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Hobo on the Move

By Steve Harvey. Having long provided audio post for reality TV staples like Gold Rush, Manhattan-based audio studio Hobo has launched a long-form original content development company, Hobo Films, that’s finishing work on the pilot for its first dramatic series, The System.

new york, ny (July 19, 2019)—In May, Howard Bowler, founder and president of Manhattan-based post production audio studio Hobo, announced the launch of a long-form original content development company, Hobo Films. The new company, which builds on the work of Bowler’s marijuana advocacy branding agency Green Point Creative, has hit the ground running. Hobo Films recently shared the first five minutes of episode 1 of The System, a scripted dramatic series that shines a light on the social inequities of the war on drugs started by President Richard M. Nixon.

Since setting up shop in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen back in 2006, Bowler’s company has gone from strength to strength, racking up Clio, Webby, Telly and other awards for its advertising, television, feature film and online work. Among many current projects, Hobo’s schedule includes Gold Rush, on which the facility has worked for almost a decade. (The first season of this Discovery series was called Gold Rush: Alaska.) “That show is the number one show at 10 o’clock Friday night in all of broadcast—cable and network,” says Bowler. In the past 18 months, Hobo also worked on two major documentaries: Amanda Knox for Netflix, and Showtime’s Weiner, which was fêted worldwide.

Bowler began diversifying Hobo’s portfolio in 2016, launching Green Point Creative with Hobo vice president and senior audio engineer Chris Stangroom. Green Point’s mission is to educate the public on the war on drugs and change drug laws in the United States. In 2017 the company scored a viral hit with a PSA, “Your Brain on Drug Policy,” featuring actress Rachael Leigh Cook and a frying pan. (The actress was reprising her role from the 1997 anti-heroin PSA “Your Brain on Drugs,” which was itself a reboot of the iconic 1987 “Frying Pan” anti-narcotics PSA funded by Partnership for a Drug-Free America.) The 2017 version critiquing the war on drugs, which has contributed to mass incarceration, poverty and structural racism, has been viewed millions of times on social media and attracted widespread news coverage.

“Green Point was really a way for us to educate the public about what the drug war is really about,” says Bowler. “Not to try to change people’s opinions so much as an educational forum. For example, did you know that marijuana is a Schedule I drug? I didn’t know, three years ago; that was a shocking discovery for me.”

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), signed into law in 1970 by Nixon, classified drugs and other substances into five schedules based on criteria such as their potential for addiction and medicinal value. By scheduling marijuana in the most extreme—that is, unsafe—class of narcotics, the CSA, together with other policy and societal factors, has disproportionately affected a significant segment of the U.S. population.

“This is a story that nobody has told about the drug war,” says Bowler. “They talk about cartels, [drug] dealing in the [housing] projects, but nobody has told the story of what happens in the suburbs around the country where people are getting stopped and harassed. Records are starting to be formed for primarily minority kids, fairly low-level drug charges—and that is the exact purpose of the war,” he says.

“Like alcohol prohibition from the 1930s, The System illustrates what happens when society outlaws a relatively benign and popular substance. And that’s why it’s impacting so many people emotionally, on both sides,” Bowler continues.

While it’s Bowler’s passion for the subject that has helped drive the audio post shop’s evolution into this new entertainment arena, Hobo’s staff members are also on board. A couple of employees have even demonstrated a talent for writing, contributing to The System, he reports. The first season is fully scripted, with a story that intertwines history, politics, race, science, health, criminal justice and the arts.

“The System is the first salvo in this larger entertainment operation. The next one right behind it is an incredible story that took place in the early 1900s. What we’re going to do is connect the dots through multiple stories.”

The new venture meshes nicely with Hobo’s core business, of course. “We’ve done a lot of long-form over the past five or six years. It’s a big part of our business, so it’s a natural fit to do the sound design, music and all the audio post here. And now that we’re expanding our services as we get this property out, we’re going to be viewed in the marketplace as a company that can create content,” says Bowler.

Commercial director Michael Cruz helmed the pilot for The System, which was edited by Oliver Parker, who worked on the critically acclaimed BBC series London Kills. The show features actress Lolita Foster from the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black.

“Entertainment has always been my drive into this industry,” says Bowler, who started out as a musician. His band The Marbles, with brother David, was once described as a cross between The Monkees, Television and The Dictators. The Marbles performed frequently at CBGB’s in the mid-’70s on the same bills as Blondie (they shared a manager) and The Ramones.

Hobo’s success as an audio post business has helped fund The System and get Hobo Films off and running. But going forward, Bowler says he needs to attract financial and marketing support.

“Hobo is operating as a pretty strong platform, and the company has been able to finance the pilot to launch the entertainment division. We’ve got multiple properties behind it that we have in development right now. We are going to get financing because it’s just too expensive [otherwise],” he says.

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“Our goal is to find an audience that can respond. I think there’s a large audience for this,” continues Bowler, who has been fielding calls from interested parties since the pilot went live on April 20 (4/20, like the “Your Brain on Drug Policy” spot, and a nod to 420, which has become code for marijuana). To get the ball rolling, he says, “We’ve started a social media campaign around the story.”

Simply hooking up with a major streaming content company may not be enough, he says, if The System is just going to get lost in a deluge of new releases. “It’s all being driven by the quality of the content and the timeliness of it. We’ve already invested, we’ve done the work, so it’s a well-developed property. We need someone on the other side who is going to come to the table with the same enthusiasm and commitment.”

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