NC grad returns: Letterkenny producer Mark Montefiore offers students inspiration, advice

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Mark Montefiore (right) presents to a packed film studio with BRTF faculty Tom Otto by his side.

Students and faculty from BRTF and Acting programs gather to hear from Mark Montefiore on March 16.

Time flies when you’re making dreams come true.

Standing before an audience of Broadcasting and Acting students at the Welland Campus on March 16, multiple-award-winning film and television producer Mark Montefiore could hardly believe it had been more than 15 years since he was in their place as a student at Niagara College.

Since he graduated from NC’s Broadcasting – Radio, Television and Film program in 2003 as an aspiring producer ready to take on the world, the former St. Catharines resident has kept busy doing just that. Named The Hollywood Reporter’s Next Generation Under 36 (2015), and Playback’s Top 10 to Watch (2012), Montefiore’s name draws crowds as the executive producer of Craft TV / Comedy Network multiple-award-winning series Letterkenny whose ‘skids, hicks and hockey player” characters ‘pitter pattered’ their way into becoming a cultural phenomenon.

The president of New Metric Media, Montefiore also produces What Would Sal Do on the Superchannel and drama Bad Blood. He also has several film credits to his name, including his feature film Cas & Dylan – starring Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana Maslany – which won a Circuit Audience Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival; as well as award-winning films Easting Buccaneers and The Armoire.

Messages from Letterkenny to NC

Montefiore kicked off his presentation with video clips of personal messages to NC students from the cast of Letterkenny — including the famous Jared Kesso (creator, lead actor), Nick Bales, and Trevor Wilson.

“Hey students, if you’re writing for YouTube, make it short – two minutes tops,” said Kesso. “And if it’s not getting immediate reaction, like 1,000 views in a month, then take it down. Try something new.”

“You’re in a … great program,” said Bales. “Talent is great but hard work wins every time. Work at it.”

Making the NC connection

Montefiore told the students that Niagara College will prepare them well to enter the industry.

“Other schools don’t have what you have here and I certainly used that to my advantage,” he said. “You have your hands in everything, you’re forced to wear multiple hats … it’s a small team.”

He recounted how when he came to NC, he wanted to be an actor or a personality, but as a student this quickly changed. He told the story about he hadn’t considered becoming a producer until he volunteered to take on the role as part of a TV class project. It was 5:30 p.m. and he was eager to leave campus for a date. As they went around the room to assign roles, it became apparent that it was a job that none of the other students wanted to do.

“I’m sitting here looking at my watch going, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ It was like, ‘who’s going to do sound,’ a couple of hands go up. ‘Who wants to direct,’ – everybody’s hands go up. ‘Who wants to do camera,’ – a couple of hands go up. ‘Who wants to produce,’ – nobody,” he said.

“I look at my watch and I’m like, ‘I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to go. I’ll do it,’ … and then I did it, and I discovered that I loved it,” he recalled.

As for his date, “I don’t remember who she was anymore,” he said with a chuckle.

He told the students how as a NC grad, he was able to succeed in the Toronto film and television industry as he worked his way up from being a volunteer with Craft Services – doing anything needed to assisting to finding lost cats – to taking on larger jobs in different areas such as the administrative side, the set, the offices, and coordinating production management, until larger opportunities came his way.

Recounting how it was his friend from NC, writer Dane Clark, was who first sent him a link to the web series Letterkenny Problems, which inspired him to pursue the idea of producing it as a television show, he encouraged the students to get to know one another and keep in touch.

“You’re in a great spot right here, there’s a lot of talented people in this room. They’re going to off and do great things,” he said.

Advice to students

In addition to responding to questions from students and faculty, Montefiore offered top tips for entering and succeeding in the industry.

“Sell yourself, because it’s really about you. It’s not about your project,” he said. “People will want to work with you when you’re the engaging charming self you are – work on that and you will find people who will want to work with you.”

He stressed the importance of socializing and meeting people at industry events, to be thankful and gracious – “no one owes you anything” – and to surround themselves with great people “so you are the least experienced and dumbest one in the room.”

He encouraged students to stand out from the crowd. “Be remarkable or no one will remember you or your project,” he said. “Do something a little different.”

He told students to expect to encounter rejection in the industry and how to have a solutions-based mindset.

While he said there’s no “right” or “wrong way” to get into the business, he encouraged them to find a way to get their foot in the door. “Once you’re in, move around, and then you will start to find your way.”

An inside look

Students had an opportunity to hear from Montefiore about what it’s like to be a producer.

“Literally every single hour, within that hour it’s SO tremendously different. I could have maybe 10 or 12 calls in an hour between co-producers for Bad Blood, casting directors, bankers, financiers, broadcasters, publicists, all for a million different reasons – not even the same project,” he said.

“I get bored very easily, and I love producing because when I get bored of working at the office I go to sets. When I get bored of sets I go to the office. When I get bored of that I go figure something else out.”

What’s it like to be on the set of Letterkenny?

“It’s a lot of laughs. Letterkenny is a unique experience because it’s so different than a lot of shows that I’ve been a part of,” he said. “There’s so many takes we just can’t use because the camera is shaking, because the camera operator is laughing his head off … it’s a good problem to have.”

What faculty, students are saying

BRTF faculy Alysha Henderson who organized the event, recalled how, as a student, Montefiore displayed that he had what it takes to succeed in the industry.

“His eagerness made him stand out as a student, he was always very engaged, very creative and interested in so many different things,” she said.

She noted that becoming a producer can be difficult because there is no direct path to the profession.

“To achieve what he has achieved is so significant, especially since he’s just started and he’s not even 40 yet,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in the next 15 years.”

Students who attended the presentation were thankful for the opportunity to hear from and gain professional advice from Montefiore.

“I thought it was awesome. It was nice to hear from a grad from NC who has had so much success,” said Acting student Brevin Graziania. “I’m from Welland and sometimes you think you might have a hard time if you are not from Toronto. He was very inspiring.”

For first year BRTF student Sawyer Edworthy the presentation was not only inspirational, it gave him an opportunity to gain experience. It was his first time in the film studio as he volunteered to set up the lights and backdrop for the event, working with second years in the program.

“He was very inspiring and is what I strive to be. I hope to do something similar,” said Edworthy. Motioning to the stage where Montefiore had addressed the audience, Edworthy mused about his own future.

“Maybe, I’ll be up there in 15 years,” he said.

 

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