- Cinequest 16 chat with actor Kurtwood Smith, director David Scott Hay, and producers Jim Mercurio and Erik Bauer
- Hard Scrambled is a tough, edgy drama about a run-down diner on the wrong side of town. The owner has an accident, which we can just call a severe injury, which sends the men around her into a scrambled fight for control of the establishment. A rather sordid, if not sadly comedic, view of life for people with little to lose, who then lose sight of reality to cheat each other into oblivion for something that may end up not being worth it at all.
Cinequest had invited the main core of Hard Scrambled to chat about the making of the film including Kurtwood Smith, the actor lately best known for his role as the dad on The 70s Show.
As the chat begins, the group is asked over to the podium -
Guys if youd like to come over, and David, if youd like to start. Tell us a little bit about how you pulled this film together, and how you got Kurtwood involved, and explain a bit about how this hard-edged film is getting its buzz.
DSH: Well, its easy to get great talent if you have incriminating black and white photos of their early theater days... How did we get Kurtwood Smith? Umm... we said Please. Heres a script. Would you like to do it? Wed like for you to be a part of it. Im a big fan of his, going way back. So this is actually a big thrill to work with him. The man is an outstanding actor, a gentleman, and a true professional. He just responded to the script. We talked, I gushed, and he said, OK.
KS: What I should say, in regard to that... They sent me a script, and for me, thats always where it starts. I read the script. I thought it was fresh, and I responded very well to the character. So then it was just a question of meeting with David and talking with him. To get involved in projects like this, one thing that you want to be careful of is that you have some basis. Thats why the script is so important. As far as you know, its not really going to change much. They might tell you that it will, but you cant believe them because you dont really know these people. So you have to start with the script. Second, you want to have some feeling that the person whom youre going to be working with, entrusting yourself to, your career to, has some idea of what he wants to do. Not only has written something, as in this case, but that hes going in a direction that you understand and feel comfortable with. That certainly seemed to be the case. Plus, he seemed like a nice guy. (audience laughter)
JM: It reminds me of the [Francis Ford] Coppola quote, where he said, If you walk down the street with a flag, by the time you get to Main Street, youll have a parade. The script was the first flag, and Kurtwood was the first float. Once he came on, we approached Richard Edson from Do The Right Thing and Stranger Than Paradise... He said, Oh, Kurtwoods really doing it? and David sounds pretty cool. OK, lets go. All of the sudden, one step, two steps, great. Good process and it all starts with the script.
DSH: It really doesnt go anywhere unless someone says Yes. That was the whole thing was Kurtwood reading the script. A 15 minute conversation with me, and Im in. Then at once the ball starts rolling and everyone gets excited. You can jump aboard and help us or not. You know, Coca-Cola, everyone kind of came on board because they love Kurtwood Smith.
KS: Did you tell them what happened when we were on the set? On the first day I came on the set, I said, (sarcastically) You know, I dont really drink Coca-Cola. (audience laughs) I said, I only drink Diet Pepsi. I was joking. But the next day I came in, all the little cans were Pepsi. In one day it was gone. Now some little P.A. [production assistant - ed.] comes to my door and says, Heres your Pepsi. Aaw no. You have to be very careful about what you say.
DSH: Actually, if we knew he was kidding, we could have had two more shooting days.
Q: This must be an interesting time for you as an actor in transition out of That 70s Show. I would think the doors are open for you. Youve got that recognition, especially with the younger audience. How do you plan to proceed and capitalize on that?
- KS: I dont have anything planned. Thats true. I really dont make those sort of plans. Ive been working on That 70s Show for eight years. I dont personally develop stuff for myself. Thats just not the way I work. So its a terrific position for me to be in, having done the show for that long, that right now I dont have to worry about whether I work or not. That doesnt mean that I want to, like Id want to go on vacation or anything. Im used to having four months per year on vacation. But I dont really feel that I have to do anything if I dont want to, so Ive been looking at some scripts. Im just kind of floating along, and its great. Its a nice situation.
DSH: We would love to have this film impact his career. For that to happen, it means that we have to get up in the marketplace, get our distribution. Were hoping that if you see this movie, if you know Kurtwood from That 70s Show, it will kind of knock your socks off with the language, the tone and stuff. So were hoping that we get it out there and show a range. (Towards Kurtwood) I dont know if, as an actor, this is part of the reason why you took it [the role], but its very different from what youve been doing for the past few years.
KS: Yeah. It kind of reminded me of stuff that I used to do earlier in my career, from the Robocop days. But its a completely different kind of character than that.
Q: After being on That 70s Show for so long, is it kind of a relief to feel free to take a role that you want to choose, and what are you looking for in talent now?
- KS: Well, you know, there again... To a certain extent, sure its a relief to know that if something comes along that I want to do, I can do it. But I dont find leaving the show to be a relief. It was great fun. It was one of those situations where... I have friends of mine who have been on shows, they get involved, and they hate them. They go through it because of the money. But, especially in a situation comedy, the job is so relatively easy once you get it down, in terms of a schedule... Its such a positive life schedule. One of the guys on the show was joking yesterday, You know, you work a good 24 hours per week on that show. Thats really about it. We were putting in about 24 hours per week. With all the days off, I mean... It was ridiculous. And at the same time, were working with really nice people. We worked together for a long time. There were things that you could do, and they would work, and it was easy. It was a situation that everyone dreamed of. So I hated to see it go. I really did. If I had not gotten along so well with some of the people on the show, it would have been a different story. But in this case, it was great. But sure, it will be fun to look around.
DSH: It was great because he [Kurtwood] called me up this spring before we shot, and said, You know, theres an awful lot of lines for me here. Youre the lead. (audience laughs) He said, Oh, Ive got to start memorizing this. The cast was great. The first day of shooting they could have done the whole movie off of the script.
KS: Well, we did. We did this film in 13 days, mind you. And 13 days is not very long for a feature film. Nobody in their right mind would argue that. Nobody in their right mind would do that. Yeah, Davids originally a playwright. This was originally a play. Its called a dialogue. There was no way to work the kind of schedule that we were going to work without being on top of what were doing from the beginning. Im also somebody who came from the theater - in this area, actually, I did a lot of theater around here. So I believe in doing what the writer wrote, as opposed to rewriting the dialogue to suit myself. So it was important to me to go into production on top of my lines. In That 70s Show, you just dont bother learning your lines. By the end of the week, you know the lines. They were sticklers for what you did, but you didnt have to go through the process of learning them. You would just assimilate them during the week. But on this movie, I had to have someone come over to drill me on the lines. So when we started, yes, I knew all my dialogue for the entire film. That was the only way it was going to work, and it did.
DSH: We were joking about how when the DVD comes out, the gag reel would be about 20 seconds long, because the cast maybe had two or three line flubs the whole time.
Q: What do you do now at Cinequest to position the film and get a distributor?
- EB: Well be playing festivals across the country. I imagine that in May well do the classic distributor screening in Los Angeles. Hopefully get some awards, get some buzz, get some good reviews, and then well get a theater out, best one possible, invite all the buyers to come in and see it in a perfect scenario and go from there. We shot in High Definition 24p, and finally got to see it a few days ago, and its beautiful. For a lot of the filmmakers and producers, and even the actors, theyre seeing the film for the first time today, so its a pretty exciting time.
Q: [To Kurtwood] Youre an experienced actor, and an experienced acting teacher. Whats the best thing a director can offer you?
- KS: A director? I think an actor always wants... I think of Peter Weir as an example of the kind of director that I like. You always want to have the feeling that the director knows what he wants, and is look at what youre doing, and incorporating what youre doing adding to what he does. Peter Weir is brilliant at that. You have extreme confidence in him. Consequently, actors need to... actors are always self-conscious and nervous. So you want to have a feeling of confidence. You want to be able to place your confidence in the director. You want to have the feeling that he knows what he wants to do. But at the same time, you want to contribute, so if you feel that hes looking at you, that hes paying attention to what youre doing beyond just saying, OK, he said his lines right. Good. Go on. Then you will have the tendency to give more. You can relax, and feel comfortable in the environment that youre working in, and youll do more. If youre not, then youll have a problem. Hes not going to get what he wants, and its going to get worse.
And with that, the ensemble was reminded of their upcoming film screening and were sent off on their way.
Edited by Philip Anderson and Photos © 2006 Philip Anderson & W. Keith Denison
- Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.