismic shift.
“Dealers from all around the world felt this felt this change in the market, people started getting bougie. They’re even still getting more bougie now; the market changes every few years. But that one drastic change was a big deal… It created a trend that caught on worldwide. Suddenly you [the article author], back home in Argentina, were asking your dealer for that good sh*t. That’s what’s cool: there was people back then smuggling this good California sh*t out there and they’d be the very popular.”
“The way I would describe this series is like a Blow meets Dead Presidents meets Belly. It’s very urban, is very real. You know, it’s just something that’s not in the market right now.”
Independent: That’s Berner, and that’s how he likes his ventures. Independent.
And so, this series was created as a… You guessed: independent project. From the understanding of this approach, derived a very enjoyable piece of honest conversation:
– There’s something about this series that makes me think of a similar path to how you developed Cookies, right? You just put all of your energy into a project, found some good partners and built it on your own. The idea was to put out something dope out there and hopefully have everyone want it, ultimately driving corporate America to wanting to buy it from you.
That is kind of what has happened with Cookies. You launched, you had your own thing. People loved it. And then corporate America came and said, “OK, how do I get a piece of this?” And you’re like, “OK, yeah, you’ve got distribution rights. The brand is mine.”
Are you doing something similar with this documentary? It doesn’t have a title. It doesn’t have a home. Is it intentional? Are you trying to build something dope and drive good value before you bring it to someone or what’s the deal?
– Yeah, you hit on the dot, dude. I funded this project. No contracts, by myself. I’d been so anxious to get this done for 10-plus years. So, when I got the actual team I wanted, f*ck it, I funded it myself. There is a working title in place right now. We’re not going to release it quite yet. But yeah, the goal is to build this and package it as best as best as we can and then go bring it to people and say, “All right, this is what we did on our own. What do you guys want to do?”
You know, they have mentioned it’s going to be about a $70 million project. So, you know, I can’t afford that. But I feel like I feel like the more we package and the more we get on our own, the sexier we just become to someone who would want to fund that type of project. That’s the Berner motto, dude. I did with Vibes [my rolling papers and lifestyle brand]. I created the logo, I printed on some packs before I even had the papers ready, I started creating the buzz, found the partner, and then I put it on the market. So that’s how I get down. I just put that sh*t into the universe.”