We had the good fortune of connecting with Nate Hapke and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nate, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I chose to pursue an artistic and creative career for myriad reasons. First and foremost, I feel most alive when I am being creative. Secondly, I have always felt a sense of accomplishment when I have made someone laugh, or at least done everything in my control to make them feel welcome and okay. And finally, I knew it was the easiest way to share my empathy with the world.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
The thing I am most proud of with my art, and professional life as a whole, is that I have always worked for a sense of forward momentum for my career. I attribute a big part of this to my decision to always look at everything and every experience, no matter how small or large, as a learning opportunity. Additionally, I have never put pressure on any one experience or project to be “the” thing that was going to change my life. Part of forward momentum is growth, being open to new information, being willing to be wrong, learning to trust those around you, being comfortable not being the smartest person in the room and seeing the value in that, and constantly challenging myself to improve today on something I did yesterday. I have had the immense privilege of writing and/or directing 12 short films since the beginning of my senior year of college. On each successive film, I have challenged myself to improve at least one aspect of the filmmaking process for the next one. Whether this improvement is discernible to others is not the goal. I heard one of my favorite filmmakers once say “I started making films that I would watch,” and realized that this had the potential to be incredibly privileged but could also serve as a reminder to create for the right reasons. At the very minimum, you should be enriched by what you created. You can’t control the perception of the piece but, if you made it the right way and prioritized the right things, then the perception of the piece cannot detract from the value you see in the piece. I define success as doing everything in your power to do what you love, and letting go of the rest. Success, to me, is also remembering to distill your experience into its empirical form in order to learn things that can be applied to your experiences moving forward. Therefore it’s hard for me to look at any one thing as a failure in abstract. There have been times when I didn’t fully listen in the moment and didn’t keep myself open to the voices of others, and ended up acting impetuously because of it. As hard as these times were, I learned from them and they made me a better person. I have benefited and benefit from a lot of privilege in my life: I’m white, tall, male, able-bodied, cisgendered, and straight. There have been a lot of opportunities that have been afforded to me because of any one of those. I challenge myself everyday to work as hard as I can to be the best that I can be so that I don’t take any opportunity for granted. I can’t do that, when so many others might not have the opportunities that I do have. It is my responsibility to honor the opportunities that I have been given, and take time to be thankful everyday. I do my best to make sure that my sets are professional, inclusive, lighthearted, zealous, and respectful. I want every voice to feel heard and empowered because when my collaborators feel that they are safe they are able to give me their very best work. I want to see my talented friends find their respective success(es) and always do my best to empower them whenever possible.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We’d have to make a stop at All Time on Hillhurst Ave in Los Feliz. The vibe, food, wine selection, and service are second to none in my opinion. I started going there when they first opened, and all they served was brunch. To see where they’re at now, having expanded their dining area and opened a smaller second location just up the street for takeout is something I’m very thankful for. I’d also make sure to take them up to the Wisdom Tree, and would hope they’d be in town for July 4th. My favorite yearly tradition is to make the 45 minute hike up to the tree for Independence day. The tree is located at the peek of a mountain in Griffith park and uniquely offers a vantage point like no other, even if it’s not a day where people light off fireworks. With the 360 degree view, you’re able to take in hundreds (yes, hundreds) of different fireworks shows including the display that Universal Studios offers. The most surreal part? You’re physically above the fireworks’ explosion, so you’re looking down at all of this from a vantage point unlike any other. Finally, I’d have us stop at one of my favorite places: Anarbagh in Los Feliz, on the corner of Vermont and Franklin. When I first moved to LA, one of my bucket list items was to find a restaurant where the owners would know me and my loved ones. Nearly 6 years later, this is the place. The service is wonderful, the food is delicious, and the ambience is charmingly unassuming.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and support and encouragement of family in general but my mother specifically. When I told her about acting classes in NYC, she paid for them as well as my train ride down from the SONO station in Connecticut. When I told her about the communications program at Syracuse University, she supported my decision to apply early decision. When I told her about wanting to move to Los Angeles after graduating to pursue my career, she smiled. She’s always there as a sounding board, one of the world’s best listeners, and has inspired a lot of the stories that I have created so far. There’s also Tula Goenka, a professor at Syracuse University, who had the unique opportunity to have me as a student in my first class as a freshman and my last class as a senior. Academically, the transition from high school to college was incredibly difficult for me. TG provided a safe space for me to come and talk where her door was always open, never let me off easy in the classroom, and always was there to provide a smile when times were tough and when things were going right. I’d also like to shoutout my General Hospital family who took me in for an internship during my undergrad and always provided an opportunity for me to come back. Passionate, inspiring, and thoughtful people who challenge me to be my best everyday and support me in my pursuit of a career in storytelling. I met my mentor, Larry Carpenter, in this family and his kindness, wisdom, and encouragement have helped me immensely as a person and as a director. Larry introduced to me William Ball’s book ‘A Sense of Direction’ specifically because there is a chapter on actionable verbs. Though this chapter has in fact served to be incredibly beneficial to my various interactions with actors on set, there was a specific passage in a different chapter that ended up changing my life as a creative. The book is about the art of theatre directing; William Ball founded the American Conservatory Theatre in NY and Larry was one of his students, and is actually thanked in the edition of the book I purchased. Though the book is about theatre directing, every single bit of information in this book has served to be empirically educational and translatable to filmmaking. The specific passage that changed my life as a creative was about setting expectations. Prior to your tech rehearsal, you gather your entire company of actors together as well as your department heads and you say “I am not making this to become famous, to win awards, or to be given the opportunity to make something else.” Rather you say “I am making this to be enriched by the experience of making this with all of you.” I thought to myself that this sounded like such an easy and simple thing and was so intrigued. At the first rehearsal ahead of shooting my short film ‘slate.’ I sat with my three actresses and said “I am not making this to win awards, become famous, or to get the opportunity to make more movies, I am making this to be enriched by the experience of creating with all of you.” It is no coincidence to me that ‘slate.’ was the first film that when it was all done and I watched it, I knew exactly what it was and I didn’t need anyone else to tell me what it was. By stating your intention and setting those expectations specifically, you are focusing on what’s in your control and letting go of the rest. You’re prioritizing the human element and the efficacy of genuine human interaction in the context of collaboration. It is this very collaboration that yields the end product. If nothing becomes of the end product, you’re project will still be a success because you were enriched by the process of creating it and therefore there will be no opportunity for problematizing your art for not achieving things outside of your control.
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