Kennett Square's Jesse Heninger is only 24 years old and just can't believe he is a film producer, working on the production of a feature length film adaption of the Broadway hit "Spring Awakening."
Back in his hometown now, the excited young producer, is looking for investors and donors who want to get in on the excitement surrounding the making of the film.
It was a dream come true for a child who caught the showbiz bug at the age of eight when he began a 10-year acting career with the Delaware Children's Theater. He was hooked and acted all the way through high school.
At age 17 he got his first real role outside of children's theater. Director Kurt Leitner cast him in the short horror film "Stalker," shown on AMC Horror Fest.
When he graduated from Kennett High School Heninger went to the University of Florida hoping to study filmmaking. A film studies major didn't exist there, but the English department allowed him to build his own program and combine it with a degree in English. There he made short films in all genres and couldn't wait to break into the big time film industry.
But, for a while there, Heninger wondered if he would ever find work in his chosen field. Like millions of other recent graduates, he entered the work force at a terrible economic time. He was an actor and a filmmaker, sending out countless resumes, but there were no job offers. He scanned Craig's List endlessly, worked for a catering company, started his own lawn mowing company and cared for his grandmother.
Eventually, he landed an internship with the production of the feature length AIDS awareness film "Deadly Affliction." He volunteered for any job needing doing, learned a lot and eventually earned the titles Production Manager and Assistant Director Number 2.
Then it was back to his myriad of random jobs until, out of nowhere, his old friend, director Kurt Leitner called and, amazingly, he found himself in the role of producer of a feature length film.
It's not just any film. It is the film adaption of the huge Broadway rock musical hit "Spring Awakening" that garnered eight Tony awards in 2007 and attracted an enormous fan base.
"I'm only 24. I was making strudel and rice pudding, mowing lawns and taking care of my grandmother, dreaming up movie ideas in my head, trying to think of how to get in the business and now I'm a producer. I feel like I'm dreaming," Heninger said.
Off he went to Nantucket with the production company to film a "sizzler," a four-scene trailer to be shown to potential investors. He hadn't seen the play, but had heard all the buzz about it and read all about it. He wore many hats - boom operator, sound mixer, consultant and assistant to anyone who needed assisting. It was a crash course, 18 hours a day, and he loved every minute of it.
"I'm working with a tremendous group of people. I was so used to being the most experienced one working on school film projects. Now, I'm by far the smallest fish in this pond. Admittedly, the biggest and best thing I bring to this production is my excitement," Heninger said.
Leitner, he said, is "the brains of the production, the all-seeing eye. He brought us all together and made us believe in the story. We all believe so much in the film and are just so excited about it."
There are no big names in the cast. Heninger said this was purposeful, in order for the story to be the main character without celebrities detracting from it. Leitner traveled to five states, searching for the cast and the film locations. He auditioned 400 hopefuls to cast the four main characters.
"The actors are so excited. They know how big this is," Heninger said.
It is a period piece, set in 1891, but tells the timeless saga of young teenagers learning the lessons of growing up in the days when children were sheltered and more misinformed than informed. Spring Awakening follows four young teenagers who learn about themselves, sexuality and the traumas and hard lessons of life.
"The story is so real, gritty and provocative. It's a universal, eternal theme. It's a necessary and important topic at any time. I'm so proud to be a part of the next step of its journey," Heninger said.
Unlike the play, a rock opera, the film is straight drama, not a musical. Shooting will continue again soon in Nantucket, Cape Cod and Maryland. While there is no release date yet, he expects it to be the "darling" of the film festivals when it is completed.
While he said the film has funding in place, it is never enough. It is his job to find funding to further the project. He's organizing an invitation-only fundraiser in November. The cast and crew will attend in costume and sizzler will be shown. The Paper Market is supplying the invitations and Heninger hopes other local businesses will also contribute.
"Every dollar raised makes this project better, gives us more time. Hop on and become part of this story," Heninger said.
For more information, call Jesse Heninger, 352-246-1510.