Marc Wiltshire is a student in his final semester of a Communications degree at Concordia. As a part of the Communications program’s Production concentration students are expected to produce one film a year. This past August, Wiltshire had his third year film Speakeasy screened as a part of the Montreal World Film Festival’s Student film and video competition.
The film struck me during the screening of about 10 works from around the country because it was the only fiction comedy shown that day. The plot is fairly straightforward: a first year university student accompanies his roommate back to his suburban hometown in Michigan for moral support during the roommates date with a probation officer after being arrested for under aged drinking.
Upon their arrival the local kids throw a welcome home party for the roommate. The party of course gets broken up by the police and our protagonist is snared up in the whole mess. Having only drank a couple of beers, he is nevertheless charged with drinking under the age limit in the US. He is then sentenced to ‘alcohol education courses’, or rather, mandatory sessions at Alcoholics Anonymous. What ensues is a cleverly rendered analysis of the absurd.
I spoke with Marc recently about his experiences in the Communications department, his choice to produce comedies and what happens next for someone entering the no man’s land of a professional career in the movies.
Michael Frittenburg-Doyle: Tell us a little bit about what you are doing in the Communications Department:
Marc Wiltshire: Right now I’m a TA for two classes and one of them is the Film III class, where you spend the year developing and producing a film. These students are in the exact same place I was in a year ago when I started with what eventually became Speakeasy. The idea of the class in a sense is to develop a polished professional film that can act as your calling card for either applying to festivals like I did with Speakeasy, or use the work as a part of a reel for gaining funding or employment in the industry after you finish the program at Concordia. So what I did was take Speakeasy and sent it out to about 10 film festivals that I thought were looking for a short film like the one I made.
MFD: So the festival application process is something that you need to research in order to select the festival that is the right fit with your film?
MW: Yes, definitely. Speakeasy, for example, is a comedy, which actually made it pretty difficult to get into quite a few festivals out there. I had actually applied to the Montreal World Film Festival last year with my previous student film Flammouse, which was also a comedy, and they didn’t take it for whatever reason. That festival has a tendency to lean towards more serious themes so I was actually sort of surprised to find out that Speakeasy was accepted for this year’s festival.
MFD: What other luck did you have with the festival application process?
MW: Well, it seems that if you make the right application choices it’s about 1 in 5 to get in, at least that’s been my experience with my last two films. Previously, I’d sent Flammouse to about 10 different festivals and got accepted by the Illinois International Film Festival and this great student film fest in Toronto. This year I took roughly the same approach and Speakeasy has thus far been accepted by the Mont Tremblant Fest and the World Film Fest. I’m hoping it’ll find it’s way into Film Pop, which is a part of the Pop Montreal festival at the end of the month. It’s a pretty expensive endeavor to apply so as a student you have to strategize before you just start sending out the applications with the fee attached.
MFD: What does getting into a festival like the Montreal World Film Festival do for a student like yourself?
MW: It’s actually really huge. Getting into a festival like that gives your film immediate credibility at the grant application stage, which sort of becomes the next logical step if you want to continue being creative and attempt to become a working filmmaker after your education is finished. Hopefully, having two of my films accepted by various film festivals will allow me to obtain a development grant for my next film project. Basically what I can do at this point is take an idea that I have and flesh it out into a treatment and then go through the grant application process so that my writing partner and myself can spend some time writing the full script and then turn it into yet another more developed film than my previous films. Perhaps we will even make the leap at some point from the short form to feature film development, but that requires significant amounts of time and investment. You have to take it one step at a time and build on your successes.
MFD: Your films are comedies, which is maybe the most difficult genre in film. Why comedy and isn’t it a risk to delve into a genre that is so challenging to make work?
MW: Well, first off I actually don’t really see myself as a comedy writer and actually don’t really enjoy the writing process of a comedy by myself. I’m actually really not very good at it so I come up with an idea and then I bring in my writing partner Joel (Darland) and working with someone else really helps. I went to film school prior to entering in the Communications department and what I took with me from that experience was that you must write only what you know. Too often, especially as someone is just starting out, there is a tendency to want to explore big ideas, what I call the ‘