Violent Night Producer Kelly McCormick On Shooting In The Cold (And With Real Reindeer) [Exclusive Interview]

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If “Nobody,” “Kate,” and this year’s “Bullet Train” seem to share a distinctive vibe, that’s no accident. Those three features were made under the banner of production company 87north, an offshoot of 87eleven Productions, the company that brought us the glorious “John Wick” franchise. Founded by producer Kelly McCormick and director David Leitch, 87north is rapidly building a reputation for itself in cinema as the heir to the mid(-ish) budget action movie of yore, picking up the torch from Cannon in the ’80s and Carolco in the ’90s.

Their latest effort, “Violent Night,” ups the ante on the Christmas action movie by making its central character the most Christmasy person possible: Santa Claus. Shot in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada during a cold winter, “Violent Night” combines practical locations, sets, stunt work, special effects, and an all-star ensemble cast into a super fun package that looks pricier than it actually was.

I had the pleasure of speaking with McCormick while she was on set of the next 87north production, “The Fall Guy.” She explained how she and her team were able to put together “Violent Night,” what it was like shooting with real-life reindeer, and what she believes the future holds for 87north.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

‘It’s Such A Perfect Combination’

Congrats on the movie. I had a ball with it. I’m glad to see people are now starting to have fun with it, too, especially because it has this killer ensemble cast. 87north have gained a reputation as a well-oiled machine over the last few years, but I was wondering how you were able to wrangle those actors with the stunt team’s schedules and all the below the line people. How’d you put this shoot together?

Yeah, I mean, it was an amazing … I mean, I think all movies are sort of amazing accomplishments. This one is also pretty amazing. We shot in Winnipeg, which is, by the way, hard. In the winter, which is 30 degrees … I mean, crazy, crazy cold. And I, to be honest, do not know why everybody wanted to go up there and play with us. We feel so blessed that everyone did.

I’m really thankful that you’ve called out the ensemble first, because I actually think it’s some of what makes it a particularly special film. I mean, obviously, Harbour is Harbour and he’s on the up and up and having just this amazing rise right now in his career, and he’s done all the hard work to get here and he’s the perfect Santa in that he’s got the star power to lead the movie, but he also can kind of disappear in him as well, which is kind of hard to think about somebody doing when what fame is in our society and stuff.

And then, Leguizamo leading the naughty, naughty side [of the film], which is phenomenal, and he’s just unreal and just so perfect. We’ve been fans for a long time. David [Leitch] worked with him on “John Wick” one, but he just brought Scrooge to life in this way that you buy into all the stakes, but it’s also so corny. It’s so perfect.

And then the family is so … I mean, Edi [Patterson] and Cam [Gigandet] are so hilarious and then you buy the pain and agony that Alex Hassell is going through and Alexis [Louder], and you fall for their love story in such a way. They just all believed it and came to play and I just am so thankful. It’s such a perfect combination.

Then interestingly, since you brought it up, a lot of our bad guys are actually stunt performers and that ended up being perfect for especially this kind of movie where we made it for not a lot of money, to be honest. And so not having to double those people and them delivering performances where you want Candy Cane [played by Mitra Suri] to get hers in [the segment that homages] “Home Alone.” That is hard to do and hard to find. And I think we found the perfect kind of stunt players/actors/performers to play those roles.

‘Everyone Was So Cold’

You already mentioned the Winnipeg of it all. This is a single location movie primarily, so it has that great sort of grounding for the structure of the film. How did you find that location, and was it a mixture between location work and stage work?

Yeah, well, we shot “Nobody” there. And we love it there and they have a really tremendous crew to call upon when you’re doing a smaller film. Their heads of departments are world class. So it just ends up being a really good spot to place smaller films. Also, the incentive there is insane. I think it’s like 65% or something. So it’s almost a 65% coupon on the movie that you’re making for a lot for below the line. So it ends up being a great destination that way.

It’s also a town that the architecture comes from, actually, the same architects who [designed and built] a lot of Chicago and New York. It was supposed to be this sort of train destination halfway through Canada. And so it’s got looks that can feel like a sort of American downtown, but then it’s also got suburbs and sort of sprawl past that. So it ends up being great for that, by the way.

But for us, the house we built entirely. None of the house was actually practical, which was phenomenal because then we could just control it. We could mess it up. We could shoot, go back, and get pickups when we needed to. The vault is a set that we made as well. And then all of the exteriors were shot in, I think it was a month’s worth of nights, basically, in Winnipeg in the freezing cold. I mean, all that snow is real. All that breath is real. Everyone was so cold.

And that was just sort of the luck of Winnipeg in the sense that they have that super rural area as well, and the snow. And it was one of the things that I got our green light, because I was like, “And then we don’t have to make snow and there’ll already be Christmas decorations around.” And then I was like, “Oh my god, but it’s going to be so cold. What are we thinking?” once we did get the green light. So that’s kind of why we ended up there and it was a perfect destination for the film.

A lot of thermals, a lot of hot hands, probably.

Yeah, yeah, a lot. Those things that you can now heat from the vests. You can heat the vests, like a heated blanket. We had all those going. It was crazy.

Actual Reindeer Games

I think your movies do an excellent job of blending this slick, kind of modern look with gritty stunts and a lot of effects. I was wondering how you manage and budget the balance between practical and visual/digital effects, because it really feels to me like they have a seamless blend.

Thank you. We try to do it on our bigger films, too, as you can probably tell. But we believe that effects work best for us when there’s as much practical as possible. Including the one we’re shooting right now, “Fall Guy.” It’s like we’ll do that car jump. We’ll do the car roll. We’ll do all the fights and only the smallest things and the details are what we leave for visual effects.

With “Violent Night,” there was also the reindeer. So we actually sent a little unit to go shoot real reindeer, and the reindeer performed beautifully that day. So there was this blue screen and then these reindeer doing extraordinary moments for us. And so we only had to build some backs, or recreate what we already got to make it feel as natural as possible and hopefully, keep their heads as real, but then do their bodies as the rest of [the visual effect] or whatever.

So that’s our way. We just believe in it and it does, I think, have an impact in the experience because it feels more grounded and real and relatable, which is kind of critical for the kinds of movies we make.

‘It’s Less About Budget Than It Is About The Story’

That’s part of what makes your films and your studio so enticing to me in a way that it feels like an update of Cannon or Carolco, where it’s something that’s not an IP, but a brand where, “Oh, I see the logo, I have a vibe of what I’m going to get,” and I love that vibe.

Thank you. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

I was wondering if you see your productions going into other spaces in the future? Do you want to keep them at the level they’re at now, or are you interested in going bigger, or smaller, or into other kinds of genres? What are your ambitions for the future?

Well, I mean, we are in this kind of interesting spot where we play 30 [million] and below for producing and then we play in the rarified air of the David Leitch-ian kind of business. Which is plus hundreds, right, a hundred million. And it’s strange. In a weird way, and it’s only my opinion, but it’s kind of where the business is. The ones in the middle don’t really happen that much anymore, and they’re actually really hard to get the box office success for in the theatrical space.

So I think, for me, it’s less about budget than it is about the story and the big idea that can either propel a giant picture or can propel a small picture. And I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to choose which size and shape it needs to be, based on all the different components that come into it.

So I don’t know if … I mean, I think we’ll certainly kind of dabble into different genres or adjacent genres that still have action in them, whether it be sci-fi or horror or things along those lines. But I think that, for us, it’s a little bit like [a] Mapplethorpe. You know it when you see it. What feels like an 87north project has a lot to do with just — it’s kind of intangible. You sort of just know it when you see it, and then you just can put it in a lane that makes the most sense.

“Violent Night” is in theaters everywhere.

Read this next: 12 Awesome Action Movies That Never Got Sequels

The post Violent Night Producer Kelly McCormick on Shooting in the Cold (And With Real Reindeer) [Exclusive Interview] appeared first on /Film.

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