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INTERVIEW: Writer And Director Christian Nilsson On "Westhampton," His Film Inspired By The Hamptons, Crowdfunding, And More

Nicole Barylski

Producer Rob Hinderliter, Producer Saraleah Cogan, and Executive Producer/Writer/Director Christian Nilsson. (Courtesy Photo)

Westhampton native Christian Nilsson, an Emmy Award-winning video journalist, producer at BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, and award winning filmmaker, plans to use his hometown as the backdrop for his latest project.

We recently caught up with Nilsson to learn more about Westhampton, his dream cameo, and more.

Your films Excelsior and Fight To Be The Oldest Bar In NYC were both shorts. Will this be a short as well?

CN: No. Westhampton is a feature film and Fight To Be The Oldest Bar In NYC was a short documentary and Excelsior was a short film.

Tell me a bit about the film's concept?

CN: I've been working on it for a number of years now. There's a damaged filmmaker that did something terrible in his youth, something that ruined the lives of some of his closest friends, and then went on to make an independent feature film about that event. So now it's ten years after the accident happened and he's forced to go back home for the first time and finally confront the people whose lives he's ruined and the town that's really grown to disdain him. The film goes back and forth between present day and the independent film that he made, and slowly the audience realizes that the pieces don't quite lineup, and that he took some liberties in his depiction of the story. So, slowly the audience starts finding out the truth behind what actually happened.

What inspired the film?

CN: Whenever people read the script, the first question I get is: Is this autobiographical? And it's not. There's definitely elements of things that have happened to people I know, but I would say the film is really how I feel about things that actually happened or my feelings towards going back home. I lived out in California for a number of years after college and then the first time I came home, to Westhampton, at first I kind of felt like the town was a ghost of what it once was, but then I started to see that the businesses, the names have changed, but there's still businesses there, they still have customers, there's still people walking down the street. So it's not that the town is a ghost as much as I'm a ghost walking through it. This is definitely one of those genre films of you can't go back home again concepts, but I would say the difference between those films like Garden State and The Hollars is that my film really focuses on a bigger idea of how do you get forgiveness for something when the people you've wronged are either aren't around to give it to you or they aren't willing to hear you out. I would say while it very much is a story about going back home, it's really a story about figuring out how to forgive yourself for something terrible that you did.

Nilsson grew up in Westhampton. (Courtesy Photo)

What's the biggest misconception people have about growing up in the Hamptons?

CN: Whenever I tell people that I'm from the Hamptons, their face always gives it away. I can tell that they think that if you're from the Hamptons you must be some rich snob. Which, I'm not saying that that doesn't exist, but I think that the people that live in the Hamptons year-round, we're not the people that are eating at the fancy restaurants, we're the waiters there. We're not always lounging on a beach, we're the ones setting up the umbrella or cleaning out the cabana - the cabana boy. I worked in The Open Book, which was a small little book store on Main Street, and I think the experience that people connect with going to the Hamptons is checking out the cute shops and going to the beach - that's very much the experience of someone that visits there. That's not the experience of someone that lives there. But, at the same time, we would go to the beach and have bagels before class every day, or we would sneak out at lunch and go to the beach on our lunch break. Those are also things that I don't think that people would ever think about when thinking about living in the Hamptons.

You expect the film to cost around $250,000, but are only looking for $10,000 worth of crowdfunding on IndieGoGo. What will the funding be used for?

CN: There are a number of expenses that we have to take care of before we can even legally accept money from investors because we're seeking private equity investors for the $250,000. To get that in line, there's things like we need to form an LLC. New York State has these really archaic publishing requirements for forming an LLC. You have to publish in newspapers for several weeks that you have an LLC. That's very expensive. We have to pay a line producer to build our budget and put it together for us, which, at this point, we've already done. A legal retainer - we're working with a really strong legal counsel out in Los Angeles that really feel in love with the script and jumped at the opportunity to work with us. All of those costs come to $10,000. We will then take care of all those things and then we're able to start seeking investors.

The crowdsourcing campaign ends soon. Any plans to seek further support through crowdsourcing?

CN: To be honest, I didn't even want to do the crowdsourcing at first because I think that there's a stigma against it. As the community is such a strong part of the film, to reach out to the community that inspired it, there's something beautiful in that. I think I would be a little bit heartbroken though if we had to do this twice because I think that would mean that something didn't go right.

We have a strong business plan in place and a strong package that we've put together for investors and we're positive that when we start exploring those options, we're going to have some luck with that. We're also not asking for a lot of money. $250,000 for a feature film is relatively small, and if you're able to get some names/talent in a film that size, it's not crazy to see a return on that and if the film does well and finds some theatrical success, because of the small amount it took to make it, that's more reward for the people that gave us the money to make it.

Has shooting begun?

CN: No. The film takes place homecoming weekend. We're trying to capitalize on that time of the year, with the foliage changing and the number of events that happen out on the East End at that time of the year. We're hoping to start shooting in the middle of September and wrapping in the middle of October.

"The town is a character in the film," Nilsson told us. (Courtesy Photo)

Do you plan on shooting in the Hamptons?

CN: 100 percent.

Do you have any locations secured yet?

CN: We have feelers out. I can't say we have anything locked down at the moment, but it would be incredible for me to film in my high school. It would be incredible for me to shoot on Main Street in Westhampton. Westhampton really is an inspiration for the film. As cliché as it may sound, the town is a character in the film. It's really important to me that we can shoot as authentically as possible, but of course we have to shoot where it's economic and where it looks good on camera. My goal is definitely to shoot in the Hamptons.

Is there an expected release date?

CN: Because it's a small film, we're definitely going to be doing the festival circuit. We're going to wrap shooting October 2018. We're going to try to do a really quick turnaround as far as getting it edited and then we will start submitting to festivals in the spring and it would really be incredible to us to either have a screening in the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center or Guild Hall - as almost like a preliminary screening. So the community can get eyes on it before anyone else.

Do you plan on casting locals as extras?

CN: That's another thing that's important to me. I'd love to feature businesses that exist in Westhampton or existed when I lived there. Like The Open Book, the bookstore that I worked at throughout high school, doesn't exist anymore. There's a bar that's central to the film, it doesn't exist anymore, but I'd like to use those names or locations - if I can recreate them. I want to cast people, definitely extras, from the Hamptons. And people that were important to my life and inspired the story, I'd like to pepper them throughout as well. Even if it's just a head nod between me and them. And also, we're really hoping to reach out to Alec Baldwin for a small role in this. He's somebody, growing up in the Hamptons, seeing the work that he's done at Bay Street and Guild Hall - he was somebody that really let me know that what I'm doing isn't so far off. He's always been somebody I've respected for how he gives back to the arts. His philanthropy has always been really inspiring. To have him involved in some way would be incredible. The film opens up at a film screening where we see our main character, Tom, and we get our first glimpse into the film he created, and we see his version of the accident that took place. There's a Q & A afterwards where this film professor or some person of note is interviewing Tom and is finding the flaws in his story. It's the first time that we hear that maybe he's not such a trustworthy narrator, and I would love to have Alec Baldwin play that role.

For more information about the film, visit www.westhamptonfilm.com. For more information about the Indiegogo campaign, visit www.indiegogo.com.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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