Many thanks to James P. Mercurio for sending me a copy of the drama he produced last year Hard Scrambled. I can only apologise for the delay; unfortunately my one year old has an obsession with remote controls and thanks to my husband's thriftiness, he found a "bargain of the century" DVD player - which, you guessed it, only operates via the remote control... Which has spent the last month down the back of the fridge. Still, we found it at last and sat down to watch this movie last night.
Hard Scrambled's title made me think at first it could be some kind of action movie, until my husband pointed out I was probably thinking of John Woo's Hard Boiled: perhaps it's an American phrase I am unfamiliar with. Adapted from the play of the same name, by previously uncredited director David Scott Hay and produced by James and Creative Screenwriting's Erik Bauer, Hard Scrambled was winner of "Best Drama" at 2006's Garden State Festival. It's fair to say then I had high hopes for this movie.
I wasn't disappointed, either. Regular Readers of this blog know I love dramas in the vein of Secrets and Lies and Night People and following in the tradition of other great American dramas like You Can Count On Me, Hard Scrambled proves it's not just the British who have this genre nailed down. Hard Scrambled follows the fates of those employed by Alice's Diner: it's the diner's 25th anniversary, but there hasn't been much trade and Alice is having to start to let people go. That night however, Alice suffers an injury - her arm in the fryer, ouch - which may or may not have been an accident, putting restaurant crew Benno (Kurtwood Smith) and Scotty (Eyal Podell) and delivery man Joe (Richard Edson) at loggerheads with some surprising results. Though its roots are firmly planted in its play source material, Hard Scrambled is a powerful piece, exploring not only human relationships - a staple of drama - but also motivation and what makes people tick. On top of that, it's genuinely funny at times as well as poignant and yes, most surprising - violent!
However, even if you're not keen on drama, I still would recommend this DVD set. Why? Well, in comparison to most bonus material which limits itself to a few deleted scenes or a teaser trailer or two, Hard Scrambled has over two hours of film-making tutorials to it. Regular readers of this blog will know that Jim Mercurio makes a substantial input to our List of Wonder and he does not disappoint in these tutorials. There's some really in-depth stuff here and because it is directly related to the writing, development and production of the movie you have just watched, it really resonates. There are tips and instruction on directing, editing, development and producing. From such considerations as props and visuals, through to mise-en-scene, finding the killer ending and financing your feature, it's all there.
Funnily enough, though the script bonuses were great, my actual favourite of the bonus material was the "Directing" section. On it, the motifs of Hard Scrambled are explored, such as Benno's obsession with fixing machines and suchlike in the diner, as well as working with actors and what a "line reading" means (ie. A director telling an actor HOW to say a line). This was particularly interesting to me since parentheticals in screenplays tell an actor how to say a line as well - something Readers are told is a "no-no" - and there, on screen are actors confirming this very vociferously! Equally, James Mercurio made the great point that writers should "think more like actors", something I had never really considered before. He says that throwaway characters should be more "rounded", real people will be playing them, with real emotions and real problems. That actor isn't just a prop who turns up for perhaps thirty seconds of screentime and then disappears into a cupboard somewhere. He or she is a real person who wants to get the most out of their character - so give them something to work with. I was reminded here of PHONE BOOTH: in it there are some prostitutes who threaten Colin Farrell's character in the booth just before their pimp is murdered in front of them and whilst I didn't like the movie that much, these women playing the prostitutes really left an impression. I could literally see them acting their hearts out. In a similar fashion then, the peripheral characters of Hard Scrambled make this same effort, due to good writing - and it's really effective.
Best of all though in this section is "Anatomy of a Flawed Scene". An analysis of the moments just after Alice has had her horrible accident and the confrontation between Scotty and Benno as to how it happened, the Hard Scrambled team show what went wrong with this particular aspect of production. It's so rare for a production team to have this kind of humility, to say that what they planned didn't work out as they hoped, yet it also gives the wannabe filmmaker and writer a really valuable insight into the contraints and problems of this collaborative medium. And you get a great movie to watch too. Pretty bargainous I'd say!
Anyone else watch it out in www.land? Let us know...
Try before you buy: download samples of the Filmmaking tutorials.
Interview with Hard Scrambled's lead, Kurtwood Smith here.
Click here to watch a teaser trailer, read cast bios, Director's statement etc.
For James P. Mercurio's Script Consultation Services, click here.
Buy Hard Scrambled here.