Friday, June 17, 2016

Spotlight on Independent Films - Jerry Hartke and Nicholas of Myra

I am very excited to finally launch this new weekly feature, and I expect to have movie people that you guys will want to read about. I "met" Jerry Hartke on Facebook a few years ago, and was immediately impressed with his dedication to his craft. Jerry has a passion for making movies, but he admits that he never expected his passion to turn into the types of projects he is currently working on.

Jerry is a Buffalo, NY movie maker who has taken on the daunting task of telling the story of the real St. Nicholas. You know, the guy who inspired the myth of Santa Claus? Since Jerry's movies have to do with Christmas, I could not resist making him the very first featured movie maker in our series!

Trailer for Nicholas of Myra

I wanted to find out more about Jerry, his movies, and what really makes him tick. The best way to do that is to ask him myself, so I did!

George: Why did you choose this subject for your first big production?

Jerry: I've always loved Christmas. It's my favorite time of year and I've always enjoyed Holiday Entertainment. When I came across the untold epic story of Saint Nicholas of Myra (the origin of Old St. Nick and Santa Claus) in December of 2001, I knew this was the script I needed to write. After several years of research and writing, I completed the script in 2004 with no intention of directing a film about it. I was trying sell the script to a studio, but I was a nobody from Buffalo and you just can't get your script in the door without an agent -- then I soon found out that getting a legitimate agent was just as hard. Fortunately, about that time, Mark Stricklin -- now the Director of U.S. Film Commissions in Santa Rosa, California -- had started the Buffalo-Niagara Film Commission and was interested in helping me get the film off the ground locally, if we could raise the funding to produce it here independently. So we did just that. I was a hobbyist filmmaker at the time, but had won third prize in a national contest for a short film I did, so I was able to use that achievement and my filmmaking skills to put together a very compelling visual presentation at Regal Cinemas for potential investors on the Eve of Saint Nicholas' Feast Day in 2005.

G: You have been laboring on Nicholas of Myra since at least 2005, right after you wowed investors with a great speech. Did you expect that it would take this long to bring the movie to the screen?
J: Originally, it was going to be just one film and we hoped to release it within a few years of development -- but the story grew into a true saga, so eventually we decided (due to several factors) to split the story into two separate films and (depending on the success of the first two) a possible third film. I never imagined production would span more than a decade of my life, but I always told the people involved that if they saw this through to the end, no matter how long it takes, I promised them it would be something they would be proud to have been a part of. Thankfully, the financiers behind the films have invested their faith in the endeavor as well and have remained patient with this unprecedented, independent undertaking!

G: What is the worst part about doing pretty much everything yourself in terms of writing, directing, and producing?
J: Producing something of this scope on your own would be a nightmare, so thankfully I'm not. I've been fortunate to have a team of producers that (over several years) have continued to pull together the most amazing Western New York talent, locations and a gamut of creative resources. On the creative side, I feel that I've been blessed to be able to see the story from conception (as writer), through production (as director and cinematographer), right through to post-production (as editor). Not many people get that opportunity creatively and most would say they wouldn't want all that responsibility ... but I truly feel some of the trouble with Hollywood movies these days is that there are way too many "cooks in the kitchen".

G: Now that you have seen what it takes to bring an epic like Nicholas of Myra to the screen, if you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?
J: I would be a better judge of character when it comes to people in general. I used to try to be everyone's friend, but that doesn't work as a director. Sometimes you can't worry about whether everyone likes you or not ... or your work. This experience has also taught me a lot about the nature of creativity and what it means to be "an artist" vs. "a storyteller" in our present filmmaking landscape. I've also learned a lot about the business side of the business ... but that's another epic tale for a future time!

G: When will we get the chance to watch your work on the screen?
J: As soon as the first film is complete, we are supposed to screen it for a couple of interested distributors -- some smaller companies and one notable studio. From there we'll see where it goes. The ultimate goal is theatrical, but we'll be happy with whatever way the audience wants to see it. Their voice will be what ultimately determines how and when the films get released.

G: What plans do you have for the future?
J: After finishing the first film "Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas -- The Legend Begins", I plan to complete the second film "Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas -- The Legend Continues", already a majority complete as well ... then I will take some time off (several months) and contemplate my next project. I do have several story concepts on my bucket-list ... but of course I'll have to prove myself with these first two movies before I'll ever be given a chance to do anymore!
Here are some links you can follow to learn more about Jerry Hartke and his work! Thank you very much to Jerry for taking the time, and I encourage everyone to check out Nicholas of Myra when it opens!

George N Root III is an independent movie fanatic who wants to give another outlet for independent movie makers to get their work out to the world! Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at