BuffaloRising.com's Justine Smith Interviews Nicholas Of Myra Creator Gerald Hartke
(From left to right) Nicholas of Myra producers Matthew Mesler, Paul Mergenhagen, Gerald Hartke and Michael Jordan, review footage on location at the NFTA harbor in Buffalo (photo by G. Hartke, Sr.).
(Smith) What sparked your imagination when you thought of creating this movie?
(Hartke) I received a Father Christmas ornament from my sister at Christmastime in '01. After all the years of collecting similar ornaments, something did peak my curiosity at that moment about the various incarnations I had collected. I went to an encyclopedia to see what I could find. I was unable to find anything about Father Christmas, but I did find a paragraph about the real St. Nicholas… that he was a bishop in 4th century Asia Minor… from the city of Myra… and that he was the origin of all the similar gift-giving icons from around the world, including Santa Claus. I couldn’t believe that I never knew any of this. And if I had been informed of the history as a child, it was obviously never told to me in a way that was very memorable. After a few visits to the library to satisfy my curiosity about the validity of it all, I soon became focused on turning his story into a screenplay; a project that ended up taking three years to research and write.
(Smith) Is there an official date when the movie will be released?
(Hartke) After hoping that the film would be completed prior to last Christmas, we had announced a couple targeted release dates. However, in order to maintain the quality and integrity of the project as a whole, we are now holding firm that until we have a completed cut of the film and a distribution deal, we will not announce anymore tentative releases, but I can say that the first screening will be in Buffalo.
(Smith) Will the movie be released in most theaters?
(Hartke) One of the final hurdles we’re faced with is securing a distribution deal. There is a lot of excitement about the film’s potential and a lot of ideas on the best way to get it to the audience. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to get it in theatres worldwide, and that’s what we’re hoping to do. After we show it in Buffalo first, of course, one of the ideas is to do multiple “Premiere” screenings around the world for charitable causes during the Holidays. Saint Nicholas of Myra stood for generosity and it would be a perfect way to carry on his legacy and, without a doubt, the perfect way to launch the film.
(Smith) Do you have any religious background yourself?
(Hartke) I was raised Catholic, but I cherished Christmas for many of the wrong reasons when I was growing up, as most children do. They can’t help it, they’re typically conditioned to think about what they’re going to receive at Christmastime and not give. That’s why the story of St. Nicholas will resonate with so many people and cultures, young and old alike. It reinforces, for all generations, that the real joy of the Holidays is the joy of giving.
(Smith) Is it correct that Jennifer Koch Gibson of the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission recommended Matthew Mesler for the lead role?
(Hartke) Yes she did… and I really owe her for that. I had been introduced to her around the time we began prepping the film. She had seen Matt Mesler in a short film called Tiny Magic, written and directed by a very talented guy named John Takacs. And if it weren’t for John’s great work on that film, I may never have found Matt.
Cast & crew shoot scenes atop a mock Greco-Roman sailing ship built for the film on the Lake Erie waterfront (photo by G. Hartke, Sr.).
(Smith) When did filming begin?
(Hartke) We began shooting in ’06 on the soundstage at our studio in Williamsville. Since then we’ve been to dozens of locations, ranging west to east from the waterfront of Lake Erie all the way to Genesee Country Village in Mumford, NY; as well as north and south from Lake Ontario to Alleghany State Park.
(Smith) Why did you choose WNY, specifically Buffalo, to film in?
(Hartke) We’re making what could have easily been a 20 million dollar production in Hollywood for about ten times less. What makes this possible is the diversity of culture and architecture in the area. Most people across the country view Buffalo as an uninspiring “rust-belt” city, an image that even we sometimes perpetuate for opportunity sake. My team and I are producing a sweeping epic film that spans the eras from 4th century Asia Minor to 1820’s New York. For the most part, the farthest we’ve had to look for locations and talent is within a 200 mile radius. It really is a unique melting pot of resources that has not been utilized in the best way.
(Smith) What other locations did you consider filming in?
(Hartke) We never considered going anywhere else. I’m from Clarence, NY. This area is where I grew up. I saw a lot of people leave the area with the belief that Buffalo might be too small to realize their dreams. Among many of my goals with this film, one of the most important is to change that perception. We’ve been able to invest more than half a million dollars on local crew and talent for this film and there will be more before we’re through. Now, we need more people in the community to invest in projects like Nicholas of Myra.
(Smith) Why do you think the story of Nicholas of Myra needs to be told?
(Hartke) There seems to be a big divide around the world regarding the celebration of Christmas. It has escalated into a battle between secular and sacred. It has begun to tear away at long standing traditions and it’s hurting those who cherish the season most… our children. The story of Saint Nicholas of Myra gives credence to the contemporary Christmas icon, while reinforcing the magic of the season and the reason for it. Telling his story on the silver screen, could be a great way to bring people together on the true meaning of Christmas .
(Smith) What can people expect from the movie?
(Hartke) The film tells the origins of Saint Nicholas as well as many of our age-old traditions. It weaves together all of the folklore and historical events into a timeless tale of Nicholas' life and the legend he became. Ultimately, the message of the film is about the power of generosity, but it is also about the power of storytelling and the hope it can bring to people who are in need of it.
(Smith) Is it correct that the movie is 3 hours and 20 minutes long?
(Hartke) Yes, the full version is going to be around that length. This movie has a lot of untold story to tell. We plan on having some test screenings prior to the release to see how the length of the film plays for an audience. If it needs to be shortened for theatrical release, then expect to see an extended cut eventually offered on Blu-ray and DVD.
To read Justine's article online at BuffaloRising.com, click here.