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BuffaloRising.com's Justine Smith Interviews Nicholas Of Myra Creator Gerald Hartke

04/17/10

(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.

 
   
   
 
 
 
EXCLUSIVE: Western New Yorkers Get A Behind-The-Scenes Look At Epic Set Piece

07/07/08

“Believe it or not, sailing is actually a crucial part of the history of Saint Nicholas,” said Nicholas of Myra Writer/Director Gerald Hartke, when asked about the importance of one major set piece being constructed for the film. “Most people aren’t aware of the fact that Nicholas of Myra is not only the patron saint of children, but was also known for centuries as the patron saint of sailors and seafarers.”

In order to tell the story of Saint Nicholas as an epic motion picture, the director and his production team realized early on that they were going to have to build an actual ship from the period. Since July of 2007, Production Designer David King has been hard at work overseeing construction on the ship that, he admits, is the single largest set piece he’s ever created. “I’ve done some big projects for theatre and other venues, but this is the biggest,” said King. Hidden from view in a large warehouse outside the city of Buffalo, King and his crew have been meticulously constructing a full-size Greco-Roman sailing ship -- along with its quarter-scale, fully-functional replica -- completely from scratch.

Scheduled for completion later this month, the full-size, historically accurate sailing vessel (pictured here in early March) has been under construction for the last year at an undisclosed location in Buffalo, NY (photo by G. Hartke, Sr.).

Known as a corbita, the ship’s distinct design was extensively researched by King along with the help of John Montague, a marine archeology consultant to the film and Director of the Buffalo State College Maritime Center. “As far as we know,” stated Hartke, “it is the only authentic Greco-Roman corbita that exists in the world today.”

The rolling deck of the 85-foot-long corbita was engineered to create the illusion of a storm-tossed vessel at sea (photo by G. Hartke, Sr.).

“As a boy in the film, Nicholas encounters a situation at sea that gives birth to a legendary sailors’ story,” Hartke revealed. “The tale is only one of many miraculous and inspirational events involving Saint Nicholas of Myra, but it’s also one of the more exciting ones. All of us that work on the project are looking forward to shooting that very soon.”

Testing the ship’s seaworthiness, Production Designer David King (hidden below deck), who’s also an experienced sailor, recently took the quarter-scale replica corbita on its maiden voyage across Hoyt Lake in Buffalo, NY (photo by G. Hartke, Sr.).

Clocking in at more than three hours in length, the epic film admittedly has a great deal of story to tell. “Throughout the picture, you’ll see many legends surrounding Saint Nicholas told in very dramatic ways,” Hartke informed. “Young Nicholas’ high-sea adventure is promised to be one of the most memorable.”

Look for upcoming web documentaries to grant fans more behind-the-scenes access to the set of Nicholas of Myra.

 
   
   
 
 
 
Theatre Veterans Elkin And O’Neill On Location In Historic Mumford, NY

04/14/08

Having recently cast two of the most revered actors that Western New York has to offer, the producers of Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas were anxious to get the venerable duo on location at the authentic 19th-century Genesee Country Village in Mumford, NY. “Although every character is important to telling this great story about Saint Nicholas, the roles that Saul Elkin and Vincent O’Neill fill are of particular importance to the film,” said Nicholas of Myra star and producer, Matthew Mesler.

 
 

Vincent O’Neill plays a role of “particular importance” in the epic film Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas (photo by J. T. Barnes).

With a majority of the location shooting in historic Mumford now complete, both Elkin and O’Neill hold shared enthusiasm for the experience of working on this extremely ambitious independent production. “I love the family-like atmosphere, the professionalism and attention to detail of the director, technicians and crew,” said O’Neill. “It has a fascinating subject matter with a universal theme that appeals to all age groups. This film has the potential to put Buffalo on the national cinematic map.” Actor Saul Elkin admittedly knew very little about Saint Nicholas at the time he was first contacted by the production regarding a role in the film. Elkin soon realized the significance of the story after he began reading the script, stating... “aside from common knowledge, I had no idea how rich and moving a story it is.”
 
 

Saul Elkin plays the role of a 19th-century Dutch philanthropist who holds an ancient and enduring secret... and good reason to believe in old Saint Nick (photo by J. T. Barnes).

When asked about his transition from the Western New York stage to the silver screen, Elkin offered a seasoned perspective. “When you have spent most of your working career on stage, the real difference for me is the intimacy of the work. Because you don’t have to push to be heard or seen, as you do in live theatre, it gives you the opportunity for a truly naturalistic style. And, because Vincent and I are old friends, and have worked together frequently, we can truly speak to each other on camera.” “Working with Saul is always a special pleasure for me,” responded O’Neill. “He is an enormously warm and generous actor, and I believe that we share a special performance chemistry that reflects our real-life friendship.” As the film’s star, Mesler is extremely grateful to Elkin and O’Neill for their esteemed contributions. “They introduce the story and then close it, in a magical way,” he explained. “To have such great veteran actors in the bookends of this film is truly a privilege. Not only for the production, but for the audience as well.”

The Nicholas of Myra crew sets up at one of three locations being used at the Genesee Country Village in Mumford, NY (photo by J.T. Barnes).

Utilizing locations like the Genesee Country Village and exceptional talent, such as Elkin and O’Neill, the producers of Nicholas of Myra hope that they will inspire major motion-picture productions to further tap filmmaking resources outside of Hollywood. Elkin expressed a similar sentiment. “My hope would be that the theatre community in Western New York will continue to be enriched by more and more film production. The human resources are here -- interesting locations, a very talented pool of actors, and a growing number of excellent professional theatres.” O’Neill concurs. “We are aware of the extraordinarily rich theatre, art, literary, music and architectural communities here,” he stated. “And it is fascinating to see a burgeoning independent film community also, of which Nicholas of Myra is the most salient current example.”

Look for video interviews with Saul Elkin, Vincent O’Neill, star Matthew Mesler and more to be available for viewing beginning in May.

 
   
   
 
 
 
Western New York Stage Elite To Appear In Nicholas Of Myra

02/20/08

Respected stage actors Saul Elkin and Vincent O’Neill recently signed on to play significant roles in Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas. Considered by many to be the “theatre royalty” of Western New York, the two veterans of the stage have expressed excitement about the opportunity to work together on screen in Nicholas of Myra.

Writer/Director Gerald Hartke has been tightlipped about the characters Elkin and O-Neill are set to play, but has confirmed that the scenes they’ll perform in together take place in early 19th-century New York and should be completed in a few weeks. “The Pre-Victorian Era scenes that they appear in provide bookends for the rest of the film,” said Hartke. “Although they’re only in a total of about twenty minutes of the movie, the characters they play are extremely important to the overall story we’re telling about Saint Nicholas. I’m honored to have their involvement in the project.”

Look for further local media coverage of Saul Elkin and Vincent O’Neill on the set of Nicholas of Myra in the coming weeks.

 
   
   
 
 
 
97 Rock Radio Interview Now Available

01/28/08

On December 6th (The Feast Day of Saint Nicholas) 2007, the morning radio programmers at 97 Rock, Buffalo broadcast an exclusive interview with Nicholas of Myra Writer/Director Gerald Hartke.

Known as “Norton In The Morning,” the morning show team of Larry Norton, Rob Lederman, Chris Klein and Russ Burton conducted the over-the-phone interview with Hartke to discuss the making of the film and to share their excitement about the project with listeners.

To listen to the December 6th interview in its entirety, click here.

 
   
   
 
 
 
Canisius College Student Wins Nicholas Of Myra Movie Sweepstakes

01/25/08

On Wednesday, January 23rd, star Matthew Mesler performed the blind draw to wrap up the official Nicholas of Myra movie sweepstakes. The winner, Canisius College student Joe Robinson, will receive a tour of Wonderworker Studios (where Nicholas of Myra is being produced), a day on the set of the film, and a background role this spring.

Sweepstakes entries were made online at the film’s website between November 23, 2007 and January 20, 2008. The sweepstakes promotion coincided with the sale of the official Nicholas of Myra teaser poster at local Western New York retailers during the recent Holiday Season. A portion of the proceeds from the sale will be donated to Toys For Tots of WNY. The producers behind Nicholas of Myra would like to thank the participating retailers below for their involvement.

CLARENCE EYE CARE
Main Street – Clarence

CREEKVIEW RESTAURANT
Main Street – Williamsville

HOLLYWOOD GALLERIES
Walden Galleria – Cheektowaga

LA NOVA PIZZERIA
Main Street – Williamsville

PONY’S RESTAURANT
Main Street – Clarence

QUEEN CITY BOOK STORE
Main Street – Buffalo

RECORD THEATRE
All Locations

THE SCREENING ROOM INC
Sheridan Drive – Amherst

TIM HORTON’S
Main Street – Clarence

 
   
   
 
 
 
WGRZ-TV Provides Behind-The-Scenes News Coverage Of Epic Nicholas Of Myra

01/21/08

In October and December of last year, NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV, Buffalo provided behind-the-scenes coverage of some of the production activity that was happening around town for the epic film Nicholas of Myra. In case you missed the special reports, we have listed the web links below. Each web page presents the story in transcript form along with an opportunity to watch the original video report.

News Links Courtesy of wgrz.com:

Lights, Camera, Action... in Buffalo -- Aired 10/29/07

Nicholas of Myra -- Aired 12/06/07

Look for other media coverage to be presented in the weeks to come.