Something to See Here: Calgary filmmaker Matt Watterworth’s storytelling talent and budgetary brilliance In Plainview in debut

How to make a film with a $250,000-dollar budget look like more like a $2.5-million-dollar movie?

There’s a formula for that, says Calgary filmmaker Matt Watterworth, whose debut – the Cohen brothers-inspired In Plainview – is now streaming on Amazon Prime. It’s director Watterworth’s first film, along with producer Scott Westby. 

In fact, once you talk to Watterworth, you realize his recipe for success for In Plainview “consists of five main components: the people, compromise, location, relationships, and the motto of: “never waste a shot.”

And probably none is more important to In Plainview than No. 1 on that list — the people. 

“The quality level that we were able to reach is solely due to the generosity and talent of our cast and crew — and talent is something we’ve got a heck of a lot of in Alberta,” he says, adding he believes when an organization like Telefilm is willing to create opportunities for filmmakers, they can and will respond with quality work. 

“I think that our film looks a lot more like a $2.5-million-dollar movie than a $250,000 movie, and that’s to the credit of so many people who worked so hard.” 

The plot: “Violence and havoc spill into rural Plainview when a corrupt former cop Penner, his unhinged hired gun, and a jilted ex come looking for the ex-dirty-cop in hiding, Rand, his ill-gotten fortune, and their own brand of revenge.”

To capture the story, Watterworth relied on a blended mix of both experienced veterans and enthusiastic practicum students just starting out in the industry. 

“Our whole team is a collection of different experience levels, from SAIT practicum students who helped out on the film as part of their film-school journeys, to our executive-producer mentors.” 

Watterworth points to Robert Cuffley, who is one of the most accomplished feature-film directors in the province, and Murray Ord who, at one time, was The Alberta Film Commissioner, as being integral parts of the equation. 

Watterworth says that mix of the right people was the reason they were able to fund the film through the Telefilm Microbudget Program, which is now known as The Talent to Watch Program. 

“This program is all about giving first-time feature filmmakers their first at-bat. But they want to know that you’ve got support and someone to go to if things go sideways,” Watterworth adds. 

The film’s lead actor, Aaron Douglas (from Battlestar Galactica and Dirk Gently), was also a reliable mentor for Watterworth while on set – which leads us to another pillar of the film’s success; compromise. 

“There was a moment where one of our actors had to leave set to be at the birth of his child and it sent me spinning, not knowing how we would finish the movie without the missing scene,” Watterworth explains. 

“Aaron came up to me and just said, ‘Make the scene a phone call and we only hear his voice on the other end, and you can record his dialogue later.’  It was a perfect solution at the perfect time.” 

Albertans watching the film will surely recognize some of the backdrops used, and shooting locally was one of the reasons the movie was able to look so great on a modest budget. 

The McDougall Memorial United Church near Morley is one of the more scenic locations, with the brilliant Bow River and foothills backdrop, and an incredible fence line leading up to what was the second church ever built in Alberta. 

Sadly, it was almost completely destroyed by arson a few months after the film was shot there, but the organization that manages the site is in the process of rebuilding the church on the same foundation. 

Another major location in the film was iconic Calgary locale The Shamrock Hotel. In fact, even though audiences will only see the interior of the building, it actually played the part of the motel, bar, diner and coffee shop.  

Micro-budget filmmaking, as Watterworth likes to call it. 

Another important pillar of success in filming this movie? 

Don’t burn bridges. Watterworth says he and Westby are, “always thinking about the next film,” and the biggest aspect of that is maintaining the value of the relationships they built previously. 

“I think sometimes people are willing to burn a bridge or two if it makes life a little easier for them. Relationships are so vital in this business, and we value the partnerships we’ve been able to make along the way. From the unions, the levels of government, to SAIT, we’ve had a lot of help and we hope to continue those partnerships.”

And the last ingredient on that list? Well, never waste a shot, of course. 

“Some folks have asked about deleted scenes for the film; there aren’t any. That’s because we had great advice and direction to make sure the script had absolutely only the essentials when it came to getting the story on screen. We couldn’t afford to waste a shot,” Watterworth adds. 

In Plainview is available to stream on Amazon Prime.