The art of storytelling …
If you notice film crews in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and surrounding areas this month, it’s likely you’ll be seeing filmmaker Christian Huennebeck and his team. Huennebeck, a native of Berlin, Germany who now calls Scranton his home, and Blakely native John Kilker of Water Gap Pictures, are in the process of bringing The Paragon Cortex to life. Written by Kilker, The Paragon Cortex tells the tale of a reclusive attorney and comic book geek who faces the ultimate dilemma when a freak, domestic accident unlocks incredible superpowers. Sounds great, right? Perhaps these newly-found superpowers are wonderful indeed, but there is one catch to this scenario: he can only use his powers inside the safe haven of his home. Shooting for the independent film financed through private equity begins this month, and the project is expected to wrap up by the end of August. There will be a screening in Scranton, and when we caught up with Huennebeck, he couldn’t wait to tell us how this fim is coming to life. He really is quite a good storyteller, after all. Meet independent filmmaker and producer of The Paragon Cortex, Christian Huennebeck ….
How did you connect with the writer of this film, John Kilker?
I went to film school through the masters program at USC (University of Southern California) in 2001, and that’s where I met John. We became good friends and did a few projects together and then we decided — after I was working for film financing company, a boutique film financing company, in Los Angeles and John was producing Bonneville — we should work together and think of what our next project could be.
And that project turned out to be The Paragon Cortex.
Yes, it’s an independent production that doesn’t need Hollywood to do it, and in this beautiful area we find a lot (to work with). We can turn Scranton into New York, into Chicago. It basically has everything but the desert. You find exotic locations, so to speak, that make this area so special. But you also have the (close proximity) to infrastructure. You’re near New York and Philadelphia, so it’s really not “out there.” You don’t have to ship things to the middle of nowhere to have the production value that you need to do the project. So we thought we’d come here and try it. We were welcomed by everyone on the first day we arrived.
How long does it take to get an independent film up and running?
It’s a tough business. You’re trying to get an independent production going and you can invest four to five years, on average, from inception to delivery. We were aware of that and we knew what we wanted. We had various projects we collaborated on that John wrote, produced and directed and I was following him in that because I had a film financing background. That’s what I did after I graduated from USC. So we collaborated on that. I knew how to put structures together and I understood how a film goes together and what needs to be done, and we got along as friends. I think we complement each other very well. And so I stayed here — I’m originally from Berlin, Germany. It brought me closer to home by about six hours, so it all worked out.
It’s nice being able to collaborate with friends.
We want to work with people that we’ll work with for the rest of our professional lives and create a family because that’s what film is about. With every project, you live with your colleagues for three months at least. If you’re in the development phase, you start collaborating with people and when you’re actually filming it you’re on set usually for at least a month to six weeks.
What in your background prepared you for this kind of work?
John and I were very happy that we went to the film school that is the best in the world because they provide an amazing amount of hands-on experience. They call it “a studio within Hollywood” when you consider how many movies are being produced on a student level. It’s an amazing school and we were fortunate to go there.
Did you have a mentor who helped you along the way?
Many mentors. And there are professionals who come back to USC after having a career in Hollywood, or after having a career as an independent film maker — you have Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg. He doesn’t teach, but he is an alumni, he is on the board, and you have George Lucas, too.
Did you get to interact with them?
Yes, there are director programs and producer programs and they come in and give speeches. Whenever they have a new film, the chance that they will come and show them and talk to students is pretty good.
You could have made this film anywhere. Why did you choose northeastern Pennsylvania?
You find a lot of great talent in this town, from the writing aspect to the physical production to understanding the media; from being able to tell the story; and just from the support we find in this city as well. You have people who understand how important it is to focus on the arts and support the arts, and we found a lot of people with open arms. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible to do what we’re doing right now.
— julie imel