Primary Work Done In Newtown: Seasoned Actor, Film School Grad Find Common Ground In Short Film
Recent Syracuse University grad Nate Hapke approaches filmmaking in a unique and organic way. The young director, writer, and producer told The Newtown Bee that his new short film, Thom & Gerry, was inspired by a fleeting image of two gentleman focused intently on a chess game.
That single image will bloom over the course of his approximately 15-minute project into a deeply involved but simply told narrative brought to life by veteran actors Al Thompson and Richard Herd, the latter of whom counts more than 140 film, stage and television credits on his resume.
The trio, representing three generations of film industry professionals, were guests in Newtown for several days recently as they teamed up creating the short film. Primary shooting occurred at McLaughlin Vineyards and a private local home.
Without giving too much of the poignant story away, Herd plays Gerry against Thompson’s character, Thom. Both have suffered through tragic recent losses, and both eventually find some comfort and even a bit of salvation through the experience of sharing their love of chess.
“I had always wanted to do something involving a game of chess. So then I came up with this idea about the two men and it was time to get to know them,” Mr Hapke said in a chat ahead of last weekend’s filming. “I started thinking about what these two men could have in common. And that commonality was that Thom always played chess with his father, and Gerry always played chess with his wife.”
The young film school grad said Newtown is close to Wilton, where he spent much of his childhood, and was a perfect location for both exterior and interior scenes.
“I moved out to Los Angeles right after graduation, and I knew I wanted the foliage to be the backdrop for this film,” he said. “My friend Hayden Bates is the locations manager and he lives in Newtown, so I’m staying with him and I knew this was where I wanted to film.”
Mr Herd said he met Mr Hapke because he shares the same agent as Mr Thompson. Mr Thompson was already committed to the film when he learned the young director needed a strong, stern, aging type after another actor slated to play Gerry dropped out to take a leading Broadway role.
This prompted the recommendation of Mr Herd, who Mr Thompson suggested Mr Hapke “call first” to pitch the open role. Mr Hapke did, and Mr Herd reportedly replied that he would love to be one of the Thom & Gerry principals.
“I e-mailed Richard the script, and he got back to me literally four or five hours later,” Mr Hapke said. “Richard said this was a character he could play. He said, ‘I connect with this man, I could be this man.’
“The character of Gerry is modeled after my grandfather, who will be 92 in December. So I learned that both my grandfather and Richard are from the Boston area, they both love black coffee, they’re both Red Sox Fans, and they both love to paint,” Mr Hapke said.
Mr Herd said the role resonated with him, especially since he had reached a point in life where so many of his friends and loved ones are gone.
“Chess can be a [complicated] game,” he said. “I used to play a lot of chess years ago. It’s wonderful if you can find someone to share that game with — it’s good for the mind — very meditative.”
The actor said as he walks through New York or Los Angeles, “every corner holds a memory.”
Referring to his character, and drawing from his own experiences, Mr Herd observed how difficult it is for a surviving loved one to “get going again, to resume the normal functions of life,” after the loss of a close loved one.
“People say it fades — the memory goes away — but it doesn’t. It gets more livable, but once you’ve spent years with someone, you can’t have another relationship like that,” Mr Herd explained. “So [in the film] this guy Thom comes along. And [Gerry] senses a loss in him.
“Love is the way it all starts, but there’s friendship, companionship, adventures, cheering for them, holding them in your arms — this is the kind of film everyone can associate with,” Mr Herd said.
Mr Hapke, who begins a production management job next week on the television drama General Hospital, said once the film is complete in a few months he will hit the festival circuit. He is already talking with Newtown Arts Festival organizers about having a local screening of Thom & Gerry in 2015.