about the show

the actors

the characters

the episodes

the makers

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Skateboarders Fight the Aliens:

Two teenage skateboarders, Jeff and Noodle, are the only ones in their peaceful town of Middledon who realise that the weird strangers from Neo Corporation are actually aliens. Jeff and Noodle do their utmost to prevent the aliens, led by the scheming Astrid and the bumbling Brian, from destroying their beloved skatepark and taking over the town. However, the Neos use powerful mind control techniques to convert the people of Middledon into the citizens of Arohadale, with its flash townhouses, mega-mall and artificial beach. Jeff and Noodle, who cannot be brainwashed due to the power of their imaginations, try in their own unique way to thwart the Neo’s plots. They break into Neo HQ, but get carted away in the rubbish; chain themselves to the skate ramp, but get in the way of the bulldozers; try to insert anti-Neo subliminal messages into a TV advert; rub themselves in chicken fat to bulk up to play cage rugby and knock out their hulking opponents with the power of the pong. They are heroes, despite themselves.

Fast-moving, funny and action-packed, Hard Out is a comedy drama made for teenagers and those who can remember what it was like to feel that it was you against the world, and you are the only one who can see the truth. It’s in the tradition of Dumb and Dumber, Freaks & Geeks and Malcolm in the Middle with elements of The Simpsons.

Production company ScreenWorks was charged by New Zealand On Air and TVNZ with the challenge of making a series that would appeal to teenagers, particularly boys, on the basis of what they would like, rather than what adults think kids would like. Informal research amongst their own children and their friends gave some key insights and when writer David Geary came on board more emerged. He had spent the previous year touring around schools talking to 13, 14 and15-year-olds about drama. He had a lot of feedback from the kids on what sort of things they found interesting and what they were watching and he had already begun writing a novel for this age group.

Executive producer and series writer Greg McGee says the elements fell into place:
“ The consensus was that 10 to 15 year old boys are very media savvy, very interested in computer games, individual pursuits like skate-boarding, and sexuality (not necessarily in that order) and, in terms of humour, like physical Dumb and Dumber-style slapstick. So we put it all together and Hard Out became skateboarders against the aliens, where Jeff and Noodle, who are a sort of junior Dumb and Dumber, are the only ones in their town, apart from the Geeks, who realise that the town is being taken over by aliens. So Jeff and Noodle and the Geeks start a sort of teenage resistance movement to beat the aliens.

“It’s the kids who are clued-up while the adults get sucked in, so the kids fight the good fight by themselves. It’s acknowledging the feeling of typical teenagers that they are the only ones who can see the truth!”

Geary, a noted playwright (The Learner’s Stand, Lovelock’s Dream Run) working with scriptwriter writer Deborah Wilton (Jackson’s Wharf, Street Legal), devised and wrote the scripts, which were edited and completed by McGee.

A lot of the humour in Hard Out comes from the schemes the boys dream up to thwart the aliens and the ways things work out, where almost in spite of themselves, they are heroes.

Executive producer/director Chris Bailey: “The description of the show is ‘skateboarders fight the aliens and save the world’, but you could add ‘by their complete incompetence’.”

McGee: “Jeff’s really dumb and Noodle’s kinda smart, but he also gives Jeff credit for being smarter than he actually is. Jeff doesn’t know he’s dumb, which is really important. Jeff’s too dumb to know how dumb he is, and Noodle, because he’s a great and faithful friend, also has no idea how dumb Jeff is - although there are a couple of moments when Noodle almost despairs.”

Bailey says they decided to cast boys who were older than their story ages, so the actors, Ben Castles and Victor Barlow, are 18 playing 14-15.

“It was instantly very clear to me when we were casting the boys that they were the ones. It takes a very intelligent read (interpretation by the actor) to play young, to play dumb – to be able to understand it and to be able to do it effectively. Both these boys are very bright and very funny. They’ve come up with quite a lot of their own ad-lib stuff as well and we love it.

“There’s something really attractive about Jeff and Noodle in terms of being very likeable characters. I really like the way their bizarre logic works.”

Hard Out recognises the media savvy nature of its audience in episodes which parody recognised television formats – for example, there’s a Popstars-style episode, a Survivor show, a courtroom/prison drama, an extreme sports challenge and an episode about TV adverts, brainwashing and subliminal messages.

The aliens and the parents are also like parodies, as seen through teenage eyes.

The Neo aliens are very corporate-looking. They’re beautiful and unblinking, but McGee says they develop in unusual ways.

“I think if they stayed the same all the way through it would be quite boring, but Brian in particular becomes terribly interested in human workings and has a kind of a teenage boy’s interest in bodily functions (which the aliens don’t have). He develops an interest that is right on a par with Jeff and Noodle in things like where snot comes from and all that sort of thing. Even Astrid at one point lets her guard down and becomes intrigued by vanity and sexuality and ‘accessorises herself’ by replacing her head and body to turn into a surf siren called Volleybabe.”

Jeff’s parents, Tank and Hughie, are portrayed as obsessed with televised sport, talking in sports cliches and, while loving him, are not really interested in what he’s doing, but embarrass him when they do take an interest.

Noodle’s Gran Pekapeka, played by Rawiri Paratene, is also obsessed – with the gambling game, housie.

“She’s a real character. She’s not just a stereotypical soft granny. She’s actually cantankerous and she’s the one adult who isn’t brainwashed. She retains faith in the boys no matter what they do,” McGee says.

Bailey says he cast Paratene as Gran (a man playing a woman) because “it comes out of the script and the story and the clarity of the character. We actually auditioned women too, but Rawiri gave a great mixture of being loving and being cantankerous and it just kind of gelled. He’s also very funny.”

Paratene also contributed Gran’s Maori lines. “We gave Rawiri licence to just go in and out of Maori as he liked and so he has just ad-libbed around whatever situation Gran finds herself in, which seems to have worked really well,” McGee says.

Hard Out is a live-action show, but some of Jeff and Noodle’s most vivid imaginary action sequences called for special treatment. ScreenWorks incorporated some computer game-style action animation clips to accentuate the live stunts and visual effects.

Bailey says the style of Hard Out was dictated by the tightness of the budget.

“It pushed us in an interesting direction. The show is very energetic. We used two A-Minima cameras, which are tiny 16mm hand-held cameras. It has given the show a real energy and we’re developing a cutting style and using visual effects in league with animation mixed with live stunt action to give it an unusual visual edge.”

The animation arose out of the need to make the shooting of the show more simple and is being created by Animation Research Ltd. It is based on computerising the actors’ bodies, resulting in a computer-game style of animation.

The animation appears in brief clips to accentuate the stunt action elements, for example when the boys are taking huge leaps with their skateboards – off buildings, under trucks etc.

Skating stunts are provided by two of New Zealand’s top skateboarders, Kevin Francis and Brett Chan.

Hard Out was filmed on various Auckland locations including Albany, Mangere, Mt Eden and Te Atatu Peninsula, and the mall scenes were shot in Westfield West City in Henderson.

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