Violent Night Director Tommy Wirkola On Making A New Christmas Classic, Easter Eggs, And More [Exclusive Interview]

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Making a Christmas movie used to be a mostly simple affair: A Dickens adaptation here, some melodrama there, and a generous helping of cheerful holiday farce all around. But as the Christmas movie canon grew exponentially, the very definition of “Christmas movie” became broader and more muddled, leading to debates over a film’s holiday bonafides that still rage to this day.

The new film “Violent Night” is many things — an action thriller, a social satire, a heartwarming character ensemble featuring slasher movie-style kills — yet it is undeniably a Christmas movie, sidestepping an entire potential debate about its festive status by having its central character be the one and only Santa Claus (played by “Stranger Things” veteran David Harbour).

Director Tommy Wirkola wasn’t content with merely having Santa in his film to make it Christmasy, however. I had the opportunity to speak with Wirkola on the eve of the release of “Violent Night,” and he told me all about how he aimed to make the film as much of a holiday staple as he could, the various homages and easter eggs to other Christmas classics he included, and how working with the 87North stunt team was a thrilling new experience for him.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

‘We Embrace The Christmas Movie Nature Of It’

I know that this isn’t your first “wintry” movie because you made the “Dead Snow” films. Yet I was wondering what your relationship is to Christmas movies as a viewer, if that was what attracted you to this, and what was it about this script that really made you go, “Oh, this is mine.”

Well, there were several things. I’m from the very north of Norway above the Arctic Circle. So from end of November-ish to mid-January, we lose the sun. There’s no sun, it’s always dark. So Christmas for us is […] very cold, it’s snowy. So we spend a lot of time inside in December. And you light a fire, you read, and you watch a lot of movies. And of course, in December, you watch a lot of Christmas movies. So yes, Christmas movies have a special place in my heart. And there’s a few of them that I really love, of course.

But when I was sent the script, yes, it was a funny script. It had great action and all the things you expect from 87North Productions. But it really had a big heart and it really felt like a Christmas movie. That was what I said to them going into it, is I really want it to feel like a Christmas movie. And that was for myself, my way in. “Okay. How can I make something different and unique?” Well, we embrace the Christmas movie nature of it. And then if you get that right, you can go as crazy as you want on the rest.

‘I Always Love Movies Where You Have Tiny Arcs For Side Characters’

It really does come through in the film how the ensemble works together, and all the characters have their own motivations and arcs and they’re all taken care of. It feels like no one’s tossed aside as a “Oh, who cares about this character?” Even some of the henchmen.

Well, I want to say something about that. I feel like action movies in the ’80s and ’90s, every character had a great moment or a moment to shine and a great line, or a henchman had a great — nowadays, I feel a lot of the movies have about three or four main characters and that’s it. The rest are just thrown away, in a way. I always love movies where you have tiny arcs for side characters or a great moment for the henchman or a great scene. So we really actually put in a lot of thought in that and try to make it feel like those movies that we all loved growing up.

‘I Did Feel Like We Can Go Anywhere’

There are a lot of great homages to other Christmas movies in the film, some more obvious than others. Do you have a particular favorite out of all of them? Are there any in there that people tend to miss, one that’s maybe more Easter egg-y?

Well, there’s obviously the big one, “Die Hard,” which is more on the structure of the film and the premise. And then “Home Alone,” which has a big moment in the film, which was one of my favorite moments to shoot and also to experience with the crowd. We cast Beverly D’Angelo from “Christmas Vacation,” which is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. So those are the three big ones.

But there’s a lot of Easter eggs actually in the sets, in the design. And like in the attic, when Trudy’s up in the attic, there’s things in there. The production designer loves Easter eggs, so he put a lot of them in there. So I hope people see them. Not going to say what they are, but yes, there’s plenty of them.

Since you brought it up, I have to say the “Home Alone” sequence is incredible. I was in a room full of critics and we were all guffawing and having a great time. How did you approach doing those gags, combining comedy and action in such a great way that doesn’t lean too much towards one or the other?

When I first read the script, the scene was always there, but it wasn’t as big as it ended up being. That was one of the first things I said to the writers and the producers: “I really want to make the ‘Home Alone’ scene a lot bigger because I think it can be a showstopper in the film.” So me and the writers and producers, we had a lot of fun coming up with gadgets and what to do and not to do. But the general premise was like, “Okay, let’s just do traps similar to what we see in ‘Home Alone.'” Because when I was watching “Home Alone,” especially when I got older, you would think as many people do, “No way would they have survived that” and “What would really have happened?” So that was a lot of the appeal, like, “Hey, let’s just show what really had happened if we put some people through those traps.” I think also why it’s so funny is because Trudy, the little girl, she doesn’t realize she’s hurting people. She just thinks it’s fun and games.

It was a really fun scene to shoot. And I’ve only seen the movie once with a crowd and it played really well. I’m actually seeing it again tonight for the first time with a crowd since then. So it’s one of those moments where it’s great seeing it with people to hear that laughter spread out and also the shock of where we push it. But no, it’s fun. It’s one of those moments I’m really proud of. And I feel like you’re speaking about how pushing tone and how far do you push it and where do you go, and that was more of the question of the whole film. But because it is a Christmas movie, because we had that beating heart, I did feel like we can go anywhere. We can honestly do whatever we wanted, almost. If you do it with that wink in the eye, if you do it with that Christmas spirit, it will still feel funny. That’s why we got away with so much as we did.

‘They Even Made A Christmas Tree Out Of Cardboard’

I loved how you combined the Christmas-y tone with the action sequences. In terms of working with the 87eleven team, was there a lot of stunt previz that I know they tend to do on these shows? Does that inform your compositions, your camerawork? What’s the process there in terms of collaborating?

Oh, yeah. For sure, it’s a process. And it’s a combination of many things. First, obviously, is the script. And I work with the writers a lot and I get a lot of my ideas in the script phase. And then either we storyboard first or we go directly to previz-ing with the stunt team. So what they do is, basically they recreate the scene and they do it all with cardboard boxes. And this is something new to me, but it’s crazy, they come on set and they measure up the whole set. And they recreate the whole space in their gym, but with cardboard boxes. They even made a Christmas tree out of cardboard.

So then they shoot it and they cut it. And you watch it and it’s like a scene from a movie, it looks great already then. They just do it with the stunt performers. And then you give notes and, “Oh, what about this there? What about that there?” And then they go back and they shoot it again and they cut it again. And then you watch it again, and then you do final tweaks. And then you have that to show to the actors and you show it to the crew and the camera team. And it just makes it so much easier to shoot it on the day. But yeah, just a great example of how great they are on action and the processes, but also just of collaboration and how they found the best way of getting everybody’s voices in there and getting it to be most efficient as possible on set.

‘We Shot A Lot Of Stuff’

Is there any deleted material that might show up in the film’s physical release?

Oh, yeah. On the Blu-ray, there will be several deleted scenes. Not anything we cut because it was too extreme or too much, but it was just because we shot a lot of stuff and a lot of extra scenes with the family and a lot of humorous, funny scenes. And it’s all about pacing, as you know, getting the right feel of the whole film. But yeah, I think there’s quite a few good scenes that are ending up on the Blu-ray.

I’m looking forward to that, because now I think I’m going to watch this every year at Christmas.

Well, thank you. Thank you. That makes me so happy to hear, because that’s obviously the dream when making it. Hopefully, it can be a thing where the grown-ups can watch it when the children have gone to bed every Christmas.

“Violent Night” is in theaters everywhere.

Read this next: Our Biggest Predictions For Stranger Things Season 5

The post Violent Night Director Tommy Wirkola on Making a New Christmas Classic, Easter Eggs, and More [Exclusive Interview] appeared first on /Film.

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