Kerstin Karlhuber - Making her AFM Debut with the Feature Film, Fair Haven

 

KERSTIN KARLHUBER is an award winning filmmaker and the Founder/Director of Silent Giant Productions. Kerstin recently took home an Award of Excellence at the Los Angeles Movie Awards and just wrapped her first narrative feature film, FAIR HAVEN, a powerful and poignant drama on ex-­‐gay conversion. The film stars TOM WOPAT, (“Django Unchained”) GREGORY HARRISON, ("Reckless") MICHAEL GRANT, ("The Secret Life of the American Teenager") JOSH GREEN, ("Alvin and the Chipmunks: The RoadChip") LILY ANNE HARRISON, (“Year Of Spectacular Men”) and TOM MALLOY, ("The Alphabet Killer").

 

Kerstin holds a Master's Degree in Film Production from Boston University and undergraduate degrees in Musical Theater from The American Musical and Dramatic Academy and The New School. She works as a director and filmmaker in Los Angeles, New York, and everywhere in between. We caught up with her to chat about her life and the highs and lows of making her first full length film.

 

Splash: Fair Haven is a film about a confused young man (played by Michael Grant) who returns to his father's farm after a stay in ex- gay conversion therapy and has to ultimately chose between duty and desire. What inspired you to make this particular story as your first feature?

 

Kerstin: I had an idea for a script in the early 2000s that was a family drama and took place in Vermont on an apple farm. I put it away for years and then in 2012 my colleague, screenwriter Jack Bryant, and I revisited the ideaWe ended up combining an existing screenplay of his (which brought in the reparative therapy element) and my original concept. Jack went off and wrote the screenplay on his own after we nailed down the elements of the story and when I read it I fell in love with the characters and the dynamics between them. The script had all the elements of a traditional drama, but intertwined throughout was the subject of reparative therapy. I loved how we were making a traditionally structured film, but also making a film that would educate audiences about this dangerous practice by using a fictional narrative to reach the widest audience possible. 

Kerstin Karlhuber with the crew of "Fair Haven"

 

Splash: What was the writing process like? Were you involved in any re-writes of the material?

 

Kerstin: Jack wrote the screenplay after we brainstormed the general story together, drawing on elements from my life growing up in Vermont and from Jack's life growing up gay and losing friends to ex-gay therapy. I was involved to the extent of sending notes to Jack and he would do all the re-writes.  As we got closer to production, and once we cast and locked in locations, I sent more and more notes back to Jack as the film really began to take shape. 

 

Splash: How hard was it to raise the production budget?

Kerstin: Raising the money was hard. It’s really hard to find investors who will take a chance on a first time feature director. We scraped together enough for production but once things took shape and we began filming it became a lot easier. There was a buzz about the film and investors were excited to be a part of it. It was much easier to raise post-production funds once the momentum of production kicked in. We had a very active facebook page and people actually contacted us about investing once they saw our production pictures and updates about the film.

Splash: How did you land Tom Wopat and Gregory Harrison for your cast?

 

Tom Wopat in "Fair Haven"

Kerstin: We are so lucky to have Tom and Gregory attached to this film. Gregory signed on first and that came about through our Producer Tom Malloy. Tom and Gregory had worked together previously so he sent him the script and thankfully he loved it and came on board. Tom Malloy also brought on our wonderful casting director, Judy Henderson. Judy brought Tom Wopat in and once again, we were extremely lucky that he loved the character and the script and joined the cast!

Splash: What was the casting process like to find your two young leads, Michael and Josh?

Kerstin: Judy Henderson cast the lead James for us. We had several days of castings in her office in NYC and that’s where I first saw Josh Green. Even though he initially read for James, he had a sparkle in his eye and an ease to him that I immediately identified as being right for Charlie, the boyfriend James has left behind. The script has a lot of really heavy, dramatic moments, and Charlie brings some much needed comic relief. Josh brought the right kind of energy into the casting room and later, to the set.

Judy had a lot of casting tapes come in from LA. I was pretty dead set against casting my lead from a tape. I felt like I needed to meet the actor face to face who would carry this film.  James is in almost every scene. But, Michael Grant, who ultimately won the role of James, came to me via tape. I viewed a variety of self tapes after a long day of casting with one of our Producers, Denise Dorado.

Michael Grant in "Fair Haven"

Michael’s tape began with him playing classical piano, which immediately grabbed our attention, because in the film James is an aspiring concert pianist. When he began to read Denise and I both sat up, grabbed each other’s arms and froze. I think we sat like that through two scenes. He was just phenomenal. I wanted audiences to want to reach through the screen to hug James, and that’s exactly how I felt when I watched Michael. I wanted to jump through my laptop and hug him and tell him everything was going to be ok. That’s how I knew I had my James.

Splash: What was the best day and the worst day on set?

Kerstin: I think the worst day was one where time was not on our side. Time was never on our side, but on this particular day we only had the location for a very short amount of time and the owner was very late in unlocking the building and letting us in. We lost probably an hour off of our already super tight schedule. I had all the ingredients to make these scenes phenomenal: the actors, the script, the crew, etc, but we couldn’t even get in to start shooting.

Gregory Harrison in "Fair Haven"

The best day was probably one of the days where we just had Tom Wopat and Michael Grant on set. We stacked all of their scenes inside the farm house into a two day block. Tom and Michael worked so well together.  Their performances and interactions were so easy, so inspiring. It was exciting to just sit back and watch them. One of their scenes in the farmhouse was one that we had used in casting so I had seen this performed over and over again. But to see it between these two actors who knew the characters so well, and on location, was magical. This was also at the very end of the shoot, so it was pretty great to get so close to the end and know we had not only all survived, but had some phenomenal material in the can.

Splash: In hindsight what would you have done different on this film?

Kerstin: If I could go back, I would give us a few extra days on set. We shot in 14 days and it was an absolute whirlwind. I wish we’d had more time. But I won’t complain too much because we have a great product. We were blessed by the film gods every day that we not only got through the schedule, but that we captured beautiful performances and stunning cinematography.

Splash: What's next?

Kerstin: I’m working on my next feature with Jack Bryant. We’re on our final draft of the script and we’ll start pitching it as soon as Fair Haven premieres. There’s so much I want to do with this new project. Now that I’ve made my first feature and know what goes into it, I want to make sure I have the time and resources to devote to a larger scale production. On Fair Haven I wore so many hats just to get it done- this time I would love to focus primarily on directing and have the chance to let my creativity run wild.

Splash: Thanks, Kerstin. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

Kerstin: Thank you.

 

The AFM premiere market screening for Fair Haven will be at 1:00pm on Saturday, 7 November at the Oceans Screening Room.

Photos by Denise Dorado

 

 

 

 

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