With Halloween quickly approaching, October marks the most popular time for horror films to be released. This season is no different with It quickly becoming a box office success and titles such as Happy Death Day, Amityville: The Awakening, Let Her Out and the latest Saw installment all hitting theaters. Another film worth paying attention to is Mercy Christmas, directed by Ryan Nelson from a script he co-wrote with Beth Levy Nelson. The film is a genre bending story that follows Michael Briskett (Steven Hubbell) as he meets the perfect woman (Casey O’ Keefe) and his ideal Christmas dream comes true when she invites him to her family's holiday celebration. Dreams shattered, Michael struggles to survive once he realizes HE will be Christmas dinner. This horror comedy will be opening Shriekfest this weekend in Los Angeles and then will be released everywhere November 28 by Gravitas Ventures. We decided to speak with Ryan and Beth and find out a little more about their filmmaking process, read the full interview below.
Mercy Christmas Teaser from Beth Levy Nelson on Vimeo.
How did Mercy Christmas first come about?
RYAN: The idea for Mercy Christmas came when we first started dating. Beth brought me to my first Passover. I brought Beth to her first Christmas. Seeing the differences AND the similarities in our family traditions, we couldn’t help but write about it.
BETH: There was SO much pressure on the specific rituals and doing them the same every year. We started thinking about how to play on that. I brought in the cannibal element, Ryan devised the capture torture elements and Mercy Christmas was born.
RYAN: We found great dark comedy in portraying all the nuances of the holidays with family. The minutia, the mundane rituals and of course the focus on food.
Ryan, Mercy Christmas is your first feature to direct. What do you think was the most challenging part of the process?
RYAN: For scheduling reasons, all of the basement scenes were the very first things we shot. Four days in a very tiny, very real basement. Each scene is about the characters struggling to survive. We see them fight, give up, spill blood and fight again. It was really tough to jump out of the gate into such tense moments. The cast gave the movie very real blood, sweat and tears in those first four days.
Did you all storyboard the whole film before you shot it? If not, what was the preparation process like?
RYAN: No, I didn’t storyboard. I draw worse then my three year old. I did draw overheads of each shot with rough camera angles. However, I let rehearsal on set dictate the blocking, but because I had done the overheads, I found that I could respond to the blocking changes quickly with knowing where to put the cameras. For the end fight sequence, I did shoot pictures with our amazing stunt coordinator Taylor Estevez. So we had a basic photo storyboard for the fight. That really helped because three separate fights happen at the same time in one sequence. I knew where to put the cameras so that the shots from each fight would chain together in the edit.
What were the benefits of working together on this film as a creative team?
RYAN: Trust. Being married, we could rely on each other completely during the process. We each knew the other was watching out for the film with utmost care. From a directing perspective, I knew Beth as the producer would break down any walls to get the movie made right. From a co-writing perspective, we understood the story so well we wouldn’t move on from a scene until we both knew it was right.
BETH: We are on the same team no matter what, even when we disagree. Plus, if you can make an indie movie and stay together, you know you got the real deal.
Did you watch any horror films in particular to get inspiration?
RYAN: I don’t really do that. I love movies and I’ve seen a ton, but I’d rather remember my feeling watching them or recall a shot in my head for inspiration. I think back on movies for the inspiration rather than re-watch them. The original Straw Dogs was an inspiration for our lead character Michael Briskett’s journey from abused pencil pusher to violent retribution. Dr. Strangelove for the dark comedy. And Fargo for the tone.
BETH: I grew up watching action and horror movies with my dad. I just knew I wanted to make a movie as fun as the ones that I loved watching with him.
Beth, what was your favorite scene in the film to write? And why?
BETH: The Christmas dinner scene was my favorite. I loved exploring the holiday bickering and normal family dynamics over a perfectly cooked cannibal dinner.
What made you want to create a film in this genre? As opposed to a romantic comedy?
RYAN: For me it was the story-telling opportunities in horror. It’s a perfect vessel for dark humor. I love that horror works on fear and also has opportunities for comedy. We very definitely wanted to ride the line between the two so that the audience could never feel relaxed. Beth would never make a RomCom!
BETH: That’s true. My idea of a romantic movie is The Fly.
All-time favorite horror film?
RYAN: Does Aliens count as horror? Because Beth would say Aliens if it counts.
BETH: Ryan’s is John Carpenter’s The Thing. He loves alien dog monsters.
Learn more about the film here: http://www.mercychristmasmovie.com