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