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Feb 22, 2018 3:11 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Alumni Plan Locally Set Film, 'Westhampton'

Rob Hinderliter, Christian Nilsson and Saraleah Cogan in Westhampton Beach, where they hope to film this fall.
Feb 26, 2018 11:09 AM

If movies have taught people anything, it is that you can always go back to where you came from—but it may not be a day at the beach when you get there.

That is the theme that 30-year-old filmmaker Christian Nilsson, a Westhampton Beach High School graduate who is originally from East Moriches, plans to explore in his first feature film, “Westhampton,” which he is hoping to start shooting on location this fall.

“I once had a teacher say to me that there are only two kinds of stories that people tell: people leaving home, and people going home,” Mr. Nilsson said in an interview last week. “This story to me is not so much about going home as it is about the idea that you can’t go back home, because your home is more than just a place.”

The movie has been on Mr. Nilsson’s mind for a while. It was a three-year labor of love to pen the script, and another few months honing and fine-tuning it. Now, with a production team assembled, he is ready to move forward with his project and has launched a crowdfunding campaign on the website Indiegogo to raise $10,000 for the initial production expenses.

Within the first 24 hours, the campaign raised half of the request. Many of the donations came from the East End, which Mr. Nilsson said shows the community’s support for his project.

Among the preliminary expenses is filing with New York State to create a limited liability company, which is a necessary step before showing the script to potential investors.

At its heart, the film is about main character Tom returning to where he grew up—Westhampton. The protagonist, a filmmaker, finds himself in the unenviable position of having to clean out memories from his childhood home after the house has been sold. But Tom, who left after a tragedy permanently altered his and his friends’ lives, hasn’t been back in a decade and finds that sometimes old wounds stay open and forgiveness can’t always be asked for.

“Westhampton” centers on a film within a film that centers on that tragedy. It begins at a viewing of Tom’s movie at a film festival.

“It’s kind of like a shitty ‘Garden State,’” is the opening line, a tongue-in-cheek joke Mr. Nilsson said addresses the “troubled character returns home” genre of the film. “Garden State,” a 2004 dramedy written by, directed by and starring Zach Braff, epitomizes the genre.

“Every time someone was reading the script, they all said it was like the movie ‘Garden State,’” Mr. Nilsson joked. “So I call it out in the beginning of the movie, because it’s not ‘Garden State.’ It goes beyond the idea that you can go home again and tries to answer the question—one that I have struggled to answer in varying degrees in my own life—how do you forgive yourself for things that your younger self did, when the people that you affected are either not interested in hearing it, or aren’t here anymore?”

With his story set, Mr. Nilsson, who last year won a New York Emmy for his short film “The Fight to Be the Oldest Bar in New York City,” moved on to finding his core team. He was able to bring on Saraleah Cogan, a colleague from his time working at Esquire magazine. Last year, the pair worked together on a short film titled “Excelsior,” which won the People’s Choice Award in the Moët Moment Film Festival competition.

He then went on to hire producer Alex Robbins of the Los Angeles-based entertainment law firm Reder & Feig. The pair met through an app called Shaper, which matches people looking for creative business partners through similar interests.

But perhaps the person he is most excited to work with is Rob Hinderliter, 31, his best friend since middle school and fellow Westhampton Beach graduate. Mr. Hinderliter already is quite accomplished in the entertainment world, as a Grammy-nominated and Tony Award-winning Broadway associate producer for his work on the play “All The Way,” starring Bryan Cranston. He also is the founder of R&D Theatricals.

But Mr. Hinderliter didn’t join the team right away.

“In the beginning, I read a draft or two, and I thought it was great work for a screenplay, and I liked that it was about our hometown. But I was reluctant, because my plate was full and I didn’t want to conflate the two passions—I really wanted him to get it up and moving on his own,” he said. “I didn’t want his thing to become my thing and then stomp on his parade. I always knew that we would be collaborating in the future, and when Christian started diving down and doubling down on this project, with his passion, I just couldn’t say no.”

For Mr. Hinderliter, his favorite part of “Westhampton” is how relatable the characters are, saying that he feels like he knows each and every one of them, even though they are works of fiction.

“This town is so true to us, and there is this truth that comes through in the writing,” he explained. “I think these characters are really honest and trying to search for something that is very much long gone. It is a product of your own ability to open your mouth and face your own demons.”

Once the crowdsourcing campaign wraps up—it can be found at indiegogo.com/projects/westhampton-drama—the production team will move on to finding investors, noting that in total the project will cost an estimated $250,000 to make. From there, they will start securing filming permits and permission from local businesses to use their names and likenesses in the film, while also finding the acting team to bring the script to life.

Mr. Nilsson said he hopes to be able to have cameras rolling on the project in the fall, saying the production team will be on site “Tumbleweed Tuesday”—the day after Labor Day—with the goal of wrapping in mid-October. The film should be finished, he said, by spring 2019. Then he hopes to start submitting it to the film festival circuit.

“One of the nice things about this is the response of people in Westhampton and Westhampton Beach,” Mr. Nilsson said. “They’ve reached out and said, ‘How can I help, and how can I make this work?’ I will be relying on their support as we move forward—but I’m not too worried about it.”

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