Wharf Rats: New Web Series Proves That Comedy Is PEI’s Next Big Export

Prince Edward Island is strutting its filmmaking stuff once again as some of the talents behind Just Passing Through and The Prince Edward Island Encyclopedia launch a trailer for their upcoming web series, Wharf Rats. 

The series follows two brothers from North Rustico, played by Dennis Trainor (Just Passing Through) and Robbie Carruthers (The Prince Edward Island Encyclopedia) who have dreamed of inheriting their father’s fishing boat their whole lives. Things go sideways when their father suddenly passes away, and his boat falls into the hands of their high-school nemesis turned future step-dad. From then on its war as the two wharf rats scheme their way into getting back their inheritance.

Director/Producer Jason Arsenault says the project originally came together a couple of years ago for a competition called CBC Comedy Coup. The trailer was filmed on a DSLR with the $40.00 cost of production being spent righteously on gas, smokes, beer, and fish and chips.”

From a pool of 300 competitors Wharf Rats made it into Comedy Coup’s top five. They were then flown to the Whistler Film Festival for a five minute live pitch for $500k in front of industry judges – one of them being Dan Goldberg, producer of The Hangover. Ultimately Wharf Rats got a consolation prize of being optioned as a film, but in the meantime Arsenault, Trainor, and Carruthers are looking for other ways to get the project off the ground as a web series.

The trailer that was released today was put out as the crew began prepping for the first round of the Telefilm Micro Budget Web Series Fund. The fund would allow them to produce a full series of the show.

Arsenault says that eight episodes have already been worked out as rough drafts, as well a rough draft for a feature film. They tentatively have plans to begin shooting the series through the Summer of 2017, with a release the following Spring.

“We all grew up here,” says Arsenault on the inspiration for the series. “We all have connections to that world. My family is in that world, but none of us have ever really worked as fisherman or anything like that. But when this competition, CBC Comedy Coup, came out, we just were like: how do we set ourselves apart? And part of that was just by using things that no one else had…. our environment, access to locations… and so we just started playing a bit in that world.”

Several Canadian shows have seen great success, particularly in the Maritimes, capitalizing on regional quirks and a long history of being able to laugh at ourselves. The now legendary Trailer Park Boys has been filmed in Nova Scotia for a decade and a half and has risen to international fame. Series like Corner Gas, Just Passing Through, and most recently the very popular Letterkenny have followed in the same genre.

“Look at something like Letterkenny. A small web series about a small Canadian town and its characters is now a pretty big TV hit. They all let outsiders see unique slices of life. And if you’re not an outsider to that life, you’re seeing yourself reflected back. Both those things interest people. For us, it was clear that people involved in fishing life liked the show. But we want people to know its a lot more than that. Just like Corner Gas, it’s about small town Canada, but not just for people from those places. It managed to be bigger than that.”

As for when comedy gets a little too close to real life, Arsenault says that there’s always that risk. “There’s certainly always going to be those types of criticisms in comedy. All you can do as a writer is try to write characters with some degree of honesty and empathy.”