When you first meet film director/producer Jack Heller you’re struck by how young he is. I didn’t know exactly how young that was at first, but he told me that he was about 11 years old when Jurassic Park came out. The film had profound effect on the young Heller. He said it struck him as, “Wow! Look what you can do with storytelling! It’s magical.” He started watching all the movies he could—particularly horror films.
In March of 2010, Jack’s feature film directing debut, Enter Nowhere, starring Scott Eastwood and Sara Paxton, was sold to Lionsgate. Some two years later, it is set for release this month.
I’ve viewed Enter Nowhere and I’d question its designation as a “horror” film. It struck me as a melding of an old-school Twilight Zone episode and the television show Lost. It was, to be sure, entertaining and suspenseful and the casting was stellar. Clint Eastwood’s son Scott Eastwood stars with support from Sara Paxton and Katherine Waterston (yes, Sam Waterston’s daughter). Scott doesn’t have the prescence or the intensity of his father onscreen yet, but he is gorgeous. All in the film are young actors to watch. I look forward to watching Heller’s future films.
When I interviewed Heller at East Hampton Studios last month, he was wrapping up shooting on his latest film, Dark Was the Night, starring Kevin Durand and Lukas Haas. Heller and a crew of 60 had transformed the studio space into several rooms and they had a vintage sports car set up for shooting. We sat down in a “room” that would later appear as a sheriff’s office in the closing interrogation scene of the film. The paint on the walls was still wet. Local actor Joe Palister plays the sheriff in this flick. Heller held a local casting call, and he pointed out that five of the leads in this film are from the Hamptons.
Heller told me that though he was born and raised in New York, he has a special affection for the East End. He’s been weekending and summering in his family’s Southampton home his whole life. And East Hampton Studios made sense for him not just because of their location but because, as Heller says, “It’s the best studio I’ve ever been in—it’s humongous!”
Heller’s goal is to make a film in the Hamptons each winter. He’s well on his way. First he did Enter Nowhere in 2010, last year he made Refuge starring Krysten Ritter and Brian Geraghty, and now Dark is the Night. Each one is progressively bigger by every measure. When you watch Enter Nowhere, see if you can figure what beach figures in the closing scene. You can’t help but recognize Catena’s Food Market in Southampton in the opening sequence.
Since Enter Nowhere, Jack produced the Milo Ventigmilia and Sara Paxton thriller Static 3D and 3 Nights in the Desert starring Wes Bentley and Amber Tamblyn.
Heller pointed out that he could never do what he does here in the summer. But in the offseason it’s a win-win. The traffic is down. Heller’s company books local lodging and frequents local businesses. He said the town and village clerks have been very helpful. At this time of year they have the luxury to give him personal attention. The night before I met with Heller, Southampton Town and his production company had shut down a section of North Sea Road and Scott’s Road for shooting. He said the police were a great help and that “everyone’s just been great.”
Maybe Heller has set a good model for other film companies. In the summer the stars come out on their own— but in the winter—that’s when we could use a little star power! The Hamptons is wide open for business!
Heller’s official bio says that he attended the prestigious Columbia Grammar and Preparatory High School. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California, where he was enrolled in the film production program, a school that accepts fewer than 75 applicants per year.
At the age of 17, Heller moved to Los Angeles for a summer internship with legendary producer Bobby Newmyer (Sex Lies and Videotape, Training Day). While Heller was still attending USC, at the age of 20, Newmyer’s Outlaw Productions offered him a first look and overhead deal. In December of 2003, GQ featured Heller in an article about his ambitious rise in Hollywood at such a young age. After graduating, Heller secured a first look and overhead deal with producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura (Transformers).
By age 22, Heller was hired by David Schiff to become a founding member of his new management and production company The Schiff Company. Schiff had spent over 25 years as a talent agent and was looking for a young and ambitious manager/producer to build his new venture. Over Heller’s three years at The Schiff Company, he helped to build an impressive client list.
In early 2008 Heller left The Schiff Company with Dallas Sonnier to begin Caliber Media Co. He is currently a principal at Caliber, and runs all production, branding and new media activities. He has produced 13 films in the past four years, including a successful series of films starring wrestling legend Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the independent film The Homecoming written by Frank Hannah (The Cooler).
When I asked Heller what’s next, he said, “I don’t know just yet.” He said he was heading into about four months of post-production work the next day—sound and editing. As Heller pointed out, Dark Was the Night is “by far (his) biggest crew, production, budget.” I’m really looking forward to seeing it. Heller describes it as “a sort of thriller.” What a thrill to see the Hamptons on the big screen!