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In The Hard Word, three crim brothers rob banks – but they’re the good guys in this film, a comedy drama about cops and robbers - and getting away with it - and mateship, by Scott Roberts, who dreamt the whole thing up, reports Andrew L. Urban.

The writer in Scott Roberts had long wanted to do a 'crime does pay' story. “Something for Nothing is a universal fantasy, and crime offers far better odds than Lotto. There is a subversive appeal in the idea of getting away with it, especially when the law has more than a whiff of endemic corruption. And this sits well in Australia, with its anarchic, underdog battlerism."

His chance to tell this story and his directing debut literally sprang from a dream;  "I am in a safe house with several associates. We have just hijacked a truck full of cash. Everything has gone smoothly, and no one got hurt. We wait for someone else to arrive before we divide the loot. A car pulls up outside. We all tense. I go to the window and crack the curtains. I feel a deep, biochemical sense of relief. It is only the cops." Almost simultaneously, Roberts heard a real life true story about a gang of bank-robbing brothers who once operated from a New South Wales remand prison, and who were run by some bent cops they could not shake off.” 

"more about the people than their deeds"

That’s the story; but what The Hard Word is actually about is three brothers attempting to break their cycle of crime only to find the law, and their own lawyer, doing everything they can to keep the status quo. Its genre form disguises a film that is actually more about the people than their deeds. Roberts believes it is really a story about mateship. Roberts' inspiration for the three brothers was 50s American tv show Bonanza. "I was always amazed by those three brothers who looked and seemed totally different and yet you absolutely believed they were brothers. In The Hard Word, Dale (Guy Pearce) is the smart one, Mal's (Damien Richardson) the good one and Shane's (Joel Edgerton), well...the fuck-up.”

Having been around filmmaking for a decade (art department, design, script writing), Roberts had known producer Al Clark for a while. "I met Al over a game of Trivial Pursuit about 15 years ago. My first memory is of being highly provoked because Al won every game. My general knowledge is not bad, but Al's command of pop culture fact is encyclopaedic. His obsession with detail is one of many enviable traits, and when the script was ready he was my overwhelming first choice to produce it."

Clark liked it a lot, especially it’s unpredictability. And despite many drafts, the basics hardly changed. “Al is an extremely good script editor,” says Roberts. “He nudged the script at every draft, and he did it just the right way. He pushed me, and we kept refining it…he’d make suggestions, but usually minor things. However, he’s a detail man and they were always important.”

Roberts also praises his actors for their inputs and their intelligence. “Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths are both highly intelligent, and they between them helped make the end scene what it is. They improvised it really. Rachel made it more elegant than it was written.” 

Although The Hard Word is predominantly set in Sydney, Melbourne was selected as the
principal location and its eight week shoot commenced on July 30, 2001 and wrapped in Sydney on September 22. Site of the last man hanged in Australia, the decommissioned prison Pentridge in Melbourne's inner north, was a principal location for the film because of its multiple uses. 

Currently being converted into a trendy residential area, much of the prison still remains intact and provides excellent shooting conditions because it is a closed site and therefore very workable. Because of the locations and action sequences, it was a complicated shoot with extremes of nature making their own contribution. 

Despite having been around film sets before, directing a film for first time was an eye-opener. “It was a huge challenge and it took me until half way through the shoot before I felt at all confident,” he says. “Al did try to warn me what directing a film of this scope would entail. It' s not that I didn't listen, but more that I didn't understand. The metaphor I would go for is the woman having her first child who during childbirth says 'why didn't anyone tell me how much it would hurt!’”

But clearly, like childbirth pain, the mind wipes it from memory, because Roberts is already into his second dreaming film, “like an Almodovar, sexy romantic melodrama. It always surprises me that while Sydney is a sexy city on the surface, it’s the least flirtatious city in the world.”

"Filmmaking is the ancient art of campfire storytelling"

In his next film, Roberts wants to do for sex what The Hard Word does for crime, he says: show its complexity. 

“Yes it’s true, it also comes from a dream, but really, it’s totally unrelated to The Hard Word. I just respond to the world around me. Filmmaking is the ancient art of campfire storytelling….films work when they’re an emotional journey. It’s as simple as that.” 

Published May 30, 2002

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