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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Film producer from Norwich is honored with Native Son Award

    Andrew Gernhard, center, film maker and owner of Synthetic Cinema International, talks with, from left, Jan Sauvageau, president of The Women’s City Club of Norwich, Janice Orsini, and her husband, Anthony, of East Lyme originally from Norwich, before his Norwich Native Son Award Presentation at Holiday Inn Wednesday, June 5, 2024, in Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    From left, State Sen.Cathy Osten, State Rep. Derell Wilson, State Rep. Kevin Ryan, and State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, say a few words about Andrew Gernhard, film maker and owner of Synthetic Cinema International, during his Norwich Native Son Award Presentation at Holiday Inn Wednesday, June 5, 2024, in Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich — Andrew Gernhard is busy gearing up to produce another Hallmark Christmas movie that will be filmed at locations in southeastern Connecticut — including Connecticut College and Lighthouse Inn in New London. The production will be shot in whirlwind fashion with a completion date of July 2.

    On Wednesday, though, Gernhard took a little time out to accept this year’s Norwich Native Son Award in an event held at the Holiday Inn in Norwich. The honor is given annually by the Norwich Rotary clubs and the Woman’s City Club to a person who grew up and was educated in Norwich and went on to excel in a career outside the region.

    Gernhard did, in fact, grow up in Norwich. He graduated from Norwich Free Academy in 1995.

    Gernhard, 47, said that his years in Norwich were among the most memorable times of his life. He lived in the Rose City from when he was born until he went to college. He was raised by his mother, Elizabeth Gernhard, along with his grandmother and great aunt. Gernhard thanked his mother, who was at the ceremony, for always supporting him.

    He reminisced about "going downtown and seeing ‘The Muppet Movie.’ It was a time when I was probably 8 years old — I went downtown, no pager and no phone, and just did my thing and came back when the streetlights came on."

    After high school, Gernhard earned a degree in communication/television production at Southern Connecticut State University, with a minor in graphic design, in 1999.

    He went on to establish Synthetic Cinema International in 2004. The film company, which is based in Rocky Hill, has gone from making zombie flicks to producing uber-popular Lifetime and Hallmark holiday movies.

    A number of those have been shot in southeastern Connecticut, with plenty of scenes in Norwich — some, for example, for the Hallmark release “Holiday for Heroes” and some for an adaptation of Wally Lamb’s Christmas book “Wishin’ and Hopin’” for Lifetime.

    But the company is now going farther afield; Gernhard was in Finland for the filming of “The Finnish Line” and Iceland for “The Christmas Quest,” starring Hallmark mainstays Lacey Chabert and Kristoffer Polaha. Both releases are set to premiere on Hallmark later this year.

    At the ceremony Wednesday, he said that he had many teachers, including Lamb, who taught English at NFA, that were very influential.

    "I pursued a very weird subject — to get into movies. I think it was my naivete that really made me succeed,” Gernhard said, recalling that he wanted to be like Steven Spielberg.

    There was no real internet at the time, and he never went to Hollywood or New York City.

    “I didn't know what the competition would be. I think that's what propelled me,” he said.

    He started off making monster movies back when Blockbuster video rental stores were still around. Over the years, different opportunities opened up that led his company to Christmas movies. He has produced more than 100 films over the course of his career.

    Gernhard said he returned from Iceland and Finland about four weeks ago, and Hallmark contacted him last week, saying they needed a movie to be made that would be wrapped by July 2. There is no cast yet, but he is scouting locations now and expects to start shooting next Friday.

    "I love bringing movies to Connecticut. I love bringing any type of budget, whether it's $500,000 or $20 million and spending that money in the state,” he said.

    He tends to shoot in this region in part because the look is ideal for Hallmark movies, with the classic houses and scenery.

    Gernhard, who lives in Gales Ferry with partner Christy O’Connor and their two young daughters, received various honors during the Wednesday event. Among them were a certificate of Congressional merit and a citation from the Connecticut General Assembly. A scholarship in his name has been established at NFA for a student interested in filmmaking.

    "I thank Connecticut, I thank Norwich for really giving me this background to propel (me) forward,” Gernhard said.

    He said he also thinks he’s one of the luckiest people; he is determined and works hard, but the movie business is based on luck.

    Lamb, who was last year’s Norwich Native Son Award winner, was at Wednesday’s ceremony and introduced Gernhard.

    Lamb recalled that, in 2011 or 2012, Gernhard reached out to Lamb to say he was interested in making a movie version of “Wishin’ and Hopin’.”

    "And then it happened. I didn't think maybe it was going to happen. I've dealt with a certain number of Hollywood people, and they were always passionate to make a movie of one of my books, but Andrew really meant it,” Lamb said.

    Lamb was invited into the filmmaking process and got to meet and work with everyone, including director Colin Theys and screenwriter John Doolan.

    "I could see they really got along well, and I think Andrew was the catalyst for that. Everybody was having a good time and they were making a good movie. I got to see Andrew in action,” Lamb said, noting that, as a producer, Gernhard did everything from scouting locations and troubleshooting “a thousand different ways” to driving star Meat Loaf from Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks to Norwich.

    Lamb said that Gernhard "is such a good guy and such a worthy recipient.”


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