After years of pursuing his dream of being a filmmaker, Matt Watterworth is on the cusp of releasing his first feature film. But it hasn’t been without challenges – In Plainview was filmed in only 15 days with a budget of a quarter-million dollars.
“Directing it was simultaneously incredibly challenging and difficult but also incredibly easy because of so many great actors and such a great crew,” Watterworth says.
Watterworth’s interest in filmmaking began in high school. He attended Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts in Edmonton, where an instructor spurred his interest in video production and a class speaker finalized his post-secondary future.
“We had a speaker come to class, and he had done this amazing documentary, so I asked him, ‘Where did you go to school?’ And he said SAIT – I was like, well, I'm going to SAIT.”
Watterworth moved to Calgary to attend SAIT’s film and video production program, where he met his current business partner and friend, Scott Westby.
After graduation, Watterworth needed some experience in the film industry. Luckily, he got a job at Seven24 Films – a Calgary-based production company where he also completed his SAIT practicum. Seven24 Films is known for their work on “Heartland” and Brokeback Mountain, as well as many other films and series.
Westby also worked as a communications strategist for a marketing company, which taught him skills that were highly transferable to the film industry, such as managing budgets and a creative team.
Although Watterworth says the pair’s careers took diverging paths, they both kept working together creatively. Then, after much consideration, Watterworth and Westby quit their jobs and started a production company full-time called Full Swing Productions in 2014.
Four years after launching Full Swing, both men have enjoyed working together, challenging each other just enough to form an effective partnership.
“We share a lot of the same opinions, and neither of us are auteur filmmakers. We both want to entertain people, but at the same time, we disagree about stuff all the time, which is great because if we both agreed we’d just drive the bus off the cliff and neither of us would know, right?” Westby says.
The next big goal for Watterworth and Westby was to make a feature film.
Written by local screenwriter Kevin Doree, In Plainview is described by Watterworth as a revenge-thriller, citing the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men as a major influence.
“Directing it was simultaneously incredibly challenging and difficult but also incredibly easy because of so many great actors and such a great crew.” – Matt Watterworth
Watterworth and Westby applied to TeleFilm Canada for funding to shoot the film, waiting six months until their funding was approved. After pooling together of their own assets, the total budget for In Plainview was $250,000.
Watterworth says the price tag for their film shows the big difference between Canada and the United States, as $5-million is considered a micro-budget in the U.S.
Despite the small budget, Watterworth says they “wanted it to look like a million-dollar film or a two-million-dollar film.”
Although some things in the script had to be cut due to the small budget, Watterworth says that it worked for the best.
“We changed the script before we got into production, so we weren’t shooting ourselves in the foot while we were shooting.”
Along with the limited budget, Watterworth and Westby faced the challenge of a tight schedule, having only 15 days to shoot In Plainview.
Robert Cuffley, a local director brought on board as a mentor and producer, told the duo the film would take at least double the time to shoot
Westby says, “For our first meeting, [Cuffley] sat down with us and said, ‘I would need at least 30 days to shoot this. And I know what I’m doing.’”
Despite everything working against them, Westby wanted to be the best producer he could be on In Plainview.
“I saw my job as creating a bubble around Matt where reality can’t really get in, and I’ll try my best, so he can really be focused on being creative.”
Like many directors, Watterworth believes in the idea that having limitations force one to be more creative.
Even with the small budget, Watterworth and Westby managed to get actor Aaron Douglas – known for his role on “Battlestar Galactica” – in a starring role.
In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Douglas said there are pros and cons to shooting with first-time filmmakers on a small budget, but he enjoyed what In Plainview had to offer, saying he’s attracted to material that feels real.
With the film close to completion, and the surreal experience of directing a feature under his belt, Watterworth is already looking forward to the next one with Westby, also considering what he might do in the future: “I’d like to experiment with a smaller crew and see how that works. But I think finding more money – because we want to keep growing, and we want to make bigger films. And just having a bigger budget means you’re capable of doing more. So that's what we're shooting for on the next one.”
While there is no current release date for In Plainview, keep an eye on the film’s website for the trailer debut. In the meantime, the site also offers a behind the scenes look into the making of the film.
- By Tristan Oram