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11 Questions with THOMAS MARCHESE. A WILDsound SPRING 2009 Feature Screenplay Finalist

1. What is your screenplay about?

Knuckleball is a Mordecai Richler/Hanif Kureishi-esque character driven comedy-drama satire on the chic and vogue of Canadian multiculturalism.

It tells the story of a Toronto based multi-ethnic heavy metal band that get the opportunity to sign with a major indie label, but, in order to do so, have to eschew musical integrity and play up the novelty and gimmick of being a multi-ethnic metal band.

The band find themselves in a conundrum, as they do not want to sell out and be something they are not, but they also do not want to walk away from the opportunity either, as another may not come along.

In addition to wrestling with the issues surrounding the record deal offer, two of the band members have to contend with unfortunate personal life issues.

The singer/bassist, Guri, is constantly at odds with her overbearingly dogmatic Indian Hindu mother over her lifestyle.

The drummer, Paul, is a Keith Moon-esque self-destructive loose cannon, whose reckless ways are starting to catch up with him.

Ultimately, Knuckleball is a story of friendship and staying true to yourself.

2. Why did you decide to write this screenplay?

In my work, I mainly explore touchy and taboo issues surrounding race, ethnicity and faith, in particular, racial, ethnic and religious conflict. While multiculturalism is a great concept, one I fully support, it truly does not exist in Canada, which has been officially dubbed a multicultural country. There's still a rather large amount of insularity among various peoples in Canada, which completely contradicts the concept of multiculturalism. It is this insularity that leads to the issues I am disturbed, disgusted, compelled and fascinated by and explore in my work.

My second short film, Exterior: Hatred, is the second film in a trilogy about how race, ethnicity and faith drive a wedge between people and how things aren't always as they appear racially and ethnically. The first film was loosely based on something that had really happened to me, and the second is based on various conversations and encounters I've had with friends and people of South Asian extraction.

With this film I wanted to portray the South Asians I've known and know. The South Asians I've known and know are not the clichés we are presented with in the media most of the time. Some were born and raised in Canada, are very Canadian and don't really partake in the South Asian culture at all. The South Asian-Canadians I know are fanatical rockers and metalheads who are not exactly fond of Bollywood and Indian music in general. Rock and heavy metal is their culture. This type of South Asian was non-existent in the short films I saw made by South Asian-Canadian filmmakers. Most fictional short films that I saw by South Asian-Canadian filmmakers were fluffy comedies that relied very heavily on South Asian clichés and Bollywood conventions, something I wanted to deviate from completely.

When the script for Exterior: Hatred was completed, I liked the character of the Indo-Canadian Hindu girl who's the singer/bassist for a heavy metal band so much, I wanted to do more with her in a longer piece, which brings me to Knuckleball. I have taken the basic concept of that character and formulated an entirely new character and story. Together with my wonderful co-writers, Kal Benedict and Dhruv Jani, we fleshed out the concept, characters and story, and wrote a screenplay that we are extremely proud of.

In a funny twist of life imitating art, an indie Toronto metal band called Diemonds has recently sprung up, and their singer is an Indo-Canadian Hindu girl!

Another fact of multiculturalism in Canada is that it is a chic and a vogue. Corporations and mass marketers in this country use multiculturalism as a hip marketing tool to target young people, sometimes leading to product that ranges from mediocre to terrible. This commercialization and adulteration of such a great and beautiful concept as multiculturalism was ripe for satire, and I created a story that scathingly satirizes mass marketers and corporations who do this, using the genre of heavy metal music as the backdrop.

In addition to satirizing the commercialization of multiculturalism, we also want to tell a story about friendship. How friends become like family when family fails you. Metal is a culture of outsiders, and the band members, in one way or another, are outsiders. Their love of heavy metal music is what unites them, as it does with all metalheads.

3. How long have you been writing screenplays?

For myself, I’ve been writing since I was 13, but I didn’t start writing screenplays until I was in film school at Humber College, a great program. Knuckleball is my first feature-length screenplay.

Dhruv Jani has also been writing from an early age, but is primarily a prose writer that had a short story published in the Seneca College Anthology of 2003. Knuckleball is also his first feature-length screenplay. We met and became friends while working as Customer Service Representatives at Bell ExpressVu.

Kal Benedict had written one feature-length screenplay, which is a solid piece of work that has generated some interest in the industry, prior to Knuckleball. It was through that script and a mutual friend that Kal became involved in Knuckleball.

4. What film have you seen the most in your lifetime?

It’s a tie between the great Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H and the first Rocky. Actually, both are influences on Knuckleball: the satire and irreverence of M*A*S*H, the humanity and structure of Rocky, and the quirky, interesting and realistic characters of both.

5. What artist in the industry would you love to work with?

If they were still alive, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, John Cassavetes, Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Passolini, Federico Fellini and Paddy Chayefsky.

Among the living, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alexander Payne, Stephen Frears (I’d LOVE for him to direct Knuckleball), Bruce McDonald, Deepa Mehta, Mira Nair, Charlie Kaufman, Larry Gelbart and Sarah Silverman (I’d marry her in a minute. Beautiful & funny, what more could you ask for!).

6. Who was your hero growing up?

Hands down, my parents. Like the majority of the postwar Italian immigrants to Canada, they endured many hardships trying to establish themselves in this country, and they overcame that adversity and succeeded. It was through their sacrifices and hard work that myself and my two brothers can have a great life in Canada. I’m a very proud Canadian, and thanks to my parents, and I’m also very proud of my Italian lineage. Mille grazie mio genitori (thanks so much mom and dad).

7. Ideally, where would you like to be in 5 years?

In pre-production on the film following Knuckleball, which will by that time have been the opening night gala at TIFF, a box-office smash in Canada and the UK, an indie/arthouse hit internationally, and won the Genie and BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay. Fingers and toes crossed!

8. Describe your process; do you have a set routine, method for writing?

Knuckleball was a first for me, in that it was my first long form piece and I’ve never co-written before.

When I began, I wrote character bios, a plot outline detailing the three plots, a story outline of the whole film, and seventeen pages of fragmented and incomplete script. I never had any difficulty completing my short form pieces, but I reached a crossroads with this script. I just could not come up with more than those seventeen pages.

So I sought out collaborators, and luckily found the absolutely wonderful and exceptionally talented Dhruv Jani and Kal Benedict. They fleshed out the screenplay in ways I could not have imagined and I am extremely thankful to them for doing so.

How we functioned was comparable to a writing staff on a television series. Dhruv and Kal would submit material to me, then I would revise and hone it down, put all of our material together, and homogenize everything so that it was all cohesive. I would then send them the drafts I had done, and we would meet to discuss where we were and what we could do. So, in effect, I was the head writer and the understanding was that I had the final say, as it is my original concept and story.

It was a total of two years, on and off, working on the screenplay. Work wasn’t continuous as other life matters intervened for us individually and required our attention. But, it was for the best that we took time and great care with the script and didn’t rush through it. I think our care and hard work really shows.

9. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

I consider myself a “working-class renaissance man”. I’m a lover and enthusiast for the arts in general. I’m a BIG music lover, surprise, surprise.

I’m also an enthusiast for learning about ethnicities and cultures outside my own, and that’s what’s great about Toronto being multicultural. All the world’s cultures are right here in this city and anybody can easily learn about and interact with them.

10. What influenced you to enter the WILDsound Script Contest?

I had been to a couple of WILDsound’s events, they’re also on my MySpace & Facebook friend lists, and knew that they are a prominent group for nurturing and exposing new film and television work of quality, which I salute them for.

11. Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?

If you can’t write a screenplay yourself, don’t be afraid to take on collaborators. As the old and trite saying goes, “Two or more heads are better than one.” That ended up being very true for me, thanks to Dhruv and Kal.

Thomas Marchese

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