You have everything to gain when there’s nothing else left to lose – Wil Sylvince
Wil Sylvince is one of the most explosive comedians performing around the world today. His comedic performances on COMEDY CENTRAL, HBO’S DEF COMEDY JAM, and SHOWTIME all garnered standing ovations by the audiences, a feat rarely seen accomplished by many performers.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Sylvince has honed his act in New York’s top comedy clubs – the Comedy Cellar, Comic Strip Live, Caroline’s on Broadway, Stand-Up NY and the Gotham Comedy Club.
Most recently, Sylvince along with his writing/producing partner, Bryan Kennedy, have co-written a film I Am Maurice; the pair joining forces to bring this unique tale to light. Armed with the conviction to create a film that tells their story, they created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to bring this script to the silver screen.
When I was in NYC September this year, I had the opportunity to catch up with Sylvince and hear his story of what this film means to bring it to life…
Tell me about what you do
I do stand-up comedy and I created a film festival called NBCU Short Films festival which is produced by NBCU.
The idea of the film festival came to me, when I was showing short films during my own shows at a comedy club. One day I decided it would be great to get other filmmakers to participate and have the industry come out.
I also write films along with my writing partner Bryan Kennedy, who I met in a comedy club sometime in 1998. We wrote one sketch together and from then, I recognised he was a fast thinker. We collaborated well together, so a respectful working relationship formed.
Bryan does some comedy shows, but mainly he does voice-overs. You can hear his voice in audio books, commercials and animated shows like SNL’s “TV Funhouse” “Wordgirl” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood.” He’s also a producer and a writer.
When did comedy start for you?
One night I got invited to a comedy club in Harlem. It was the first comedy club I went to and it blew my head; I couldn’t stop laughing so I went every Sunday. Rodney Dangerfield was the first comedian I looked up to. He made it ok to have flaws.
My first stand up was awful. One night the comedy club was a full house, but none of the comedians had arrived yet. The owners knew I wanted to be a comedian, and basically encouraged me to get up on stage with no written material prepared, to entertain the audience. I was not ready, but they pushed me to go on anyway. I was on there for a very short time before I was booed off. Black audiences are no joke.
It didn’t stop me though. About four to six months later I tried it again and did better.
My goal in life was to be self-sufficient and work for myself. During the time I was building robots for a company called International Robotics, I started to do short sets at comedy clubs. I ended up quitting my full-time robotics job, so I could focus and take my writing and comedy to the limit. Every time I bombed on a show, I knew I had my day job to fall back on, so I didn’t try hard enough. Quitting my full-time job, meant I had no safety net, so I worked harder to make my comedy work.
How did you get into boxing?
My best friend Patrice O’Neal, who sadly passed away, used to be roommates for many years. We used to talk about being healthy and wanting to change our health, but we would make excuses and never go to the gym or do anything. One day Patrice bought a treadmill and put it in the living room. When I saw it, I could no longer make any more excuses, so I just got on it. The TV was there, so I would exercise and watch television at the same time.
When I started seeing a change in my weight, I wanted to train hard, lose more weight, and more importantly – be even healthier. Reading health magazines, watching documentaries on health; I gave up eating fast foods and drinking soda. The stronger I became, the healthier I wanted to keep getting.
However, exercise was no longer cutting it for me, so a friend of my suggested I go see Steve Frank, a boxing trainer. When I did my first boxing class it was the worst class ever; it was physically hard, and I tired very quickly. Every time we got a 30-second rest break, I would drop flat to the floor. I didn’t care people were watching me; I didn’t have the energy to try and act cool.
After the session ended, I took a shower and when I left the boxing studio, I hadn’t felt this good in a long time. I had so much energy from one class. So, I ended up going every Sunday, eventually going 6-7 days a week; I absolutely loved it!
How did the idea of I Am Maurice form?
The idea of this story is drawn from real life experiences; mainly my dad and me.
Part of the story is based on the concept of boxing and how it changed my life; I used to weigh 220 pounds and when I altered my eating habits and took up boxing, I dropped approximately 70 pounds. I met a great trainer Steven Frank – he was cool, easy to talk to; he helped me feel secure about myself even when I didn’t know how to box.
The other part of the movie is based on my dad, who came from Haiti to pursue his dreams of being an Engineer. In Haiti, it’s difficult to progress or make something of yourself. When he came to America, he busted his ass and got all these degrees and worked hard. Maurice is named after my dad.
In fact, ‘I Am Maurice’ is anybody’s story, especially those who want to work hard and make something of themselves.
When did you start writing I Am Maurice?
I can’t remember exactly how or when I decided to talk to Bryan about the idea of the story, because I’m always pitching something to him, but this one stood out. I began to entertain the idea in my head, so I knew there was something to it.
The first script we wrote together was about a boxer, which was entirely different to the story we ended up with. It wasn’t until we finished writing the first script, the idea of ‘I Am Maurice’ presented itself. Then technically we ended up with two boxing scripts. Out of the two, ‘I Am Maurice’ was the stronger script; I was more passionate about this story, because it was close to my life.
How difficult was it to write the script?
The hardest thing about writing the script for Bryan and I was ‘how does it end?’ What do we want people walking out from the movie feeling or believing? Once we worked it out, we could tell the story.
It took us about an hour to get the skeleton happening; filling in the blanks.
The script went through so many revisions, because we wanted to ensure there was continuity and the facts we used were true to form.
When we first started writing, every character sounded the same, so we focused on giving each character their own personality. We built, what we like to call a Wikipedia of each character, so we could use as a reference point each time we were writing a scene.
What is the movie about?
Inspiration, passion, and hope. There are so many different levels and layers with this character – with everything he overcame. Although it’s a boxing movie, it’s more about his fight outside the ring.
What’s the message you want to relay to the audience?
We are hoping they will like the story. And feel connected to the story.
The message is to be passionate about what you do. Follow your dreams. Don’t let fear control you and your passion. Plan what you can of your life, so you can do the things you want to do.
Has there been someone who has inspired you along the way?
My dad. He was a hard worker; a solid man. I’d never seen him cry even when his mother, my grandmother died. I remember one time my parents, my brothers and I we were all eating dinner and my mother went around the dinner table asking all of us to tell her about our day. When she got to my dad, he answered in such a calm casual voice, some guy put a gun to his head and asked him for his wallet and then he took off. All our mouths dropped. That didn’t seem to faze my dad and it sure didn’t stop him from ‘being’. He was the type of man who would say ‘to live is more than life’. I think he meant ‘we all have life, but very few actually live’.
My mother was also a hard worker. She taught my brothers and me the value of responsibility. Every week we would rotate the chores between us; we all had to contribute and help around the house. She also sewed; making all our suits. People would ask where we got our suits from, and I guess I was too embarrassed to say she made it, so I would say from Macy’s. I felt cool in the suits though because no one else owned anything like them.
My father also gave us advice which stuck with me. When I was to turn 18 years old, I had to have the following:
Have a license in case you need to drive;
A credit card; not necessarily for shopping, but to give you some independence for when you need it to stay at a hotel;
And a passport; you don’t know when you need to leave the country.
My friend Patrice O’Neal; he said you can’t help others until you help yourself first. He noticed I was too generous with my friends and family – depleting my own funds to help others. He basically said if I was going to give someone money, I would have to be in a position to not expect it back or need it. But if I needed the money, then to not give it otherwise I would find myself in strife; which in fact happened to me over and over because I didn’t listen to him the first time.
Why have you decided to do crowdfunding?
We had a few meetings with several interested parties; they all loved the script but they all wanted to change one thing or another – especially the ending. Bryan and I wanted to tell a good story and leave it at that.
In our view, we’d rather the movie fail doing it our way, then it fails in someone else’s hand. We will learn better this way on our own. It’s not about money for us; it’s about telling the story the way we want to tell it. Our writing is sacred and valuable to us so, for someone to take it and dismantle it, would leave us feeling violated.
So, we’ve decided to fundraise the money ourselves to be able to control how the movie is produced and directed.
What are you aiming to raise?
Although it will cost us $1.2million to make the movie, we need $101,091 to get started. The story behind that figure relates to the story of the Statue of Liberty. Bryan came to me with the idea and I loved it.
Our story, ‘I Am Maurice’ is your story. It is an American story. It is a story of Hope. Freedom. Friendship.
What better symbol of all those themes than the Statue of Liberty?
What we are doing with crowdfunding dates to the summer of 1885, when the Statue of Liberty was in New York, still in pieces, awaiting assembly.
Lady Liberty was a diplomatic gift from France to the USA. However, the USA was unable to raise $250,000 for a granite plinth for the statue – around $6.3 million at today’s prices.
It appeared New York had run out of options until renowned publisher Joseph Pulitzer decided to launch a fundraising campaign in his newspaper – The New York World.
The campaign eventually raised money from more than 160,000 donors, including young children, businessmen, street cleaners, and politicians, with more than three-quarters of the donations amounting to less than a dollar.
It was a triumphant rescue effort: in just five months The New York World raised $101,091, enough to cover the last $100,000 to complete the pedestal.
We believe this number is both symbolic of the film we have written and want to produce, as well as the means by which we are trying to achieve this goal.
If you would like to know more about how to help bring this dream to life, you can support Wil and Bryan by clicking here http://bit.ly/iammaurice1