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Spotlight: Matthew Cooke, Writer/Director, ‘How to Make Money Selling Drugs’

Told from the perspective of former drug dealers, How to Make Money Selling Drugs is both a primer on the topic and a new approach using satire and sincerity in documenting the complex issues surrounding America’s war on drugs.

A shockingly candid examination of how a street dealer can rise to cartel lord with relative ease,

How to Make Money Selling Drugs

is an insider’s guide to the violent but extremely lucrative drug industry.

What was the tone of your approach to this film?

Matthew Cooke: Satire. My intention was to use my 10 years of experience in the advertising world as a digital designer, motion graphics artist and creative director and apply those skills to telling the truth—the opposite of what we do in advertising.

Did you make choices in camera equipment based on a certain look you were going for?

I used the RED ONE. It was the best camera on the market at the time but everyone I talked to said, “No way can you shoot a documentary on the RED. It’s unstable, unreliable, too heavy…” It was heavy as hell but I loved the deep film look, and my ability to push it in post was too good to pass up. I’m happy with the decision.

I wanted to film the people in the movie in a way that would respect them as I see them, which is just as fellow human beings on a path most of us would have a hard time understanding. I remember reading a quote by [author] William Soroyan that goes something like, “Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours. Nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart.” That was the vibe: empathy, respect. I wanted to give my subjects visual love by shooting them vibrantly and with the highest aesthetics I can give as a visual artist.

Director Matthew Cooke

What did you find most challenging in the production process?

The most challenging aspect was the size of the crew. The project lasted a while and there was quite a bit of turnaround in the tiny crew, and I really loved everyone who pitched in. At the end of the day I was hand-painting backdrops for the interviews myself and custom designing all the graphics and narrating the VO as I went. It was incredibly fun and moving and certainly a passion project. I had it in my head that I wanted to take every skill I’d learned in the last 20 years and apply it to this movie. Having the tiny crew forced me to auteur the movie and rise to the occasion in a few areas I didn’t know I had in me. So that was fun.

What did it mean to you personally to be able to make this film?

A lifelong dream. It is a subject I feel passionately about. It’s a righteous topic that needs to be told. It was my directorial debut. I conceived the idea with my dad, Stuart Cooke. My producer, Adrian Grenier, and his partner, Robin Garvick, are two of my best friends in the world. I mean, what could be better?