If you ask an Orchard teacher what they remember about John Lerchen ’07, they all mention something about making videos. “Oh, yeah! I remember when he was in middle school, it seemed like he was always walking around with a camera,” former science teacher and now outdoor education coordinator Vicky Prusinski said.
Speaking of middle school, the first video John ever made was in sixth grade here at Orchard. “It was during our class trip to St. Louis,” John said. “I took a ton of photos and videos, edited them all together and it was shown to everyone on Grandparents’ Day.” That was the first time John had the entertainment itch and he went on to create videos for as many Orchard assignments as possible.
After Orchard, John continued making videos while attending Cathedral High School. After high school, he received his Bachelor of Arts in film & video with a concentration on directing from Columbia College Chicago. And in 2017, he went on to earn his master’s degree in video production from DePaul University.
In 2013, John founded Forever Safe Productions, which has created six feature films. However, his biggest accolade to date isn’t being featured at Heartland Film Festival, IndyShorts, or receiving a national theatrical release last month. Rather, it was a few years ago when he was accepted into the Producers Guild of America (PGA) where he gets to participate in events with other filmmakers and vote on awards. “Every year around Christmas I receive digital and physical screeners of the top movies before they are released to the public,” John said. “It’s now one of my favorite times of the year.”
We recently caught up with John to talk about Orchard, being a producer, and the premiere of his latest feature film, “A Father’s Legacy.” The film premiered in theaters nationwide for a one night event on June 17! On July 16th it simultaneously releases on demand and on VOD platforms (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) Later this year there will be a physical DVD release at every Walmart nationwide.
Congratulations on your big night last month. How does it feel to produce a movie shown in 700 theaters across the country?
We sold out in a few theaters. I returned home and viewed the screening at AMC Castleton, where there was a nice attendance. Looking back, It was a very surreal moment when our distributor proposed we do a single-night theatrical. Honestly, it’s something I figured would happen much later in my career. I still don’t have any sales figures back, but regardless of the numbers, this will always be an important benchmark as my aspirations continue in size.
You’ve produced a handful of films, but was this your biggest one to date? I mean, Tobin Bell from the SAW franchise!?
The movie with Tobin Bell, "A Father’s Legacy," will have the widest audience of my work to date. However, everything I create naturally grows larger than the last. Working with Tobin was a very enjoyable experience, he had a plethora of stories to share and was genuinely interested in bonding with the crew. I was a big fan of the Saw franchise in high school, so the first few days of having him on set felt surreal. I’ve had numerous conversations with celebrities over the past year, from Bryan Cranston to Miles Teller and it’s certainly easy to be starstruck, but you quickly remember they are human like the rest of us and just doing what they enjoy as well.
We've all heard the term film producer, but what does it actually mean?
The “producer” title can certainly be confusing, it’s a term thrown around a lot in the industry with many different meanings. Typically an “executive producer” is the financier, while a “producer” is the project manager in charge of oversight. Additionally, a production will have a line producer and associate producers who help the producer guide their projects through the five stages of a film’s life; development, pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution.
My day-to-day is always different and keeps the job exciting. I run my own production company out of Chicago where I develop and package narrative feature films before seeking financing. If a movie is greenlit (the term for financed) then I’ll shift my focus to that particular production. Every week is different and I could be doing anything from reading scripts to sitting in on a coloring or sound mixing session. My job is all about networking and fostering relationships, so I find myself in various types of meetings most weeks.
At the moment, I have four films in development, but my focus is on a movie I’m producing in northern California that shoots in September. Right now, I’m working on the scheduling and budgeting as well as hiring a crew.
That sounds like a lot to juggle at once.
Making movies is really like any other startup, each film being its own entity and own set of obstacles and lessons. Orchard instilled in me the idea of following your dreams and pushing forward when times are tough… not to be easily discouraged. I’ve failed at this business more times than I can count. I’m doing something I sincerely love, and it wouldn’t be fulfilling if it were easy. I credit my time at Orchard for helping shape me into a leader and being a better manager.
Have you ever thought about filming on Orchard’s campus?
Absolutely! Back in high school, I’d film at Orchard on occasion. I filmed some fun scenes at the cabin in the back, in the woods, and in the theater. Hopefully, the need will arise again, and I can capture the campus once more.
Click here to visit John's website.