'Tis The Season - Christmas Movie Project

AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
edited January 2013 in Practical Filmmaking
UPDATE- We've released it! When you have a free half-hour, check out my special passion project and our notably longest-runtime effort of our personal, 'for-fun' narrative work. We're extremely pleased with how it all came out- especially the breadth of talent and production values involved.
Hello, all! As we're still in the week of the holiday season, I thought I'd share with you guys some info and progress on the 30-minute short we're wrapping up producing- the Christmas-themed action/crime-comedy, 'Tis The Season. It's a project I thought-up early last month in a pretty fully-realized vision, but something I've generally wanted to do for several years. (A Die Hard/Kiss Kiss Bang Bang/witty-but-cool holiday movie).


As I got further into coming up with it, it became clear it wasn't going to be a 5-minute movie, but it's something we still wanted to try and make as efficiently-produced as possible (as we often know projects can get bogged down in development, money, and time draining the longer they get). With it all, I wrote the story, co-wrote the screenplay, and we've spent the past few weeks piecing the whole thing together.
Most-notably, we shot the majority of the film the past 5-7 days, leading all the way into late night Christmas Eve. It's all been really fun to lightly tackle longer material that isn't for-pay/commercial material work we aren't able to show on our own, and the process of working on a (slightly) longer narrative hasn't seemed to be any more daunting.
Though we couldn't quite hit the Christmas deadline, we're really pleased with how it all turned out.
[center][size="3"]Teaser Trailer[/size][/center]
Additionally, let me know your thoughts and be sure to check out our Facebook page here to keep up with everything we're doing!


  • AculagAculag Website User Posts: 708 Just Starting Out
    Trailer has some really excellent shots in it, man. Definitely looking forward to checking it out.
  • ernesttxernesttx Website User Posts: 32
    Nice trailer Andrew. Was that shot here in Austin?
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    It was actually all shot in Dallas, as we had the most access to locations and permissions with resources greatest there. The warehouse, two malls, downtown Dallas, and several merchant shops and houses were very helpful in getting us what we needed- which I don't think we'd have had anywhere else.
  • ernesttxernesttx Website User Posts: 32
    kewl. I didn't recognize any shots, but the warehouse ones I thought were in the warehouse district on 4th street hehe
  • AculagAculag Website User Posts: 708 Just Starting Out
    Just watched it. Aside from a few technical/continuity flubs, this was really excellent. Definitely some of your best work. Lots of funny moments, too. I loved how the "final showdown" kinda came out of nowhere.
    When he put the dog down in front of the elf goons, I was like, "please let him somehow have rigged that dog to explode", and sure enough!

    Great work all around.
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    Thanks man, I appreciate you giving it a shot- I know it's past Christmastime now and a (pretty) long-ish short to watch. Glad you liked it!
    I've updated the first post for anyone interested in watching the movie. It's 30 minutes long, and we're really happy with how it came out.
    Though given all my previous threads, Aculag, I don't think you need to worry about spoiler-tagging anything. Nobody here cares, man. ;)
    Funny enough, that music video I posted here right at a month ago recently reached one million views, and was removed from our channel as it's prepped and licensed now to go to Vevo.
  • DanielGWoodDanielGWood Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 1,021 Just Starting Out
    Just watched the trailer (yes, a little late.. I had a computer-free holiday), looked really good! I'll take a look at the full film when I get home :)
  • KahvehRobinettKahvehRobinett Website User Posts: 443
    Finally got around to watching this. I was kinda disappointed when it ended because it felt so much like a feature length movie. I really enjoyed it though and was surprised how well it held my attention. There was just the right balance of messed up and good hearted humor to make it work. Would be interested in knowing how you guys shot some of the stuff in the mall. Also, was that a crane shot at the end of the film?
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    I knew early-on I wanted to make something that took what I liked from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon (both buddies action-comedies set during Christmas) and combine that with the sort of fake-cheer-y atmosphere of one of my favorite Christmas movies, Jingle All The Way. Which, if you've seen it, heavily features the holiday-time mall.
    Accordingly, I wanted to set much of it at a mall, and figured (as we were working in the large metropolitan area of Dallas, which has several of them) that I could decently-easily get access to one to shoot in the atriums and parking lots.
    Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), of the 20 or so I called within a 50-mile radius- most of which are 'dead malls' and aren't owned by a conglomerate/control themselves without corporate, which I thought might be easier to shoot at, all shot me down when I spoke to management. Most were nasty about their refusals, too.
    So we changed the movie to feature the mall primarily in an opening montage between the characters and a montage of the two bonding, cutting down on other scenes that were made to take place there- and I called, funny enough, the last two malls on my list- which I know to be very upscale and heavily resistant to anyone doing anything but making large purchases. (Galleria Dallas and Northpark Center, the latter of which I've been kicked out of in high school for shooting a project at)
    As fate would have it, I got through 3 or 4 management people on the phone at Galleria's offices, and they ended up being very receptive and helpful in saying 'sure, come on by and shoot'. This was great, because they're probably notably the most Christmas-y mall around here- what with an ice rink and massive Christmas tree and lots of patrons. They weren't accommodating personally, but they also gave us broad permission to shoot within their atriums, so long as we did so on DSLRs that wouldn't bother patrons, didn't setup any lights or tripods, and didn't feature any of their anchor tenant brands in shots.
    We ended up shooting, purposefully, on the two busiest days of the year for the mall. Normally (almost always) even in large settings we have to have 'runners' to pass screen constantly to give the illusion of bustling atmosphere- because most people see someone shooting and freeze up to either side of the camera. But no so on the busiest of days. The first sequence in the opening, primarily with establishing shots, was done on Black Friday. We got all non-cast shots for both montages then because of the volume of crowds and decorations/atmosphere.
    The second sequence, and all of the cast-shots for both montages were done on December 23rd, Christmas Eve-Eve, which was also picked because the larger crowds and passerbys that were/are more or less immune to freezing up on-camera or around cameras because they're all on missions to get last-minute gifts. We primarily shot in the main atriums and cut-aways around escalators and the food court, and never really got bothered by any expected security or anything. Very fortunate for both the leniency of the management and luck that no bad-attitude, uninformed security guard ever saw us shooting and tried to slow us down.
  • KahvehRobinettKahvehRobinett Website User Posts: 443
    Thanks for the long informative reply. I was also wondering how the explosion was pulled off, as it looked like a practical explosion. Did you guys hire a pyrotechnicion? or was it something you pulled off by yourself? Do you plan to release a making of video? Sorry for all the probably silly questions, but I am very interested in this project so please answer them. One last question, do you guys make commercials/YouTube videos for a living?
    Thanks, Kahveh.
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    The explosion was practical, yes, and was only digitally-assisted in the closeup shot of the animatronic dog.
    Yes and no is the answer to your second question. We have two people, who usually assist as production coordinators on our projects, who actually have some grounding and experience in pyrotechnics. One of them actually started working with us for his interest and training in pyrotechnics, and we're fortunate to have people who are both safe in what they do and knowledgeable as to how to make a fast, economical, powerful-looking effect.
    The effect was created using a blend of combustibles in a small in-set plastic container inbetween the actors (all standing the safest close distance away from the blast area) wired to a battery several yards away that was triggered by our practical effects supervisor. The resulting 'explosion' is actually more light and smoke than anything- it makes little to no noise, and the fire's heat is actually very quick and low.
    We had intended to do the effect a few times with greater severity each time (essentially using the first or second takes- shot from two cameras- as 'safety test' takes), but- despite the blast not harming anyone- the smokey gas that came from the initial explosion, in such an large-but-not-open/ventilated, lingered for a long time. If you look to the shot following the two explosion ones, you can see the green-tinted smoke that lingered in thick clouds in the rafters of the building in a 2-second shot.
    Though the smokey look was cool (and we were regularly creating a haze during shooting using a fog machine) the chemical combination following the explosion was somewhat noxious, causing us to have to halt production for 30-45 minutes to ventilate and air out the place.
    We've considered releasing a 'making of' video, but what is of more value to both us and people such as yourself is, honestly, just answering direct questions. This was a mammoth movie for us, with multiple scenes and lines cut- and the pacing ruminated over for lengthy hours of time- and concocting a 'making of' that's as in-depth or beneficial as simply writing stuff like this isn't all that likely. Most likely we'll release a few key points of 'behind the scenes' moments intercut to music with bloopers at some point in the not-too-distant future.
    As for you other question- no, we don't make YouTube videos for a living. Though a lot of people would have you fooled thinking so, by and large the monetized YouTube game is a trap for users to become receptive, dependent content creators that only a minority of actually make decent or livable pay off of. Even with millions of views and for-profit work on multiple other channels with millions of views and ad placement- the return is very low. And by that, I mean not even close to covering the costs of the productions that generate the ad revenue to begin with. So no, no YouTube. At least, not now.
    We're currently working on a few projects and endeavors that are more industry-oriented in LA (such as a pilot we directed and produced this past fall for a network), but much (all) of that is stuff we simply aren't able to talk about outside of permission from our employers. Other things, like the music video we recently produced that was removed from our channel because it's going through Vevo verification right now, are done in more-showcase-able form, but even that is something we did as a favor to a common collaborator because, well, we know the value of it legitimately going to MTV and Vevo. I'm embedding the artist-copy of that video below, which has a little under a million views on it currently.
    The rest of our work is either for-fun or opportunity/career-building material that's for the experience or contacts. All of it, though, these days is thought-up, produced, and pointed with the intent of being demonstrative of our efforts to some person in LA in some capacity.
    One of our recent strengths has been seen as producing slick-looking action-comedy material, and there's been a desire for us to showcase that in a longer-format arena than the 5-10 minute range. We take/took directives like that, and sort of mix them with our own desires and passions. Well, at least I do. I wanted to make a Christmas movie similar to the one we ended up with for several years. Whether it gets a million views and goes huge places or gets a hundred, I'm personally more an optimist about just 'giving an audience something entertaining to watch'.
    But that doesn't mean we're struggling, delusional artists, either. We make a living and have some decent demand behind our 'Atomic' brand and are able to choose lots of our projects because of this. All of it is about being smart with the work you do and the work you take, and elevating the quality of whatever you work on- personal or professional.
  • AculagAculag Website User Posts: 708 Just Starting Out
    During the mall scenes, I kept thinking, "That looks really familiar..." Turns out I've been to the Galleria a couple of times, and totally forgot about it until now. Very cool that they let you shoot there.
    I have another question regarding the effects: Were your muzzle flashes practical, or did you composite them? They're very good.
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    edited January 2013
    It was very cool that they gave us *general* permission, yes. Though I'm sure if we'd gone into further detail as to what and when we were shooting- or if we were stopped by someone about it- we might've run into a minor amount of trouble. ;)
    As for the muzzle flashes- all were done digitally, using FXHome's own muzzle stock footage I received way back when for winning some FXHome Awards. A few luminance ramps and some manipulation, and the set still works great to give the most convincing flashes I've yet to find- at least easily.
  • RodyPolisRodyPolis Website User Posts: 613
    I've been wanting to watch this for a while, but haven't been able to due to moving to a new place. About to watch now!
  • AculagAculag Website User Posts: 708 Just Starting Out
    As for the muzzle flashes- all we're done digitally, using FXHome's own muzzle stock footage I received way back when for winning some FXHome Awards. A few luminance ramps and some manipulation, and the set still works great to give the most convincing flashes I've yet to find- at least easily.
    Yeah, there were only a couple of times that I questioned whether they were real or not. Sweet.
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    Any other takers on this? Rody, Daniel- either of you end up getting the time to give it a view?
  • ESPicturesESPictures Website User Posts: 533 Just Starting Out
    I finally got around to watching it. I needed to take a break and cool off after my modeling program crashed for the umpteenth time.
    I thought it was shot very well, especially the sequences in the mall. But the plot had a number of holes in it.
    If he wanted the ledger, why didn't he just take it right away and disappear with it? I mean he was sitting on it in the car. He could have just told Alvin it fell under the seat and gotten out over the car and walked away with it before Alvin had a chance to stop him. It kind of destroys suspension of disbelief that Jerry couldn't find any opportunity to just grab the ledger and go. And then I noticed the continuity error of the ledger having money for an orphanage and later for an old folks home.
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    Thanks for the reply, ES Puctures- and thanks for taking the time to watch our movie!
    Yeah, the plot requires for suspension of disbelief, though if you don't buy into the ridiculous premise of a forced friendship and time spent with the two characters to begin with- we really don't have a movie or story to even tell. I had struggled with a few ways to tackle their meeting, initially favoring Alvin either being accidentally kidnapped by Jerry, or Jerry hiding in the back of Alvin's car after trying to stealthw ledger- but ultimately the simplest and quickest way to get through the pitfall of the story was to have Jerry be a grump who wouldn't protest or talk, he'd just go with the flow, and that would lead to them becoming friends.
    As for the ledger being for an orphanage- that's actually oversight in the editing from cutting a few whole scenes out for timing/pacing. The movie was just running too long, slow, and too expository-dialogue-ish in parts- so I cut numerous lines from the first Uncle Santa scene that talked about the donation to the orphanage coming from a retirement home, and we cut the girlfriend's lines about the donation coming from where she was at in the scene (which was an actual retirement/old folk's home). We had been seaming this with more shots of the facility and some of her dialogue about a charity, the money going to an orphanage, and the $60K coming from the retirement home.
    In the end, though, it just made the most sense to cut that complexity out after-the-fact and hope most people could buy into the ledger being important and miss the fact that Jerry says 'old folks home' in the end. Maybe it's something I should've dubbed over, but it seemed harmless enough in the grand scheme of continuity. It's still a short film made for fun, after all, and I'd rather have it to be engaging with a few flubs and 30 minutes, than a plot-filled 45-minute borefest. Again though, that's oversight on my part from the get-go.
    As for the mall cinematography being mentioned- I'm somewhat surprised by that, as it was definitely the most on-the-fly, unlit material of the whole thing- and what I would consider generally the weakest visuals. But hey, still glad you enjoyed it.
  • fredclipsfredclips Website User Posts: 228
    Finally got around to watching this tonight and enjoyed it. I wanted to say I agree with some of the comments above!
    I thought the mall scenes looked very good... that is probably because the shots looked very much like many other Christmas movies. (in a good way)
    I was also wondering if the muzzle flashes were real or not.
    And I also picked up and was confused about the orphanage turning into an old folks home. Not a deal breaker at all but I did find myself wondering what I had missed earlier. :-?
    Oh, regarding Alvin's girlfriend. I was wondering what the hell when he said she couldn't fit through doors anymore and did smile when she rolled back in her wheelchair. I'm guessing that was a cheap hospital chair? She would have had a much smaller wheelchair if she was a real paraplegic.
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    Thanks for watching, fredclips!
    Glad to hear the mall shots reminded you of other Christmas movies- I guess that's a pretty good thing, overall, in trying to make a Christmas movie myself. As for the wheelchair- it wasn't 'cheap' in my mind, but it was rather large. We've had a wheelchair around our apartment for a couple years from a previous project, that now we keep as sort of a joke, but found a chance to use in the movie. I found it to be pretty authentic, but Chelsea (the actress who plays the girlfriend) is fairly small, and we added blankets and other things to the wheelchair to make it look like a regular chair and keep the gag.
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    Catching up on stuff post-baby. Really nice trailer with some of the best visuals I've ever seen from you guys. Looking forward to watching the full short film - but I think I'll wait until I get home and can watch it on a proper big TV, rather than on my work monitor.
    Also really appreciating you taking the time to divulge these behind-the-scenes details of the shoot. You observations on shooting in public places were particularly interesting - I liked the note that if you shoot with members of the public on a busy day, they'll be too focused on getting their shopping done to notice and freeze on camera.
    We had a similar experience shooting the opening shot of the HitFilm 2 What's Your Idea? trailer, which was shot on one of the main streets in Norwich. I had anticipated having all kinds of problems with people freezing or staring into camera or generally being a nuisance, but because it's the main high street everybody is On A Mission, and studiously ignored us, even though we were shooting with a massive RED tripod rig and using a huge white polystyrene reflector.
    Will post once I've had a chance to watch the full film!
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    Thanks, Simon- and thanks for the write-up in the spotlight. Have you had any chance to watch the full short yet?
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    Not yet, alas. Turns out babies don't leave you much time in the evenings. :P
    Will definitely get round to it this weekend at some point, especially now I've managed to get YouTube working on the TV in the bedroom. :) Looking forward to it.
  • MatthiasClaflinMatthiasClaflin Website User Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
    I too saw this was up a while ago but hadn't gotten a chance to watch it. I plan to take some time tonight to do so and leave a review. Looking forward to it after watching the trailer!
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    Finally got round to watching this at the weekend. Yared sat on my lap while I watched it, but I'm not sure he really understood the plot.
    Anyway, nice work guys. This is probably my favourite overall project from Atomic. It's classy filmmaking from start to finish. The technical level was easily good enough to hold my attention for the duration. It very much felt like it could have been a a quirky Christmas episode of an on-going TV show.
    There are a few flaws, inevitably, which have already been covered - the plot holes relating to the orphanage/old folks' home, the wheelchair gag which doesn't quite come off. Some of the audio is a little quiet - although overall the audio is a big step up for you guys in quality, I thought.
    Bonus points for exploding dog.
    One random observation - given it's a Christmas movie and already has a somewhat whimsical air (I *LOVE* the costume conceit that everybody is wearing a Christmas hat, even when it doesn't entirely make rational sense - makes the film feel quite iconic in places), I really wanted Alvin to actually be a figment of Jerry's imagination at the end. I wasn't expecting Alvin to survive as his wound seemed pretty fatal, and it would have been a nice It's A Wonderful Life style ending to have him as a sort-of ghost. Heart-warming and whimsical in one reading, but tragic and sad in other, given that Jerry has to resort to imagining a dead friend to fill that gap in his life. It wouldn't have to be explicit as such, just a hint that Alvin isn't there - maybe a bit like how Tyler is there-but-not-there in Fight Club.
    Anyway, really enjoyed this. Great to see you guys working on a non-parody, non-48hour project and coming up with such a great end result.
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    Thanks for the view and thought-out response, Simon. And everyone, really. I know with something of this length, it's really difficult to find the time- let alone the willpower to sit down and watch 30 minutes on a YouTube video- and I really appreciate everyone taking the time to check it out.
    I had thought about a few different endings for 'Tis The Season, actually- including one where we let Alvin die and one very close to the Tyler Durden/Fight Club-esque ending you describe (which I think would've been really fun and edgy). But ultimately, it just made the most sense to go the classy, happy ending route. Hopefully some people get the humor John and I intended in having someone here mortally wounded and bleeding badly all-of-a-sudden eating casually in a diner.
    I know the UK is vastly different, but the plan for the ending was to have an endearing, montage-y diner scene where we could pull out on the first snow of the year in Texas, digitally, right at the stroke of midnight Christmas day. It doesn't ever ever ever even get close to snowing in most parts of Texas, the four major cities included, more than one or two days a year- normally in February if at all- so we were really excited to have a sort of magical snowy end of music overtaking friendly dialogue between the two leads and a pan-up to a semi-cheesy 'The End'.
    Hopefully that sells well and the intended-effect works. What's funny and ended up happening, despite our December days being largely in the low 80-degrees Fahrenheit, is that the temp dropped massively on Christmas Eve, our last day of shooting, and it ended up snowing, continually, all day the 25th. We had a genuine, super-rare, actual 'White Christmas'. Which I think kept all of our spirits up about finishing the movie despite Christmas passing us just barely.
    Anywho, thanks again Simon! Matthias, Rody, Daniel- have any of you happened to have gotten around to watching by any chance?
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    The snow outside the diner did work well. I assumed it was digital, but it was convincing enough to not distract from the finale, which was fortunate. :)
  • MatthiasClaflinMatthiasClaflin Website User Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
    edited January 2013
    I have watched it a couple times now. I think a total of 3 and honestly it kept my attention every time. I feel like I caught something different every time, and I did plan on watching it once more, as I wrote my review, but alas, I have been busy, so here is a watered down version of what I wanted to write.
    I feel bad, not having much to say about it, other than it's a very well constructed film. The visuals were good, pacing was good, the characters were good, the acting/directing was good, the story was pretty good, and overall it was just a very solid film. I honestly didn't even pick up on the orphanage/old folks home thing till the second time I watched it, so that didn't really bother me very much.
    I was very impressed with the overall production quality of this short. The locations specifically were great. Very professional in appearance and use. I think that without the large crowd shots in the mall, and things of that nature, it would be a much weaker film. Not necessarily a bad one, but it wouldn't hold the same class, and overall quality without them.
    To sum it up, nicely done. I enjoyed it very much with just a thing or two here or there. (I too didn't really think the wheel chair gag held up as well as it could have.)
  • KahvehRobinettKahvehRobinett Website User Posts: 443
    I personally though the "Wheel chair gag" wasn't funny at all. I thought it was quite sad considering how much work she was putting into helping orphanage/old folks' home while still impaired.
    But as a general rule I get more emotionally involved in short films/movies then the majority of most people. Not that I cant ever think of "that gag" as funny. But when I was watching it I didn't get the humor in it. Guess it just shows how incredibly hard it is to consistently pull off humor. Something that is very funny on paper and on set may or may not be funny on screen to allot of your viewers. Interesting how this stuff works out.
  • AndrewAndrew Website User Posts: 379 Enthusiast
    Humor certainly is, but I appreciate the honesty with it. I knew the wheelchair gag was going to be cold and polarizing or otherwise lost on a decent group of people, but the annoyance of Jerry with such an infallibly kind- and disabled- girlfriend was supposed to give a glimpse into the corny, overly-positive 'front' he puts on. Perhaps a little overdone to show emotional weight with the character, but that was the idea. Give a little gag, add a bit of edginess to it all, and give some character insight.
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