Execs at Crackle, Sony’s streaming service, knew its customers were big fans of Snatch, Guy Ritchie’s gangster comedy. So they conceived it as a series — with new characters and an amped-up pace. And casting Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint couldn’t hurt.
With every television entity delving into long-form scripted series these days, you have to know your audience.
Crackle, Sony’s streaming network, knows its consumers are mostly young, male gamers who like action. Crackle also knows its viewers really like the film Snatch — whenever it makes available Guy Ritchie’s 2000 caper about London gangsters behaving badly, ratings go through the roof.
Snatch, as it happens, is a Sony Pictures title. And so, with Crackle execs looking to expand their slate of original dramas beyond The Art of More and StartUp, a plan was hatched: take Snatch the movie, reboot it, recast it and update it for a new generation of gamers in need of an action fix.
Eric Berger, Crackle’s executive vice-president and general manager, describes the target: “These are people who work hard and play hard and like to watch very energizing content on their game consoles and devices.”
Of course, knowing what your audience wants and giving it to them are two very different things. To alchemize all the data into a great show, Berger went and found an expert. British writer-director Alex De Rakoff has a background in video games (Grand Theft Auto 2, Need for Speed: The Run), but he’s also helmed a comedy (The Calcium Kid, 2004) and an action thriller (Dead Man Running, 2009).
“I went in and met Crackle and they told me that they wanted to make a TV show based on Snatch — but they had no creative at that point,” De Rakoff says. “So I went away and spent a couple of days thinking.”
By coincidence, De Rakoff was working on a screenplay at the time about the Brink’s-Mat robbery, a famous 1983 heist in which a huge haul of gold bullion was stolen from a warehouse near London’s Heathrow airport. Most of it was never recovered.
“I thought I could take the plot conceits from that — gold that was stolen and then 15 years of havoc that ensued from that moment forward,” De Rakoff says. “I thought that would be a really interesting jumping-off point for a TV show.”
And so, with De Rakoff as executive producer, Snatch the series began to take shape.
It’s a story about a group of small-time hustlers in London’s East End who stumble upon a truckload of stolen gold and don’t quite know what to do with it. Suddenly Albert, the son of a revered (and imprisoned) gangland legend; his friend Charlie, a rich kid way out of his depth; and Lotti, a gangster’s moll, find themselves going toe-to-toe with big-timers from organized crime.
From the outset, De Rakoff chose not to use any of the original film’s characters or plotlines. “Guy Ritchie created such an iconic movie, and it’s beloved,” he says. “I’m a huge fan of the film. I felt we needed to create our own world and characters. [The feature] came out 17 years ago, and we needed to define what our Snatch world would be. So we created brand-new characters and stories.”
New characters require new stars to play them.
Rupert Grint — one of the world’s most recognizable 20-somethings — already had a relationship with Sony, thanks to his eight runs as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films. But he’d never done television.
De Rakoff went to meet him in London. He recalls: “We sat down and had a chat. Having met him, I based one of our lead characters [Charlie] around certain qualities that I saw in him: this guy who’s really funny, smart, very modest — and super talented.”
Rather than have Grint play a fake Cockney gangster, De Rakoff played off the Londoner’s estimable comic chops. Charlie Cavendish became a rich kid with something to prove — a fish out of water among these sons of gangsters and gypsy fighters.
“Charlie is not a great fit, really,” Grint says. “He’s always trying to justify his place in the group because he feels insecure about not having street smarts.” His humor and amiable skittishness anchor the show, but Grint also gives Snatch a marquee name for marketing.
“Rupert moving from film to TV is an exciting step,” Berger enthuses. “He’s doing something that’s really different from the way that people are used to seeing him. It’s a great role for him.”
Grint says he’s always looking to do something different. And after playing one character in eight Harry Potter films, he’s also drawn to roles that can evolve over time.
“When I was doing the Potter movies, I got used to doing a character where you carve out a long journey through a long period. I’m also an exec producer on this [series] — it was interesting to see that side of it. I wanted to be involved in things a little more creatively.”
It helped too that, like De Rakoff, Grint is a fan of the original movie: “I grew up with everyone spouting the lines — it’s always been in my life.” With Grint and his character in place, De Rakoff moved to flesh out his ensemble.
Luke Pasqualino (Skins, The Borgias) was cast as Albert, the Cockney grifter who’s Charlie’s friend and business partner. Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible II, Desperate Housewives) came aboard as Albert’s father, Vic.
“Vic is the big godfather in the East End from way back,” Scott says. “He ends up in prison because he gets double-crossed during a bank raid 15 years ago. Cut to the present day, and his young son Albert is getting involved in stuff his father got involved in back then. Basically, a stash of gold that Vic had and lost has resurfaced, and he tries to break out of prison — because he wants his gold back.”
Vic Hill is in some ways the embodiment of the show — charming and quick-witted but hard and brutal as a blade when required. Scott points out that Vic’s relationship with his son brings Snatch some heart as well.
“At the show’s center are reconciliation and the break-up of a family and the consequences,” the actor says. ”There’s a little bit of pathos and the resonance of loss and regret and shame that Vic’s put on his family by getting sent to prison. Mind you, he thinks about that for about five minutes and then says, ‘Right! Now I’m going to get my gold back.’ So it’s all done a bit tongue-in-cheek.”
What made the original film so genre-defining?
It managed to be irreverent yet deadly serious at the same time. Funny but never inconsequential, Snatch was peopled with hard characters who made you laugh (and wince) but also retained your interest. It’s a tough balancing act that De Rakoff has been charged with bringing to a series.
“Yes, in this show our tongue is firmly in our cheek,” he acknowledges, “but as the series evolves, we play with real characters and relationships, and the dynamics between friends, fathers and sons. We hope that it will make you laugh and entertain you, but at the same time it’s supposed to give you enough character and depth to hold your attention through the season.
"It’s one thing to do one or two episodes of heist-y, smash-y stuff, but it’s got to be more than that, or you’re going to lose your audience quite quickly.”
Of course, the series had an established fan base even before its March debut (all 10 episodes remain available on Crackle). And those fans can look forward to season two, which is already on order and will debut in 2018.
“With such a cult classic, there’s a lot of pressure to do right by the original,” Berger says. “The fans are very clear about that from what we see online. It’s a little bit different from other shows you might bring to market, where there are no expectations.”
A good deal of those expectations are cinematic: Guy Ritchie’s pair of London gangster movies — Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and its followup, Snatch — pioneered a style of filmmaking that became instantly recognizable, and much imitated. Music is a defining character, and the camerawork is fast and dynamic.
“It was a lot for us to live up to,” De Rakoff says. “I paid close attention to how we would go about shooting this and how that would evolve into the edit.” The result is a series that looks very different from most of what’s out there: it’s frenetic, unrelenting and delivered at breakneck speed.
“Guy Ritchie was unique, because he used techniques like ramping up shots or hard cuts in to focus on a little bag of gold or money or a gun or a face or an eye,” Scott says. “It made the audience feel involved, and we do that in this series on a much bigger scale.
“Television has changed a lot in the last few years. There are no rules anymore, and that’s allowed us to take the Snatch formula and amp it up.” Of course, the Snatch brand of hyper-caffeinated screencraft is very like the video games enjoyed by Crackle viewers, many of whom watch shows via gaming consoles rather than set-top boxes.
“These are people who like high energy,” Berger says. “They like action. And they like thrills.” When they switch from gaming to video content, the same is true. That’s why Snatch keeps the plot moving.
“There’s never much of a down period,” Berger notes. “It has a big ensemble cast, and they have a lot of activities in motion through a variety of cities and settings, different gangs and worlds.”
When it came to filming this dizzying collage, the team went not to London but to Manchester, in northern England, the city that, sadly, would later suffer a deadly terrorist attack during an Ariana Grande concert.
The decision was mainly based on economics: London is an expensive — and complicated — place to shoot. “When you’re filming a show like this, you want to be out and about, nip down the backstreets, get from A to B quickly,” De Rakoff says. “I’ve shot in London a lot. You just can’t do that there.”
So Manchester it was. It meant putting up a group of mostly young, male actors in a town famous for its music and nightlife for the better part of six months. “We had fun!” Grint recalls, laughing. “Manchester is a great city, and the fun was all part of the bonding.”
His Potter fame, however, meant that even now, six years after the last film’s release, shooting on location wasn’t always easy. “I still had people shouting at me when we were filming on the street and when we went out,” Grint says. “I thought the whole Potter thing might mellow down, but actually it hasn’t. A new generation has come to the films.”
He says he still gets stopped at some point every day, no matter where he is. In a London café this spring, though he was wearing dark glasses and a cap pulled down low over his ginger hair, the waiter did a double take when he saw who the cappuccino was for.
At least when he was out filming Snatch, there was no lack of excitement. “There are lots of car chases,” he recalls. “I crash into a van with a forklift, and I got to wear a pig’s head mask in a heist. Yes, that is actually me under the pig’s head! Do I do all my own stunts? No, I don’t. Running to me is a stunt. But it does feel like being in the playground again.”
Scott got to play too. “We filmed in a prison in Lancaster, where we staged this huge riot and broke out of prison. Tearing into screws [slang for prison guards] and having massive punch-ups, throwing people over bannisters, stealing an ambulance — if you can’t have fun doing that, when can you?”
The hope for Crackle is that Snatch will continue to strike a chord with viewers, and that even more will want to join in the fun. But how does a service like Crackle define success in this so- called post-ratings era?
Berger says that first the service looks at how the show plays to existing subscribers: are they going from episode to episode, how quickly are they bingeing and how many go on to watch other content on the service? After that, shows are measured by customer acquisition: how many new subscribers come to Crackle by way of Snatch, how many complete the series and how many go on to Crackle’s other content?
If the metrics tell a positive tale, there’ll be more Snatch to come. “There’s a lot of story and worlds and potential in this show,” Berger says.
For his part, De Rakoff wants Snatch to go global. “It would be fascinating to see these characters move out of London and go somewhere fresh. I see them in the south of Spain, Los Angeles — I see these guys moving all over.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2017