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Nate Hapke is ready of his close-up

Nate Hapke wants to bring more cinematographers to Connecticut. The Wilton native and Los Angeles-based filmmaker recently got his wish, when his latest short drama was both shot in-state and selected for the New Haven International Film Festival.

Hapke has been involved in the performing arts since he was a child growing up in a Reform Jewish family in Wilton, next door to his maternal grandparents’ traditional Jewish home. The family attended Friday night services at Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown and gathered for Shabbat dinner and Jewish holidays around their grandparents’ table.

Hapke fell in love with theater at summer camp and decided to become an actor.

“I loved it and couldn’t get enough of the feeling of being on stage and making art, and being free,” says Hapke, who began traveling to New York for weekend acting classes.

He was signed by an agent at age 13, auditioning for commercials and films until he landed the title role of a Columbia University student film, Enter the Jonas.

“The experience was so surreal, something I knew that I wanted to be a part of for the rest of my life, a freedom few experiences could produce,” Hapke recalls. “I didn’t realize, however, that it would be behind the camera that I would find the most freedom.”

While he was still a student at Wilton High School, Hapke relocated with his mother to Binghamton, N.Y. and finished high school there. He went on to Syracuse University where, in an introductory multimedia storytelling class, he found his true calling.

“Growing up, I had always loved to write, mostly short stories,” he says. “Now, I could take the short stories that I had always told and convert them into screenplays and film them. I haven’t looked back since.”

Hapke won the Best Short Film award at the 2014 Syracuse University Film Festival for “Shave” (2013) before earning a BS in Television, Radio & Film in 2014 and graduating that year magna cum laude. He moved to Chicago to work in TV and video production, and more honors soon followed.

Hapke was named Best Emerging Filmmaker at the 2014 Trinity International Film Festival in Detroit for his senior thesis film, “Alvie”, and received the Best Director award from the 2014 We Made It in Toronto Short Film Competition at the Toronto International Film Festival for “Fugue” (2014). “Ashes” (2015), which Hapke wrote, was shot in Cannes and Nice, France, and received awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay at the 2015 Creative Minds Short Film Competition, held at the Cannes Film Festival.

Hapke returned to Connecticut last fall to shoot his short drama, “Thom & Gerry,” against an archetypal New England autumnal backdrop.

“The motivation behind “Thom & Gerry” is simple: I wanted to make a great short film as my first project after graduating into the ‘real world,’” Hapke says. “The image of two men sitting in a park, with fall foliage around them, came to me at the after party for the premiere of Alvie. I can still remember looking around the room at my cast and crew, my friends, and telling them about the idea. The rest of it came organically; I needed to find out how these two men got there, how they lived their lives, and what motivated them, what they had in common, what their differences were, and what they did when they woke up in the morning.”

After six months of writing, auditions, scheduling, budgeting, and crowdfunding, Hapke spent three days shooting in Newtown, Sandy Hook, and Norwalk in October 2014. Hayden Bates, a close friend from Newtown, secured locations for the shoot, including his own house and his brother’s apartment. When he had completed the shoot, Hapke moved to Los Angeles, where he is production coordinator and backup production associate for Disney/ABC’s General Hospital.

“Thom & Gerry” film premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner (part of the Creative Minds in Cannes Film Program). “It was a brilliant boutique screening that ended in applause,” says Hapke, adding, “I was in heaven.” The film received the Best Short Film award at the 2015 Trinity International Film Festival in Detroit in August and the Platinum Reel Award in the 2015 Nevada International Film Festival’s Short Film Competition in mid-November.

But Hapke finds it particularly rewarding to be showcased in his native state. Earlier this month, “Thom & Gerry” was included in the New Haven International Film Festival, the first time Hapke’s work has graced the big screen in Connecticut.

“What began as a passion project has become much more than I could have ever imagined,” he says. “I was so thrilled to hear of the film’s selection in the festival because it represented the culmination of one of my childhood dreams: to bring film to Connecticut. Not only can film be enjoyed and consumed in this great state, but it can also be produced and created.

CAP: Filmmaker Nate Hapke with Richard Herd, who plays “Gerry” in Hapke’s Thom & Gerry, on location at McLaughlin Vineyards in Sandy Hook. 

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