AFF Interview: Kevin Harrigan, writer, The Golden Scallop
05.07.2014 | Liz Mims
For this week’s AFF Interview, our Senior Film Programmer, Liz Mims, posed a series of questions to Kevin Harrigan, the writer of the AFF 2013 Audience Award Winning Film The Golden Scallop! The Golden Scallop was a festival favorite in 2013 due to its Christopher Guest-ian wit and rhetoric. AFF is hosting an encore screening of The Golden Scallop Wednesday, May 14th as a part of our Audience Award Series at the Alamo Drafthouse Village! General Admission tickets are only $5 and can be purchased here. Join AFF and The Golden Scallop Producer Michael Boisvert for the screening!
Austin Film Festival: How did you manage to weave your stories together to make a cohesive film?
Kevin Harrigan: Initially the film was going to just follow around one restaurant (The Happy Hooker) and when I finished the first draft of the script we realized that we had less a comedy and more of a bad sports movie. No disrespect to bad sports movies (big shout out to Air Bud 2!) but that wasn’t my intent. We decided to split the characters from the initial restaurant into three different places. That really broadened the world and made it much easier to explore the weirder elements of the fried seafood industry. From there it was creating a timeline of the events, so we started with the selection in into The Golden Scallop Championship, then dealing with the pressures of that go along with being invited to such a prestigious fictional tournament and then the actual championship itself. The beauty of the mockumentary and really ensemble pieces in general is that you get to just kind of drop in at random moments and give the audience a look into what the characters are up to.
AFF: Who are your influences/who do you look up to as a filmmaker?
KH: We’re really all over the place in terms of what we like, I’m a pretty big serialized television fan so of course you look at the David Chase and David Simon as these sort of writing demigods who are able to give so much life to so many characters. In general I’m attracted to stories that don’t make judgments on the characters in them, people who are bad human beings are rarely aware that they are bad humans. In fact, most people that do mean spirited or irresponsible things are doing them because of something that was pressed upon them. Obviously Breaking Bad is amazing at this with Walt but what Vince Gilligan also manages to do is bring this incredible depth to ancillary characters that a lesser writer would make one dimensional and really just living conduits to moving the plot.
AFF: What sparked the first idea for this film?
KH: I personally have worked in the restaurant world on Cape Cod since I’ve been old enough to be employed. Joseph Laraja, the Director and Michael Boisvert, the Producer were also sweating away in the kitchen since they were 14 so it was a world we were really familiar with. When we were 21, we had been making shorts and other stuff that wasn’t very good, with each other for a few years and that summer we were all employed by the same wonderful place, The Friendly Fisherman. Remarkably, it is still in business. We started talking a lot about how weird people were about their fried food, that the establishments were more like sports teams, it was tribal. If you went to one, you couldn’t frequent another one because it was seen as being disloyal which was bizarre but one of those things that you never think of being strange because you’re living it. Which is a really good place to set a comedy because the funniest situations are usually the ones that people take the most seriously. After we made a few more shorts and started getting a bit better and more experienced we decided that we wanted to make a feature. We had a couple other things that I had written but they were a bit more ambitious in terms of money so we started hashing out how we would do a movie about the Cape Cod food industry. We had all the advantages to making it, my father is a CPA, Joe’s dad a lawyer and Mike’s dad owns a bait and tackle shop so between the three of them we could get about any location and we could house most of the cast and crew on sweetheart deals from local homeowners. So the idea was born out of this pragmatism and appreciation for a world that we knew. In retrospect it was an especially good call because we did the whole project on our own, meaning that we had no idea the scope of making something like this. Had we not been on our home turf with a subject matter that we were really familiar with we would have been in some big trouble.
AFF: How much did the Golden Scallop change from script to screen?
KH: The most frustrating thing about screenwriting as I was starting out was that the great idea I had in my head lost so much by the time its put on paper and then even more as it goes to production then more in the editing room. I fortunately have this tremendous opportunity where I was able to write so many things and have them made by the same core team holding the same exact roles. That allowed us to grow together, specialize in what we do and start to make stuff that we actually liked. The Golden Scallop was the first project that I ever wrote where the script was better than the initial idea, what was even cooler was that Mike has turned into the type of producer where he just finds a way to get whatever we need and in the rare instance he can’t, he figures out a solution that’s better than what we initially wanted. Also, Joseph has become such a great director and editor that I knew they would be able to make it better than what was on the pages. The real unknown for us was the acting, on one hand it was wonderful because we finally had enough money to actually pay actors, on the other hand we had never had the money before and didn’t know anything about casting. In fact at the time we really had no idea what the purpose of a Casting Director was and so we decided to do it on our own. It was an incredibly exhaustive process, we combed through about 10,000 online submissions, called almost every agency and management company in LA and New York, got a bunch of no’s but we’re good with rejection so that wasn’t an issue. We whittled it down to about 140 people and rented space in New York and Los Angeles and held castings. That was when things started getting really exciting because we were all like, “Man, these guys are good.” Our Co-Producer and one of the lead actors, Joshua Koopman, was integral in this process because many of the people that wound up being in the cast were people that he had pre existing relationships with. We realized that a couple of the actors that were auditioning for the same parts were too good to not use so we rewrote the script to accommodate the best available talent to us. Then we got lucky with one of the management companies and were able to get James Cosmo to sign on to play the Judge, which for a bunch of 25 year old guys that have watched Braveheart 100 times, an amazing surreal experience. When we finally got to set and started filming we were all blown away by the talent that we surrounded ourselves with. Our Camera team (Urban Mouse Productions) were just amazing, we never thought we would be able to have something look that good for the amount of money we had. The actors were so diligent and prepared for the project that they all brought their own strengths to the characters. Joseph did a really phenomenal job of connecting with them beforehand and forging a relationship before they stepped on set which is so important in creating a working environment where they feel comfortable being vulnerable and weird in front of strangers. Some of the actors were more comfortable doing improvisation then others, George Kareman and David Neal Levin are both really accomplished improvisers so we turned them loose whenever we could. Joseph would always get a few takes all on book and then we’d mess around a bit more and try to come up with some good stuff. As long as the actors had a strong sense of character and the plot of the film we would encourage them to do whatever they thought best. So to provide some last second brevity to this rambling answer, the film changed a bunch and it was certainly for the better.
AFF: What are you working on now?
KH: Currently we’re working on making our second feature film, “The Working World”. It’s a comedy about the working in the afterlife and how it intersects with the living. Richard has been working as a semi-omniscient narrator for the living for almost 200 years and believes that by telling the most exciting story he can finally move on to the next world. Unfortunately for Richard his story is Derek, a very nice but very boring 28 year old who works in the not so exciting world of setting up book tours. Just when Richard has resigned himself to at least another life time of monotony, Richard takes matters into his own hands, thrusting Derek into an adventure that could land him his dream girl, his ideal job and in the process, uncover the greatest plagiarism scandal the world has ever seen if he can survive his own story. We’re in the casting process now and this time, we hired a very good Casting Director, JC Cantu. So we’re in the process of attaching names and financing the film with the hope to film in fall of 2014. We actually shot a concept teaser for The Working World (which you can watch here) Big thanks to the staff of Austin Film Festival for the opportunity to talk about all this stuff and for promoting all the quality independent film that is out there these days.
Join us for the encore screening of The Golden Scallop Wednesday, May 14th at 7:00pm. Get your tickets here!