Lonzo Ball made his way to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, as prophecized by his father LaVar, and things have been a little crazy since then. The duo has drawn the attention of national culture, and as we follow the Lakers, it’s impossible to avoid the buzz.
Lonzo has the potential to be a star in Hollywood with the spotlight shining on him from Day 1, and he nails his latest opportunity to diversify his portfolio in a brand new episode of The Fifth Quarter.
The series, produced by OBB Pictures, is in its second season and is currently releasing new episodes in batches every week. The latest episode, featuring Lonzo, LaVar, Marlon Wayans and Danielle Fishel — and a few other surprise cameos — is hilarious.
I had a chance to speak with Michael D. Ratner, director of the hilarious series and many other projects, to get his insight on how everything came together for the episode, his observations on the father-son duo, and some of his thoughts on how premium short form content is a huge opportunity for athletes and celebrities alike.
Before you go any further, though, spend the best 10 minutes of your day watching the story of Fetus Jones. Enjoy:
When did the idea to build an episode around Lonzo and LaVar come to you?
We were in development for Season 2 and 3 when I actually first worked with LaVar. LaVar is on my other show that I do with Kevin Hart, so when he was a guest he was just so charismatic and funny, and really awesome to work with. You see this larger than life persona that he puts on, and many of those elements are very real, but he’s really quite easy to work with.
I was in development with our team in the writers room and I was like, we need this guy on this show. We’re doing sports parody and this guy just brings it. We wrote an episode that we thought that he’d fit really nicely into, we already had Marlon Wayans on board, and just figured how fun to just sort of have a version of LaVar and Lonzo... not literally them but something that we could parallel... and then have them appear at a point in the episode that people start making the connection and then you’re like no way they got them in this.
The way that we draw you in with the quaint house, and he’s sort of playing the opposite of himself... it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Do you think LaVar plays into this persona around him a bit, or is that just who he is?
I think both. The guy’s said a lot of stuff when it comes to Lonzo, and a lot of it has come to fruition. I think, listen, he doesn’t bite his tongue. Certainly that’s hurt him He is who is he, and he has some WWE-type persona to him where he plays into the whole thing, but in my dealings with him he’s a good guy who loves his kids, has been a great dad and is trying to make all his family better. And I think there’s a lot of impressive stuff that he’s doing with the entrepreneurial spirit and Big Baller Brand, and all that stuff.
I’m impressed, certainly. He’s made a choice to put himself out there. And that can work for you or work against you, but LA’s the place to do that.
How did the mannerisms and character for Romar Jones come together?
Marlon did a lot of that, inspiration for character work. Marlon’s character said that he was doing all this stuff before LaVar, and that was a way to have some fun with it. I think that this series lives and dies on our biggest talent being in-on the joke, and being self reflective, and LaVar and Lonzo were all about that.
Who had the most fun on set?
Marlon goes off book quite a bit and just says stuff that even in your wildest dreams you wouldn’t come up with in the writing room, so it deviates a bit from the script of the narrative but you figure out ways to make it work so the episode still has flow. He was great to work with.
I really thought that LaVar and Lonzo were great because their repertoire is so funny, bouncing things off each other. We had that setup as a two-shot so you can see when one’s talking what the other one’s mannerisms are. Probably between the three of them they steal the show in this one.
Were there any other ideas on how to create this episode or was this the one?
This was it. I think once we knew we had those guys committed, it was a no-brainer to do an episode about a double father-son story. One that was centered on Marlon and his kid, and then bringing in the super well-known, super relevant, Ball family.
I think that a lot of the other big stars in the show, the way our show operates you’re either a focus point of an episode, but even when you are you can go and give commentary on many others, and a lot of the guys jumped at the opportunity to give some comments on this episode once they heard what it’s about just because Lonzo is new to the league and they thought it’d be fun to kind of buy into it all, and it’s all in good fun.
Lonzo’s delivery during interviews sometimes seems almost deadpan or nonchalant, is that something you wanted to highlight?
I think that’s what makes it so funny. In some ways Lonzo acts as the audience’s consciousnesses. You go and see LaVar say something really big or outlandish, he says at one point “beat that baby” when he’s talking about a seven-year-old kid, and Lonzo looks at him and says “he’s seven years old” and that’s like the voice of the audience, and you get to see it on screen.
At times it’s almost like you’re watching this dynamic of who’s the star? Lonzo’s on the Lakers and LaVar is obviously running the brand and things like that, and it seems like Lonzo’s cool when the cameras come on letting his dad sort of run with it and have some fun.
Once a lot of athletes and stars saw what we were doing and what the shows about and it’s viral potential and how it was spread, it was easier. This year we have Dr. J in it. Joel Embiid, Candace Parker... lots of different people.
We were able to go and pitch really sort of crazy ideas and the guys were more receptive to it because we’d tell people check out this episode, look how awesome it is. This year it was fun to open up the writers room a bit. Come up with your craziest idea, and we will be able to approach Joel Embiid.
This show’s sort of had that snowball effect. You get a few really big names buy into this thing and you can let the idea sort of lead, and you can find guys who are going to want to do it.
Do you feel like the pairing of sports and media is on the rise right now with so many different opportunties arising for players?
I’m determined to lead the new wave. I think what we’re doing is really interesting, we’re at a unique point in Hollywood and in content where there’s this new media out there, and there’s all these different distribution channels to go and be heard. I think that traditional television is great, and films are great, but it takes a lot of time from an athlete to go and commit to something like that.
Nowadays, you can make a premium television show that lives on digital, lines totally blurred, and I need you for a half day, or two hours, and I can go and put you in as a star of the episode of a Fifth Quarter, or in six episodes of cameos, and as the season starts you’re rolling out and connecting with your audience in a new and engaging way every week.
There’s all these different new networks to marry sports and entertainment, because there’s so much synergy there, and there’s just a new way to do it and be heard. Speaking to this generation, we want to go and cater to that and not try to do things the old way, and I think that’s why we’ve had some real success.
I think our relationships with athletes whether it’s a Vice ride along, or whether it’s a Fifth Quarter episode, we want go go and do what’s best for the athlete and get to really know them and show the audience a really cool side of what they’re out. I don’t think too many people have seen LaVar Ball sipping tea in a sweater by a fireplace talking about another father being overbearing.
What do you think about content being packaged into shorter pieces that can be consumed quickly by audiences?
I think short form is the future. I buy into that our kids our are going to watch on mobile, and their favorite TV shows are going to be premium, well-scripted, well-acted, with big stars, and they’re going to watch it on a small screen.
10 minutes is a lot of time to tell your story. I say this series is like 30-for-30 meets Drunk History. There’s 30-for-30 shorts — we did a 30-for-30 short — and you’re able to tell a really interesting, compelling story with multiple storylines in 10 minutes, you just have to be really smart with your time. I think that the audience we’re going for, they’re giving us 10 minutes max. We just try to fill up that 10 minutes, and not go too far beyond unless there’s a real reason to do so.
What other projects do you have on the way?
We have a show coming out with Kevin Hart that will start rolling out in December that I think people are going to be really excited about. It has sports crossover and some really big names, different names than a lot of stars in this show, so we’re excited to push that out.
Season 3 comes back at you at the top of 2018 for another 10 episodes. That season is led by Joel Embiid’s episode, which is unbelievable. He’s a natural actor and I think it’s going to be the first time people see his personality outside of his social media handles which are awesome, but it’s his first step into the comedy space.
Lot of different stuff, whether it’s sports, horror, comedy, music. We like doing it all as long as it’s cool and we think it’s going to speak to our audience.
I want to thank Michael D. Ratner for the time he took out of his day to chat about the episode!