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On the Job

Restaurant-worker ethnography Eat weaves 54 speaking parts and 48 songs through three locations in 83 minutes.



Local filmmaker C. Scott McCoy and his partners in Oddly Buoyant Productions are the only previous winners of the Indie Memphis Film Festival's Best Hometowner Feature award to have a film up for that same award this year. McCoy & Co. won two years ago for the rock-mockumentary Automusik Can Do No Wrong. Judging by their impressive follow-up, Eat, they should have a good shot again this year.

Directed by McCoy, who co-wrote and edited the film with his partner Laura Jean Hocking, Eat is an ambitious, structurally tight feature that boasts 54 speaking parts and 48 songs from 23 local or regional bands over its 83-minute run time.

The film takes place over a 24-hour period and follows the work and social lives of employees from three different restaurants -- an upscale family restaurant, a corporate chain, and a cozy after-hours bar.

"We collected stories, sort of like an oral history," says McCoy. "It's lore," Hocking adds.

"War stories," McCoy says. "We stitched them together."

The idea for the movie came from Hocking, a waitress and manager at McEwen's who's worked in restaurants for two decades.

"I wanted it to be a love letter to the restaurant industry," Hocking says. "Tough love. I wanted to give back to waiters and restaurant workers."

McCoy, a writer and editor by trade, also drew on restaurant experience. "I'm a horrible waiter," he says. "I've been fired from more restaurants that you've eaten at in this town. Spaghetti Warehouse, Applebee's, Alfred's -- walked out of Alfred's. Got fired from the Belmont. Fired from Boscos. Didn't get fired from the Pizza Café. Endless."

McCoy and Hocking say they also drew on the restaurant experience of their cast in a movie that used plenty of improvisation.

"That was something that really helped, but it wasn't a requirement," Hocking says. "But it's not hard to find an actor who's a waiter."

One of the standouts in the cast is local musician Amy LaVere, who plays a waitress for the corporate theme restaurant Canape's ("a bad concept poorly executed," McCoy says) and delivers a charmingly natural performance.

"She started working in restaurants when she was 13 or 14," McCoy says of LaVere, "so she had a lot of restaurant anger built up. She's a really good actress. I think next time we won't be able to afford her."

Eat weaves its large cast together with ease. The film's de-centered narrative is quite a departure from Automusik Can Do No Wrong and will remind viewers of filmmakers such as Richard Linklater (Slacker, which Eat references) and Robert Altman. (McCoy cites Altman's Short Cuts as a prime influence: "We were throwing an Altman party.")

"It's a movie about work," McCoy says. "You could make it in a steel mill, but it wouldn't be as interesting because you wouldn't have the customer interaction. And people don't make movies about work. But the drama you go through every day just to make a living is something everyone goes through, and those are some of the greatest dramas in people's lives. It was important to us to do that, to make a movie about everyday experience. We wanted to make it funny, and we wanted to make it real."

Eat(Hometowner Feature Competition)

Sunday, October 15th, 8:45 p.m.

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