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EXCLUSIVE: Director Gives Insight Into Film Interpretation of Historical Icon

 
     
 
Since the beginning of production on Nicholas of Myra: The Story of St. Nicholas, Writer/Director Gerald Hartke had chosen to keep his artistic interpretation of the iconic saint under wraps. That is, until now. “I’ve actually been asked by a lot of people whether our Nicholas will have a recognizable or saintly appearance,” explained Hartke. According to the director, the question most often posed to him on the subject has been, “will your character look more like Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas or an old-world Santa Claus?” “I get that a lot,” he exclaims.
 
     
 

(Above) actor Matthew Mesler portrays Nicholas of Myra, the fourth-century man whose selfless deeds in life gave birth to the immortal legend of Saint Nicholas (photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes).

(Below) Mesler performs a scene on location for the film Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas (photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes).

 

“My response has been that at different points in the film he will look like each of them.” It has been six years since Hartke first came across a brief account of the historical saint in an old Encyclopedia he had stored in his closet at home. “I’d never heard the name ‘Nicholas of Myra’ before,” he tells. “Yet there it was, right on the pages of an old 1965 World Book Encyclopedia.” What Hartke had found was the seemingly forgotten tale of a selfless child from late third-century Asia Minor who grew to become a heroic bishop and future saint. It was the story of Nicholas the Wonderworker, patron saint of children and seafarers. “Right away I felt that it could be a powerful tale for someone to tell cinematically,” said Hartke, “but only if you told it right.” When beginning the research for the project in December of 2001, he still had very little knowledge of the man or the Greco-Roman period in which he lived. “In order to make the story as compelling as possible,” said Hartke, “I knew that I needed to study every aspect of Nicholas’ life, the world around him and the events that occurred.” After spending much of his time between 2001 and 2004 studying the history and lore of Saint Nicholas, Hartke eventually became an authority on the subject.

 
     
 

“What I found was that all of the various incarnations of celebrated gift-givers from around the world seemed to have evolved from this singular story,” he stated. He also concluded that attributes of the Dutch Sinter Klaas, the French Pere Noel and other Christmas icons, had been based on early medieval depictions of Saint Nicholas of Myra. Hartke discovered that even Santa Claus’ appearance took direct influence from the fourth-century bishop. “The cap that Claus wears is clearly based on the Phrygian cap that originated in Asia Minor,” he remarked. “It was a headpiece adopted by the early bishops of the Greco-Roman period, long before the bishop’s miter that you now see characteristically worn by Saint Nicholas.” Eventually, Hartke came to the realization that if the story of Nicholas of Myra was the historical origin of all the similar legends throughout the world, then the character he needed to create for the film would have to incorporate elements from each, demonstrating their possible origins and creating a cross-cultural familiarity.

 
     
 

Matthew Mesler (Nicholas) poses opposite actor Clint Byrne on the set of Nicholas of Myra: The Story of saint Nicholas (photo by Gerald Hartke).

 
     
 

Hartke acknowledges that not everyone will agree with his interpretation of the historic figure, but that every man, woman and child will be able to relate to the character in the film. “As far as I know, this is the first time in cinematic history he will be portrayed as a real human being,” informed the director. “You’ll see his life story, all the way from childhood through adulthood, and even beyond. That is where the real drama lies in Nicholas’ tale, how he became the legendary gift-bearer.” Hartke, who took nearly three years to write the epic screenplay, vows that the film does not attempt to undo the mythic aspects of the character. “I think the story will inspire people of all ages to believe, more than ever, that he truly is immortal.”

 
     
     
 
 
 

A Filmmaking Odyssey Reaches Its Pinnacle

 
     
 
For Writer/Director Gerald Hartke, what began as an idea for a screenplay in December of 2001, has now become a six-year filmmaking odyssey to create the epic motion picture Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas. “Production is moving full-steam ahead at this time,” said Hartke. “We’ll be spending the rest of the summer and most of the fall on location. As the director, this is really the high point for me right now and I’m anxious to keep the production running at this level.” The cast and crew recently spent four days and four nights at a private location outside Buffalo, NY to shoot scenes revolving around Nicholas’ often speculated journey to the Holy Land, shortly before becoming the Bishop of Myra.
 
     
 

Producers Christopher Santucci (foreground left) and Paul Mergenhagen (foreground right) ready a camera for the next scene, while Director Gerald Hartke (background right) makes a last minute costume adjustment on the actor shrouded in red, Nicholas of Myra star, Matthew Mesler (photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes).

 
     
 

“Our story covers Nicholas’ entire life,” Hartke informed. “So trying to keep the pace we are at, throughout production, is tough.” For their most recent location shoot, the production team had to arrange for more than a dozen actors, horses, riders and even a camel. “We also had to create costumes and props for each person that was going to appear on camera,” added Hartke. “Not to mention, we needed to build a full-size covered wagon that would be appropriate for the period.” Even with the overwhelming logistics involved, Hartke has seen his crew rise to the challenge. “Time and again they’ve overcome production obstacles,” he noted. “As a team, they work very well together.”

 

Director Gerald Hartke captures footage of a caravan crossing the terrain at an undisclosed location outside Buffalo, New York (photo by Gerald Hartke, Sr.).

 
     
 

(Above) actor Richard Satterwhite portrays Solomon, a wealthy merchant on his way to Jerusalem (photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes).

 
     
 

With Solomon’s wagon leading the way, actor Ian Clark (right) and some fellow cast members prepare for the next shot of the day (photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes).

 
     
 

 

As Solomon’s man-at-arms, actor Addison Henderson awaits his call to action (photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes).

 

When asked to comment on the members of his cast and crew, Hartke said, “With respect to the many talented people working on the project, this film is being made independently by all of us, but not independent of one another. Many of the cast and crew share certain duties and responsibilities, and each of us wears more than one hat on the job.” According to him, one individual who wears more hats than any other is Producer / Unit Production Manager & First Assistant Director, Paul Mergenhagen. “He has been my right hand man for more than a year now,” stated the director. “He is probably the most multi-talented person I’ve ever worked with.”

 
     
 
For Producer Mergenhagen, the opportunity to help Hartke transform Western New York into another place and time has been an exciting one. “There are numerous places tucked away here that look like another world,” said Mergenhagen. “It’s our mission on this film to bring these locations to the forefront and make the audience say ‘wow’.” If early fan reaction is any indication, the film is certain to be well regarded by moviegoers for its production value. However, Hartke is adamant that the locations were chosen only in service of the story. “The story came long before I ever contemplated turning it into a film,” he contends. “With every production decision that I now have to make, the story still comes first. The locations and costumes help set the period in which the film takes place, but the story is what truly makes it epic.”
 
     
 

(Above) actress Jamie Elvey portrays Johanna, a young misguided woman who crosses paths with the caravan and a particularly selfless young man named Nicholas, intent on helping her to discover the power of hope and generosity (photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes).

 
     
     
 
 
 

Composer Seth Stachowski Finishes Work On Nicholas Of Myra Score

 
   
 

Film Composer Seth Stachowski recently put finishing touches on his epic score for the upcoming motion picture Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas. Stachowski, a music graduate of The University at Buffalo, began part-time work on the score more than a year ago, while the film was still being prepped for principal photography. After reading the screenplay, the talented composer was able to write and record nearly a dozen tracks of music for the film by the end of 2005.

Word of Stachowski’s talent soon spread. By the summer of 2006 he had been offered the position of bandleader for the Cirque du Soleil show out of Montreal, Canada. It was to be a full-time position that would begin in November and would require a relocation for Stachowski as well as extensive traveling. Suddenly, Nicholas of Myra Director Gerald Hartke realized that he was under the gun to figure out a way to make both opportunities work for Stachowski. “I asked Seth if he thought he could do the entire score the way he did the first dozen or so tracks... based on the screenplay,” said Hartke. “I knew it was something that had probably never been attempted before, but I reminded him that the whole process of making Nicholas of Myra fell into that category!”

“I have never written music for film based on a screenplay before,” stated Stachowski. “So this has been a very interesting way for me to work.” With only three months to compose enough music for what is most likely going to be a three-hour film epic, and without so much as raw footage to look at, the task of creating the soundtrack was daunting to say the least, even for a skilled composer such as Stachowski. “Jerry and I had spent a lot of time talking about the concept for the music,” said Stachowski. “Our communication is quite good and I think we figured out, pretty early on, a way to communicate with one another and make it work efficiently.”

By November 2006, Stachowski had miraculously completed the score, just in time to relocate to Montreal and take on his new job with the Cirque du Soleil. “Seth ended up writing more than seventy orchestral tracks,” stated Hartke. “I think he recorded close to two hours of music, some of which, I can honestly say, is the most powerful stuff I’ve ever heard. I am so proud to say that this is the score to Nicholas of Myra.”

Stachowski, a native of Buffalo, also composed some recent music for three National Geographic documentary films, including Napoleon’s Final Battle as well as films on Peter The Great and Catherine The Great. He hopes to return to Buffalo in 2007/2008, once Nicholas of Myra is completed, to oversee the orchestration of his sweeping score as it is put to the final picture. “Seth is, without a doubt, going to be a very successful composer,” added Hartke. “It certainly will be an honor to know that this score was his first major work.”

 
     
     
 
 
 

EXCLUSIVE: Nicholas Of Myra Movie Teaser To Premiere On Christmas Day

 
     
 

On December 25th, the official www.nicholasofmyra-movie.com website will proudly present the worldwide premiere of the motion-picture teaser for Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas.

The highly anticipated two-minute preview will feature the first motion-picture footage to be released from the epic film. Western New Yorkers can look for a sixty-second promotional spot, advertising the exclusive Christmas Day event, to appear on local Time Warner cable stations. The spot is set to begin airing on December 6th, the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas. It will then continue to run during holiday programming until the teaser’s exciting premiere on December 25th, when, beginning at exactly 12:01 a.m. eastern time, www.nicholasofmyra-movie.com will offer the world its first glimpse at Nicholas of Myra: The Story of Saint Nicholas.

 
     
     
 
 
 

United Kingdom/United States St. Nicholas Society Endorses Film Epic

 
     
 

“The world needs to know the story of Nicholas,” said the founder of the UK/USA St. Nicholas Society, Canon Dr. James Rosenthal, during his recent visit to Wonderworker Studios. Although he agreed to make the journey to Western New York to meet the filmmakers for Nicholas of Myra, he had yet to read the screenplay for the film. “Jim asked if he could get his hands on the script once he arrived,” said Writer/Director Gerald Hartke. “He spent that first afternoon in his hotel room and read all one hundred and eighty pages. Surprisingly, after he finished it, he wouldn’t say anything to me -- he just grinned.”

Later that evening, Rosenthal stood in front of the Nicholas of Myra cast and crew at a welcome dinner to celebrate his arrival. With a grin still evident on his face, he began to share the thoughts that had put it there. “I’ve traveled the world in search of St. Nicholas,” stated Rosenthal. “I never imagined my journey would end in Buffalo New York. After reading the screenplay, I feel as though my journey is complete. I believe this is going to be a worldwide success.”

The St. Nicholas Society now endorses the upcoming film and the potential for a London premiere has already been discussed by Rosenthal. Hartke admits, “I occasionally have to pinch myself. The responsibility we have with this film is beginning to sink in.”

 
     
     
 
 
 

EXCLUSIVE: Director Reveals First Finished Image From Motion Picture

 
     
 

After years of imprisonment, Nicholas (Matthew Mesler) receives word from an unlikely messenger that a crusade has begun.

 
     
 

“With this motion picture, we are trying to emulate the look of the classic film epics that many of us grew up on,” stated Gerald Hartke, director of Nicholas of Myra. “It is going to be family entertainment that we hope, once completed, will be enjoyed for years to come.”

Paying homage to the films of old, Hartke and his production team have developed a widescreen image that utilizes modern digital processes, while maintaining the cinematic aesthetic of early film epics like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. “This is the origin story of Saint Nicholas,” added Hartke. “We felt the movie demanded the look and feel of a film classic.”

Expect future Nicholas of Myra updates to reveal more in-depth information about the modern technology behind the epic film.

 
     
     
 
 
 

Founder Of St. Nicholas Society To Visit Wonderworker Studios In June

 
     
 

International eyes will be on Western New York in early June as Canon James Rosenthal -- founder of The UK / USA St. Nicholas Society -- travels from his home in London, England to meet the cast and crew of the motion-picture production Nicholas of Myra: The Story of St. Nicholas. Rosenthal, who recently agreed to work as a historical consultant on the film, has anxiously stepped up his plans to visit Wonderworker Studios in Western New York, where the film is being made. “I am so grateful,” he wrote in a correspondence from London, “for this triumph for good, history, and so much more.”

 
     
 
Nicholas of Myra star Matthew Mesler is excited about the idea of Rosenthal’s journey to Wonderworker Studios. “It will be incredibly inspiring to meet a spiritual leader and expert historian who has devoted his life to his faith and to St. Nicholas,” stated Mesler. Gerald Hartke, the film’s Writer and Director, believes Rosenthal will enjoy witnessing some of the magic at Wonderworker first hand. “After visiting the film’s website,” commented Hartke, “Jim was excited enough to plan a trip here from overseas. That being said, I’m really anxious to see what his reaction will be once he visits the film studio!”
 

Director Gerald Hartke examines props in the artist workshop.

 
     
 
 
 

Foreman Bill Riester (second from left) oversees set construction on the Wonderworker soundstage (above photos by Jeffrey T. Barnes).

 
     
 
 
 

Star Matthew Mesler discusses his transformation into the title character with stylist Nancy Riester in the hair & makeup room.

 
     
     
 
 
 

Epic Gains Early International Buzz

 
     
 

Although the film has yet to be completed, Nicholas of Myra: The Story of St. Nicholas has already caught the attention of an international audience. From the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the Netherlands and even as far as New Zealand, the motion-picture project has drawn a growing number of fans from overseas.

Since mention of Nicholas of Myra: The Story of St. Nicholas in the Hollywood Reporter, news of the production has turned up in various cities across the globe. While attending the Cannes Film Festival in France last May, Dutch filmmaker Jean Olf Lammers had been reading literature regarding upcoming American movies and came across the title of the film. “I had been researching St. Nicholas for my documentary The Time Journey of St. Nicholas,” said Lammers, in a phone conversation from the Netherlands with Nicholas of Myra Writer/Director Gerald Hartke. “There is a great amount of interest in my country for stories about St. Nicholas.”

Canon Jim Rosenthal, founder of The UK/USA St. Nicholas Society (www.stnicholassociety.com) and Director of Communications for the Anglican Communion News Service in London, recently contacted the Nicholas of Myra production after learning of the motion picture. “This is the answer to many prayers,” he wrote in an e-mail to the film’s official website, adding, “words can’t express how excited I am about your project.” Rosenthal, who also co-authored the book St. Nicholas: A Closer Look At Christmas that has sold 40,000 copies since its release in 2005, plans to maintain a regular correspondence with the production. As an authority on St. Nicholas, he has traveled the world collecting artifacts and pictures from relevant historical sites. Rosenthal seems most enthusiastic about one of his next trips, as he prepares to travel to the United States this year to visit Wonderworker Studios and the set of Nicholas of Myra.

To order your copy of St. Nicholas: A Closer Look At Christmas, written by Joe Wheeler & Jim Rosenthal, click here.

 
     
     
 
 
 

Nicholas Of Myra Production Sets Up Shop As Wonderworker Studios

 
     
 

Executive Producers Gerald Hartke and Thomas J. Mallare announced today that the epic production, Nicholas of Myra, is now headquartered in a 4,000 square-foot studio and soundstage facility located in suburban Western New York.

“We’re filming the story of Saint Nicholas,” said Hartke. “Since he was also known as The Wonderworker, we thought it would be a perfect name for our studio.” The location boasts a 2,000 square-foot soundstage with an additional 2,000 square feet of studio space for makeup, wardrobe, motion-picture property and a fully equipped screening room. “With the exception of a few large-scale set pieces,” Hartke adds, “the majority of the interior sets are being constructed right at Wonderworker, where a big portion of the film will be shot.”

Return here in the coming weeks for your first glimpse of Wonderworker Studios and the exciting movie magic that is being created there for the motion picture Nicholas of Myra.

 
     
 
 
 
 
 

Regal Cinemas Hosts First-Look Screening

 
     
 
 
 

The limited-edition poster (pictured above) was on display at a recent big-screen showing of the behind-the-scenes featurette The Myth, The Man, The Movie: A First Look At The Making Of Nicholas Of Myra.

 
     
 

On December 6th, the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas, a group of special guests gathered at Regal Cinema’s Transit Center to get their first big-screen look at the making of the epic Nicholas of Myra. The invitation-only event gave attendees a chance to view The Myth, The Man, The Movie: A First Look At The Making Of Nicholas Of Myra on the silver screen, then mingle with the film’s cast and crew at a post-event Christmas party hosted by Samuel’s Grand Manor in Williamsville.

 
     
 
The purpose of the evening was to present the Western New York business community with an opportunity to get involved in the making of the film. Other special guests of the cast and crew were also on hand. To listen to a recording of the night’s introduction by the film’s Writer/Director, click below.
 
Director Gerald Hartke speaks to the audience prior to the screening.
     
 

NOTICE TO PARENTS: Due to the presentation of historical facts of Saint Nicholas in relation to the popular folklore of Santa Claus, this AUDIO CLIP should first be reviewed by a PARENT to judge whether the content is consistent with their children's current knowledge and understanding.

Click HERE to listen.

 
     
 
 
 
 
 

Director Reveals First Image Of Actor In Role Of Saint Nicholas

 
     
 
 
 
After spending several years imprisoned for his faith, Nicholas’ devotion is put to the test as he begins to ponder whether his God has forsaken him and the people of Myra (photo by Gerald Hartke).
 
     
 

From Edmund Gwenn (Miracle on 34th Street, 1947) to Tim Allen (The Santa Clause, 1994), several actors have worn the whiskers and donned the red and white suit over the last hundred years of cinema. Now, Writer/Director Gerald Hartke is asking a relatively unknown actor named Matthew Mesler to take the legendary role of Old Saint Nick where no screen actor has taken it before -- back to its origin -- for the historical drama Nicholas of Myra. “After viewing other artwork and CG (computer graphics) images depicting the title character, fans who have frequented the website over the last several months have been clamoring to see what Matt actually looks like in the role,” said Hartke. “I wanted to give everyone a glimpse, without revealing too much of the character right now. There will be much more to reveal in the weeks to come.”

“I cover the life from twenty years old to sixty-three,” said Mesler, a twenty-nine-year-old father of two. “I just want to be as believable as possible. And it’s hard for me to draw on life experience to be sixty-three, because... (laughs) I don’t think that’s possible.” The blond-haired and bluish-eyed actor is undergoing a radical transformation for the film. Key Make-up Artist Kimberlie Reszetucha and Hairstylist Nancy Riester have been given the task of, not only aging Mesler, but changing his overall appearance -- from the color of his hair and eyes to the tone of his skin. When asked about the importance of make-up and hair in his performance, Mesler said, “It’s critical that it be believable and seamless. Kim and Nancy are two incredibly talented artists who pay such close attention to detail.” Mesler doesn’t seem to mind enduring long hours in the make-up chair. “I would give anything to play this part,” he added. “For where I’m at in my life right now, I couldn’t ask for a better role to have an opportunity to play.”

 
   
   
 
 
     
     

 

 

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